Why would a Confederate discard a Spencer carbine?

Texas Johnny

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Jan 29, 2019
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Texas
I am reading the book, "As They Saw Forrest" by Robert Selph Henry. One of the chapters in the book is by William Witherspoon, a Confederate cavalryman serving in Forrest's cavalry at Brices Cross Roads. In the Witherspoon account he replaces his Sharps carbine with a Spencer carbine found on a dead Yankee soldier. I understand that the South did not have the capability to manufacture Spencer rim fire cartridges, but Witherspoon replaces the Spencer and goes back to the Sharps, for a reason I don't understand. This is what Witherspoon says, in a post war talk, with an Iowa soldier:

"I was one of the boys in that field, in your front, and after driving you from the fence and we had taken possession, in front of me on the opposite of the fence was a dead Yank with a 3rd Iowa cartridge box belted around him and the noted 7-shooting Spencer rifle in his hand. I found his cartridge box full, exchanged my Sharp's carbine (which only shot one time) for his and went through that fight with a 3rd Iowa Cartridge box belted around me and a Spencer rifle. But in the next engagement discarded the much-lauded Spencer and went pack to the old reliable Sharp's carbine. The Spencer had too much trigger works, getting out of fix, in battle with men, was not like a gun becoming cranky in a squirrel or duck hunt. Forty-five Federals were reported killed at that fence."

I am not sure what he means with "too much trigger works, getting out of (a) fix"? Any ideas on what his problem is with the Spencer? Does he mean he is having problems with the Spencer misfiring?
 

ucvrelics

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I'm leaning operator issue due to the fact if you look at the date of the battle June 1864 the model 1865 had not gone into full production and the conversion of the model 1860 hadn't began yet. If you look at the SRS the 3rd Iowa was issued model 1860's in late 1863, so I don't believe the Spencer in question had a Stabler Cutoff.

Major Jones reports that his command arrived at Memphis on January 11, 1865, where he received orders to proceed to Louisville, Ky., the portion of the regiment under command of Major Jones having already departed for that place. At Louisville the regiment was once more united and received a supply of Spencer carbines, a remount of fresh horses and the other equipment necessary to put it again in perfect marching and fighting condition. This was done as Gen Wilson wanted all trooper armed with the Spencer.

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mofederal

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Maintenance issues, the soldiers in question not being familiar with the rifle and it's operation. Maybe his rifle had operational issues he did not understand. It may have been as simple as it had problems jamming.
 

Texas Johnny

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I'm leaning operator issue due to the fact if you look at the date of the battle June 1864 the model 1865 had not gone into full production and the conversion of the model 1860 hadn't began yet. If you look at the SRS the 3rd Iowa was issued model 1860's in late 1863, so I don't believe the Spencer in question had a Stabler Cutoff.

Major Jones reports that his command arrived at Memphis on January 11, 1865, where he received orders to proceed to Louisville, Ky., the portion of the regiment under command of Major Jones having already departed for that place. At Louisville the regiment was once more united and received a supply of Spencer carbines, a remount of fresh horses and the other equipment necessary to put it again in perfect marching and fighting condition. This was done as Gen Wilson wanted all trooper armed with the Spencer.

Thanks ucvrelics, that seems to rule out ian ssue with the Stabler Cutoff.
 

CowCavalry

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Aug 17, 2017
I am not sure what he means with "too much trigger works, getting out of (a) fix"? Any ideas on what his problem is with the Spencer? Does he mean he is having problems with the Spencer misfiring?
My interpretation is that it was more complicated weapon, repeaters being new on the scene and possibly more likely to get "out of order" as I have heard it put in the lingo of the time. I once owned a Sharps repro and I can say from experience, the fouling will make the action difficult to operate quickly and it is a bear to clean compared to say and Enfield or Springfield. I can only imagine that a Spencer would have fouled after a magazine or two fired through it.
 

CanadianCanuck

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My interpretation is that it was more complicated weapon, repeaters being new on the scene and possibly more likely to get "out of order" as I have heard it put in the lingo of the time. I once owned a Sharps repro and I can say from experience, the fouling will make the action difficult to operate quickly and it is a bear to clean compared to say and Enfield or Springfield. I can only imagine that a Spencer would have fouled after a magazine or two fired through it.

It seems to have been a problem with repeaters. My biggest understanding of their complexity comes from reading about the Canadian militia at the Battle of Ridgeway. Company 5 of the Queen's Own Rifles was issues Spencers the day before the battle and they had never seen them before, having only trained in Enfield's. So when the fighting started and they inevitably fired off a 'mad minute' they expended their ammunition quickly, and then had difficulty reloading. Then when some men had their guns jam they were completely in the dark on how to fix the problem. You needed to be intimately familiar with the weapon.
 

Texas Johnny

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My interpretation is that it was more complicated weapon, repeaters being new on the scene and possibly more likely to get "out of order" as I have heard it put in the lingo of the time. I once owned a Sharps repro and I can say from experience, the fouling will make the action difficult to operate quickly and it is a bear to clean compared to say and Enfield or Springfield. I can only imagine that a Spencer would have fouled after a magazine or two fired through it.
Good points, thanks so much!
 

Texas Johnny

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It seems to have been a problem with repeaters. My biggest understanding of their complexity comes from reading about the Canadian militia at the Battle of Ridgeway. Company 5 of the Queen's Own Rifles was issues Spencers the day before the battle and they had never seen them before, having only trained in Enfield's. So when the fighting started and they inevitably fired off a 'mad minute' they expended their ammunition quickly, and then had difficulty reloading. Then when some men had their guns jam they were completely in the dark on how to fix the problem. You needed to be intimately familiar with the weapon.
Very interesting CanadianCanuck, I was not aware of the Canadian problems using the Spencer, very interesting, thank you!
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Oct 17, 2015
I'm leaning operator issue due to the fact if you look at the date of the battle June 1864 the model 1865 had not gone into full production and the conversion of the model 1860 hadn't began yet. If you look at the SRS the 3rd Iowa was issued model 1860's in late 1863, so I don't believe the Spencer in question had a Stabler Cutoff.

No Spencer issued in the Civil War had a stabler cut-off. The Model 1860 Spencers were never made with the Stabler cut-off switch (some were retro-fitted with the cut-off after the War) and none of the Model 1865s (which had the cut-off) were made in time to be issued in the War.
 

limberbox

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Apr 25, 2020
"out of fix" was a mid-19th century colloquialism meaning essentially "out of order". For example, Jos. Bilby in Civil War Firearms quotes Robert L. Mountjoy of the 7th Illinois as saying of that unit's Henrys: "there is not much rigging about them & I don't think they will get out of fix easy."

Texas Johnny, I think old Witherspoon may have misremembered a bit in describing his post-war reminisce with an "Iowa" trooper. He likely picked up a Spencer from the 2d New Jersey, not the 3d Iowa. According to Bearss, Forrest at Brice's Crossroads, the 2d New Jersey was the only regiment armed with Spencers at the Brice's Crossroads battle, and the 7th Tennessee (Witherspoon's regiment) attacked the 7th Indiana and 2d New Jersey of Waring's brigade, who were crouched behind a heavy rail fence on the right end of Waring's brigade line defending the Baldwyn road.

The 3d and 4th Iowa of Winslow's brigade were further to the right, defending the Fulton road, but a battalion of the 3d was on the left end of Winslow's line, not far from the 2d New Jersey. However, the 3d Iowa had just received it's first full issue of carbines -- Burnsides -- at Benton Barracks in April upon their return from veteran furloughs. They would not get Spencers until January 1865 at Louisville. According to Winslow, the 4th Iowa had a mixture of Union (Cosmopolitan) and Sharps carbines at Brice's Crossroads. They would receive Spencers three weeks after the battle, on July 4th.
 
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