The Innovative Spencer Rifle


The Spencer rifle originally made its appearance as early as 1859, but it was not actually used by the Union Army in the American Civil War. Innovator Christopher Spenser, maker of the famed Spencer wanted to prove to the Commander-in-Chief that his rifle was as good as any, or even better. On August 18, 1863, Spencer managed to sneak into the White House. With him, he carried a Spencer rifle, a revolutionary one that would change the mind of President Lincoln and shatter some doubts of War Secretary Stanton.

Christopher Spencer Convinces President Lincoln

After demonstrating how advanced the Spencer Rifle was, President Lincoln was convinced enough to allow some to be used by the U.S Navy. That was followed by the Union Army during the American Civil War where it became an extremely popular weapon.

The Spencer rifle was used notably by Col. John T Wilder and his Brigade in the Battle of Hoover’s Gap. Colonel Wilder showed the complete desolation of the Spencer rifle. In other battles such as the Battle of Hanover, General Armstrong Custer and his Michigan Brigade demonstrated the power of the Spencer rifles, but somehow entered a stalemate with Confederate General Stuart at Hanover, Pennsylvania. Sometimes, the Confederate Armies would capture some Spencer rifles. But their inability to produce copper was their limitation to actually providing battalions with any fully.

And under combat conditions, the Spencer rifle showed its endurance. It offered a sustainable rate-of -fire in 20 rounds-per-minute excesses beating out the 2-3 rounds-per-minute from other rifles. In spite of this, the great tactical advantage was not taken advantage as of yet.

The Spencer Rifle’s Design and Ammunition

The design of the Spencer rifle was finished by Christopher Spencer in 1860. It was a magazine-fed, lever-operated rifle capable of chambering the 56-56 Spencer rim fire ammunition cartridge. The first number 56 refers to the diameter of the case located at the head; meanwhile, the second number refers to the diameter located at the mouth. The actual bullet diameter stood at .52 inches. The rifle cartridges were black powder-loaded at 45 grains (2.9g).

The Spencer rifle used rim fire cartridges stored in a seven-round tube magazine which enabled it to be fired one after the other. When the cartridge was emptied-out, the tube could be loaded rapidly either from a device known as the Blakeslee Cartridge Box containing thirteen, six or ten tubes with seven cartridges each, able to be emptied-out into the magazine tube located in the butt stock or by just dropping in a fresh cartridge.

In order to use the Spencer rifle, a lever had to be worked to pull out the used shell and provide for a new cartridge from the tube. The hammer had to be manually cocked in a split action approach like with the Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Rifle.

Spencer Rifle into 20th Century

Nearly 200,000 rifles and carbines were created which marked the origin of a removable magazine-fed infantry rifle by any nation. Its ammunition was sold in the U.S seen during the decade of Prohibition and the Great Depression.