The standard weapon used by both sides during the Civil War was a muzzle-loading .58 caliber rifle musket. It was a good weapon but its loading method limited its efficiency and at times made it dangerous. In the heat of battle, soldiers sometimes forgot whether they had loaded the weapon and would reload it. At other times the piece would misfire and thinking that the weapon had fired the soldiers would proceed to load it again. As a result, it was fairly easy to get more that one load into the weapon. After the battle of Gettysburg, of the 27, 574 weapons picked up from the battlefield, approximately 6,000 were found to be properly loaded, and 12,000 had three to ten loads. One piece contained twenty-three loads. From these figures it was estimated that one-third of the fighting men on each side during the battle were carrying non-functioning weapons.
EVOLUTION OF THE BREECHLOADER
Single Shot Breechloaders
ALLIN CONVERSION As muzzleloaders became dirty from firing, they became increasingly difficult to load. The bullet would frequently jam half way down the barrel and the soldier would attempt to fire the bullet out – an almost guaranteed way to damage the weapon of blow it up. Breech-loading weapons eliminated the hazards of multiple or stuck loads in the barrel.
The experience of the Civil War had shown the need for such weapons, and at the close of the war the United States Government advertised for proposals for a breech-loading weapon - one that could be made by converting the vast supply of old muzzleloaders already on hand. Numerous proposals were submitted, trials were held, and the system that was selected was one submitted by Erskine S. Allin, Master Armorer of Springfield Armory.
P1853 SPAR1013 The burst barrel of this British Model 1853 Rifle Musket demonstrates the dangers of improperly loading a muzzle-loading weapon.
M1865 Rifle, Allin Conversion SPAR5657 .58 caliber, 1865, c. 5000 made. The first model Allin conversions were made by cutting a section out of the breech of the muzzleloader and attaching it to a 'trapdoor' mechanism. It was the .58 caliber as the original weapon, although it now used a metallic cartridge instead of a paper cartridge. The breech mechanism was complicated and had a rather involved rack and pinion system.
M1866 Rifle, Allin Conversion SPAR994 M1866 Rifle, Allin Conversion .50 caliber. 1866. 25,000 made. In 1866 the Allin system was refined and simplified. The second of the 'Trapdoor' series, this model featured a new rifled liner in a Model 1863 musket, reducing the caliber to .50.
M1855 Rifle Musket barrel section SPAR1014 Five bullets and three powder charges were, fortunately, never fired from this rifle.
M1868 and M1870 Rifles SPAR5525
M1868 and M1870 Rifles .50 caliber. 1868-1873. 63,263 made. These similar models exhibit further minor improvements in the 'Trapdoor' breechloader.
Last updated: February 26, 2015