Best Breech-Loader Flint Rifle

A shot from a flintlock rifle always created a cloud of smoke not only from the front, but also from the back. The infantrymen were very disturbed by this. Less disturbed to the riders …

Weapon of 1812. Any war is an accelerator of progress. So the Napoleonic wars significantly accelerated this process. It took a lot of weapons, which forced the modernization of production, and in addition, it was necessary to improve the weapon itself. It was then that the first unitary cartridge of the Swiss gunsmith Samuel Pauli appeared, and he also created the world’s first cartridge gun of 15 mm caliber for it, a patent for which he received on September 29, 1812. On tests, it showed a rate of fire of 22 rounds in 2 minutes and twice the range and accuracy than army guns. The novelty was immediately reported to Napoleon, who became interested, however, the introduction of new weapons and its subsequent distribution was prevented by the abdication of the emperor, and it is not known how the history of small arms business would develop at all. Pauldi himself died in obscurity, and the glory of the creators of new weapons for new cartridges in Europe went to Casimir Lefosha and Johann Dreise …

Pauli rifle bolt


However, the idea of ​​a breech-loading weapon, albeit without the use of cartridges, is much older. The oldest surviving gun is the breech-loading arquebus of King Henry VIII of England, dated 1537. Moreover, the king, apparently, loved such weapons, since after his death there were 139 such guns in his arsenal …

Shotgun Giuseppe Crespi


Already in 1770, some parts of the Austrian infantry and cavalry received breech-loading flintlocks designed by Giuseppe Crespi, in France in 1778 they adopted the Vincennes rifle, in which the barrel was moved forward for loading. In 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, Major Fergusson’s crane gun came into use and showed good results. The second, but the best in design, was the breech-loading rifle developed by John Hancock Hall, patented by him on May 21, 1811 and entered into service with the US Army in 1819.

Major Fergusson’s rifle


Before putting the new gun into service, US Army inspectors conducted tests by forcing a 38-man infantry company to fire at a target from a distance of 100 yards (91 m) for ten minutes at their usual rate of fire. At the same time, a comparison was made with the smooth-bore infantry musket and a rifled flint “rifle” which was then in service. And here are the results: “Hall” shots were fired – 1198; muzzle-loading smooth-bore muskets of the army type – 845, “muzzle-loading rifles” – 494. Hits on the target: “Hall” – 430 (36%); musket – 208 (25%); Muzzle-loading rifles – 164 (33%). Therefore, those who assert, including in the comments on “VO”, that the accuracy of flintlock rifles was high, and design flaws were countered by “personnel training” are mistaken. Nothing of the kind! Nevertheless, tests have shown that in any case it gives more hits than all other samples!

Hall’s Flintlock Rifle with Bayonet


But most importantly, it was much easier to load both infantrymen and, most importantly, horsemen! We will not repeat here the description of the process of loading a flintlock, it has already been given in this series of articles. Let’s pay attention only to the differences of this process in the Hall gun, associated with its design. Moreover, it should be emphasized that it could have been successfully both smooth-bore and rifled, and its convenience was especially noticeable in the version with a rifled barrel.

The gun in the breech had a charging chamber in the form of a metal bar, with a battery-type flint lock attached to it on top. Under the forend there was a lever, by pressing which the charging chamber, and in fact the bolt, was disengaged from the barrel and lifted up. It remained to take the cartridge out of the bag, bite it off and pour the gunpowder into the chamber (having previously poured it onto the shelf of the castle!). Then a bullet was inserted into the chamber, which, in rifled samples, entered the rifling only after the shot. And it was very convenient. There was no need to drive it into the barrel, deforming it with the blows of a mallet and a ramrod, and the rider had to keep his gun suspended. And here … the shooter had everything at hand, and the ramrod was not required at all. Then the bolt was lowered and engaged with the barrel by two lugs. The trigger was retracted and you could shoot.

Hall carabiner 1843 already capsule and with side lever


Of course, the technology of that time could not yet provide an exact conjugation of all surfaces. Therefore, there was a small backward gas breakthrough. But … all the flintlocks already gave both a flash and a cloud of gases in the area of ​​the castle when fired, so a slight increase in its volume did not play a significant role. It was important that the gun was durable. And here there were no comments on the design. It was really strong and could withstand the same as an army infantry musket! The disadvantages of Hall guns and carbines can be attributed only to a greater consumption of gunpowder in cartridges, caused by the breakthrough of gases and a decrease in their pressure in the barrel. As a result, the penetration capacity of a .52 caliber bullet for the Hall rifle was only a third of that of standard fittings, and the muzzle velocity of the carbine was 25% lower than that of a conventional smoothbore carbine, despite the fact that they had the same barrel length and they used identical 70-facet powder charges. However, neither smoke nor a decrease in penetration power were critical for the riders. Therefore, Hall carbines were primarily used in the US Dragoon cavalry.

There were also Hall’s pistols, why not?


One of the convenient “highlights” of the design was that by removing the transverse screw securing the bolt in the receiver, it was possible to remove it from the gun. Although this made it easier to clean and also allowed the bolt (which included the entire firing mechanism) to be loaded with gunpowder and bullet separately from the gun and even used as a crude but effective pistol. During the Mexican War, U.S. Army soldiers often did so while on leave to provide themselves with protection in case they were trapped by angry locals while visiting the cantina.

Flintlock bolt open for loading


It was convenient to load this weapon not only with ball bullets (there was no need to fear that such a bullet would roll out of the gun), but also with Minier’s expansion bullets, so that their appearance did not affect the use of Hall’s guns in any way.

Hall’s original shotgun had a 32.5-inch (825 mm) barrel with right-handed rifling. At the muzzle, the barrel expanded to a depth of 1.5 inches, creating the illusion of a smooth-bore weapon. At the same time, the total length of the gun was 52.5 inches (1333 mm), but could vary from 48 to 60 inches (1,200 – 1,500 mm), and the weight without bayonet was 10.25 pounds (4.6 kg). The rifle fired a 0.525-inch (13.3-mm) bullet weighing 220 grains (half an ounce) using a 100-grain charge of black powder. The carbine was shorter and lighter – 3.6 kg. The effective range of fire was 800-1500 yards.

Flintlock bolt in open position. The powder shelf with the ignition hole is clearly visible


The carbine has been produced since 1833 using a 23 ” smooth barrel. It measured 43 inches in total length, weighed 8 pounds, and was the first primer-fired firearm adopted by the US Army. The following year, a 0.69 caliber carbine (18-mm) was prepared for the dragoon regiment, produced in 1836-1837.

View from above. The slot on the aiming bar, shifted to the left, is clearly visible


In 1843, the Hall carbine, also known as the M1843 and the “improved 1840”, added a bolt handle designed by Henry North, located on the side. Such a modernization was needed because there were complaints from the soldiers that the toothed lower cocking lever of the bolt dug into their back when the rifle was carried on a belt over their shoulders. 11,000 Hall-North carbines with a 21-inch barrel and 0.52 caliber were made, after which the production of Hall carbines at the Harpers Ferry arsenal was discontinued in 1844, but between 1843 and 1846 Simeon North also produced 3,000 M1843 carbines.

Best Breech-Loader Flint Rifle

View of the shutter with capsule lock

Capsule lock is open, the brand tube and its fence are clearly visible


One of the interesting features of the Hall smoothbore carbine of the 1836 model was the non-removable needle bayonet, which was attached under the barrel in place of the ramrod. If necessary, it could be pulled out of the socket and fixed. After that, it was in no way inferior in its effectiveness to the detachable triangular bayonets, traditional for that time. Well, since the flintlock and primer were on the top of the bolt, the sights on Hall’s guns and carbines were slightly shifted to the left.

Carbine М1836 (issue 1839) with a needle bayonet retractable in the forend and primer ignition


The production of this type of weapon in the United States was massive. A total of 23,500 Hall rifles and carbines were produced: 13684 carbines and 14,000 Hall – North M1843 carbines.

Interestingly, they were also used during the American Civil War. In the southern states, the bolt was usually cut right in front of the hammer base, and a new stock and hammer were attached at the back to hit the hose on the barrel, which was bored to .58 caliber.

An example of a model of 1819


These Hall carbines were used, for example, by General John C. Fremont’s Western Army in the early years of the war. Redesigned by George Eastman’s company, they also had barrels bored to .58 caliber, which was done in order to use standard musket cartridges with Minier bullets and even more modern adjustable sights.

Most often, Hall guns were converted into muzzle-loading guns by simply welding the bolt to the rear section of the barrel.

Hall’s rifle M1817 with a magazine for bullets in the butt. Missouri History Museum, St. Louis


Well, many of the lessons learned from the experience of using Hall guns were useful to the designers of a new generation of bolt-action devices, the creators of the Sharpe rifle (1848), the Spencer carbine (1860) and others.

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