Revolving carbines USA: one more original than the other

Drum and control lever of the revolving rifle of Henry North and Chauncey Skinner

Military affairs at the turn of the eras. In the previous article, we began our story about revolving carbines with a story about Colt’s revolving rifle. And today we will continue this topic. Colt’s production capabilities were large, and therefore he produced them more than others.

Carabiner model 1839


Revolving rifle of Henry North and Chauncey Skinner

For example, the model 1839 carbine of the year, which differed from the earlier samples in the absence of a cocking lever and the presence of an external trigger, was produced in the amount of approximately 950 carbines. And from 1839 to 1841, an additional version of it was produced – a model 1839 shotgun chambered for 16 caliber, produced in an amount of 225 pieces.

Although the US Navy and the State of Texas purchased several Model 1839 carbines, the high price of the weapon and quality issues have made sales small.

For some reason, many VO readers were especially interested in how many of these carbines were bought by Texas. So: on August 3, 1839, the Texas army bought fifty carbines at a price of $ 55 each and another 30 – October 5, 1839 (at the same price and with a full set of additional accessories).

“Colt” -1855 with a six-round magazine


“Colt” 1855 with a six-round magazine

The 1855 model carbine had a five-charge drum with .56 caliber chambers.

An additional version was also available with a .36 or .44 caliber six-shooter and a matching barrel.

Between 1856-1864 just under 5,000 of these revolving carbines rolled off the assembly lines at the Harford plant. Almost all of them were sold either to the United States army or to civil war volunteers as personal weapons.

Before the outbreak of the war, several carbines were purchased for the short-lived Pony Express service.


Colt cavalry carbines, produced during the Civil War

The following units were armed with Colt carbines: the Ohio Infantry Regiment, the 1st Colorado Cavalry Regiment, the 9th Illinois Cavalry Regiment and the most famous 21st Sharpshooter Regiment of Colonel Berdan.

Revolving carbines USA: one more original than the other
British-made Colt carbine with 15-inch barrel


Photo of a Confederate soldier with an 1855 Colt rifle

Revolver “North and Savage No. 8”

But, as already noted, not only the Colt was present on the revolver carbine market, but many others as well. In particular, a very original model was proposed by Henry North and Chauncey Skinner, who patented it in 1852, and managed to produce about 700 of these revolver rifles by 1856.

The highlight of the design was the lever (clearly visible in the photo), the rotation of which downward pushed the cylinder forward, so that the drum chamber pushed onto the barrel and closed the gap between the barrel and the drum. The same lever fixed the drum, released the trigger stopper, which created a rather complex structure.

The rifles were manufactured by North & Savage from Middletown, Connecticut. On the basis of the patent of 1856, the revolver “North and Savage No. 8” was made.

Apparently, the designers considered that it would be more popular in the market than a revolving gun.


Revolver “North and Savage No. 8”

James Warner’s revolving rifle

The Springfield Arsenal’s James Warner revolving rifle was one of the first models to compete with the Colt drumguns in the US market. It was developed in 1849-1852. It had a .40 caliber and a six-shooter.

The revolving rifle of the 1851 model had a closed frame, but its drum was rotated manually.

When Colt’s patent was unexpectedly renewed in 1849, a frustrated Warner was forced to recycle all of his rifles to avoid prosecution.

Therefore, there are Warner rifles with a brass frame (and even carbines with a “tablet lock”), similar to the “Billinghurst rifle” described in the previous article.


James Warner’s 1851 rifle

Porter rifle

Even more unusual was the rifle of Colonel Parry W. Porter of Memphis, who invented it in 1851-1853. Caliber .44. The drum is in the form of a disk, placed on its edge, with a capacity of nine charges.


Porter rifle

Apparently, Porter really wanted to bypass Colt’s patent in any way. And he walked around it!

It worked like this: when the trigger guard was pressed, the side trigger was cocked, and when the lever was returned, the drum was turned and its next one was fixed in front of the barrel.

When the trigger is pulled, the side trigger hits the long firing pin to hit the primer, which accordingly ignites the charge in the drum. By the way, the central location of the drum with the frame required the sight shifted to the left.


Porter rifle mechanism

Porter’s rifle went through three modifications in its short life, and each was somewhat better than the previous one.

Unfortunately, all Porter’s rifles suffered from the same serious drawback – the drum of some of the chambers was directed directly at the shooter’s face and hands. In the case of “chain fire” (and it was possible on this rifle because of the caps loosely put on the brand tubes), the Porter rifle could fire its .44 caliber bullets in all directions. What happened to lead to serious injury to the shooter.

And after Samuel Colt spread the rumor that Colonel Porter had died in such an incident, his rifle was immediately stopped being bought.

Alexander Hall rifle


Alexander Hall rifle


Hall’s rifle shop

Just as original and just as impractical was the smoothbore drumgun, developed by gunsmith Alexander Hall of New York in 1855-1857.

With a relatively small .38 caliber, it was distinguished by the fact that its drum magazine held as many as 15 charges.

The shooter could unlock the drum using a lever located under the trigger guard in front of the trigger. Then he rotated it by hand to set the loaded chamber against the barrel.

The same lever activates the built-in hidden trigger, and the rear trigger is used to fire the shot. To reload the magazine, it had to be removed entirely.

The barrel was 30 inches long with no grooves.

North and Skinner system


Revolving rifle “North and Savage”, also known as “North and Skinner” revolving rifle with an underbarrel lever for tightly driving bullets into the drum

And it so happened that in 1852 Henry S. North and Chauncey D. Skinner of Middletown, Connecticut received a patent for a revolver with a forced rotation of the drum.

Unlike the Colt patent, the North and Skinner system uses a lever for this, which simultaneously acts as a trigger guard. When the shooter lowers the lever, the cylinder rotates and at the same time the hammer is cocked.

The fun begins, however, when the lever returns to its original position. In this case, a metal wedge in the form of a U-shaped plate enters the space behind the drum, and pushes it forward towards the barrel, on which the chamber located opposite it is put on. Thus, a “gas seal” was created, which protected the shooter from the breakthrough of gases and “chain fire”.

A few years later, Henry North began production of a rifle under his patent with Skinner.

And then, working with a Middletown gunsmith named Edward Savage, he produced about five hundred of these unusual “lever action revolvers.” In addition, the North and Savage enterprise they created has produced more than a hundred different variants of the 0.60 caliber rifle.


North & Skinner in the process of loading. A vertical wedge with a beveled top is clearly visible, pressing the drum to the barrel

The rifle was a worthy competitor to the 1855 Colt model. And she practically had no problems with “chain fire” and rupture of cylinders.

Unfortunately, its large hammer was located too high, which made it not very convenient for the shooter to aim.

The rifle also lacks a forend. Because of what it was difficult to hold it in your hands.

Morris and Brown carbine


Morris and Brown carbine

In 1860-1862. in the United States, another “revolving carbine” of .44 caliber appeared. Six-shooter, chambered for side fire.

It was developed in 1860 by V.Kh. Morris and K. Brown, and was named by Scientific American magazine “one of the most remarkable novelties of our time.”

Outwardly, it has a very characteristic look and is no longer similar to any other carbines and rifles.

It seems to be a drum carbine, but inside it, instead of a drum, there is a “funnel-shaped breech”, in which there are “six branches of the barrel”. After inserting cartridges into them and closing the bolt, the shooter cocked the inner drummer by pulling the ring lever behind the trigger.

When fired from a gun, each bullet was directed along its own “branch” into the main barrel. Well, the powder gases were retained at the same time inside the remaining barrels of the cone. That is, the cloud of smoke when fired from this carbine was minimal.

When the ring lever is pressed again, the striker rotates to the next chamber. (Since the magazine itself does not rotate in this case, it would be more correct to say that Morris and Brown is not a revolver).

Once all the chambers are unloaded, all the casings from the barrels are simultaneously pulled out using an ingenious extraction mechanism.


Diagram of the Morris and Brown carbine

Only about fifty Morris & Brown carbines were produced.

The fact is that, as expected, the transition from six barrels to one barrel quickly collapsed due to very high friction.

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