House Divided III: Spencer Repeating Rifle Patented

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:03:51
Year Produced: 2010
Description:

On March 6, 1860, young Christopher M. Spencer was issued his first patent for a breech-loading repeating rifle. This weapon would become one of the most trusted, popular and perhaps decisive of the War Between the States.

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Transcript

Lead: One hundred and fifty years ago, the Republic was facing its greatest crisis. This continuing series examines the American Civil War. It is "A House Divided."

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: On March 6, 1860, young Christopher M. Spencer was issued his first patent for a breech-loading repeating rifle. This weapon would become one of the most trusted, popular and perhaps decisive of the War Between the States. Prior to the Civil War, the basic infantry weapon used in battle was the muzzle-loading smooth-bore musket, which fired a single shot and was accurate up to 100 yards. Even by a good shooter, loading, shooting, and re-loading was pretty slow.

In 1855 President Pierce’s Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, authorized the adoption of the .58 caliber Springfield “rifled” musket. Also muzzle loaded, it was more accurate--out to about 500 yards--but was still very slow. The best marksmen could get off only three shots per minute.

In March 1860, inventor Christopher Spencer, formerly of the Samuel Colt Fire Arms Company of Hartford, Connecticut, received a patent for a repeating rifle whose seven magazine-fed cartridges could be fired in about 18-20 seconds. Spencer’s original patent was for a carbine--a shorter and lighter rifle used by cavalry troopers. With this patent Spencer opened his own company in Boston and personally demonstrated his rifle to Abraham Lincoln in 1863, half way through the war. Lincoln was impressed and Spencer’s rifle and carbine were adopted by the United States Navy and then the Army.

Two hundred thousand Spencer rifles were manufactured and the “Spencers” became highly coveted for their power, dependability and portability. They gave the Union cavalry and infantry a great advantage--near modern firepower ability--in the closing years of the war.

Research by Ann Johnson, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.