Original U.S. M1860 Spencer Carbine Converted to Centerfire & Possibly Captured by Native Americans - Serial 15560
Original Item: Only One Available. This is a fantastic "Frontier Used" example of a Spencer Model 1860 Repeating Carbine, which has had an interesting and long history! It began its life during the U.S. Civil war, and is marked Serial number of 15560, indicating mid-late 1863 manufacture. This number is found on the receiver tang, and on the underside of the barrel. While the markings are faded, the 22 inch long barrel clearly identifies it as a Model 1860, and not the later Model 1865.
From Spencer's initial order for 7,500 Carbines starting at serial number 11,001, 7,000 were supplied by December 1863 and the balance in early 1864. We checked the Springfield Research Service records, and this serial number does not appear. However, serial number 15547, 15804, and others in a block nearby went to Company "L" of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, so it is possible that it may have been part of that shipment! Lots of research potential here.
The carbine comes complete with its original 7-Shot tube magazine stored in the butt, this was the gun that advertised, "Load on Sunday and Shoot all week". Maker’s markings and patent information are still slightly legible on top of the receiver, which read:
RIFLE CO. BOSTON MASS.
PAT'D MARCH [6 1860]
This particular carbine was not equipped with the Stabler cut-off attachment, which was retrofitted in the post-war period by Springfield Armory, to some of these carbines. It was however converted in another way, and that was by altering the breech block from rimfire to centerfire. This was done to lengthen the service life of the rifle, as Spencer went under in 1869. Converting to centerfire allowed .50-70 cartridges to be adapted for use with the carbine.
These converted carbines saw extensive use during the "American Indian Wars" following the U.S. Civil War. Brigadier General James F. Rusling of the Quartermaster's Department had recommended in 1867 that cavalry exclusively use the carbine against mounted Indian raiders, after completing a one-year tour of the new western territories. Other carbines were of also sold out of service, when they were obsolete, where they also could have found their way into the conflict, either in the hands of settlers, or the Native Americans themselves.
This example has had a leather cover wrapped around most of the butt stock, and also has a leather thong attaching a Springfield arsenal Spencer Carbine tool to the saddle ring. The tool itself fits under the leather cover, and this is exactly the type of customization that Native Americans often did to their firearms. The condition of the exterior shows extensive use outdoors, so we very much suspect that it saw service on the side of the "Indians", possibly even at the Battle of Little Bighorn! One can always dream, right?
Condition is what one would expect from a carbine that saw extensive use on the frontier. The metalwork has lost all of the original finish, and has a good amount of oxidation on the exterior, particularly on the left hand side of the receiver and operating lever. The butt plate also shows oxidation as well, while the barrel and right side of the carbine have much less wear and damage to the metal. The rear sight looks to have been replaced at some point, and then was modified into a simple two position flip sight. The stocks also show extensive wear, though we have not removed the leather cover from the butt stock, so we do not know what it is like underneath.
Functionally, the carbine still cycles and dry fires, though sometimes the breech block will get hung up on the follower of the magazine. We did remove the magazine from the stock, and it is in good condition. The bore actually still does show clear 6 groove rifling, with wear and light overall oxidation, so the interior of the carbine at least was cared for.
A fantastic unique Spencer Carbine which saw service in the U.S. Civil war, and then during the Frontier days of the United States. Ready to research and display!
Years of Manufacture: mid-late 1863
Caliber: .52 cal
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 22 inches
Overall Length: 39 inches
Action: Lever Action with Manual Hammer
Feed System: 7 Round Tube Magazine
History and overview of the Spencer repeating rifle and carbine-
The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time. The Spencer carbine was a shorter and lighter version.
The design was completed by Christopher Spencer in 1860, and was for a magazine-fed, lever-operated rifle chambered for the 56-56 Spencer rimfire cartridge. Unlike later cartridge designations, the first number referred to the diameter of the case ahead of the rim, while the second number referred to the diameter at the mouth; the actual bullet diameter was .52 inches. Cartridges were loaded with 45 grains (2.9 g) of black powder.
To use the Spencer, a lever had to be worked to extract the used shell and feed a new cartridge from the tube. Like the Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Rifle, the hammer had to be manually cocked in a separate action. The weapon used rimfire cartridges stored in a seven-round tube magazine, enabling the rounds to be fired one after another. When empty, the tube could be rapidly loaded either by dropping in fresh cartridges or from a device called the Blakeslee Cartridge Box, which contained up to thirteen (also six and ten) tubes with seven cartridges each, which could be emptied into the magazine tube in the buttstock.
There were also 56–52, 56–50, and even a few 56–46 versions of the cartridge created, which were necked down versions of the original 56–56. Cartridge length was limited by the action size to about 1.75 inches, and the later calibers used a smaller diameter, lighter bullet and larger powder charge to increase the power and range over the original 56–56 cartridge, which, while about as powerful as the .58 caliber rifled musket of the time, was underpowered by the standards of other early cartridges such as the .50–70 and .45-70.
At first, conservatism from the Department of War delayed its introduction to service. However, Christopher Spencer was eventually able to gain an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, who subsequently invited him to a shooting match and demonstration of the weapon. Lincoln was impressed with the weapon, and ordered that it be adopted for production.
The Spencer repeating rifle was first adopted by the United States Navy, and subsequently adopted by the United States Army and used during the American Civil War where it was popular. The South occasionally captured some of these weapons and ammunition, but, as they were unable to manufacture the cartridges because of shortages of copper, their ability to take advantage of the weapons was limited. Notable early instances of use included the Battle of Hoover's Gap (where Col. John T. Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" effectively demonstrated the firepower of repeaters), and the Gettysburg Campaign, where two regiments of the Michigan Brigade (under Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer) carried them at the Battle of Hanover and at East Cavalry Field. As the war progressed, Spencers were carried by a number of Union cavalry and mounted infantry regiments and provided the Union army with additional firepower versus their Confederate counterparts. President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth was armed with a Spencer carbine at the time he was captured and killed.
The Spencer showed itself to be very reliable under combat conditions, with a sustainable rate-of-fire in excess of 20 rounds per minute. Compared to standard muzzle-loaders, with a rate of fire of 2-3 rounds per minute, this represented a significant tactical advantage. However, effective tactics had yet to be developed to take advantage of the higher rate of fire. Similarly, the supply chain was not equipped to carry the extra ammunition. Detractors would also complain that the smoke and haze produced was such that it was hard to see the enemy.
In the late 1860s, the Spencer company was sold to the Fogerty Rifle Company and ultimately to Winchester. With almost 200,000 rifles and carbines made, it marked the first adoption of a removable magazine-fed infantry rifle by any country. Many Spencer carbines were later sold as surplus to France where they were used during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
Despite the fact that the Spencer company went out of business in 1869, ammunition was sold in the United States up to about the 1920s. Later, many rifles and carbines were converted to centerfire, which could fire cartridges made from the centerfire .50–70 brass.
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