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mentality have occasioned much apprehension and activity in Europe, and all the prominent European governments are preparing to furnish their armies with either this gun or with some description of breech-loading rifle deemed superior in finish and effectiveness.
THE INVENTION OR BREECH-LOADERS.
Precisely 326 years have elapsed since a breech-loading firearm was invented. In the year 1540 Henry II. of France conceived the idea of loading musketoons at the breech, and (so far as can be learned) his invention was tested on several occasions. In a curiously-written description of the manner in which the gun was loaded, we ascertain that the barrel opened on hinges and exposed the breech, into which the load was de. posited. But this is evidently an obscure description. No doubt the gun was made to work in the following manner: The band hung upon a binge, say three inches from the hammer, and in those three inches the load was deposited, and the barról then closed down over it, being fastened at the side opposite the hinge by an iron pin. Of course, such a weapon was not as effective as the muzzle-loaders. The escape of
gas through the
aperture would have been sufficient to destroy its effect, did no other obvious objections interpose. A gun of the above description, with some 50 or 60 of other patterns, are now in the Museum of Paris, thus proving beyond a doubt that the invention of the French monarch was not entirely lost to the world, but was the subject of many attempts at improvement. Indeed, we are made certain that breech-loaders long attracted the attention of military men, from the number of guns bearing the names of prominent officers. Among the breech-loaders which were made, and of which nearly all failed to be serviceable, were the fusils of Marshal Saxe, Tourette of St. Etienne Pauli, Robert, Le Roy, Lefàucheux, Charroi, J. L. Montigny, Pierre Montigny, the Norwegian and Swedish fusils, the Prussian needlerifle, Clerville, Treuille, Thomas, Riera, Prince's ; Musketon Lepage, Gilby's, Gillet of Liege, Potet and Chassepot, with others whose names are lost to history.
Of the above-named arms, but few have ever been regarded as worthy of practical attention. Pauli's was invented in 1809, and tested in the presence of the great Napoleon. It proved a decided failure on account of its mechanical complications. In the hands of an expert the weapon would have been of some 'value, but to an army of soldiers it was utterly useless. The presenů famous needle-gun is but an improvement upon Pauli's—a decided one, it is true, but still greatly inferior to nearly every one of the breech-loading rifles made in this country. There is no simplicity whatever about it. It is complicated, and should there be the slightest injury to the sere the weapon would be utterly useless. In appearance the needle-gun differs in external appearance from every other firearm. The engravings that have reached this country represent it to be a rifle, without a hammer, and with a small iron knob directly in the rear of the breech and in front of the barrel. This knob is a portion of the breech, which can either be turned in the cylindrical breech receiver or be made to slide longitudinally. The breech being opened, the cart ridge is inserted, when it (the breech) is again closed, and ready for firing
Here, now, we have a complication. According to the American Artisan, into the front part of the breech is screwed the needle tube, through which the needle slides freely. The needle is attached to the needle bolt, which slides within the lock, and this latter slides within the breech. There is an air chamber in rear of and in communication with the cartridge chamber of the barrel, around the front part of the needle bolt. The main spring, by which the needle is shot forward, is of spiral form, and coiled around the needle bolt in rear of the collar. This collar forms a catch for the sere, and thus keeps the bolt drawn back when the hammer is cocked. In the same piece, with the sere, is the sere spring, at the end of which is the trigger. To load and fire this gun the following motions are required: First, pulling back the knob to withdraw the needle from the breech; second, opening the breech; third, inserting the cartridge; fourth, closing the breech; fifth, turning the knob, so as to bring it in front of the shoulder; sixth, firing the piece. It must be remembered that these are only the motions connected with the machinery of the gun; if we include the " lowering” of the piece, handling of the cartridge, raising of the piece, aiming, &c., we have not less than thirteen to fifteen motions. But it is of the piece itself that we write, and its defects may be stated as follows: First, the presence of the handle on the side of the barrel, which must, to some extent, destroy the accuracy of the aim ; second, tbe necessity of pulling back the knob before loading, and the danger of a premature discharge in consequence thereof. (It is stated that the needle bolt can be drawn back by a handle attached to the lockspring independently ; but this only further complicates the gun, and renders it more objectionable.) Third, the extreme dicety of its mechanical construction, by which the slightest irregularity will render it useless; fourth, its inability to fire with sufficient rapidity ; fifth, the tendency of the needle to break. All that is known about it is, that the passage of the needle through the powder creates a friction which sets fire to the fulminate as soon as the needle reaches it. In making this last objection it must be remembered that we are treating solely of breech-loading guns, and judging each by its actual merits or defects. That the needle-gun bas merits is undeniable; but as a breech-loader it is perhaps the most inferior of its kind now before the world. Its merits are simply these : First, the construction of the cartridge, and second the zundspiegel, or igniting material. In the first the use of copper is rendered unnecessary—the cartridge being encased in paper. The powder is first placed ; then follows a compressed paper sabot, which cleans the bore of the gun, and in which is fitted the bullet. The fulminate is placed in front of the gundowder, and between it and the sabot. When the gun is fired the needle first pierces the gunpowder, but does not fire it until it enters the fulminate, when the explosion instantly takes place. And this brings us to the zundspiegel, which, translated, means igniting glass. This is a secret known only to the inventor, and whether the power of ignition lies in the needle alone, or by contact with the fulminate, cannot be told. By this we mean that it is not stated whether the fulminate could be ignited by other means than by the needle. From all that can be ascertained, it is evident that no other ammunition than that expressly made for the gun can be used, so that the only conclusion to arrive at is that the fulminate possesses some secret power by means of which ignition takes place the instant the needle is brought into contact with it. The mere passage of a needle through the fulminate of one of our metallic cartridges would fail to explode it, a sharp blow from a solid front being required. As this article progresses we will compare the needle gun with many of our own make.
PRINCE's, LINDNER'S AND SNIDER'S. The first-named of these breech-loading rifles was experimented with at Brussels in 1856, and favorably reported on.
Its recoil was found to be less than that of any other gun in Belgium, with a charge of 70 grains of powder and 470 grains of lead ; the length of the ball being 1.18 inch, length of cone double that of the cylinder, and the diameter 0.59 inch. At a distance of from 1,640 to 1,986 yards it was claimed by the inventor that the bullets would carry with sufficient force to inflict a dangerous, and often mortal wound. The gun was, however, never adopted, because of its being too complicated for the use of any others than experts in the use of firearms. The Lindoer gun is merely the conversion of a muzzle-loader into a breech-loader, and it contains so many objectionable features that it can never be adopted as a military arm. The conversion is as follows: The breech piece of the muzzle-loader is cut away, and the barrel lengthened over the small of the stock. In this lengthening piece is a bolt, which, when moved backward opens the breech, and when moved forward closes it. At the near end of the bolt is a handle, wbich moves it longitudinally, or turns it, as the case may be. The bolt is threaded internally and a portion externally, so as to enable it to work freely backward and forward. On the front end of the bolt is a loose conical piece, from which projects a pin, forming a claw for extracting the sabot of the cartridge. On the front end of the bolt is a screw pin, which enters a slot provided for the purpose, and thus prevents it from coming out of the lengthening piece of the barrel. To open the breech the bolt is turned to one side for the purpose of freeing the threads, and then drawn back the required distance. By reversing the movement the conical piece is tightly screwed up and the breech thoroughly closed. The lock is of the old pattern, and the cartridges are encased in paper, a cap being placed upon the nipple of the
gun to discharge it. Altogether, the Lindner" converted” rifle is even inferior to the needle gun, by reason of the length of time required to load and fire a charge. The Snider rifle is also merely a conversion from a muzzle-loader, although it is a much more effective weapon than either of the guns already described. The upper part of the barrel is cut away at the b.eech for a length of about two inches, for the purpose of forming a breech receiver. Into this a solid breech block is fitted, the same swing. ing on a binge to the right side of the barrel. As this block is thrown open the shell of the cartridge is partially ejected by the backward move. ment of an attached spur. The cartridges are metallic, and the firing is effected by the hammer striking upon a sliding pin, which transmits the blow to the fulminate. Notwithstanding the fact that the British Govern. ment is converting large numbers of its Enfield rifles into this arm, and the claim that the rifle bas been fired 13 times in a minute, it can never become a prominent weapon. The breech block is nothing more than a "trap door" (as it is generally termed), through which the gas can escape in such quantities as to quickly foul the gun. All weapons of this description are necessarily unreliable, from the fact that they present no solid
front to the fulminate. In addition, to load them requires almost as much trouble as the muzzle-loaders. Taking the Snider as an example, we have: First, opening the breech, which requires two motions; second, turning the gun to permit the exploded shell to fall out; third, introducing the cartridge ; fourth, shutting down the trap, which requires two motions; fifth, cocking the piece; sixth, firing. We thus have eight positive motions with the machinery alone.
THE FUSIL JARRE AND THE CHASSEPOT RIFLE.
Of these recent French inventions we know but little, the inventors, either from patriotic motives or in obedience to the orders of the imperial government, keeping a profound silence in regard to their constructions. The Fusil Jarre is claimed to be the most destructive firearm in the world, it being capable of firing fifty shots per minute. This, however,
very doubtful; but, if even true, no mortal man could sustain the fatigue which would necessarily result from so rapid an operation. The Chassepot rifle is less pretentious, and therefore most likely to be the best weapon. It can be fired twelve times per minute without material fatigue. On what principle it is constructed none others than the French government and those engaged in the construction of the rifle can tell. It is more than likely, however, that it is an improvement on the Prussian needle gun. The Chassepot has been adopted by the French government, and the monster foundries of St. Etienne are engaged in manufacturing the rifle for the use of the French army.
Turning from foreign to American breech loading firearms, we discover that they are of two descriptions. One is a single loader and the other a repeater, so called because of its having a magazine either in the stock or under the barrel, by means of which a number of shots can be fired without stopping to load at each shot. The objects of our inventors have been to make a weapon which would unile simplicity with effectiveness; and the attention which has been paid to breech-loading firearms within the past six years has resulted in the inventions of several which, for effectiveness, have no equal in the world. And this assertion is not merely a boast. It is perfectly true that no European inventor has yet exhibited a weapon which for rapidity of firing, superiority of finish and simplicity of construction can equal the “Spencer," * Ballard,” “ Henry” or “ Peabody” breech-loading rifles. While to Europe belongs the honor of having invented the arm, to the United States must be credited the having made such improvements as renders a formerly complicated contrivance into a dangerously effective weapon. Not that American breech-loaders are without defects—for there is still a wide room for improvement—but that we will, in the following descriptions of a few, prove that our own weapoos are in every respect superior to the needle-gun, or any other European breech-loader, except, perhaps, the “Chassepot," of which no minute description has ever been made public :
THE BURNSIDE AND SPENCER RIFLEB.
In the year 1857 several breech-loading rifles were by order of the Uni
ted States government experimented with at West Point Of some fifteen or twenty different kinds the “Burnside” rifle carbine was declared the best, and was recommended for adoption. The principle on which this weapon is made is this :— It has a movable chamber which opens by turning on hinges. The aperture through which the gas would escape is left open is covered by an embossed portion of a thin brass cartridge case, and tbus cuts off the escape of the gas. The gun has the same objection as Lindner's— viz.: the trap door and it soon gave way before the Spencer and other breech-loading rifles of superior constructien. With regard to the Spencer, much can be said in its favor, but it is still open to serious objections. The construction of the gun is simpler than that of the peedle-gun, but is still very complicated. The breech is formed of two pieces, one of which is the breech pin and the other the block on which the cartridges are carried. The breech pin is attached to the lever, which forms the trigger guard, and the carrier block is pivoted into the breech receiver by a pin which is situated below and in rear of the binge of the lever. Between the block and the breech pin is a pin which presses the latter upward, and behind the breech pin is a curved piece of steel, which guides the cartridges to the breech. This guide is worked by a spring situated near the bammer, and in front of it is the sbell ejector, which also works by its action, On the left side of the breech pin is a slide upon which the hammer strikes to fire the priming. The magazine is situated along the entire length of the interior of the butt stock, and is composed of a stationary outer tube and an inner tube which slides in and out. The inner tube is simply a steel box, with a spiral spring for pressing the cartridges forward to the barrel as soon as the breech is opened. To operate the gun the following motions are required :--Supposing that the maga. zine is already.filled with the cartridges (of which there are seven) and se. cured in the butt stock by turning the handle to a longitudinal position with the hammer. First, the lever is pulled down, which first throws the breech pin below the chamber of the barrel, and then makes the carrier pin and block slide back, ejecting the exploded shell and enabling the fresh cartridge to pass over the breech pin; the cartridge being, of course, pushed forward by the spiral spring, which becomes relieved from confinement the moment the lever is pulled down, and the block and breech pin swung backward. The cartridge is then directly in front of the chamber of the breech, and as soon as the lever is moved back it is forced into the barrel by the breech pin, which presses it up from the rear. The chamber and magazine are thus effectually ciosed by the block and breech pin, and it only remains to cock the hammer and draw the trigger. While ihis gun has been successfully used in the United States army, it is undeniably unfit for adoption as the regular arm. Like the needle.gun it is entirely too complicated, the construction is too nice, and the dangers of injury too many. It contains too many delicate springs which are liable, and indeed exposed, to injury at every moment.
If we take the spring wbich works the cartridge guide, for instance, it will be seen that there is a danger of its slipping from beneath the guide at any moment, and thus preventing the gun from working. Again, the shell extractor, or ejector, is a delicate piece of steel that can be snapped with the finger. This is exposed every tiine the lever is pulled down, and if not broken a few grains of dirt falling into the vacuum left by the backward movement of