1852 Slant-Breech Sharps


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Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another video on Forgotten Weapons. I’m Ian, I am out here today With a very interesting Civil War era rifle here. This is a Slant-Breech Sharps, a Model of 1852. These were a very early breech-loading rifle That was still using black powder, it did not use brass cartridges. Now a lot of these were adapted to brass cartridges After the Civil War once brass cartridges were readily available. This gun would actually use a paper cartridge Where you’d have a round lead projectile or a Minié ball, And roll it up in a tube of paper, Pour powder into the paper and then seal off the back of the paper. So that you weren’t trying to actually dump loose powder into the breech of the gun, You just stuffed in the paper cartridge, put a cap on the nipple here, and away you go. This is a full-length rifle version of the Sharps, these are relatively uncommon. Most of the Sharps that were made and used in the Civil War Were actually carbines with significantly shorter barrels. This is a full-on 36 inch barrel, believe it or not. And the action on the Sharps is kind of like a lever action. Pull the lever down, the breech block drops down. So we got our breech block here, there’s where you put the percussion cap, hammer. When I pull the lever the whole breech block slides down in its little track there. That allows you to load a cartridge in. Load a cartridge in right there, bring up the breech block, and that seals it. Now one of the problems with these early Sharps rifles is that they weren’t perfectly gas sealed. We did a little bit of shooting on slow motion, and we’ll show that to you in just a sec. You can actually see gas venting out of the bottom of the action. Where all you have here is a metal to metal contact, And it’s got to be loose enough that you can actually slide the breech up and down. What these originally used (and this is an imperfect system And this example rifle shows you why it’s imperfect), There is a sleeve in the back of the chamber here That actually is supposed to slide back and forth a little bit. And the idea was under the pressure of firing that sleeve

Would be pushed back against the breech block, and that would seal the action. So you’re firing black powder with this sliding sleeve, And it takes about one round for black powder To foul the interface between the sleeve and the barrel. And then this sliding sleeve gets jammed in place, and it doesn’t slide any more. This one, for example, is pretty well thoroughly jammed in place. And from both re-enactor accounts and original accounts, once it’s frozen up like that It’s basically hopeless, you take what you’ve got at that point. You’ll have some gas leak and you just deal with it. Later models of the Sharps came up with some better ways to solve this problem. Primarily they actually started putting a platinum alloy ring on the breech face itself. And that ring under firing would obturate, almost like brass, And seal gasses inside the chamber. But this is an earlier version, you can see it’s got the slant instead of a straight breech action, That’s kind indicative of the early guns. And this one doesn’t have any of those gas seal features. … These early Sharps had a pellet primer system, … It was kind of clever, but it didn’t work out all that effectively in the field. The idea was you actually had a magazine of primers, 25 of them, In this little spring-loaded tube right here. Now this system isn’t quite functional, but we can show you how it would have worked. These aren’t primers really in the conventional sense, They’re a kind of a frisbee-shaped disc of mercury fulminate, or priming compound. There’s an arm that sticks out of the side of this primer mechanism, And it interfaces with a slot in the hammer here. When the hammer goes forward, it pulls this little arm with it, Which pushes this little block to the front here. And it actually throws one of these primer pellets out the front. This slot is where a primer pellet would come flying out, literally uncontrolled, And it’s doing this as the hammer is falling. And it was actually timed such that the hammer would catch the pellet, And slam it into the nipple, and fire the gun. At least, that was the idea. That idea didn’t work perfectly, it was reasonable, it did work sometimes.

And from looking at the original source material from … Civil War veterans, It seems that they found it to be an advantage to use in situations like very cold weather, Where the soldier’s fingers would get cramped up and stiff, and … not very dexterous. And it was then you’re better off relying on maybe this 80% reliable pellet primer system. And maybe you’d have to re-fire a couple of times if the primers didn’t work. But that was still quicker and easier than manually capping the gun for each shot If your fingers are stiff and you just can’t get the caps in reliably. This is a paper cartridge, it’s leaked a bit of powder Which is now stuck to the lubrication on the bullet. But you get the basic idea: a piece of paper, it’s folded over at the end. What I do to load this is Stuff it into the breech here. And I push it in until the bullet seats on the lands and grooves – so it stops. You can see we have paper sticking out, that’s a good thing, Because when I close the breech block it’s going to act as a shear, And it’s going to cut the back of the cartridge off. Which is going to mean that there’s an open … pile of powder Right in front of the flash hole so that the cartridge will ignite. So there’s our loose paper. You can see there was plenty of powder in that charge, we’ve got some falling out, That tells me there’s plenty of powder right up against the flash hole. We will get a few grains of that igniting when I fire the gun as well. Now, I have the hammer at half-cock, we’re going to add a percussion cap. These little guys. This batch of caps is a little bit unreliable. So we may have to try this a couple of times. But we seat that on there nice and firmly. I put on my eyes. Bring the hammer back to full-cock and we’re ready to fire. And if you want absolute proof of the gas leakage, there it is. It blew right down on my wrist because I wasn’t thinking about it. So I hope you guys enjoyed the video, And tune back in to Forgotten Weapons for more early breech loaders.


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