Civil War Smith Carbine and its Rubber Cartridges

Cool Forgotten Weapons merch!

The US military experimented with a wide variety of breechloading carbines during the Civil War. One of these that got a bit of a head start on the others was the Smith carbine, patented in 1855-57 by Gilbert Smith, a physician from New York. He contracted with Poultny & Trimble of Baltimore – a major arms and military accoutrements dealer – to market the gun, and he received his first military order in February of 1860. That first order was on for 300 guns, but it meant that the design was a known quantity to the military when war broke out. Throughout the war a series on contracts were written for a few thousand Smith carbines as a time, with final deliveries made in June 1865 and a total of just over 31,000 delivered to the military. Prices steadily dropped form $35 per gun before the war to just $23.50 by the final contract.

The Smith was a break action design using a cartridge made of India rubber. It was a capping breechloader, meaning that ignition was provided by a traditional primer on the side of the action, and not through a primer integral to the cartridge. This rubber system was a reliable obturator, and the Smith received generally positive reviews from cavalry units that used it in combat.

Forgotten Weapons
6281 N. Oracle #36270
Tucson, AZ 85704

Hey guys thanks for tuning in to another Video on Forgotten weapons comm I’m Ian McCallum and I’m here today at the Rock Island auction company taking a look at Another one of the US military Breech-loading carbines of the Civil War Now during the Civil War the US military Would prove very reluctant to adopt any Sort of new technology for the infantry Focusing instead on maintaining the use Of muzzleloading rifles for the infantry They were known they were their known Factor for their efficacy for the Reliability and more importantly for Their production the military knew that They could reliably produce large Numbers of these guns and that was more Important than trying to get some new Fangled cartridge technology or Something however different standards Applied to the cavalry cavalry were well Had a really hard time loading a Muzzleloading rifle from horseback as You might expect cavalry were also being Used in much smaller unit numbers and it Was much safer in a sort of logistical Sense to kind of experiment with cavalry Arms and so the Union military and the Confederate military to a lesser extent Would experiment extensively with a huge Number of different carbines during the Civil War breech-loading carbines in Fact of these the fourth most popular Wasn’t this one the Smith carbine this

Was patented designed by a guy named Gilbert Smith out of New York he was a Physician and he actually designed this Relatively a couple years before the Civil War he was getting he got patents On it in 1855 56 and 57 and he had a Head start on a lot of his competitors Because by the way a whole lot of people Decided to try and come up with new Carbines to sell the government during This of war Gilbert Smith had a head Start on them because he actually got His first order for these from the Military in February of 1864 the Civil War started now it was only in order for 300 guns but still 300 guns $35 apiece That’s not chump change Of course Gilbert Smith physician from New York does not have a rifle factory Nor does he have a rifle sales program So he partnered up with a company called Pony and Trimble out of Baltimore to Actually sell the guns for him that was Kind of how you did things Or the Internet existent and potently And Trimble then contracted Subcontracted the manufacturing of the Guns to machine companies that they had Worked with so these were actually made Over the course of their production by Three different companies the Massachusett term company the American Arms Company I believe it was called and American machine works American machine

Works in Massachusetts Arms Company Being by far the majority of the Production so when the Civil War kicks Off the Union military decides well We’re gonna need some more guns here and So they already have this working Relationship with Poultney and Trimble For this known factor of a carbine and So they call it pulling and they Basically say you know we want to buy Like a couple tens of thousands of these Guns Paulie and Trimble is very happy to sell Them as many as they would like At $35 peace and the government comes Back with you know okay we’re willing to Pay a high price for 300 guns because It’s a small number but if we’re gonna Order like 10,000 of them or we need a Discount and they ultimately negotiate a Contract for 10,000 guns at $32.50 Apiece However potent Trimble’s manufacturing Subcontractors aren’t able to make good On this and ultimately of that contract Only about 1,500 would be delivered However Poultney and Trimble were Competent businesspeople and they solved This problem and got more guns into Production and there would actually be a Pretty much continuous sequence of Contracts for Smith carbines through the Course of the Civil War with a grand Total of about 31,000 being delivered to

The military in total so this has a Somewhat unique system and uses a very Interesting cartridge let me go ahead And show you all that now the very first Smith carbines did not actually have This sling bar the very first ones had Sling swivels on the handguard and the Stock however early field reports came Back that it was really pretty difficult To carry this thing across one’s back And so the government decided that it Would rather have a single point sling Bar on the side of the guns and the Manufacturing was changed as well Changed to put the bar on so early guns Will have sling swivels those are Generally Massachusetts Arms Company Guns later ones have this sling bar Apparently there are a few little Transitional ones that have But that’s a pretty rare thing to find Now pretty much all of our markings are Here on the left side of the receiver we Have the sales company which is Poultney And Trimble of Baltimore we have the Patent information which is kind of Hidden under that sling bar Smith’s Patent of 1857 and then we have the Manufacturers marking which is really Hard for me to film because it’s sitting Underneath that sling bar this one is an American machine works which is heavily Abbreviated so you can get it from the Top

Manufactured by yes AM N American M CH n Machine I get the last word it says Works over there W K and that company Was located in Springfield Massachusetts The serial number is on the bottom of The frame there’s one serial number on The barrel side and a second serial Number split across the receiver side All three manufacturers had their own Serial number ranges each starting at One so there are plenty of duplicate Serial numbers if you’re going to Describe one of these guns by a number You also have to include the Manufacturer name and we have a couple Little inspector marks on the gun in the Form of initials the LFR is Lafayette F Rogers and we have a JH cartouche in the Stock from Joseph Hennis these are just The guys who are tasked with inspecting Their guns for the military and Confirming that they were in fact good We’ve got a fairly decent little v-notch Rear sight there and a nice big visible Blade sight in the front now the action Of course is the cool part so I’m gonna Go ahead and put this at half [ __ ] this Used a cartridge a self-contained Cartridge without a priming mechanism That cartridge was manufactured out of India-rubber so it was kind of like a Rubber boot with a little hole in the Back for priming for the flash hole Which you’ll see in a moment and then a

Bullet at the front and powder in the Middle there were apparently some Sometimes during the Civil War when that Rubber became very difficult to get and They did experiment with a paper or foil Wrap instead of rubber which worked but Not as well the rubber was there to Serve as The obturator so you’ve got a pair of Cones a male cone and a female cone There to kind of join these two receiver Halves which by the way are ultimately Held together by this spring bar which I Can push up with this front trigger push That up and then you can break it open The two cones plus the rubber material Of the cartridge actually did a pretty Good job sealing the breech on this There that was part of the reason these Guns were relatively well liked as they Actually worked you will also notice That the breech opens not at the exact Back nor at the front but really halfway Down the length of the cartridge so you Would break the gun open like this at 90 Degrees put the cartridge into the front Half and then you can close the rear Half over it [ __ ] the hammer the rest of The way and then you’re ready to fire Ballistically this is not the world’s Most robust cartridge ever it is a 50 Caliber bore used a 350 grain bullet Over a charge of 40 grains of black Powder so not not super hard shooting

But that’s kind of a good thing out of What is only a seven and a half pound Carbine I will also point out the length Of pull on this looks relatively long But it actually handles at least for me Very nicely overall the Smith carbines Were actually pretty well liked by the Troopers who had to use them not Universally but none of this stuff is Universally liked by you know a variety Of different people in different Circumstances but the Smith saw combat In a variety of different battles during The Civil War when it was when Commanders were polled unit commanders It was something like 2/3 3/4 of them Thought that the Smith carbine was a Good or a very good firearm so as civil War carbines go that’s a pretty ringing Endorsement of course once the war ended There would be no further need for Carbines like this there wasn’t really Any any demand on the civilian market Because you know shortly after the Civil War ended there were a tremendous number Of guns like this available super cheap On the surplus market because the US Government dumped a lot of the stuff That they didn’t need especially Non-standard guns like Smith And other carbines they would keep Spencer’s they would keep sharps I Believe but a lot of the rest of the Stuff just surplus it out we don’t need

It we don’t want to pay to warehouse it So there were about thirty five thousand Of these guns made in total about 31,000 Of them delivered to the military so There are some commercial private sale Ones out there but the vast majority of Them are military ones like this a lot Of them towards the end of the war ended Up being delivered to the military but Then remaining in in storage and not Actually being issued which leads to Some guns like this one that are in Remarkably good condition for being as Old as they are know if you’d like to See more about this particular one you Can check it out in the Rock Island The most recent Rock Island auction Catalog you can also check out their Instagram page and their YouTube channel I have links to both of those down in The description text below thanks for Watching

Learn More →