Incompetence, Corruption, and a Rioting Mob: The Gibbs Carbine

The Gibbs carbine is fantastic illustration of just how difficult it can be to actually manufacture a new firearm. The gun itself is a breechloading, percussion fired cavalry carbine designed to use paper cartridges. It was patented in 1856 by Lucien Gibbs, and he was joined by financier William Brooks and gunsmith WW Marston to create a company to produce them. Marston made 20 examples by hand in 1857, and one of these was used in a successful demonstration at West Point in 1858. This led to a contract for 10,000 carbines from General Ripley in December of 1861.

Marston had a property in New York (called the Phoenix Armory) that they planned to use as their factory, but assembling the necessary machines and workers in the wartime economy of 1861 proved much more difficult than they expected. With not even a sample produced by the spring of 1862, a new contract was written in June, for the same 10,000 carbines but with delivery to begin in August of 1862. This deadline was also missed completely, and there had still been no deliveries by December of 1862. At that point, the outfit was bought out by New York Mayor George Opdyke, who was surely convinced he could easily make money from this seemingly simple deal. Opdyke was able to put in place a team more experienced in getting things done, and on May 30, 1863 the first 550 carbines were delivered to the Federal government and accepted.

Now things were rolling – another 502 guns were delivered on June 24, and another 500 were at the factory complete and awaiting deliver on July 13, when the introduction of Union military conscription sparked a massive riot in New York. The Phoenix Armory was defended by a group of police officers (armed with Gibbs carbines right off the racks), and when rioters attempted to break down the factory front entrance, the officers fired through the door. They killed the lead man, wounded two others, and the mob quickly decided to move elsewhere. The police stuck around for two hours after that, and then decided all was quiet and left.

Later that afternoon, the riot found its way back to the Armory, and burned it to the ground. The machinery, parts for some 6000 more carbines, and the 500 completed guns were a complete loss. The Phoenix did not, in fact, ever rise from the ashes, and 1052 carbines is the grand total that were ever made and delivered to the Cavalry. All was not a loss for Opdyke, however, as he was fortunately able to leverage his position as Mayor to ensure that the City of New York paid out a claim for $190,000 to cover the losses because of its negligence in removing the police protection.

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Hey guys thanks for tuning in I mean McCollum and I’m here today at The rock Company taking a look at some of the Guns they’re going to be selling in Their upcoming April of 2018 premier Firearms auction and one of them that we Have here is a gibbs carbine and this is Truly a perfect example of how difficult It can be to actually manufacture a gun So this is a civil war-era carbine this Was the design influenced by some other Carbines of the early 1850s the design Was patented in 1856 in 1857 Well the inventor was a guy named Lucien Gibbs and he put together a team of Three guys and this seems like a good Way to go about doing this he also had a Man named William Brooks who was his Financier and had a man named WW Marston Who was a gunsmith so between the three Of them one guy has the idea one guy has The money and one guy has the skill this Would be a good way to go about setting Up a gun company and that’s pretty much What they do in 1857 Marsden Manufactures twenty examples of the gun By hand samples that sort of thing they Actually shoot one for a group of Officers at West Point in 1858 and those Guys think doesn’t seem to be a bad gun And then the Civil War breaks out and so In December of 1861 they get a contract From Ripley u.s. ordnance officer to to

Make 10,000 of these carbines to supply The Union Army and at the same time they Also get a contract to make ten thousand Standard pattern rifles as well because The army is going to need both so seems To be an awesome thing going they’ve got All the ground work done they’ve got the Gun that they’ve got the guy to make it They’ve got a factory set up Marston has A property he calls Phoenix Armory in New York City and boy they’re gonna make A bunch of money and a bunch of guns and It’s gonna be great Let’s take a quick interlude to look at How this gun actually works what it is Like most of the cavalry carbines of the Civil War era this was a breech-loading Gun because having to muzzle load and Deal with loose powder and ramming Bullets and all that sort of nonsense While you’re on a horse is quite Difficult so the cavalry were the first In line to get breech loading arms Is a single-shot carbine not Surprisingly it is percussion fired so You would put a percussion cap there and Then it actually uses a self-contained Paper cartridge with powder and bullet And in order to load it you’re going to Start by pushing this button to unlock The lever and pull the lever down and as You pull the lever it is going to pull The barrel forward and then up like that Giving you access to drop a paper

Cartridge I am resting it on the muzzle So it’s trying to close drop a paper Cartridge in there when you seat the Barrel back in place it is going to drop Down over this ring to help seal the Action and you can see the little fire Hole right there that’s going to push Through the paper at the back end of Your paper cartridge to insure that Flame from the primer gets in and Ignites the cartridge so once you’ve got A cartridge in there pull the lever back It will cam the barrel into place snap The lever all the way down to lock it You would then fully [ __ ] the hammer put On a percussion cap and you’re ready to Fire we have pretty typical carbine Sights on this v-notch sights you’ve got A 100 yard and then you’ve got a flip-up For 300 and a stiff flip-up sight for 500 the barrel is held a bit loose on a Pivot joint right here to allow it to Cycle forward and back and up for Loading you can actually see the lever That does all the work underneath here When you look at it upside down as is Typical for a cavalry carbine we have a Bar with a sling ring here for Connection to the cavalryman’s single Point sling and the lock plate has this Nice little u.s. eagle or possibly Chicken and WMF brookes manufacturer Manufactured in new york 1863 these guns Are not serialized now let’s go back to

The story well by the spring of 1862 They still haven’t managed to get a Sample gun manufactured they’ve got some Subcontractors lined up for some of The other components they have barrel Blanks and stock blanks and that sort of Thing but it turns out it’s kind of Difficult and expensive and Time-consuming to try and tool up a Factory for gun production right at the Beginning of a war when everybody else Is trying to do the same thing so Finding machinery finding workers all of These things were proving to be Shockingly a lot more difficult than Gibbs and Marston and Brooks had Anticipated so spring is 62 they still Don’t have a gun and they go back and They actually threw some technicalities They rear angle the the the contract They actually dropped the contract for The rifles we’ll pass on that we’ll get The carbines done first and they get a New contract in June of 1862 again for 10,000 guns and it stipulates that the First deliveries are going to be in August of 1862 So everything’s clear they don’t have to Worry about infringing you know Violating their own contract by not Meeting the date they’ve got a couple Months well okay August of 1862 they Still don’t have any guns December of 1862 they still don’t have any guns and

At that point the original team pretty Much gives up they sell the whole kit And caboodle to a guy named George Updike who happened to be the mayor of New York City and he buys in for Something like sixty five thousand Dollars and guess he figured he’s got The connections that he can make all This stuff happen and they’ve already Got a contract in hand and this should Be a really easy money-making sort of Deal and he manages he puts the right Team in place people who actually have Been doing this sort of thing for a long Time they understand what’s required They tool up that factory I’m sure there Was no no political corruption involved At all in getting the supplies and the Workers and everything they needed Surely that didn’t possibly happen but I Tell you what by June of 1863 they’ve Got guns delivered they deliver five Hundred and some five hundred and fifty I believe carbines to the government in May and then in June they’ve got another Five hundred or five hundred and two That they deliver by goodness they are Making this actually work July by like July 13th they had another 500 guns Ready They had like 6,000 Guns partially completed you know having Manufactured stocks of parts for as many As six thousand they have another 500

That are all done in the factory and Ready to go be accepted by the Government and they get up on the Morning of July 13th and discover that There is a gigantic riot sweeping New York the union has declared conscription The draft people aren’t really thrilled With this idea and riots break out in New York City So of course it’s okay you know a gun Factory is you know very important to The government they recognize this and Of course the gun factory owned by the Mayor is going to get police protection And so it does the police show up in Fact it was like the factory manager who Showed up that morning and found the Police at the factory Carrying Gibbs carbines because the guys In the factory who saw the mob coming Down the street just started handing Rifles off the rack that you know hey The government’s ready to accept these Well tell you what give these to all the Cops to protect the factory today and We’ll deal with getting them to the Government you know after we’re not in Immediate danger for our lives so the Policemen are all armed with Gibbs Carbines and mob shows up and starts Banging on the doors of the factory Things are looking bad and the police Who are inside they tell him to stop Tell him to stop and then they just

Shoot through the door and they killed The first guy in the mob and they wound I think two more guys and that’s it that Was as much as those guys had an Interest in the mob turns around leaves And finds some easier place to loot Pretty good job done two hours later Still quiet the police pack up and leave You know they’re probably needed Elsewhere and everything seems fine Until at some point later that afternoon People showed back up lit the factory on Fire and burned it to the ground Complete with the 500 guns that were Ready to go and the parts for 6,000 more It is a complete loss nothing survives Oops Seeing this Updike’s the mayor so it’s a Little sketchy for him to be directly Involved you know so his son-in-law Files a suit with the city suing them For the total value lost of about a Hundred and ninety thousand dollars That’s a lot of money in a 63 basically saying that it’s the city’s Fault that the factory burned down Because they took away the police Protection too early Well the son-in-law says yeah my uncle Or my father-in-law of the mayor has Nothing to do with this company and up Taxes oh yeah I have nothing to do with This company but Updike is on the Committee that deals with this soot and

So Updike decides that well this claim Must be valid and hands over a check for One hundred and ninety thousand dollars So the city of New York ultimately pays For the complete loss of the gun factory There are no further carbines Manufactured there was a grand total of One thousand and fifty two actually Completed and delivered to the Union Army they were actually issued out to The Missouri cavalry and the first ones Went to the Missouri cavalry the second Batch apparently went to a couple units Of the New York cavalry now my Understanding is reports from the field Were not all that great on the gun so Maybe it’s not a huge loss that they Didn’t manage to get the whole 10,000 Manufactured but this I think is just The quintessential perfect story of how Difficult it can be to actually get a Seemingly very simple firearm into Actual mass production hopefully you Enjoyed this little interlude and Anecdote about the gibbs carbine if you Would like to have one of these in your Own collection they are as you might Expect a relatively rare US military Used Civil War carbine if you take a Look at the description text below You’ll find a link to rocky islands Catalog page on these guys where you can See their pictures and description and Price estimate on this particular one

Place a bid online for it or you can Participate in their auction here at Rock Island live in April thanks for Watching You

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