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Old May 15, 2013, 04:21 PM   #1
bedbugbilly
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A technical question on the Spencer carbine . . .

My g-g-grandfather carried a Spencer carbine and a Remington revolver during the Civil War from what records I can find (11th Mich. Cavalry). Many years ago, I had the opportunity to examine a original Spencer carbine as well as a Blakeslee" cartridge box which held the tubular magazines. But, as I say, it's been many MANY years ago and I don't know if I ever understood what I'm going to ask about.

I know that originally, they were chambered in.56-.56 rimfire and that the magazine held 7 cartridges when loaded fully. The magazine could be removed from the butt stock when empty and reloaded - the Blakeslee cartridge box allowed the individual to carry a quantity of loaded magazine tubes for a quick change out.

So, my question is this . . . . if I remember correctly, the tubular magazine is spring loaded - much like a modern .22 tube magazine. Obviously, the cartridges were loaded in the tube with the slug pointing up towards the opening - my question is "What held them in the tube?". In other words, the spring would compress as the cartridges were loaded in so there would be pressure on them to advance as rounds were fired - but if the tube was loaded manually or if spares were preloaded and carried in the Blakeslee, how did it work so that the cartridges just wouldn't "zing" out of the tube? Was there something at the opening of the tubular magazine that retained the cartridges in the tube until loaded in the carbine/rifle that would then be pushed aside to allow the cartridges to advance?

Or, do I have a misunderstanding on how this magazine tube worked /functioned?

Many thanks - just got to thinking about that today and I wasn't able to come up with an answer. I'm hoping someone with experience/knowledge of original Spencers can answer this.
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Old May 15, 2013, 04:35 PM   #2
Jim Watson
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You misunderstand the operation.
It works JUST like a modern .22, especially like the Browning with butt magazine. The removable tube is not the magazine, it is just a guide for follower and spring. Cartridges are loaded into the butt magazine and the follower tube pushed in over them and latched. The tubes in the Blakeslee Quickloader are just carriers, they don't go in the gun. Like the speedloader tubes you can get for a .22. Just upend the tube over the butt opening, let them slide in, and fit the follower.
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Old May 15, 2013, 05:42 PM   #3
4V50 Gary
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Jim Watson is right. Tubes were only storage containers to hold the cartridges. The tubes were tipped into the magazine and the cartridges allowed to pour into the magazine. The magazine tube with its follower was then re-inserted into the magazine and the tube could be discarded (but preferably restored to the Blakeslee Box). You can goggle some images of it. I saw one box at the National Firearms Museum. You can go to Civil War Talk and see if you can find images there or to the North-South Skirmish Association website for more info.
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Old May 15, 2013, 05:52 PM   #4
bedbugbilly
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Thanks much fellas - that all makes sense. Once you explined, I now remember what the tubes in the Blakeslee looked like. It's been probably 50 years since I saw one in person and I can now visualize the tops of the tubes as they sat in the Blakeslee box. Damn it's tough getting old . . . .

Greatly appreciate the information . . . at least that's one thing I won't be thinking about tonight that will keep me awake!
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Old May 16, 2013, 07:51 AM   #5
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If you are dwelling on things like this, then obviously you are not using up enough little grey cells, watching soap operas and reality shows on tv to occupy your brain.
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Old May 16, 2013, 10:36 AM   #6
James K
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While the Blakeslee box is often pictured in books on CW weapons, it was actually developed too late to see much use in the war; the first Army field trial was not until February, 1865 (the war effectively ended in April, 1865). Apparently most users of the Spencer carbine or rifle loaded them using cartridges carried in the pockets, or in leather pouches, one of which was provided by Spencer with each gun. The pouch held six paper-wrapped packages of seven rounds, or a total of 42 rounds. A leather cavalry cartridge box, holding 20 cartridges in a wooden block was also used.

There were actually three versions of the Blakeslee; the original held six tubes, the "cavalry" version (the one most often pictured) held 10, and the last held 13 tubes in a 4-5-4 arrangement. The idea was good, but the first delivery in October, 1864, was for only 500 of the six-tube model. Some 32,000 of the ten-tube model were delivered up to March, 1865, but of course too late to have any significant impact on the fighting. They were made by two contractors, Emerson Gaylord of Chicopee, MA (22,000) and H. Wilkinson of Springfield, MA (10,000). 1000 of the thirteen-tube model were delivered, all made by Gaylord.

Today, the six- and thirteen-tube are almost unknown and the ten-tube very rare. They were not very durable and most probably simply disintegrated in surplus storage. But some may still be around, possibly unrecognized in attics or old trunks.

(Credit for much of the above goes to Roy Marcot's Spencer Repeating Firearms, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in the Spencer.)

Jim
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Old May 16, 2013, 12:25 PM   #7
bedbugbilly
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Jim - thanks very much for that information - very interesting. I saw this Spencer and Blakeslee 50 + years ago when I was a kid. My folks took us on a 4 to 4 day travel around Ohio on a spring break. We ran across the "Peott" or "Peot" (pee to) Castle on the trip and we stopped. If I remember correctly, there were two castle like houses buit by the family in the early 1800's and one was sort of a museum. The family member, who was a WW II veteran, gave us a tour of the house and showed us many things from the family, including the Spencer and the Blakeslee. For the life of me, I can't remember the location in Ohio but it was a fantastic tour and for me, who was about ten or so at the time, it further sparked my interest in muzzleloaders.

g. willikers - LOL - I wish I had the time to watch soap operas and reality TV (although neither interest me). This was just "one of thiose things" that crossed my mind while my backside was parked on a John Deere. I'm pretty well versed on Civil War equipment and accouterments having collected for 50 years. I've never had a chance to see a Blakeslee in person other than that one time and for some reason, it was crossing my mind - probably because I was mulling over some of my genealogy as I mowed and got to thinking about my g-g-grandfather.

Over the years, I passed up some Spencers (many years ago) primarily as they really didn't interest me that much as compared to military muzzleloaders and civilian front stuffers. I'm starting to hear a little more on the reproduction spencers that are chambered in some more popular calibers - I think one would be a lot of fun and certainly different from the more popular lever guns.

Thanks again for the information - very interesting and greatly appreciated.
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Old May 16, 2013, 03:42 PM   #8
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Spencer in action.

I don't know how much the Spencer was used in the Civil War but it saw notable action in the late 1860's on the frontier. This fellow carried one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Nose It was used extensively in this desperate battle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Beecher_Island There were some spent Spencer cartridge cases recovered from the site of the Little Bighorn battlefield.
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Old May 17, 2013, 06:52 PM   #9
James K
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The Spencer rifle and carbine were rather widely used in the Civil War; some 94,000 carbines were delivered to the Army and thousands more to several states. It was the most common of the CW carbines, leading even the Sharps. Both the Army and Navy bought thousands of Spencer rifles. However, the thread was about the Blakeslee box which, as noted, is rare.

At first, the Army resisted purchase of rifles like the Spencer and Henry, in part due to conservatism, but also out of a very real concern that the special ammunition might not be available when needed. But Spencer persuaded President Lincoln to try his invention and, like JFK with the AR-15 a century later, the president's direction to "reconsider" the rejection was enough.

Jim
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Old May 17, 2013, 07:45 PM   #10
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If you want to read military history involving the Spencer Rifle, read up on Wilder's Lightning Brigade. Wilder's men were mounted infantry; many of whom were equipped with the Spencer Rifle. They had mobility and firepower. In the Tullahoma Campaign, they were instrumental in helping maneuver Bragg's Army of Tennessee out of Tennessee. They bought time for the Union forces to retreat at Chickamagua.
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Old May 18, 2013, 07:25 AM   #11
bedbugbilly
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I read the book "The Lightning Brigde" many years ago and it was a very interesting read. Those boys and those rifles were impressive for sure. At one time, I had almost 600 books on the Civil War & WW I in my personal library. My wife and I are "downsizing" and a year ago, I passed on most of them to a younger man who teaches history and likes to read on the Civil War. We don't have kids so he would have ended up with them eventually - I figured he'd enjoy 'em as much as I have over the years. "The Lightning Brigade" was one book that I almost kept to re-read but figured I'm so busy at this time that I wouldn't get the time - maybe I'll have to "borrow" it back.
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