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Old July 26, 2012, 03:06 PM   #1
Rachen
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Why no inventor built a simple automatic weapon during the War Between the States?

One thing that I simply CANNOT understand, is that why no Southern inventor or tinkerer have come up with a simple blowback operated automatic weapon during the Civil War.

I have inspected the machinery of Civil War era firearms like the LeMat, Henry, and Whitworths, and compared them to the machinery of WWII era submachine guns like the PPS-43. Guess what? The machinery in the Russian automatic pistol is far more simpler than the workings of a LeMat revolver or Henry magazine rifle.

The firearms available in the 1860s were very sophisticated machines. Just look at the LeMat revolver. Over 10 different moving parts that drive/power other stationary parts that work simultaneously in timing and locking the gun for firing. A simple blowback weapon has just a trigger/sear, a bolt, a bolt guiding rod, and an ejector stud. It does not even need a grip/handle. Utilitarian? Yes, but it gets the job done.

The shooters of the 1860s are obviously well familiar with the concept of recoil. There are also many, many cartridges such as the .56-50 Spencer and .44 Rimfire that were being captured in large quantities by Confederate raiders. And on top of all that, there were hundreds, if not thousands of inventors feverishly working on weaponry that would help the Confederacy win the war. Submarines, electrically-detonated torpedos and mines, balloons, timed explosive devices, etc...

The one thing that could have delivered a serious advantage to the war effort would be a cheap, mass produced blowback operated automatic weapon chambered in .44 RF or .56-50 that can be delivered to every infantryman or at least elite units like mounted raiders and commandos operating behind enemy formations.
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Old July 26, 2012, 03:22 PM   #2
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They knew about it but heat and bp fouling played a big part in weapons progression. The South had the Williams gun which was a crank powered sliding breech but jammed up from heat. The gatling was a better design because it had enough barrels to cool down between firings.
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Old July 26, 2012, 03:59 PM   #3
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The South was based upon agriculture in that time period, not manufacturing. Even if it were, technology is a slow progression only maturing in recent times. Ever tour a busines (IBM) computer room in the 1970's?

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Old July 26, 2012, 04:25 PM   #4
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The south was agriculturally based but they had their share of inventors. Rachen made some good points.

http://library.thinkquest.org/27411/rapidfire.html
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Old July 26, 2012, 04:37 PM   #5
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The whole concept of the metallic cartridge was brand new, the concept of the repeating firearm was brand new, the idea of an automatic firearm-how long have we had the concept of the raygun, how many are in use and available? Plus one of the disadvantages of the basement tinkerer/lone inventor is that their designs are usually not subject to careful R&D and critical analysis. For every John Browning or Henry Ford or John Garand who can think out their creation from start to finish and can visualize what will and WON"T work-in John Garand's case, thinking out the manufacturing steps-there are too many who either overlook such things or don't even realize them in the first place. The there is the matter of tooling up for mass production after the supposedly best design is chosen-and how is the "best" design chosen? And as others have noted, the concept of a truly automatic firearm-as opposed to a hand cranked one like the Gatling Gun-really had to wait for the development of smokeless powder.
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Old July 26, 2012, 04:56 PM   #6
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Where was the deep-drawn solid brass cartridge case to make this idea work? And where would the South get brass from to make them in huge quantities?
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Old July 26, 2012, 04:59 PM   #7
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You guys got great points, lets address each of them:

The ray gun, though we have had the concept since the days of HG Wells, would present a real difficult problem to actually build. Because we do not have the power supply, containment system, and delivery system for such large amounts of destructive and ionizing energy.

The submachine gun on the other hand? The materials needed to build them are already there in 1861. Got cartridges? Check. Got plumbing parts? Check. Got metallurgy knowledge and guys who know how to operate machine tools? Check.

Agricultural economy: The blowback submachine gun would have been the most practical weapon to be fielded for the South at that time. The main issue is that the Confederate raiders are capturing a far larger amount of cartridges than the rifles that use them. Henrys and Spencers are rare spoils of war. But their cartridges are transported by the wagonload and captured by the wagonload.

The South may not have had the technology to mass-produce a Henry rifle. But they sure have the materials and technology required to build a weapon like the PPS-43 or the Sten. They could have even made it a patriotic initiative: Write a list of necessary parts available at the local hardware stores and distribute it to every family in the South. For each submachine gun built and given to the Army, the family will receive special rewards.

Children who are not in school can spend the whole day at home putting parts together. Teachers at school could make it a fun project for all children: Your country needs you! Whichever group assembles the most guns from these parts in this crate shall receive one writing assignment less today!

Adults can get the parts from stores and machine/forge/craft them to fit. It would be a true People's War. Everyone pitch in and help defend their country in every way possible.

And finally, the heat and fouling issue? True, BP produces a lot of fouling, especially in automatic weapons, but the soldiers can be instructed to use firepower for the maximum effect at the beginning of a volley. Even with fouling accumulation, the guns can fire at least 2 or 3 or even more magazine-loads before they start jamming up. Or, if the South start manufacturing sulfurless black powder, the fouling issue can be eliminated altogether and the guns will be just as effective as the modern smokeless automatic weapon.

Imagine a Yankee column trundling along a heavily forested road. Suddenly, 100 Confederates hiding behind trees and behind ravines open up with automatic weapons at once. Each soldier has a 30-round magazine and each weapon is firing 600 rounds per minute. The amount of fire saturating that Yankee column would be truly catastrophic. And at that time, most young men knew how to shoot accurately, so deadly accurate AUTOMATIC fire would take a serious toll on Yankee numbers. And when the guns start jamming from fouling, the CS troopers can simply fall back into the woods and disappear.

They will spend some time in hiding, cleaning their weapons, reloading their magazines, and in a few hours they will be back in combat, with freshly cleaned and loaded weapons, ready to deliver more withering sheets of lead.
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Old July 26, 2012, 06:22 PM   #8
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Rachen-
Interesting idea, but the wheel of invention turns slowly. Wheel locks, match locks, flint, percussion, pin fire cartridges etc. At the time they made their respective debuts, they were state of the art. I would believe that a fighting man used to a single shot flint gun was in awe of a six shot percussion revolver. Same as a more modern fighter was impressed (yeah, I know some were not) by the M16 or AK when he was familiar with the M1 or some other WW2 vintage weapon system. I'm sure in a 100 years or 200 years the modern M4 and semi pistols will be looked at as relics, the people then will marvel that we in our time did not produce what they have.
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Old July 26, 2012, 06:28 PM   #9
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All things are obvious in retrospect.

Willie

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Old July 26, 2012, 06:36 PM   #10
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Exactly! What we take as normal everyday items, were at one time the cutting edge of development.
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Old July 26, 2012, 06:51 PM   #11
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Rachen, get a copy of Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South. I think you'll enjoy it.
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Old July 26, 2012, 07:15 PM   #12
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All things come in their own time....
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Old July 26, 2012, 07:22 PM   #13
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Not to mention that the adoption of a new weapon without thinking through the tactical and strategic changes it brings usually invokes the Law of Unexpected Results and Unintended Consequences. One reason why the Civil War was such a slaughterhouse was the tactics were based on the smoothbore with its 100 yard effective range but the troops were using rifled muskets with a 4-500 yard effective range.
In WWII the Soviets fielded much greater numbers of SMGs-the PPSh M1941
and PPS M1943-than any other army, they were easy to train conscript troops with and their short range encouraged aggresive tactics, plus Soviet troops were usually supported with massive ammounts of artillery.
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Old July 26, 2012, 07:24 PM   #14
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Why hasn't anybody built a Yashimoto Disrupter? True, it will only become standard issue to the Space Patrol in 2347, but you could use the Hope Diamond as a resonance crystal and have one right now that would take care of a lot of tactical situations.
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Old July 26, 2012, 08:20 PM   #15
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What a folly that would have been. What . . . and have the soldiers waste ammunition? Pretty much why the Europeans were able to dump all of their obsolete rifles to both the north and the south - their weaponry was advancing - with obsolete generals like Winfield Scott in charge, why would you want to supply the troops with something that they'd burn up ammo in? Let's face it, it was mid war before the advantages of the Spencer and Henry became evident.

Yes, the machinery might have existed that could make it, but the mind set wasn't there. BP was still in wide use everywhere with it's own unique problems of fouling, etc. As has often been said . . . "Everything in its own time".
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Old July 26, 2012, 09:53 PM   #16
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Simple fact, black powder would not work in automatic weapons. Even a black powder revolver will start excessive fouling in as few as 10 to 14 shots. Really a no brainer. Even the Coffee Grinder ( look it up ) and the Gatling were hand cranked to over come powder fouling.
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Old July 26, 2012, 10:19 PM   #17
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Yall are kidding right. A fully automatic gun may be simpler on paper but look at the parts needed. Civil war engineers had to way of producing anything capible to withstand that kind of force. If it was made it probuly didnt last long after the frase hey yall look at this.
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Old July 26, 2012, 10:19 PM   #18
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You'd be surprised how long a 1911 will run loaded with bp. It does become an issue but not in 10-14 rounds. Neither does a properly lubed bp revolver.
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Old July 27, 2012, 12:24 AM   #19
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The South didn't invent machine guns for the same reason that the Nazi's didn't invent the A-bomb.
There's probably a very good reason why history is so fickle.

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Old July 27, 2012, 06:11 AM   #20
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Having experienced a couple of semi-autos that endlessly stove-pipe, fail to feed, and were generally unreliable, I think the "simplicity" of a blowback automatic might be superficial.
It's like a gas turbine engine, on paper they are simple, but try to design one that really runs well and you begin to understand just how superficial that simplicity really is.
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Old July 27, 2012, 01:52 PM   #21
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Pity? Maybe the CSA didn't think the Yankees really rated anything more than some squirrel rifles? IIRC, the first battle of bul run would have reinforced such pity.

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Old July 27, 2012, 02:16 PM   #22
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The South won almost every major battle up until 1863.
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Old July 27, 2012, 02:42 PM   #23
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Quote:
The South won almost every major battle up until 1863.
Why did General Jackson had to die so early?

He was the only officer with the resolve and power to have been able to STOP General Pickett from carrying out that catastrophic mistake at Gettysburg.

Seriously, don't they know what was waiting for them on the top of that ridge? Three hours of concentrated artillery fire does not mean anything when you cannot confirm that the enemy has indeed been neutralized as a threat.

Most of those shells exploded near the cemetary and killed noncombatant personnel like horse handlers and couriers. Almost none of the Federal guns or caissons were destroyed during the bombardment.

General Pickett General Pickett, you son of a gun...
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Old July 27, 2012, 03:19 PM   #24
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Quote:
Why did General Jackson had to die so early?

He was the only officer with the resolve and power to have been able to STOP General Pickett from carrying out that catastrophic mistake at Gettysburg.
The last I heard, General Robert E. Lee was the commander of the confederate army of northern Virginia, not "Stonewall" Jackson.

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General Pickett General Pickett, you son of a gun...
Pickett's division was carrying out General Lee's orders. Not General Pickett's. The reason it was called "Pickett's charge", is because the men that marched across the field that day were mostly General Pickett's men. As a side note, Pickett hated Lee for the rest of his (Pickett's) life for destroying his division and "killing his boys".

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Old July 27, 2012, 04:00 PM   #25
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I notice no one has mentioned that the North didn't manage to invent one either. Frankly there were technical limitations that had yet to be overcome, I believe, not necessarily the ones you might think.

First of all, weapons were already being mass produced on machinery from companies like Pratt & Whitney. Interchangeable parts, adequate finish, the works. But other things like heat treatment may not have quite been ready for automatic weapons. Also, the tolerances may not have been sufficient either. After all, there weren't any bolt action rifles either, were there?

Lots of things were just over the horizon. The Colt 1873 Single Action Army, for example. The first ones were made of wrought iron, I've been told. There were also teething problems with brass cases for rifles. They .45-70 ammunition you can buy now is of a little better quality. In the case of submachine guns or pistols, rimmed cartridges present some difficulties, although if a Colt Government Model can be made to work with .38 Special full wadcutters and every Russian/Soviet machine gun to work with a rimmed rifle round, that's apparently not such a big problem.

Although there was no lack of experimentation, everything is in short supply in wartime and that one was no exception.

Let's see. The war ended in 1865. In less than ten years there were highly successful cartridge repeaters. In about 25 years there were fully automatic weapons as well as bolt action designs that are still in use today. And in 45 years, the Colt .45 automatic appeared on the scene. Some Civil War veterans (on both sides) would have had the opportunity to experience all of those things.
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