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Pale Horse Revelations #6: Weapons of the Old West - Spencer Repeating Rifle

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." In this latest installment we will continue to look deeper into the weapons featured in the book. In the last two installments we took a closer look at the Colt Army Model 1860 and LeMat revolver. This week we turn our attention to the rifles featured in the story.

It seems only fitting that we begin with the Spencer repeating rifle since it is the first rifle to be featured in "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." Our protagonist, Matthew Lloyd Garrison, procures two of these rifles from a Union cavalry patrol that he encounters just outside his family home in Kentucky. He later puts them to good use when he comes to the rescue of the Swansons in Missouri. Although this is the last time we see them used during the story, this fact doesn't diminish their importance in the fictional world of the Pale Rider.

However, the weapon's historical significance in our world is even greater. This is so, because it was the world's first military metallic-cartridge repeating rifle. Prior to its invention in 1860 by Christopher Spencer muzzle loading rifled muskets were the primary weapon of armies around the world.

A quick comparison of the rate of fire between these two weapons should make the importance of Spencer's invention rather obvious. The standard muzzle loader in use during the American Civil War could typically fire 2-3 rounds per minute. The Spencer by comparison could sustain a rate of fire in excess of 20 rounds per minute. The impact that such a weapon could have had during the war had it been more widely used is almost unfathomable.

It was not to be however due to what, today, might be viewed as short sightedness. When Spencer presented his new invention to the War Department at the outset of the Civil War, he was denied a contract for his repeating rifle. Why, you may ask? Due to the fear that soldiers would waste ammunition by firing too quickly without taking the time to properly aim. They opted instead for the breech loading carbine version of the rifle which was also a single-shot weapon.

It was only after the battle of Gettysburg, in 1863, when Christopher Spencer managed to arrange an audience with President Lincoln that things began to change. After a shooting match and demonstration conducted on the White House lawn, Lincoln ordered the head of the Ordinance Department, General James Wolfe Ripley to adopt it for production. General Ripley refused and was replaced as head of the Ordinance Department a year later.

The Spencer repeating rifle was eventually adopted by the U. S. Navy and later the U. S. Army. They were used during the Battle of Chickamauga and their use became fairly widespread in the western armies by 1864. For reasons unknown their use by the Army of the Potomac remained extremely rare for the duration of the war.

Having explored the interesting history behind this weapon, let us now turn our attention to the technical details. The Spencer was a lever-action repeating rifle. It was originally chambered for the .56-.56 Spencer rimfire cartridge. These cartridges were loaded with 45 grains of black powder. The cartridges were loaded into a tubular magazine built into the buttstock of the weapon. The magazine could hold seven rounds. Although rounds could be loaded individually, an inventor named Erastus Blakeslee devised a cartridge box containing cylinders with seven cartridges each. These cylinders could be emptied directly into the magazine tube, thereby significantly reducing the amount of time it took to reload the weapon. The hammer had to be manually re-cocked after each loading cycle.

Perhaps the most well known historical figure to make use of the Spencer repeating rifle during the was General George Armstrong Custer. However, the impact of this game changing rifle was not limited to America. In addition to the U.S. Army and Navy the Spencer was also used by France, Siam, the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Empire of Japan, the Empire of Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. In addition to the American Civil War, it saw action in the Indian Wars, the Boshin War, the Paraguayan War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Occupation of Araucania, and the Second French intervention in Mexico.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at one of the key weapons featured in "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." As always, I have sought to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own. Please be sure to check back next week the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations.

Thank you for your continued interest and support.

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