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Patented by Gilbert Smith in 1857, the .50-caliber Smith carbine was the first breech-loading firearm that was compact enough for cavalry use and available in significant numbers at the onset of the Civil War. Though it remained in service throughout the conflict and was the fourth most-purchased firearm of its kind, the arrival of easier-loading, better-performing Spencer and Sharps carbines as the war progressed caused the Smith's production to cease in 1865.
It is estimated that more than 30,000 Smith carbines were manufactured between 1861 and 1865 by American Machine Works in Springfield, Mass. and Massachusetts Arms Company and American Arms Company, both of Chicopee Falls, Mass. About 7,000 of the carbines were delivered to Union troops in 1862, and nearly the entire production run was purchased by the federal government.
The Smith carbine was a single-shot firearm loaded by opening the breech with a depression latch located forward of the trigger inside the trigger guard. Pressing the latch caused the barrel and forend to drop forward, opening and exposing the breech. A bullet was then inserted, followed by loose black powder. The breech was then closed and the ignition nipple was capped with a conventional percussion cap. Because the breech seal wasn't always as tight as it should have been, hot gases sometimes escaped when the gun was fired and posed a risk to the shooter's hand, forearm and face.
Because the metallic cartridge had not yet been perfected, a number of breech-sealing innovations were tried to seal Smith carbine breeches more tightly. Among these were rubber tubes, rolled paper and metal seals. Ultimately, the most effective remedy was a brass cartridge-like tube with a flash hole in the base that was inserted after the loose powder in the loading process.
The Smith carbine cavalry model was outfitted with both a saddle ring and sling mounts. Among the Union cavalry regiments that were equipped with the firearm were the 1st Massachusetts, 1st Connecticut, 7th and 11th Illinois, 7th and 17th Pennsylvania, 6th and 9th Ohio and 3rd West Virginia.
Cabela's offers a fully functional replica of the Smith carbine cavalry model that has a 21-5/8" blued barrel with a 1-in-66" rifling twist and a walnut stock. The rear sight is adjustable. Overall length: 39". Weight: 7.7 lbs.
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