GUNS Magazine May 2013 Digital Edition - Page 26

SurpluS, ClaSSiC and TaCTiCal FirearmS HOLT bODINSON With a former owner’s ersatz sights “Gooped” onto the factory original sights, Holt found the repro Smith a fine shooter. MR. sMiTh goes To waR The union supplied a varieTy of carTridge-firing cavalry carbines and The sMiTh .50 was one of The successful ones. I holt BoDinson f you had had to fight in the Civil War, there was no better place to have been than in the cavalry. None of that marching shoulder-to-shoulder, cannon fodder stuff, lugging a 10-pound musket around under a searing summer sun only to find yourself getting wiped away by volley-after-volley of Minié balls and canister shot. production, the Big Five were the Spencer (94,196), Sharps (80,512), Burnside (55,567), Smith (30,062) and Starr (25,603). Having covered the Sharps, Burnside and Maynard (20,002) carbines in past issues, I was delighted to uncover a reasonably priced, reproduction Smith carbine at a recent show. Patented in its final form on June 23, 1857 by Gilbert Smith of Buttermilk Falls, New York, the .50-caliber, Smith carbine was of a simple, break-open design with an enclosed No, it was much safer to be riding a fast steed and to be armed with saber, revolver and—most importantly—a cartridge-firing carbine. Light, short, handy and fast firing, the cartridge firing, cavalry carbines of the Civil War signaled the coming end to the single-shot muzzleloader era. Indeed, they were certainly the most attractive shoulder arms of the Civil War. As a group, there were 19 different carbine brands fielded between 1861 and 1865. In terms of total wartime action. It was easy to load, easy to clean and easy to repair. To minimize gas leakage and to facilitate the extraction of fired cases, Smith split the chamber so that half was in the barrel and half remained with the receiver. Locking the barrel to the receiver is accomplished by spring hinge, which locks down over matching studs on the barrel and the receiver. To open the action, the brass lifter seen inside the triggerguard is pushed up which raises the strap hinge, permitting the barrel to be swung down 90 degrees. The Smith cartridge was supplied in two forms. Smith’s original cartridge case was composed of India rubber. It was flexible. It successfully sealed the chamber when fired, extracted easily in one piece and was even reloadable, although I suspect few were. The Ordnance Board trials of 1857 reported, “The joint seems to be completely closed by the packing of the India-rubber cartridge case; and the parts appear to be simple and strong… The firing was very uniform and very accurate. This arm loads with great facility.” The second type of cartridge case which was introduced during the war was composed of metallic foil and sulfurized paper and proved much less durable than the original India-rubber case. John McAulay’s book, Carbines of the U.S. Calvary, 1861-1900 contains an interesting observation: “The 10th New York rated the Smith as the best Short, light and handy, the Smith was a popular and widely used cavalry carbine. 26 W W W . G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • M AY 2 0 1 3

Page 25 ... Page 27