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GUNS Magazine December 2011 Digital Edition - Page 56
I n the 100 years between 1865 and 1965, the US Army’s infantry rifles evolved to an amazing degree. They began as side-hammer, muzzleloading, single shots taking hollowbase, pure lead “Minié” balls over approximately 60-grain charges of black powder. Their muzzle velocity was about 900 fps. By the time 100 years passed, they evolved to select fire autoloaders with 20-round magazines. Ammunition then contained smokeless propellants and FMJ spitzer-shaped bullets moving at over 2,700 fps. About the only thing all had in common was that they were crafted of wood and steel. Mike “Duke” venturino Photos: yvonne venturino It may surprise some readers that during the 100-year span the US Army adopted only eight basic rifle types; of course with variations inside each basic model. For instance, our 100-year time frame began when .58-caliber rifle-muskets were standard issue for US infantry troops. Those were designed by the government owned Springfield Armory but were also made by many contractors during the Civil War (1861-1865). The earliest of my US infantry rifles is a Colt Model 1861 “Special” musket. The “special” moniker came because Colt Patent Firearms Company was given special 56 governmental dispensation to alter the basic Model 1861 pattern for easier manufacturing. These are 3-band riflemuskets with 40" barrels. On a really good day, it could be loaded and fired twice in a 1-minute period with a good chance of hitting a man-size target at 100 yards. the first “trapdoors” Next came metallic cartridge firing infantry rifles with .50 Government caliber reigning from 1866 to 1873. The rifles evolved from a Model 1866 through Model 1868 and finished with a Model 1870. All were generically WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • DECEMBER 2011