The Burnside Carbine
And Its Patents
In Ambrose Burnside’s March 25, 1856 patent numbered 14,491, he claimed the right to a breech, or as he called it a chamber, that pivots downwards when the guard lever is pulled down. (A screw near the base of the gun barrel attached the guard lever to the gun.) A “cone-seat,” or a piece of the breech that helped to seal the barrel, moved to a position that allowed the nipple to be brought directly under the hammer in a ready-to-fire position. After a soldier loaded the metallic cartridge into the breech chamber and pulled up the guard lever to raise the breech piece, the chamber was bolted in place by bringing up a small handle. He also claimed ownership to the soft metal carriage-case put over the joints where the barrel and breech meet and over the chamber and breech-pin. To get the used cartridge out, the guard lever was pulled down to open the breech again, and the mobile breech pin or cone-seat loosened the cartridge so it was able to be taken out by hand.
“The first metallic cartridge arm to be favorably received, marked an important milestone in the development of military arms”
– Carl L. Davis,
Arming the Union: Small Arms in the Civil War,
US Patent No. 27,791
This patent drawing depicts part of the Burnside ammunition.
These drawings are from George Foster's patent accessed through Google Patent Search. The drawings were labeled by Brittany Venturella and correspond with the patent's description.
George Foster’s cartridge patent, number 27,791, put a “grease chamber within its [the cartridge’s] projecting bed.” The grease chamber was a ring at the mouth (or top) of the cartridge, and it surrounded the bullet. Normally the cartridges were lubricated on the outside; this was the first time grease was in a cartridge.1 The chamber was also designed to hold extra powder, instead of just grease. Along with successfully sealing the breech, the improvement also protected the gun from damage caused by black powder.2 His invention was patented on April 10, 1860 and was used with the second, third, fourth, and fifth models.
1 Lewis R. Berkeley, Small Arms Ammunition at the International Exposition, Philadelphia, 1876 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972), 8.
2 Berkeley, Small Arms Ammunition, 8; Joseph G. Bilby, A Revolution in Arms: A History of the First Repeating Rifles (Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2006), 53.