Arming the Union through Innovation, Genius, and Agency
Men, Machine, & the Carbine
The Spencer Carbine
Most of the men who carried Spencer Carbines, appeared confident that it was a reliable and superior gun to other arms. However glorified, the Spencer was not perfect nor did it always act flawlessly. First Sergeant Roger Hannaford recalls when his brigade received Spencers and that it was “highly pleasing to most of the boys, but some grumbled at their great weight.”1 He assumed that they were twice as heavy as their old Burnsides.1 The weight, mainly due to the loaded ammunition, would have been quite an adjustment for the cavalrymen.
According to Roger Hannaford,
the weather was very cold. freezing hard all the time. + our “Spencers” did not act well. the tallow on the cartridges was as hard as clay,
besides they were most all slightly damp from the rain of the day before, so, that fully one half of the cartridges did not explode, then
the withdrawing of such was a terrible job [...] after firing my first shot, I found the second non-explosive, + trying to withdraw it. the
little blade of steel that draws the empty shell, cut a piece out of the rim + slipped by and up came the next cartridge, jammed on the butt
of the one in; all now that could be done was to take the lever out, unload the cartridges in the magazine, then try to get the last
cartridge out with your knife, or cut a limb to make a wooden ramrod.2
Although tested for waterproofing, Hannaford’s carbine seemed to not be as waterproof as the government test would have led one to believe. The Spencer, like many other carbines at that time, did not seem capable of beating Mother Nature. Furthermore, the time it would have taken to fix his carbine, meant a soldier would have missed a large chunk of the battle.
a Taken from his memoirs written one year after the Civil War ended.
1 Roger Hannaford, Papers (Mss 579 Backlog, Cincinnati History Library & Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1865), 117d
2 Roger Hannaford, Papers (Mss 579 Backlog, Cincinnati History Library & Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1865), 220a-b
: A Cavalryman's Point of View
First Sergeant Roger Hannaford, 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantrya