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Spencer Carbine
Armed Forces History, Division of History of Technology, National Museum of American History

Spencer Carbine

Catalog #: 222364    Accession #: 41356
Credit: Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History


Christopher Miner Spencer (Maker)

By the summer of 1863, Christopher Miner Spencer despaired that the Bureau of Ordnance would never see the merit of his repeating rifle. Determined to provide Union soldiers with a quicker, more accurate rifle, Spencer took his gun to the White House. On 18 August 1863, President Lincoln agreed to test the rifle with Spencer on a weedy plain extending from the White House to the unfinished Washington Monument. At a distance of forty yards, Lincoln fired seven consecutive rounds into a wooden board, directly hitting a crude bulls-eye with his second shot. Lincoln presented Spencer with a fragment of the board on their return to the White House. Lincoln was pleased with the rifle’s accuracy and efficiency. In a matter of weeks, Spencer’s small Boston factory was receiving more orders than it could fill.

Dimensions / Weight

Dimensions: 6" H x 37" W x 2.5" D

Physical Description

Spencer breech-loading carbine, .52 caliber forged steel barrel, wood stock.

General History

The Spencer carbine was one of the most popular firearms of the Civil War. Issued late in 1863, the Spencer carbine had a demoralizing effect on the Confederate soldiers. General James Wilson wrote, “There is no doubt that the Spencer carbine is the best firearm put into the hands of the soldier, both for economy of ammunition and maximum affect both physical and moral.” The smaller, lighter gun could fire a magazine of seven copper rimfire cartridges in 30 seconds. The cartridges were fed into the breech by a compressed spring in the magazine. Lowering the operating lever dropped the breech block, extracting the spent cartridge. The same motion had the magazine automatically feed another round into the chamber. Basically, all a soldier had to do was cock, aim and pull the trigger. The production of the Blakeslee Cartridge Box gave a solider 10 to 13 magazine tubes ready to fire. This lever-action repeater was a formidable opponent against the slow firing muzzle loaders of the Confederacy. Even when the Confederate army captured Spencer carbines, they were useless because they required rimfire cartridges not made in the South. Over 94,000 Spencer carbines were purchased by the Federal government and another 120,000 were purchased privately.


Country: United States
War: Civil War
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