Sharps rifle question


October 13, 2003, 01:02 AM
now, I know in the Civil War (of Yankee Agression ;) :p) period and before, the Sharps used some kind of cloth or paper cartridge and a regular cap, right?

And then at some point it was adapted to take brass cartridges, like most of the repros on the market now?

So.. what specifically changed, and when? Were a lot of the older models retrofit like the flop-top Springfields, or was that even possible?


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Mike Irwin
October 13, 2003, 01:25 AM
Don't get me started, Rebel Boy... :p

What happened is that the breech block changed to include an extractor instead of having a sharp lip to shear off the rear of the linen cartridge, and the flash channel for the primer was changed to allow for a transfer bar that the hammer would hit and fire the cap.

I don't know of any conversions ever being done, but I suppose it's possible.

October 13, 2003, 06:38 PM
Paper cartridge guns have a tendency to gum up fairly quickly.

Seems to me, but I am probably wrong that Civil War vintage Sharps, were refurbished by replacing the Breech block, relining the barrels to 50 cal and changing the hammers.. This was done with muzzle loading Springfield type rifles with the Allison conversion, but I am not certain about the Sharps.

Dave Markowitz
October 13, 2003, 09:05 PM
It was common in the 1860s - 70s to take Civil War vintage Sharps rifles and carbines and rebarrel or reline them to take .50-70. Along with the barrel work, the breechblock was either modified or replaced so that it had a firing pin instead of a flash channel. Also, and extractor was fitted to remove the empties.

Jim Watson
October 14, 2003, 03:23 PM
In 1867 the US Government contracted with Sharps to convert Civil War percussion Sharps to cartridge. A total of 31,098 carbines and 1086 rifles were converted to .50-70. A very few were for an experimental rimfire case, the bulk were to the standard .50 Government centerfire.

About 4000 were found to have barrels in good condition and no more than .5225" (Flayderman says bore diameter, but I wonder, that would be a generous groove diameter for .50-70.) Those were chambered for cartridge and used as was, recognizeable by six-groove rifling. The other 27,000 were relined and will show three groove rifling as used in Trapdoor Springfields.

Springfield Armory made up about 1300 more out of old and new parts.

A friend has an original conversion carbine, correct and original, with a bright bore. It even has a cover plate over the recess for the original Lawrence pellet primer feed. I have shot it a little, it is definitely a handful, but minute of hostile accurate and horse-killing powerful. Outside, it is about what you would expect from a well cared for but 136 year old milsurp. The inside fit and finish are wonderful, the best of the modern repro makers cannot afford that much care.

October 15, 2003, 12:08 AM
cool! Thanks for the information.

One more question.. what's this pellet ignition system? I understand the Maynard tape bit, but some of the drawings I see have what looks like a magazine of some kind in the breech area for pellets?

Do any of y'all have photos or more information about how well that system worked? Did it need to be manually worked for each shot, or was it tied into the hammer or breech block movement? What was the capacity? How well did it work? Weatherproof?


Mike Irwin
October 15, 2003, 01:03 AM
From what I can glean, the original pellet priming system was developed by Sharps, and was later improved by Lawrence into a system that was used on the 1859 rifles.

It apparently had a cut-off, and if this was applied, allowed the pellets to be held in reserve while regular percussion caps were used to prime the rifle.

As for exactly how the system worked, and how the pellets were made or loaded, I don't know.

4v50 Gary
October 19, 2003, 06:25 PM
The non-metallic cartridge Sharps used a linen cartridge. Said linen was treated with nitrate to make it combustible. William Green's "Letters from a Sharpshooter" has an illustration as does Roy Marcot's "Civil War Chief of Sharpshooters Hirma Berdan: Military Commander and Firearms Inventor." The Lawrence pellet priming system was discontinued in the midwar 1863 model of the Sharps rifle. While the system worked, simplifying it increased production.

From William Edward's Civil War Guns: "TO CHARGE THE LOCK WITH 'SHARPS' PRIMES,' cock the Arm, shove back the magazine cover on the top surface of the lockplate, by pressing the left thumb against the screw head beneath the cup of the hammer. Withdraw the tack nail from the charging tube in line with the slot in the face of the lockplate, and press it down as far as the spiral spring will admit, then with the right hand thrust the tack nail through the slots in the tube and lockplate above the primes, withdraw the tube, bring the lock to half cock and withdraw the tack nail. The priming mgazine charged, the cover must now be moved back, lest the primes escape. Nor should the hammer be worked between half cock and full cock for the same reason."

Said Lawrence pellet priming system was reserved for situations where a higher rate of fire was required or in very cold weather when fine motor skills were hampered by benumbed fingers. Wyman White made good use of it by deceiving five Rebels into thinking they were outnumbered.

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