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Less Common Guns

in the Civil War


A very early self-contained metallic ammunition design, the pinfire cartridge was invented by Casimir Lefaucheux of France around 1828 and first patented in 1835.  Guns for metallic cartridges are much easier to load and reload in a hurry then the muzzle loaders before them.  Pinfires were fired by a short metal pin protruding at nearly a right angle from the case to strike a priming charge inside the cartridge.

Only a few American collectors and historians knew about the pinfire--until recently when Chris Curtis wrote a book on the Pinfire.  Many of the loaded pinfire cartridges being sold on the Internet claim to have been found at American Civil War sites.  More information is needed to assess whether these discoveries can be used to estimate pinfire usage in the Civil War, or whether this only says something of cartridges being thrown away as impractical or unservicable.

The pinfire guns were made in Europe during the early-mid years of the Victorian era, with a few issued for military service.  Most were pistols and shotguns.

The little pins had to stick up from the gun to be struck by the hammer.  In the double barreled gun above, this isn't much of a problem.  In a bureau drawer in a home or business, pinfire revolvers are easily kept.  And something else worth mentioning is pinfire revolvers are easily unloaded, something that is tedious, perhaps difficult, in a cap and ball revolver.

Elsewhere, however, the little pins can catch on a holster, on clothing, on anything.  The problem became severe enough they put a raised ring on pinfire revolvers to protect the pins from snagging on things.  Imagining usage outside of the urban areas of Europe, the little pins could have been easily damaged.  On the American frontier, the supply of pinfire ammunition was more expensive and a long way away.

About half of the pinfire guns recently seen for sale on the Internet are engraved while some are ornately engraved and may even have inlays of gold.  Such expensive guns could only be bought by the wealthy.  They could afford, and did, to convert some of their cap and ball revolvers to pinfire, and then later to the more durable designs of rimfire and more likely to centerfire cartridges.

For more information, consult "Flayderman's Guide To Antique American Firearms" by Norm Flayderman, and an interesting website on the Pinfire.

Technical Information

The pinfires came in every conceivable size.  For comparisons of muzzle energy and power, consult similar sized muzzle loading guns.  Many of the European pinfire cartridges may have been less powerful then contemporary ammunition in North America.

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Emory Hackman

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