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
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
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
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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