15 Jun 2014

History of the .54 Caliber Burnside Carbine Gun

There’s no disputing the fact that North America has a long history when it comes to firearms. For hundreds of years, weapons have been created, used and improved upon. Many major conflicts can be characterized by the types of weapons that were being used at the time, and during the American Civil War one such weapon was the .54 caliber Burnside carbine rifle.

Gun Used In Civil War

This gun played a major role in the conflict and is a popular collectible item today.

About the Weapon

The .54 caliber Burnside carbine rifle was made from around 1857 to 1865 by the Bristol Firearms Company and then the Burnside Rifle Company, in Rhode island. Five different models were manufactured during these years, and the Burnside carbine was the third most-used carbine during the Civil War. Mostly all of the 53,800 produced were manufactured for the North, and all of them were .54 caliber.

The Burnside carbine featured a breech loading design that used the trigger guard as the operating lever, and when that lever was lowered, the breech block tilted and a cone-shaped cavity was exposed. Then, the user could insert the tapered cartridge and close the lever to seal the breech. The Burnside cartridge was able to hold roughly 70 grains of gun powder and the external hammer fired a cap that created the flame to ignite the powder.

About the Creator

The .54 caliber Burnside carbine was created by Ambrose Everett Burnside, who lived from 1824 to 1881 and was from Rhode island. He was a Union Army General in the Civil War, was the first president of the National Rifle Association and had a very distinct style of facial hair. Some say the term “side burns” originated because of the way he kept his facial hair.

Burnside served in the US Army until 1853, then resigned and devoted most of his time to creating his famous firearm. The Secretary of War contracted Burnside’s company to manufacture his carbines for part of the army. Burnside ran for political office in 1858 and was soundly defeated, then a fire destroyed his gun-making factory and he ended up selling off his patents to other parties.

Conflicting Reports

Depending on which reports you choose to believe, the .54 caliber Burnside carbine rifle was either a marvel of technology at the time or a complete dud on the battlefield. Some complained that cartridges became stuck in the breech after firing, which would naturally put a soldier at serious risk as he fixed the situation.

Collector’s Item

Smith & Wesson created self-contained metallic ammunition just after the Burnside was invented, and once that took hold the Burnside drifted into obscurity. However, all versions of the .54 caliber Burnside carbine rifle are considered collectibles today and any Civil War buff would be happy to have them in their collection.

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