By Bob Walsh
The Gun of the Week this time around is my favorite (as in most fun to shoot) personally owned rifle, a Springfield 1873 “Trapdoor” cavalry carbine.
This was the first general issue breech-loading rifle issued by the US Army. (An earlier version, the 1866, saw limited issue in 1867.)
In 1872 and 1873 a military evaluation board, headed by General Alfred Terry, conducted a trial of 99 different rifles from both US and foreign manufacturers. These trials considered accuracy, dependability, rate of fire, and ability to operate under field conditions. This evaluation included some magazine rifles. It was determined that, in the hands of inexperienced troops, the Springfield could fire 8 rounds per minute, experienced soldiers could manage 15 rounds per minute. That board recommended the Springfield Rifle, with cartridge .45-70-405. The standard infantry load was 70 grains of black powder, pushing the 405 grain bullet at about 1,350 fps. The cavalry carbine load was 55 grains of powder, giving a muzzle velocity of about 1,100 fps and therefore a somewhat reduced range.
The original cartridge case was made of copper, but this proved to be less than totally satisfactory. The cases picked up corrosion from the leather cartridge cases very easily and this greatly increased the incidence of jamming in the breech after firing. It was not uncommon for soldiers to use a pocket knife or ram rod (not available on the cavalry carbine) to knock stuck cases from the weapons. The military moved to brass cartridge cases, which eased this problem tremendously.
Though it began to be replaced in regular service in 1892 it remained in secondary units and the militia for many years, including during the Spanish-American war. It is said some were reissued to civilians living in coastal areas of the east coast during WWI to form the core of a militia to repel German invaders should that become necessary.
My particular weapon is a modern reproduction made by Pedersoli, so it has better steel in it that the original versions but still has the limitations of the trapdoor breech mechanism. It is, however, a blast to shoot a box or two thru every now and then. Much more than that is hard on the shoulder.