Pedersoli Trapdoor Springfield
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- Last updated: 21/02/2018
The American Civil War was fought, by-and-large, by infantry armed with single shot percussion muskets and rifles. Although breech loading, magazine fed cartridge weapons were around, their development was still in its infancy and military leaders of the day, like their predecessors, were reluctant to adopt new technology.
The advantages of cartridge arms were not lost on the political leaders of the day, however, and at the end of the conflict it was obvious that breech loading technology was the way forward. Although the peace time army was much smaller than during the conflict, it would still be a massive monetary outlay to provide the many thousands of weapons needed and the cost of the War had left the country in a very poor state financially.
The government arsenals had large numbers of serviceable muzzle loaders on hand and it was decided to assess the feasibility of converting these to breech loaders. The idea was put out to tender and from the designs submitted the most suitable was deemed to be that submitted by Erskine Allin, the Master Armourer at the Springfield Armoury.
Allin’s proposal, based on the Springfield Model 1861 musket, was to cut the section from the breech end of the barrel, which contained the percussion lock, and replace it with a new part with an upwardhinging ‘trapdoor’. The musket barrels were left as they were and utilised .58-calibre, copper-cased rimfire ammunition. Allin was granted a patent for his design on Sept 19th, 1865.
Around five thousand examples of this model were produced but the rimfire ammunition proved less than satisfactory, so the decision was taken to adopt centre fire cartridges, still copper-cased, of a smaller, .50-calibre. Built on existing Springfield Model 1863 muskets, the barrels were bored out to .64-inches and fitted with a new .50-calibre sleeve. Some twenty-five thousand were manufactured but as the need for these weapons increased and the supplies of suitable donor barrels was depleted, new .50-inch calibre barrels were subsequently made. The first carbine models, for use by cavalry, appeared around 1871.
By 1873 the Ordnance Department had decided to standardise small arms ammunition at .45-calibre and long arms were chambered for the .45-70 Government cartridge. The handgun of choice was the .45 Colt single Action Army revolver. Despite the fact that repeating rifles had made great strides in their development, the Army doggedly stuck to single shot long guns, probably thinking that soldiers would waste ammunition if provided with rapid firing, multi-shot weapons. The Trapdoor Springfield rifles and carbines were the standard issue for the next nineteen years, during which time over half a million examples in the various configurations were produced. It would be 1892 before the military was finally issued with repeaters, in the form of the .30-40 Krag bolt action rifle.
A visit to the Uberti USA website shows a version of this carbine, which has not hit these shores as yet, so fans of the trapdoor action, myself included, have to contend with this Pedersoli version for the time being. Not that this is a bad thing, as this gun, along with every other Pedersoli model I have handled, is a super recreation of the original.
The fit and finish of all parts is almost faultless (a couple of very minor gaps in wood to metal fitting) with all metal parts, other than the trapdoor, finished in gloss black, apart from the tip of one screw. A look at the photograph of the right side of the action shows a screw end left ‘in the white’. This cannot just be an oversight, as every one of these I have reviewed is exactly the same. The photograph on the Pedersoli website even has this anomaly. The trapdoor mechanism is case coloured. The lock plate, basically an 1863 percussion model with a cut-out for the trapdoor pivot, shows authentic markings of ‘U.S. SPRINGFIELD’, along with an eagle. The lock is held in place by two screws that enter from the left side of the stock and also retain the sling bar. This bar, with its attached ring, allowed a cavalryman to carry the carbine on a sling over his shoulder while mounted.
The rear sight is an adjustable, tip-up arrangement, graduated in yards up to 1200. The wings on the side of the sight are stepped and marked up to five in increments of one hundred yards. Tipping up the ladder shows further graduations up to the maximum 1200. The front sight is a tapered blade on a block, the unit being soldered to the barrel.
I am sure that you are aware that the nomenclature ‘.45-70’ refers to a .45-calibre cartridge loaded with 70-grains of black powder. The standard projectile was a 405-grain lead bullet. Loaded in the infantry rifle of the day, with its 32½-inch barrel, this combination was quite manageable. But in the shorter and lighter carbine used by the cavalry, (22-inch barrel and a shade over seven pounds in weight) it proved to be a stiff handful, so the powder charge for this model was lowered to 55-grains.
Today, there is a good choice of smokeless powders, whose manufacturers offer a wide variety of loading data for this calibre, but as this is a black powder cartridge, I just had to run a few ‘Holy Black’ rounds through the gun. The 405-grain bullet was backed by a home-made grease cookie and 55-grains of Henry Krank medium black powder and the combination filled the Starline brass case nicely. Recoil is very manageable with this set-up, with only a slight muzzle flip, and a push on your shoulder, rather than a kick and I feel you could shoot this for extended periods without it being too uncomfortable. The penchant today seems to be mainly for bolt action military and sporting rifles, along with the ubiquitous plastic straight pull models, but the exponents of these guns are still drawn to nineteenth century technology and most will take the opportunity for a shot if offered. I have yet to see anyone without a smile on their face after having a go and doubtless that cloud of white smoke adds to the fun.
My go-to load for 100-yards in this calibre uses the same bullet, backed by12½-grains of IMR Trail Boss powder. The recoil is mildly sharper but by no means unpleasant, but of course without the smoke, and I found no perceivable difference in accuracy. While using the black powder, I ran a patch through the barrel every half dozen shots, then cleaned the barrel and breech before changing to the smokeless loads. I ran some 50-rounds of the Trail Boss load without any further cleaning until I got home.
The trapdoor mechanism is both simple and strong and this gun performed faultlessly. The trapdoor cannot be opened with the hammer at rest. The hammer has three clicks; the first one is presumably meant as a safety, allowing the gun to be carried with a cartridge loaded. At this stage, you still cannot open the trapdoor. The second, or half-cock, position allows you to load the gun. Pressing upwards on the spring-loaded catch with your right thumb opens the trapdoor and exposes the breech; insert a cartridge, click the trapdoor closed, pull the side-mounted hammer to full cock and you are ready to go. On opening the trapdoor after a shot, a spring-loaded ejector kicks the empty case backwards and as it clears the barrel it hits a stud in the floor of the breech, which flips it clear of the action. It is said that a well-trained soldier could get off eleven or twelve rounds a minute with these weapons although rapid fire with black powder would heat up the barrel rather quickly, a phenomenon that, combined with the copper-cased ammunition, probably caused some of the problems for Custer’s troops at the Little Big Horn.
Cleaning is a short and easy exercise, as there is really only the barrel which needs any attention. Even with the black powder there was little evidence of any fouling getting into the breech area. It may just about be possible to get one of the flexible fibreglass rods down the barrel from the breech end but it’s much simpler to use a pull through. I use Chinese copies of that well-known reptile.
All in all, this is a pleasant gun to shoot and offers an alternative to the more commonly seen Sharps and Remington models in this calibre. A check of the Henry Krank web site shows the Springfield is also available as a longer barrelled rifle, together with the enhanced ‘Officer’s Model’. The Pedersoli web site offers the option of engraving for those looking for a bit of style and the wallet to match!
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