Armi-Sport's Spencer and other Gun News.

Tom Kelley beat me to the announcement, and, as you all know by now, there will be a new Spencer on the market soon. Taylor's and Company (304 Lenoir Drive, Winchester, Virginia 22603. 540-722-2017, FAX 540-722-2018., importers of the Armi-Sport line of reproduction firearms, including the very popular US Model 1842 smoothbore musket, expects to offer a Model 1865 Spencer carbine by the end of this year.

The original Model 1865, produced in 1865-1866 by Spencer, in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Burnside Rifle Company of Providence, Rhode Island, is actually considered a post-war weapon by many, although deliveries of the gun began on April 3, 1865, while the war was still officially in progress. Brigadier General James H. Wilson, who was responsible for the distribution of large numbers of Model 1860 Spencer carbines from February to April, 1864, when he served as head of the cavalry Bureau, subsequently requested Model 1865 Spencers to arm the massive cavalry column he led into Alabama in the spring of 1865. Unable to get the new model, however, Wilson equipped his men with the older Model 1860, stripping units that were not marching with him of their repeaters to arm the raiders.

As Tom noted, Taylor's Spencer features a 20 inch barrel (the Model 1860 featured a 22 inch tube) with six groove rifling (some Model 1865s had three groove rifling, others six groove), American walnut stock, blued barrel and color casehardened action. I do not believe it will feature the Stabler cut-off, with which some Model 1865s were equipped. The cut-off enabled the shooter to use his Spencer as a single shot, while keeping the magazine in reserve.

The new Model 1865 will be offered in three calibers; .56-.50 center fire, .44 Russian and .45 Schofield. Taylor's advised me that the rationale for the seemingly odd choice of the latter two calibers was predicated on increased magazine capacity over the alternative .44 Special and .45 Colt cartridges. Magazine capacity is important to participants in Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS).

The original Model 1865 was, of course, chambered for the .56-50 rim fire cartridge, which has been unavailable since World War I. Even if rim fire rounds were generally available today, they would not be reloadable, so the center fire version of the cartridge makes much more sense for a modern Spencer shooter. The only significant difference between the original rim fire round and its modern counterpart is the central ignition.

The .56-.50 caliber cartridge was a decided improvement over the original .56-.56 round developed by Christopher Spencer and used in his Model 1860. Unlike many 19th century cartridge designations, the numbers do not indicate bullet, bore diameter or powder charge. They represent the dimensions, in hundredths of an inch, of the cartridge case's base and mouth. The diameter of the .56-.56's 350 grain bullet was a nominal .52 caliber (most are actually around .54 caliber). Like a modern .22 rim fire, it was held in its case by a short "heel" at the bullet base. Most of the bullet's length, including the lubrication grooves, was exposed. A charge of 45 grains of black powder gave the round a muzzle velocity of 1200 feet per second.

The .56-.50 was developed in late 1864 at Springfield Armory. A nominal .50 caliber, it was shorter overall than the .56-.56, but had a longer case, which protected the bullet's lubrication grooves. The .56-.50's bullet weight and powder charge were identical to the .56-.56, although the Armory designed round had a slightly higher velocity. Christopher Spencer, who felt the .56-.50 had an excessive crimp, designed his own somewhat bottlenecked version of the cartridge, and called it the .56-.52. In addition, after the war a number of .56-.56 carbines were sleeved for the .56- .50/.56-.52 cartridge. Both the .56-.50 and the .56-.52 are interchangeable with each other, but theoretically not with the .56-.56. Because of these facts and the usual tolerances evident in original black powder firearms, original Spencers exhibit wide variations in chamber dimensions and bore diameters.

At this juncture, I am not aware of the bore diameter or chamber dimensions of the Armi-Sport Spencer. The production of Spencer center fire brass, until the appearance of Larry Romano's Model 1860 gun, has been a cottage industry project, with most shooters cutting down .50-70 cases to create brass for conversions using the S&S Firearms center fire Spencer breech block. These .50-70 cases, available from various sources at various times, have displayed slight dimensional differences in rim configuration, which has not been a problem in .50-70 guns, but has given rise to feeding problems in Spencers.

Probably the best course to follow with a Spencer, especially with those of us who don't have the machinery, time or skills to cut down cartridge cases and properly radius their rims, is to order pre-made .56-50 cases from Ballard Rifle & cartridge Company (113 W. Yellowstone, Cody, Wyoming 82414. Catalog $3. 307-587-4814 FAX 307-527-6097. Ballard sells two variations of .56-.50 brass, one for original guns with new center fire breech blocks and another for the Romano Model 1860 reproductions.

I have received an interesting bit of intelligence from a well-placed Democratic party political operative and consultant (who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons). According to my informant, at least one prominent anti-gun Senator is advising Democratic candidates for office not to use the words "gun control" or "gun control legislation" in any context. The "newspeak" words for candidates, which you will no doubt hear more and more of in the coming weeks and months are "gun safety" and "gun safety legislation."

In other gun-related news, United Parcel Service (UPS) is "examining" its policy on shipping handguns, with the possibility of discontinuing the practice. It should be noted here that all current UPS handgun shipments are only conducted in accordance with Federal law and are between distributors and licensed dealers and licensed gunsmiths who are returning customers' firearms after working on them. I do not know if Civil War era revolvers, which are not now Federally regulated, would come under any policy changes, but think it likely. If you want to apprise UPS of your views on this subject, and perhaps have some input on the decision making process, contact James J. Kelly, Chairman & CEO, United Parcel Service of America, 55 Glenlake Pkwy. NE, Atlanta, GA 30328 Phone 404-828-6000, or e-mail him c/o

1999 by Joe Bilby

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index