Ferguson rifle

Ferguson rifle

Infobox Weapon|is_ranged=yes

caption=British Ferguson rifle
name=Ferguson Rifle
production_date= 1776-1778
service=British Army 1776
used_by=USA, UK and allies
caliber= .650 in
part_length= ?
cartridge= .650 in
feed=Breech loaded
action=See Text
rate=6-10 rounds a minuteFact|date=September 2008
weight= 7 1/2 lbs
length= various: 48 to 60in.
variants= ?
number= c. 1000
The Ferguson rifle was most likely the first breech loading rifle to be adopted by any organized military force. It was a .65 (.648 true) caliber rifle used by the British Army in the American Revolutionary War at the end of the 1770s. Its superior firepower was unappreciated at the time because it was outside the paradigm of armed lines of men standing face to face. Later events, when rifles of similar firepower were adopted, accompanied a change of tactics and abandonment of lines of troops standing face to face hammering it out against one another—a technological need given the need to stand when reloading either muskets or rifles. Breech loading allowed cover and concealment to be utilized, but the change in circumstance went unheralded and unappreciated during their brief advent on the field of battle.


The breech of the weapon is closed by a rapid pitch tapered screw, and the trigger guard serves as the crank to rotate it. One complete turn dropped the screw low enough to drop a round ball into the exposed breech followed by a slight overcharge of powder which was then sheared to the proper charge by the screw as it closed the breech. Since the weapon was loaded from the breech, rather than from the muzzle, it had an amazingly high rate of fire for its day, and in capable hands fired six to ten rounds per minute.

The action was adapted from the earlier 1720 de la Chaumette design by Major Patrick Ferguson (1744-1780), who redesigned it around 1770. He received an English Patent in December of 1776 (number 1139) on details of the design.

Roughly two hundred of the rifles were manufactured by four British gun firms, Durs Egg being the most notable, and issued to Ferguson's unit when its members were drawn from numerous light infantry units in General Howe's army. The only large battle in which the rifles were used was the Battle of Brandywine, in which Ferguson was wounded. While he recuperated, his unit was subsequently disbanded. It was disbanded because the unit, Ferguson's Rifle Corps, was running out of officers and men, being killed and wounded in action at a greater rate than most units, since, as a light infantry unit with a special role, they were in combat, and on the front lines, more often than most soldiers. The rifle corps, while far ahead of its time, cost Britain more in hard-to-get officers and men than it gained at that time by its demonstrably much greater firepower. Officers of the day were used to thinking in terms of firepower as manpower, not rounds on the enemy per unit of time per soldier, thus it was far ahead of its time. General Howe held no especial bias against rifles other than against their expense, and of the wastage of officers in an army that was forever shorthanded.

Ferguson's men went back to the light infantry units they had originally come from, and his rifles were eventually replaced with the standard Short Land Pattern Musket. The surviving rifles were apparently put in storage in New York. Their subsequent fate is unknown.

The two main reasons that Ferguson rifles were not used by the rest of the army:

*The gun was difficult and expensive to produce using the small, decentralized gunsmith and subcontractor system in use to supply the Ordnance in early-Industrial Revolution Britain.

*The guns broke down easily in combat, especially in the wood of the stock around the lock mortise. The lock mechanism and breech were larger than the stock could withstand with rough use. There is no military Ferguson left without a horseshoe-shaped iron repair under the lock to hold the stock together where it repeatedly broke around the weak, over-drilled out mortise.

However, despite an unsubstantiated claim that one of the actions was found at the battle site of Kings Mountain, South Carolina, where Ferguson was killed in action, the only piece of a Ferguson ever found in America from a gun used in action is a trigger guard found in excavations of a British army camp in New York City. The only connection the Ferguson rifle has with the Battle of King's Mountain is that Patrick Ferguson was there. Experience with early modern replicas, made before the proper screw and thread pitch of the breechblock were rediscovered, seemed to indicate that while reloading was rapid, it seemed to be necessary to first lubricate the breech screw (originally with a mixture of beeswax and tallow) or else the (replica) rifle would foul up to the point of needing cleaning after three or four shots. However, through the research efforts of DeWitt Bailey and others, the properly made reproduction Ferguson rifle, made according to Patrick Ferguson's specifications of the 1770s, can fire beyond sixty shots.

"The Ferguson Rifle" is also a book by Louis L'Amour. It's not about the rifle specifically, but instead a historical fiction story about someone going out west who was given one of the rifles by Ferguson.

ee also

*British military rifles
*M1819 Hall rifle (another early breech-loader)
*British Military Flintlock Rifles, 1740-1840, by Bruce N. Canfield, Robert L. Lamoreaux, Edward R. Johnson, De Witt Bailey; ISBN-10: 1931464030

External links

* [http://johno.myiglou.com/ferguson.htm A page maintained by an owner of a replica Ferguson rifle]
* [http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/hh/22/hh22m.htm An article on the Ferguson rifle, complete with cut away views of the action]
* [http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/revwar/image_gal/morrimg/fergusonmusket.html Fergusson Rifle at Morristown Park Museum (For reference only)]
* [http://americanhistory.si.edu/militaryhistory/collection/object.asp?ID=635 Ferguson Rifle at website The Price of Freedom {for reference only}]

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