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Firearm Cartridges Part 1 – Gun Powder Problems & Hall Rifle Paper Cartridge Solutions

When guns were invented all loading was loose powder that was poured down the barrel from the muzzle with a over-powder wad, projectile(s) and then another wad. Most weapons where smooth bore muskets. A favorite load a bore sized ball and 6 or so buckshot used by the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Another technology used in that war was the rifle, a barrel with spiral grooves that spun and stabilized the ball. It was patched with a cloth patch that was forced down the barrel eliminating any other wadding and would engage the rifling filling the grooves and sealing the ball and spinning the ball on firing. This invention stretched the range from about 40 yards to almost 300 yards for a rifle.

Gun Powder Problems

Flint locks need to be muzzle loaded, and the pan primed, very difficult in the rain hence the admonition to “keep your powder dry”. Cap locks improved the matter but there were still ignition failures due in part to wet powder. If you’re out in the open, how do you expect to pour powder down the barrel pointing up without rain chasing the powder down the barrel. Breech loading was the answer. The Brits tried the Ferguson a vertical screw breech loading rifle. Twirl the trigger guard, dropping the tapered screw. Insert bullet and powder turn the screw back into battery, prime the pan and aim then fire. Only two hundred were made. Expensive and weak stocks. Come captured weapons found themselves in the hands of American forces during the war of 1812.

Evolution of Paper Cartridges

The Hall rifle was introduced in 1820 in flintlock but transitioned cap lock later. This was the first breech loader developed and adopted by any military. A tilt up chamber allowed for loading. Paper cartridge sped the process. Bite the cartridge case, pour into the chamber push the bullet on top, closed using the trigger guard as a lever, cap and fire. Another innovation later was the introduction of a paper cartridge. A rolled paper cartridge held the bullet and powder. Lubed with beeswax or tallow the cartridge allowed the powder and projectile to be loaded into a combined package. The shooter would bite the back of the cartridge ripping open and allowing the powder to be poured down the barrel. The bullet was unwrapped and followed powder down the bore. The bullet didn’t need any patch or wadding. The new Minié Ball was an elongated conical bullet, not a spherical ball. With a hollow base and being slightly under caliber this bullet was easy to ram. On firing the skirts of the hollow based bullet would flare out and engage and seal the bore. The bullet was spun and stabilized. Used in the Crimean War and the US Civil War the Minié proved to be effective. Revolvers had their paper cartridges nitrated and were combustible. The paper case, powder and bullet where inserted into the mouth of the cylinder chambers and rammed home. Tapered, wider on the bullet end allowed fairly-fast reloading. The paper case was combustible and burned on firing. This leads to metallic cartridges covered in following segments.

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