The entertainment industry tends to skew our perceptions of firearms. In many cases these are false perceptions. In some cases, it is simply the availability of firearms to the studios and others it is mistakes made by authors. Writers tend to play somewhat loose and free with historical firearm timelines. In others it is mere convenience.
Cartridge Firing Firearm Weapons Introduced During Civil War?
One trend is that cartridge firing firearms are introduced during the Civil War. The Henry and Spencer rifle and the Smith & Wesson No. 1 and No. 1 ½ where the primary examples of cartridge firearms that were extant during this period. All were rimfire cartridges. The trend in conversions was a post-war phenomenon. The 1892 Winchester in film stood in for the 1873 Winchester and was due to availability. However, in most cases availability and the need to keep the action flowing justified the use of cartridge weapons where used, if not historical.
Availability of Weapons to Movie Studios
John Wayne starred in a film, the Fighting Seabees in 1944. World War II was still going on, so movie guns where what was available. The Japanese forces where equipped with Krag-Jorgensen’s and Mauser K98’s substituted or Arisaka rifles while the officers sport P08 Lugers standing in for Nambu and some Smith & Wesson revolvers. Of course, this this was due to availability as there were few Japanese issued weapons available to the studios, even for what was a war propaganda film. The use of 1928 Thompson submachine guns and 1903 Springfield where more authentic as a lot of supportive units like the Navy construction battalions and Army engineers where issued Springfield’s and US 1917 Enfield rifles, due in part to the lack of and the Garand’s priority for the infantry.
Low Gun Budget in Hollywood Movies
Most movies of the US Army during the post-Civil War era and the Indian Wars depict the use of the ‘Trap Door’ Springfield rifle as the only rifle carried by the army cavalry and infantry. US forces started to use the Springfield Trap Door conversions in 1866, first in .50-70 centerfire and after 1873 in .45-70. The Spencer repeater was used by both civilians and the army throughout this period, but the seven shot tube magazine Spencer rifles are seldom depicted in films. Availability is a prime issue. Also, logistics plays a role. Henry rifles and Winchester 1866 could be carried at the soldier’s expense, usually only the officers could afford them though. Studio logistics of providing different rifles to extras would be a needless complication and expense. Movie and TV have some strict budgets. But not necessarily historically accurate. After all the Clint Eastwood, et al, in the spaghetti westerns were armed with cartridge conversion weapons, not readily available during the civil war.
Firearm Inaccuracies in Movies
TV has given some iconic weapons, during the western themed explosion of the 1950’s and early 60’s we see Steve McQueen in Wanted Dead or Alive with a Winchester 1892 converted to a ‘Mare’s Leg” with cut down stock and barrel. Interestingly enough this is a weapon chambered in .44-40 but he’s depicted with .30-30 cartridges in the belt loops. Another is Nick Adam’s TV series the Rebel. His ‘go to’ specialty was a cut down shotgun with exposed hammers. However, it appears to a cartridge loader where a muzzle loader would be much more historical. He also carries a peacemaker, not a weapon available until 1873. It is unclear the exact timeline for this TV production, but TV studios used what was available. And let’s admit that most of the audience would not know of these ‘slight’ diversions from historical accuracies.