Superposed Loads

IT HAPPENED MANY TIMES In the days of cap lock muskets that a soldier in battle would not notice if his musket misfired. In case of an unnoticed misfire, he might ram a second charge on top of the first. The barrel then, by mistake, had superposed loads.

The guns with which this chapter is concerned are not those muskets unintentionally charged with superposed loads. The guns here considered are those repeaters with barrels purposely charged with superposed loads.

Of all the ideas for producing multishot firearms the scheme of superimposing loads in one barrel is probably the oldest, the most discredited, the most frequently recurring, and also the most readily accepted as new.

Superposed load guns were of two types, widely different in operation.

In one type the operator had no control of the interval between shots; he could not stop the firing once he had started it. Let's call this kind the Roman candle type. It was charged like a Roman candle, one load on top of another; it also functioned like a Roman candle in that it was self-acting in firing.

Let's call the other kind the controlled type. This, too, was charged with one load on top of another, but the operator had control of the interval between shots. It might have one movable lock or several fixed locks. Each shot would be fired by trigger pull, presumably when the operator felt he had the proper aim.

With the Roman candle type the best the operator could do after the first shot, was to estimate when the self-firing gun would fire its next shot, and try to have the gun properly aimed at that time.

In one form of Roman candle gun the foremost charge was set off by a fuse lighted at the gun muzzle, as a fireworks candle is set off. In the other form the firing was started by gunlock ignition through a touch hole. Roman candle guns were made at least as early as the 17th century, and as late as the 19th, using wheel lock, flintlock and cap lock ignition, but examples of any such guns are extremely scarce. In fact, no American gun with the name Chambers or Kesling on it is known to be still in existence. Joseph Chambers, in flintlock days, and George Kesling, in cap lock days, were probably the only American inventors of Roman candle guns. The Kesling is known to have been a Roman candle type because the Kesling patent is clear on that point. Final proof that the Chambers was of Roman candle ignition came this year with the discovery by John C. McMurray of an early 19th century description of the Chambers invention. More of the Chambers and the Kesling guns later, and of a pistol that might be of Chambers construction.

We do not know just how far back the idea of self-igniting cartridges goes. It would seem that in 1682 Charles Cardiff had the idea „which hitherto by none but himselfe hath been invented or knowne." The quotation is from British Patent #216, granted to „our trusty and wellbeloved Charles Cardiff, Gentleman", by Charles II. The patent described the invention as „an Expedient with Security to make Musketts, Carbines, Pistolls, or any other small Fire Armes to Discharge twice, thrice, or more severall and distincte Shotts in a Singell Barrell and Locke with once Primeing . . .". It further stated that „the Mistery (is) in the Charge."

Mr. Cardiff's patent implied that double locks could be used and that one or more shots could be reserved „till occasion offer." It would seem Mr. Cardiff had in mind two fixed locks, with a separate touch hole for each, the forward one to fire a Roman candle series of charges, and the rear one to fire one or more charges after the series of explosions started by the forward lock was completed. The wording of the patent is indefinite and we can not be completely sure that Mr. Cardiff planned to insert a solid rather than a perforated bullet somewhere in a series of superposed loads so as to stop the Roman candle effect and to permit resumption of firing by means of another lock.

A very rare and fine German piece is shown in figure 193. This most remarkable gun is capable of doing everything we assume Mr. Cardiff's double-lock gun may have been capable of doing, and it appears to antedate Mr. Cardiff's patent. No maker's name is on it, but the Nuremberg mark is clear.

As illustration 193 shows, there are two locks, the forward being a conventional wheel lock, and the rear an unusual combination wheel lock-matchlock. There is but one trigger.

The gun may be used as a single-shot, employing the rear lock only, or it may be charged with sixteen superposed loads so that the first pull of the trigger will release the wheel on the forward lock and fire nine Roman candle charges, a second pull will release the wheel on the rear lock and set off six more such charges, and finally a third pull will fire the one remaining shot.

A safety catch which prevents movement of the wheel on the rear lock at the first trigger pull must be released, after the first series of nine shots, before the second series of six shots can be discharged. To fire the final shot by the third trigger pull it is necessary either again to span the wheel of the rear lock, or to use the match ignition.

The trigger is connected to the forward lock by a wire running through the frame. When the trigger is pulled the priming powder is ignited and fire goes from the pan directly through a touch hole to the foremost powder charge. If the gun be properly loaded the first shot will be followed by eight more self-acting and unpreventable discharges going off in quick succession.

The ignition of the first of the six shots in the second series requires that a train of priming powder be laid from the pan of the rear lock to a touch hole located some six or more inches frontward. A tube is provided that runs under the lockplate and along the barrel. This tube is detachable so it may be readily filled with the flash powder and is held to the barrel by a clip.

Wheellock Pistol
193. and 194. Wheel lock gun/ Frank E. Bivens, Jr. collection.

After the firing of both series of Roman candle shots the gun remains a loaded single-shot weapon. For the final shot the pan of the rear lock must be reprimed, and a sliding gate between the pan and a rearmost touch hole moved aside. The shot may then be set off either by the matchlock or the wheel lock. Whether pressure on the trigger will send the spanned wheel spinning or move a lighted match into the pan, depends on how a lever on the side of the lock is set.

A close-up of the remarkable rear lock is shown in figure 194.

No original bullets for this gun exist, but charges such as were used in the Chambers gun, or even combustible cartridges such as were used in the Danish espingoles, could be successfully used in it. As in the Kesling gun (which along with the espingoles and the Chambers guns will be described shortly) the first bullet to be loaded would be solid. The seventh and sixteenth bullets, in order of loading, would also be solid.

It is perhaps well to depart at this time from a chronological order, so the espingole cartridges may be described. The espingoles were multiple barrel weapons used by Danish military forces, chiefly the Navy. An early report made in 1842 by the Chief of Naval Ordnance of Denmark reported that the guns could not be used freehand, and went on to say, „. . . the espingole must have a support and may thus be used only at places adapted for the purpose . . ." and „. . . when ignition has taken place the shooting cannot be stopped. The loading of the espingole can be performed only by trained people; it must be executed with the greatest care, requires a lot of appliances, takes up much time, and consequently cannot be done during a battle." Improvements were made, the early smooth bore barrels were later rifled, and the espingoles were kept in use in quantity for another thirty years. The novelty of these guns was in their combustible paper cartridges. Each cartridge had its bullet with a hole bored longitudinally through the center. This hole contained a slow burning fuse. When the fuse in the foremost cartridge was lighted by the operator, the charge would shortly explode and at the same time ignite the fuse in the next cartridge. From then on the explosions were automatic. The intervals between shots which gave the operator time to take aim were determined by the burning speed of the train of slow burning powder, or fuse.

The two important improvements in the espingole, the rifling of the barrels and the fully developed cartridges, came about 1850.

Figure 195 reproduces illustration #332 from Thierbach's Geschichtliche Entwickelung der Hand f euerwa ff en. This is a Roman candle type using flintlock ignition and is dated by Thierbach as circa 1780. The gun is a breech loader, taking a long cartridge into which loads had been superposed like those in the Danish espingole. Thierbach states that guns functioning like the 1780 flintlock were known even before 1780 in Denmark.

A pistol that may have been made on an American patent granted Joseph Chambers on March 23, 1813, is shown in figure 196. The Chambers patent is one of which only the briefest of records remained after the 1836 Patent Office fire. The Patent Office records show Mr.. Chambers' patent was for a repeating gun, but these records give no hint of either the mechanism or the method of operation. Correspondence and other documents of the time of the War of 1812 have established that shoulder guns, swivel guns, and probably pistols were manufactured on the Chambers principle. This material has convinced students that the guns used superposed loads.

This very interesting pistol, figure 196, is one of a pair, with English barrels, but with American locks and stocks. The pistols were made in Philadelphia, by Peloux, an early nineteenth century maker of very fine pistols, rifles and shotguns, both flintlock and cap lock. There is no marking to indicate the guns were made under the Chambers patent, and there is no evidence that Peloux knew anything about the Chambers guns, though Chambers guns were surely made in Philadelphia by Tryon. The two Philadelphia makers, Tryon and Peloux, were contemporaneous.

The lock on this pistol is placed 31/2" forward of the position it would be in if the touch hole were in the normal position for a single-shot pistol. This construction would allow three normal charges to be rammed in the barrel, with the touch hole opposite the powder in the foremost charge. With perforated bullets such as were used in the Chambers guns, the pistol might well be made to shoot like a Roman candle. A normal flintlock with its mainspring on the inside could hardly be fitted so far forward on the stock. There is not enough wood in the forestock for proper inletting of such a lock. The lock on this pistol is of special construction, with its mainspring on the outside, so it can be secured in a position that would be unaccountable in a single-shot pistol.

One accepted description of the Chambers gun stated, „by a single operation of the trigger it will discharge several loads in succession . . . with space between sufficient to take another aim." This Peloux pistol, if loaded with proper cartridges having perforated bullets, would seem able to meet these stated conditions.

Doubts have been expressed by some collectors that the Chambers guns manufactured by Tryon had Roman candle ignition rather than controlled type with a sliding lock. There were two reasons for these doubts. One was the absence of data as to the charges used. The other was the vagueness of a reference in an early document to a „foremost touch hole" in the Chambers gun. It was thought by some that „foremost touch hole" must indicate a system of ignition like that on the later Jennings flintlock, though the early Cardiff gun may well have been, and the later Kesling surely was, a Roman candle type with a „foremost touch hole".

As has been previously mentioned, John C. McMurray has located an early description of a Chambers gun which fills the gap in our knowledge and fully proves the gun was a true Roman candle firearm. It is hoped that complete details of Mr. McMurray's research will be published by him either before or soon after this writing is in print. The early 19th century statement described the bullet used as being a cylinder pierced with a hole in the center which contained a fuse composition. The description stated that charges of powder, and cylinders, were loaded alternately, and that the lock was placed opposite the last charge -which would be opposite that „foremost touch hole"-so that when that charge was fired „the fire communicates successively through the cylinders."

The Kesling gun, for which U. S. patent # 15,041 was granted June 3, 1856, to Mr. George Kesling of Lebanon, Ohio, fired both a series of perforated-bullet cartridges and one solid-bullet cartridge. The solid bullet stopped the Roman candle effect and kept one shot in reserve to be fired at pleasure by a second lock. Mr. Kesling stated he knew of the previous use of superposed charges having perforated bullets and he claimed as new only the use of a series of vents designed to permit the escape of trapped air and to allow the charges to be „rammed home airtight." Figure 197 is a reproduction of the patent drawing. It shows a gun having twelve loads, using one cartridge with a

Curiosa Firearms
195. Illustration from Thierbach's Die Geschichtliche Entwickelung der Handfeuerwaffen.
196. Peloux pistol/ Sam E. Smith collection.
Superposed Load

solid bullet on which were superposed eleven cartridges of the Danish espingole type. Of the twelve vents only two, the first and the last, were touch holes for the locks. The ten in between were to permit escape of air, and to permit powder to be pricked into the barrel in case a charge was „not properly introduced." It can be seen that after eleven Roman candle shots were discharged, one shot remained to be fired when the operator desired to raise the rear hammer and again press the trigger.

Examples of superposed load guns which permit controlled firing are frequently seen. Some of the many types are of course very much scarcer than others, but they are not completely nonexistent, as the „lost Chambers gun" seems to be.

The rifles made on the 1821 Isaiah Jennings patent are among the more scarce of the controlled type superposed load guns. Though the 1821 patent specifications for the Jennings rifle were lost in the same fire that destroyed the specifications for the 1813 Chambers gun, there is no doubt about the mechanism of the Jennings. One of the repeaters bearing the Jennings name and having the sliding flintlock was in the U. S. Cartridge Company collection.

About 1828 a New York State maker, Reuben Ellis, made military rifles under contract on the Jennings principle. Perhaps similar pieces were made, or assembled, by other makers. One of these rifles, bearing U. S. inspection and property marks, and probably made by Ellis, is shown in illustration 198. The gun is a „common rifle" of the 1819 model, equipped with a sliding flintlock and having a barrel with four touch holes. The lock has an attached magazine that automatically supplies priming powder to the flash pan when the hammer is cocked. There are covers for three touch holes-none is needed for the foremost touch hole. These covers also index the lock. The illustration shows the gun ready to fire its second shot. The first shot has been fired, the forward vent cover thrown up, the lock drawn back until its pan is opposite the second vent, the hammer cocked. Pressure on the trigger will raise a bar that is sufficiently long to release the sear, regardless of where the sear has been placed by movement of the lock.

Isaiah Jennings Flintlock
198. Jennings rifle/ John C. McMurray collection.
Repeating Jennings Rifle

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