NEARLY ALL THE FIREARMS illustrated in this chapter were made well before the American Civil War, but probably none was called a turret gun before the arrival of the Monitor in Hampton Roads in 1862. The revolving superstructure on Ericsson's famous „cheesebox on a raft" is supposed to have given the name turret guns to these odd revolvers. The inventors denominated their creations, „many-chambered-cylinder fire-arms", „many-chambered non-recoil fire arms", „revolving-breech fire-arms", but never used the word turret.
The first pistol illustrated in this chapter is called a wheel pistol and perhaps is not a true turret pistol, but it is a famous oddity.
This percussion cap pistol of unknown origin, figure 219, is 4-shot, about .32 caliber. The wheel which contains the four chambers is in a frame hinged at the bottom and held by screws at the top. The chambers may be loaded at the top without removing the wheel, and the wheel may be rotated by turning a winged screw on the left side, not visible in the illustration. The gun has an iron frame and is very simple in construction. It is not practical-for instance, there is no lock or even catch to insure alignment of the barrel with a chamber-but it is very interesting and most odd in appearance.
219. Wheel pistol-7 /2" overall/ Frank R. Horner collection.
219. Wheel pistol-7 /2" overall/ Frank R. Horner collection.
Another very odd turret, or wheel, or wheel spoke pistol-we don't know the maker or what he christened it-is in figure 220. We do know the maker of this brass-frame and brass-barrel freak went much farther toward achieving complete impracticality than the inventor of the just described wheel pistol. This is true even though this gun does have a catch which will hold the chamber that is under the hammer in line with the barrel. There are six hollow spokes in the revolving turret. These may be loaded with .22 rim-fire cartridges. The cartridges are loaded through an opening in the bottom of the frame. When a cartridge is fired the bullet reaches the barrel only after passing through another chamber. It would be possible to have all six chambers loaded at the same time, but in that event the cartridge under the hammer would have another cartridge directly in front of it, pointing at it, and completely barring passage to the barrel. It is quite impracticable to load more than three chambers at a time. Further, if three chambers be loaded and fired it is necessary to get at least one fired case out of its chamber before firing another cartridge. Otherwise, that fired case will be left directly between the live cartridge and the barrel. There is no extractor. The shell must be pried out. It can be no more than loosened by a rod pushed down. the barrel and can not be driven out by a rod inserted in the loading port.
Of the firearms invariably called turret guns by collectors those early ones with horizontal turrets are most esteemed. The most sought of these is one made on the patent granted John W. Cochran, of New York City, April 28, 1837, U. S. patent # 188. Illustration 221 is of a 7-shot pistol, serial # 106, marked C. B. ALLEN, SPRINGFIELD, MASS., following COCHRAN'S PATENT on the strap above the cylinder. This strap is hinged just ahead of the turret and may be lifted to allow removal of the turret by turning the rear sight, which serves also as a latch. The chambers of the manually turned cylinder are held in line with the barrel by a pin at the end of a spring catch, the pin entering what Mr. Cochran called „catch holes" in the top of the turret. These Cochran guns are unwieldy but seem well made, uncomplicated and not apt to get out of order. The underhammer lock is sturdy and very simple. The danger that caps will fall off and be lost is always present with underhammer guns. Mr. Cochran provided a guard which probably protected the caps as well as possible.
Other guns both long and short made under the Cochran patent may show minor differences in construction. For instance, at least one was 5-shot.
A very rare 5-shot horizontal turret gun is shown in figure 222. The barrel is marked E. H. GRAHAM'S PATENT. Mr. Edmund H. Graham, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, was granted U. S. patent #15734 on September 16, 1856, for an invention designed to prevent accidental multiple explosions of „many-chambered firearms." Isolation of the charge being fired was effected mainly by placing the ball in a chamber at right angles to the chamber containing the powder. The lever on the side rotated the spokelike cylinder at the same time it cocked the hammer, which is located at the front of the hub.
An interesting horizontal turret pistol invented by Heinrich Genhart, of Belgium, was patented in the United States January 27, 1857, patent # 16447. The example illustrated, figure 223, is 10-shot with the radial chambers each numbered in gold.
On the left side of the frame there is a lever which when pressed down cocks an underhammer and at the same time moves the barrel forward about /g". The breech end of the barrel will thereby be drawn out of the chamber mouth in which it is retained when the gun is in firing position. In the under face of the turret there are holes, one for each chamber, designed to receive a pin to lock a chamber in line with the barrel. Holding down a small button at the top edge of the frame around the turret will withdraw the pin so the turret may be turned after being freed from the barrel, as just described. When the lever is drawn tip, after the cylinder has been manually turned, the barrel re-enters the enlarged mouth of another chamber. The purpose of the close joining was to prevent the escape of gas at the gap between barrel and chamber.
The Genhart gun uses a most unusual cartridge. The guns are scarce but the cartridges are much scarcer. The cartridge is metal and nearly conical. At the powder end the cartridges „are pierced . . . in the line of the longitudinal axis to receive a small metal tube, one end of which extends within the powder, and the other end to about an equal extent outside of the cartridges." This tube was filled with detonating powder. Genhart adapted the Joseph Manton tube lock ignition to a metallic cartridge.
An empty cylinder, or turret, on a Genhart pistol or rifle could be replaced with a loaded spare very quickly with few motions.
Another interesting and rare European turret pistol is shown in figure 224. This is a 4-shot percussion cap pistol with four nipples on the top face of the horizontal turret. The illustration shows an empty chamber with a hinged gate swung open immediately in front of the chamber mouth. This gate serves to seat the bullet when the chamber is loaded. Cocking the singleaction hammer rotates the turret.
There was never marked interest by shooters in any sort of turret guns. The vertical turrets were probably more favorably received than were the horizontal. We find the vertical turret guns in collections in greater numbers and more types.
The best known, in America, of the vertical turret guns is the Porter. A considerable number of Porter rifles exist. Some used standard percussion caps and had nipples in the turrets, but a larger number used a long discontinued type of cap that sent fire to a powder charge directly through a small touch hole in the face of the turret. Though these latter guns did not use the „pill" common at the time we nevertheless refer to these Porters as „pill lock." Mr. John Hintlian let me have an original instruction sheet for „Porter's Cap Box Revolving Rifle" which, because of the large size of the sheet and the small size of the type used in printing it, can not feasibly be reproduced here. This sheet referred to one gun as the „nipple gun" and to the other as the „cap box" gun. Regarding the former, the directions stated „Use Colt's metal lined cap, which fits the nipple well." Regarding the latter there was this, „The cap box contains a spiral spring, which by means of the follower plate, continues to place a cap under the hammer as often as the gun is cocked", and, „The caps should be of a size to fit the groove, so as not to fall in side ways and are placed mouth upwards." Directions as to how to grasp the trigger were explicit, reading, „. . . place three of the fingers into the hand ring, having the fore finger in position to pull the trigger when ready."
222. Graham rifle/ James E. Serven collection.
222. Graham rifle/ James E. Serven collection.
224. Turret pistol/ Henry M. Stewart collection.
Porter pistols, such as the one shown in figure 225, are very scarce. This pistol is constructed much like the rifle in figure 226. The pistol is unmarked; the rifle is marked ADDRESS P. w. PORTER, NEW YORK, PORTER'S PATENT 1851. Both guns are 9-shot and use pill lock ignition. Both have the typical Porter side hammers and automatic primer magazines. The device that rams home the bullets is placed above the barrel on the rifle and below the barrel on the pistol. Movement down and back of the trigger guard cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder, which is easily removed when a catch is released.
A minor fault in vertical turret guns was that the turret obstructed the normal sighting line over the barrel. In some makes front sights were made inordinately high; in at least one make the sights were placed at the right of the barrel so that the gun would have to be held sideways if one were to be able to aim with the sights in the usual upright position. In the Porter guns the sights had abnormally long bases, extending well to the left, so that aiming was alongside rather than over the barrel. More important objections were that all turret guns were unwieldy and expensive. The greatest opposition to the turrets came from the shooter who disliked having bullets in the turret pointing at him. All types of revolvers that did not use modern cartridges with self-contained primers had a propensity to let off all charges at once. Such a multiple discharge was always dangerous.
We know very little about Mr. Porter. There is even disagreement as to his first name. However, Mr. Porter, who stated he lived in Memphis, Tennessee, obtained U. S. patent #8,210
on July 8, 1851, and the patent papers indicate his given name was Parry. Mr. Porter's patent was for a highly impractical gun potentially even more dangerous than the manufactured article. The original idea was to have a magazine, containing powder, balls, and caps, fastened over the turret so that movement of a lever would not only cock the hammer and rotate the turret-it would also load the chambers. The lever movement would also place a cap on a nipple in the turret, as well as strip off a previously detonated cap. The magazine was intended to contain enough powder for thirty shots. A spark might reach and explode that powder at the first shot.
Perhaps the only Porter rifle made with the „cylindrical vessel", as Mr. Porter called it, which contained powder, balls, and percussion caps in separate compartments, is shown in figure 227.
227. Porter rifle/ Smithsonian Institution collection.
According to Van Rensselaer, Porter rifles were manufactured in Taunton, Massachusetts by George Foster, without the outlandish magazine, of course.
Another vertical turret pistol was patented November 7, 1854, by Wendell Wright of New York City, U. S. patent # 11,917. This extremely rare piece is illustrated in figure 228. The gun is 8-shot, about .36 caliber, and uses what the inventor called „detonating pills" for ignition. These pills are contained in a boss on the side of the turret and are automatically fed one at a time to the touch holes when the turret is revolved. There are two triggers. To fire the gun as a repeating pistol, the curved „cocking trigger" under the turret is drawn back after the straight trigger (called the „thumb trigger" and seen back of the hammer) is pressed against the stock. The curved trigger rotates the cylinder, cocks the hammer, and presses a stop in a chamber mouth to index the cylinder. The straight trigger first permits movement of the curved trigger so the latter may withdraw the cylinder stop and then proceed with its other just described duties. Finally, the thumb trigger if pressed down at a time the curved trigger is fully retracted, will release the hammer.
Mr. Wright had several novel ideas. One was a flexible pin on the end of the hammer, secured by india-rubber, designed to compensate for „any moderate aberration in the descent of the hammer" and so prevent misfires.
Illustration 229 shows a double-action Noel pistol of about 1860 that is probably the most frequently found of the European turret pistols. The example shown is marked J. F. GOUDRY PARIS and SYSTEME A NOEL. Pulling the folding trigger raises and drops a side hammer and also revolves the 10-shot turret. By raising a large gate on the left this turret may be quickly withdrawn for reloading or for replacement with another already loaded turret. There is an interesting safety device which can be so placed as to prevent the long hammer nose entering the vent which leads to the powder chamber. When the trigger is pulled the safety automatically drops away and lets the hammer nose detonate the fulminate.
Two other unmarked, probably European, pistols are shown in figures 230 and 231. One has a large hammer with a long nose to reach the fulminate priming. This is shown cocked for use as single-action, but it may be fired double-action. Its vertical turret, which instead of being solid has a round opening in the center, has six .42 caliber chambers and may be removed when the hinged plate on the right side is opened. The sights have very peculiar features. The front sight is, in shooters' terminology, at three o'clock on the barrel. The rear sight is the kerf in the head of the screw which may be said to be hanging on the edge of the hinged plate at nine o'clock. Part of the screw head is cut away close to the shank, so the plate may be swung free when the screw is sufficiently turned. The other pistol, figure 231, is heavy and unhandy. Its turret is a ring-like disc with eighteen chambers, by no means easy to remove for reloading. Modern small caliber cartridges are discharged by a firing pin drawn back and released when the trigger is pulled. Trigger pull also rotates the circular magazine. The superstructure built on the barrel serves no purpose other than to hold the sights.
231. 18-shot revolver/ Dr. W. R. Funderburg collection.
The various Protector pistols are also turret pistols. They were described in the chapter on Squeezers and Knuckledusters.
The repeating pistols that are fitted with revolving chains as magazines are odder and scarcer than those fitted with revolving turrets.
An American 20-shot chain pistol patented January 23, 1866, by Harry S. Josselyn, Roxbury, Massachusetts, U. S. patent #52,248, is shown in figure 232. The endless steel chain, with a chamber for a .22 rim-fire cartridge in each link, turns around a sprocket wheel having six teeth. Cocking the hammer rotates the sprocket wheel by means of a pawl. A spring-latch attached to the hammer holds each cartridge as it comes around in line with the barrel, when the trigger is pulled.
An almost identical system of endless chain and sprocket wheel was used in an earlier British invention, patented by Thomas Treeby, London, British patent # 1552 of the year 1855.
As in the Josselyn, the chain, or endless belt of chambers on the Treeby is rotated by the cocking of the hammer. The lower end of the chain on the Josselyn gun swings freely, there being only one sprocket wheel. On the Treeby gun illustrated, figure 233, uncontrolled swinging is prevented by use of a second sprocket wheel placed at the bottom of the loop and held by straps running down from the frame. This feature, the second sprocket, was not included in Mr. Treeby's 1855 patent, but it was patented by him as an improvement in his patent # 1306 in the year 1858.
A more important feature of the Treeby is the method of getting a gas-tight joint between barrel and chamber. A tight joint is made by moving the barrel back into locked connection with a chamber mouth. The Genhart turret pistol described earlier in this chapter uses the same idea of backward movement of the barrel for obturation. In the Genhart the barrel simply slides back when a lever is raised. In the Treeby the turning of a bolt handle attached to a sleeve causes forward or backward movement of the barrel.
Only about a quarter turn of the bolt handle is required to free the barrel from a chamber mouth so the chain may revolve. To facilitate firm closing of the joint there is a handhold about the length of and just in back of the bolt handle.
The gun in the illustration has a chain with fourteen chambers. A Treeby gun demonstrated before instructors of musketry at Hythe was fitted with a chain having thirty chambers. It was fired from the shoulder, with a rest for the barrel, and discharged its thirty shots in less than a minute. The gun was designed for military use as a defensive weapon. It was accurate and probably capable of the best sustained rapid fire of any gun of the time, but it did not fire a heavy charge and was not considered adequate for use by the armed services.
The best known of the endless chain guns is a French product, the Guycot. The gun is usually referred to as the „forty shot belt pistol." It happens I have never seen one known to be forty shot, but I have had pistols in 25-shot and 32-shot, and rifles in 80-shot and 100-shot. Figure 234 shows a 25-shot pistol and figure 235 shows part of the mechanism of a 100-shot rifle. In the latter illustration perhaps 25 of the cartridge carrying cups are discernible. The other 75 are inside the stock. The endless chain, or belt, that carries the cups extends all the way to the butt plate.
Once the gun is loaded it may be fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled. As the trigger is pulled, the belt is revolved until a chamber faces the barrel. At the same time a long firing pin is retracted. Then an inner barrel is drawn back through the heavy outer barrel until it covers the bullet end of the cartridge. When the long drag on the trigger ends, the final pressure releases the needle-like firing pin, which drives through the small opening in the base of the cup-like container to detonate the cartridge primer.
The engagement of barrel breech and chamber mouth at the moment of firing is again by drawing back the barrel, as in the Treeby and in the Genhart. I do not recall any other guns that attempt to get tight joints by pulling back the barrel to the chamber mouth. Pressing a chamber mouth forward against a barrel breech is a better known method. That was done in the flintlock Collier revolvers, in the percussion cap Savage revolvers, and in other guns.
It should be explained that there is a button on the left of the frame which is kept down at the bottom of a groove when the gun is to be fired. If the button is pressed up when the trigger is not drawn back the gun is completely locked and the belt will not revolve.
Reloading one of these guns is a problem that requires a neat maneuver to solve. Cartridges are placed in the cups of the belt carrier one at a time through a slot on top of the frame. After one cartridge is inserted in a cup it is necessary to pull the trigger to revolve the carrier so another cup may be loaded. In order to prevent the discharge of the first cartridge after about a dozen cartridges are loaded, the locking button just referred to is raised after the trigger has been drawn partly back, with the result the firing pin is kept back but the belt moves when the trigger is pulled.
This chapter seems the proper place for the 42-shot „Ferris Wheel" pistol shown in figure 236, although the revolving framework which holds the „compound magazine", as its inventor called it, can hardly be called a chain. The inventor was Joseph Enouy, who obtained British patent # 1359 of the year 1855. The gun is a percussion cap double-action revolver of the transition type which used the top hammer construction of the earlier English pepperboxes. It is equipped with a revolving framework having an axle fastened to the grip and to the barrel as the illustration shows. There are seven spokes to the wheel, and at the outer end of each spoke is a cylinder with six chambers. When one cylinder is empty the framework is turned so a loaded cylinder may be locked in position for firing.
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