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BREECH-LOADING ARMS AND NEEDLE-GUNS. To be loaded at the breech, and te be fired by the penetration of a needle into, or the impinging of a piston on, a detonating cap within the cartridge, are distinct attributes in a weapon; and although it is only within the last forty years that the system has been carried out with success, breech. loading arms have been tried, accepted, and abandoned without number during the last three centuries. Indeed, a sort of instinct dictates that loading at the breech is the preferable course; and all the earliest muskets were so made, the system being doubtless abandoned from the difficulty of accurately closing the breech, in those days of rough workmanship. The extraordinary efficacy of breech-loading arms for military purposes was brought prominently forward during the wars of the last few years, and notably in the Prussian campaigns of 1864 against Denmark, and of 1866 against Austria. The successes of the Prussian arms were attributed in no small degree to the rapidity with which their troops could fire as compared with the enemy. They had, in greater or less numbers, borne these same rifles since 1835, but these were the first opportunities of using them in warfare. To all the other powers, whose men still carried muzzle-loading rifles, and who had debated, without practical result, for years past the question of armament with breech-loaders, soldiers thus armed appeared irresistible. From July, 1866, to the present moment, the hammer and the anvil have been busy night and day throughout the civilized world in making the weapons of death yet more deadly. Scarcely two countries seem to have adopted the same plan: each nation has elaborated a system from among its own inventors. Those possessing no great reserve of rifles have prepared new arms; but the majority of governments have been content, in the first instance, to convert their existing stock into breech-loaders of as good a construction as circumstances would permit. Thus, Britain, after offering a handsome prize for the best design, selected one said (subject to some controversy) to be the invention of the late Mr. Snider. As this weapon has been produced already to the number of a million, and as it has con. firmed the favorable auguries entertained of it by accuracy of fire, and by loading thrice to the muzzle-loader's once, much of the following article will be devoted to a consideration of it. At the same time, it is to be borne in mind that the British government only regarded the Snider arm as a makeshift for the conversion of the enormous stock of Enfield rifles then in hand, reserving to itself the ultimate selection of a pattern on which to manufacture new weapons. It is not to be understood from what is said above that Britain adopted a breech-loading arm in a sort of panic after the battle of Sadowa. It was after the Danish campaign, on the 11th July, 1864, that it was decided as an abstract question to arm the British infantry with breech-loaders; a portion of the cavalry having for a number of years previously been armed with Sharp and Westley Richards carbines, loading at the breech. The selection of an arm took longer; but by the beginning of 1865 it had been decided to convert our great stock of rifles on the “Spider" system. In 1869 it was determined that new arms should be on the Martini-Henry system-i.e., with the Henry barrel, and the Martini-breech action. A description of this rifle will be given further on.
Breech-loading.–The advantage of breech-loading is obvious: to be able to insert the charge at the breech end instead of the muzzle, is to save time, and to avoid exposure to hostile fire during the operation of loading and ramming home, which involves consid. erable outstretching of the limbs. The great condition of success is, that the bullet shall be propelled with equal force and accuracy, and with equal safety to the rifleman, as from the muzzle-loader.
When a charge is ignited, the constituents of the gunpowder, assuming a gaseous con. dition under the heat engendered, expand into a volume of light gas many times greater in bulk than the powder before occupied. On the amount of this expansion, and its sudden action on the projectile, the force of the shot depends. Any joint in the breechpiece through which a portion of this gas can escape, without having imparted its thrust to the ball, tends, therefore, to lessen the range and penetration; while the shock of the explosion falling more severely on this than ou any other part of the barrel, tends yet more to dislocate the breech-piece, and diminish the closeness of the joint's fit. In weap. ons which do not call for a long range, as revolver pistols, a perceptible interval is left between the chamber and barrel, through which much yas escapes; but in rifles, which have range and penetration as principal objects, there is prima facie ground for preferring a muzzle-loader. The gas, however, is far from pure as generated in the barrel, for much water is produced and held in suspension, while there is also a solid residuum consisting of unburned materials of the powder. In the muzzle-loader, these clog (or, technically, foul) the barrel, filling the grooves, and rendering the ramming home of succeeding charges more and more difficult. The effect is, that a solid mass of unburned matter is gradnally forced by ramming into the head of the barrel, destroying the accuracy and usefulness of the weapon. In the breech-loader, this solid deposit must be provided against both ways. The backward throw on firing (for, of course, the charge explodes with equal power in every direction) tends to force it into the mechanism of the joints, preventing their proper fit, and continually augmenting the escape of gas; and on the other hand, the deposit in front is most detrimental to accuracy of fire. This protection of the breech-apparatus, the prevention of fouling, and the retaining and if possible improving the force and accuracy of fire, were the problems which inventors have had to solve.
A moderate escape of gas in front of the first position of the ball, is not found to be any material disadvantage. If, then, the barrel could have an opening where the cartridge could be inserted, and then pushed backwards, an escape of gas through the joints by which the opening might be subsequently closed would be comparatively immaterial; but this formation would be impracticable, because the explosion of each cartridge would drive the fouling more and more backwards, till ultimately the chamber at the breech would be unable to contain the cartridge. It is clear, therefore, that the charge must be inserted either at the barrel's head, or, if the barrel be opened, in a space close to the barrel's head. In either of these cases, the breech must be solidly closed to resist the explosion. A third case, as in the Snider, is where the cartridge is inserted and then pushed forward, the aperture being closed by a solid breech-piece which completely fills that portion of the barrel, and forms, with the barrel's head, a massive foot to resist the backward pressure of the fired powder. No breech action can be made to fit so accurately as to prevent a backward escape of gas unless a properly-constructed cartridge-case is used. A perpendicular moving joint is found, in practice, to be the best adapted for preventing a serious escape of gas. In the Prussian needle-gun, the end of the barrel is the frustum of a cone, which fits into a corresponding cavity in the fore-end of the breech-piece, but in practice this joint is not sufficiently tight to prevent an escape of gas from the self-consuming cartridge used with this gun, which becomes inconveniently great after long use of the weapon, and it is only available when the breech-piece is pushed up from the rear. In the Snider and several other breechloading weapons, the cartridge is made itself to close hermetically the aperture between the barrel and the fore-end of the breech-piece. This is effected by the expansion of the cartridge-case which, being composed of metal, or a combination of metal and paper, is driven out by the force of the explosion till it completely fills the chamber and prevents any escape backwards between the sides of the case and the chamber. The cartridge has a portion of its case at the base flattened out into a rim which fits into a correspond. ing recess in the end of the barrel ; and to prevent expansion backwards, which would fracture the cartridge-case, and injure the breech or the firer, the breech-piece is made to fit as closely as possible against this base. This rim is on the Suider cartridge.
The remainder of the article will be devoted to a description of the three most prominent breech-loaders-(1) the Prussian Zündnadelgewehr; (2) the British Snider; and (3) the Martini-Henry.
The Prussian gun, although it may be said to be now obsolete (having been superseded by the Mauser, a bolt gun on much the same principle, but using a metallic cartridge-case), was first in the field. As regards its breech-apparatus and needle-lock, it consists of three concentric hollow cylinders, with a solid cylindrical bolt inside the last. The rear-end of the barrel is firmly screwed into the head of the chamber, which is fixed to the stock of the piece, and is open at the rear-end. The upper half of the cylinder is cut away at the front-end for rather more than the length of the cartridge: this constitutes the opening in which the musketeer inserts the cartridge. From the rear of this opening to the back, a groove is cut, sufficiently wide to allow the square pillar of the breech-handle to pass along it. In the middle of this groove is a rightangled shunt, offering a stop to the breech-handle when drawn backwards, unless it be likewise turned downwards, when it may be passed completely out at the rear-end. Next within the chamber is the breech-piece, which, to admit the cartridge, is drawn back for a sufficient distance by the breech-handle along the groove. When the cartridge is deposited in the recess in the chamber, this breech-piece is closed against the heel of the barrel by moving up the handle to the front-end of the groove, and then turning it down to prevent it from being driven back on the explosion of the charge; representing, indeed, the resistance offered by the heel of an ordinary muzzle-loading barrel. Firmly screwed within the breech-piece, at a short distance from its front, is a solid block of metal, on which impinges the first force of the explosion. Projecting from this block to the base of the cartridge is a strong tige, or pillar, around which a space containing air is left. Through this pillar is the channel for the needle to work. Fitting within the rear-end of the breech-piece is a smaller cylinder, constituting the lock of the gun, It slides within the breech-piece, and is retained from falling out backwards by the spring, which catches in a notch. Along the bottom of this cylinder is a groove to admit the passage of the trigger; and at the back is a short upright handle, by means of which the weapon is cocked. Lastly, within the lock is a bolt, pressed forward by a spiral spring, and having the needle rigidly fastened to its front end. Having now described the several parts of the rifle, it is easy to rollow it from the moment of a shot being fired until the next is ready for discharge. The soldier first presses down the spring with his finger, releasing the catch below it, and enabling him to draw back the lock to the next catch on the spring. Having done so, he raises the breech-handle to the perpendicular, and passes it along the groove to open the breech. This done, he places the cartridge in the opening thus made in the chamber, and again moving up the breech-piece to close the breech, the tige in it pushes the cartridge forward' into the barrel, and the rifle is at once at “half-cock;" for in drawing back the lock, the front point of the spring forced the bolt (including the needle) with it, and the projection on it, having passed over the head of the trigger, is caught by the latter in a way which can only be released by the falling of the trigger. It will be observed that at half-cock the needle is ready to penetrate the cartridge, but that the spiral spring is loose and without power. The position is now obtained, in which the bolt projects at the back, and the spiral spring is compressed into a state of passive strength. All that is now needed to fire the gun is to press upon the trigger, when the bolt, being released by the depression of the spiral spring, asserts its power, and drives the needle into the heart of the cartridge, the parts all resuming their original positions. At first sight, one cannot help exclaiming: “What a complicated apparatus with the four cylinders and the springs!" but, in reality, it is as simple as almost any other gun, for the whole mechanism of the lock (q.v.) is dispensed with. If it be desired to take the needle-gun to pieces, press the trigger till the point bears. If the breech-handle be then in the hinder part of its groove, the breech-piece with its contents will slip out of the chamber. Pressing down, next, the spring until the second catch is passed, there is nothing to retain the lock in the breech-piece; and the lock being free, the needle, with its attached bolt and spring, falls readily out of its fore-end. The gun is thus taken to pieces in a few seconds, and as many suffice to put it again in fighting order. The most delicate portions are the needle and the spiral spring; but in case of accident to these, there is a spare one in a small cavity opening by a spring in the butt-end of the stock. The worst feature about this celebrated gun is its weight, 12 lbs., or 33 per cent heavier than the Enfield or Snider rifle.
The converted Enfield or “Snider” rifle was selected in 1865-66 by the British gov ernment from the specimens submitted at an open competition of inventors. It is an extremely simple weapon, and though by no means free from faults, has given very satisfactory results up to this time. The ordinary Enfield barrel is shortened by about 24 in., and the heel of the remainder is screwed in to a strong shoe, with which is connected by a powerful hinge, the solid breech-piece, which, when shut, completely closes the breech. Through this passes the piston or striker; the normal position of the piston is maintained by a spiral spring within the nipple. Given the breech open, the cartridge is inserted and pushed forward into the barrel, where its metal rim fills the groove left around the barrel's heel. The breech-piece is closed down, the hammer drawn to full-cock, and the piece is ready for discharge. The breech-piece is securely locked by the spring bolt, which enters a recess in ihe false breech, and can only be withdrawn on the lever thumb-piece being pressed by the thumb in the act of again lifting the breech-block. On the trigger being pulled, the hammer falls, drives in the piston, and out against the detonating cap of the cartridge, with a sharp blow, firing the charge. The hammer is drawn back to half-cock, the piston flies up to its former position; the breech-piece is thrown back, and slid on its hinge along the pin until occurs a process during which a small catch hooks back into the breech, by its projecting rim, the empty cartridge-case. The canting of the ritle to one side now throws this out, a spring within the hinge moves the breech-piece to its former place, and the gun is ready for another charge.
The cost of altering an “Enfield" to a “ Snider" varies from 158. to 20s. During the transition period, upwards of a million were converted in this way, besides a large number of new arms made for our own government; but conversion and manufacture are now suspended both in the government factories and by the large small-arms companies. The government factories were capable of converting 1100 rifles daily.
At first, the firing of the Snider was inferior to the old Enfield; but, by alterations in the bullet, effected by col. Boxer, in the direction of decreasing the specific gravity at the apex by the insertion of a wooden plug (which is now, however, dispensed with, and the point of the ballet spun over the mouth of the cavity), this condition has been reversed, and the Snider now fires 30 per cent better than the old Enfield. Of course, these changes add to the cost of the cartridge, which has, however, these great perfections—first, that it is absolutely impervious to wet; and second, that fire can scarcely be communicated to it otherwise than through the detonating cap. A single cartridge has been fired within a barrel of loose cartridges without exploding any of the others.
Adverting to the Snider cartridge, the whole is inclosed in a roll of thin brass foil, outside which is a covering of paper, and having for its base an iron disk, in front of which is a double cup of thin brass, while a round of millboard or pulp encircles the chamber containing the percussion-cap, which communicates with the powder. Between the powder and the ball is a layer of wool. The ball has, as explained above, the point spun over a cavity in its front, and a conical hollow is made at the base; into the wider part of this is dropped the wooden plug, while on the circumference of the bullet, and outside this conical hole, are four small cannelures or cuts in the lead. When the powder explodes, the wooden plug is driven forwards to the head of the hollow, driving the base of the bullet outwards till the lead completely fills the grooves of the rifle-a process aided by the comparatively less resistance at the cannelures. These cannelures are also receptacles for a wax lubrication which prevents fouling, interposing always a film of wax between the bullet and the barrel. The charge and bullet are held together by the copper sheathing being pressed into the cannelures. Returning to the percussioncap, we should find, if it were enlarged, an apparatus where the cap is a thin copper cylinder open at front and closed at the rear end, where there is contained a deposit of detonating powder, of great sensitiveness. A brass bead, called the "anvil,” is contained within the cap, the sharp point being next the detonating powder, and its broader
end resting at the bottom of the cap-chamber on each side of the hole. The cap itselt fits tightly into the chamber, leaving no opening for the escape of gas backwards from the explosion, and is fired by the external blow of the piston or striker, which drives the base of the cap down upon the point of the anvil, by which means the detonating powder is exploded, and the flash, passing down the sides of the anvil, communicates through the opening with the powder in the cartridge. The weight of the bullet is 480 grains; of the powder, 70 grains; the cost being about £3 per thousand.
From this description, it is evident that the Spider cartridge is a complicated arrangement; but it is not much more so than that of the Zündnadelgewehr, though vastly more efficient.
In comparing the Snider and the Prussian gun, the former has certainly the greater simplicity; while its smaller weight (9 lbs. to 104 lbs.) is an immeasurable advantage. Of the two it is probably the less likely to get out of order, but would perhaps be the
most difficult to restore if it did. There is this difference of a material character between the two weapons, that in the Prussian arm, the needle, by its own mechanism, fires the charge; while in the Snider, it is a mere medium for conveying the blow of the hammer.
The principle of the action of the Martini-Henry rifle, which has been adopted by the British army, consists in closing the breech by a falling block, working in a mortised breech body, and hinged on a pin at the back end, and falling in front sufficiently when open to clear the opening of the barrel; the top of the brecch-block forms an inclined groove, along which the cartridge is slipped into the barrel. The ordinary gun lock is replaced by a direct acting striker, impelled by a spiral spring, both being contained within the breech-block. The act of opening the lever draws down the breech-block, simultaneously drawing back the striker, and compressing the spiral spring; at the same time the toe of the cranked extractor is struck by the breech-block, thus throwing its upper claws, which encircle the base of the cartridge-case, backward, and jerking out the used case. On a fresh cartridge being inserted, the lever is drawn back and fixed to the stock by the spring. This closes the breech, but the spiral spring is kept compressed, and the striker at the full-cock position, by the tumbler, into the bent of which the point of the trigger and the tumbler-rest entered when the breech was opened. The trigger being pulled, the tumbler is let loose, and the spiral spring discharges the pointed end of the striker on to the cap in the rear-end of the cartridge, which is thus fired.
The following table shows the breech-loading rifles in use in 1883 by the principal powers:
Weight | Weight of bullet. of powder.
. Beaumont.. Italy .........
Vetterli.... Russia ........
. Berdan ...... Sweden....
Remington ........ United States....
The breech-loaders with and without the needle arrangement are too numerous even for mention. In addition to what are known as breech-loaders proper, there are repeating-arms, one of the most remarkable of which is the Spencer magazine rifle, having, in a tube in the stock, a series of cartridges, which, by a simple action, pass into the barrel for discharge. As the gun can ordinarily be loaded at the breech without drawing on the magazine, it is doubtless that this reserve would be a powerful means of defense in a moment of danger, as in resisting cavalry; but among its drawbacks are weakening of the stock, serious increase of weight, and, worst of all, great complexity and delicacy
- fatal objections in the rough usage of active service. Nearly all sportsmen now use breech-loading guns. One type of weapon has attachable magazines.
BREECH-LOADING GUNS (ante). The introduction of these arms in the United States dates properly from 1865, from which date muzzle-loading arms were no longer manufactured at the Springfield armory. A short time before the late rebellion, the government tested a number of breech-loading guns, such as the Burnside, Cosmopolitan, Gallagher, Joslyn, Merrill, Maynard, Smith, Lindner, and Sharp. None of these are now used except the Sharp gun, which has been adapted to the metallic cartridge. During the war the Spencer rifle was much used by the U. S. cavalry; it has a magazine in the butt of the stock, holding 7 cartridges that are admitted one at a time by the movement of the trigger-guard used as a lever. The shell of an exploded cartridge is expelled by the same movement. It may be used also as a single breech-loader, but the magazine must first be shut off. The Henry gun (not to be mistaken for the MartiniHenry gun) has the magazine under the barrel. By movements of the lever, 17 metallin
cases or cartridges can be brought into the chamber in succession. This gun, like the Spencer, can be used as a single breech-loader by shutting off the magazine. It has been changed, however, by O. F. Winchester, and is now termed the Winchester gun. Among other magazine guns may be mentioned the Ball, Fogarty, and Gardner guns. The well-known Remington gun is a single breech-loader, and has an iron receiver that is screwed 10 the breech of the barrel, in which the breech-block and lock are to be found. It uses metallic-cased cartridges, and has been adopted by the governments of Egypt, Spain, and several other countries. The Remington gun is used in the U. S. navy, and by the militia in some states.
In 1866, the secretary of war called a board of officers, gen. Hancock acting as presigent, to report the form and caliber which should be adopted for breech-loading mus. kets and carbines, and the method of converting muskets from muzzle-loading to breechloading arms. After an examination of 22 different breech-loading muskets and 17 different breech-loading carbines, the board reported the best caliber for muskets to be 0.45 of an inch, the best charge of powder from 65 to 70 grains, and the best weight of ball from 480 to 500 grains. In 1869, a board of officers, presided over by gen. Schofield, was called to meet at St. Louis to select the six best patterns of muskets for infantry and carbines for cavalry. After examining a great number of different breech-loaders, they reported that the only guns suitable for military service were those of the Reming. ton, Springfield, and Sharp systems. These guns were tried accordingly until 1872, when, in compliance with an act of congress, a board of officers, gen. A. H. Terry as president, was appointed to meet in New York and Springfield, “ to recommend a breech. loading system for muskets and carbines to be adopted for the military service, which system, when so adopted, shall be the only one to be used by the ordnance department in the manufacture of muskets and carbines for the military service.” After testing over 100 breech-loading guns, the board recommended (May, 1873) that the Springfield breech-loading system be adopted for military service, and this report being approved, that system is now used by the government for the U. S. army and militia. This breech. loader has a receiver screwed to the breech of the barrel. The shell of the exploded cartridge is ejected by a combined cam and spring through a motion of the hinge in the opening of the breech-block. The firing-pin goes through the breech-block in an inclined direction from the nose of the hammer at the side to the center of the rear of the chamber, where it strikes the head of the cartridge, exploding the fulminate when its rear end is struck by the hammer. See illus., Guns, vol. VII., p. 166.
BREED, in domestic animals, a variety or often merely a race distinguished by the possession of particular qualities, but not differing from the ordinary type of the species so as to constitute what naturalists vsually designate a variety. The peculiarities of breeds in animals find an exact counterpart in cultivated plants, the value of particular kinds often depending, in a great measure, upon characters scarcely capable of being defined in the language of scientific description, but to the production and perpetuation of which the attention of the cultivator cannot be too earnestly directed. These, also, in plants, as in animals, have of themselves little permanence, and the preservation or perpetuation of ihem depends upon the same assiduous attention and high cultivation from which, more frequently than from any mere accidental circumstances, they have originated. Thus it happens that the most improved varieties of garden-plants usually degenerate even under ordinary horticultural treatment, and the choice pansies of the florist lose their characteristic excellences if a place is simply assigned to them in a common flowerborder. The improvements which cultivation has effected in the productions of the fruit, flower, and kitchen garden do not, however, possess an economic importance to be compared to that of the similar improvements in the cereals and other plants cultivated on the most extensive scale, or in the breeds of some of the most valuable domestic animals. To the breeding of these, great attention has of late been paid-probably more since the beginning of the 19th c. than in all the previous history of the world-and with results the magnitude of which may in some measure be estimated from the state. ment made on very competent authority, that within the last thirty years the weight of mutton produced has been about doubled in proportion to the number of sheep kept To the improvement of the B. of horses, attention has been paid for a much longer time than to that of oxen and sheep; and to this must, in a great measure, be ascribed the different excellences of some of the well-known breeds employed for very different purposes. The use of the horse in war, and for purposes of pomp and luxury, appears to have been the reason of the higher degree of attention thus paid to it, even from ancient times. The Arabs have long been particuiarly careful of the B. of their horses, and diligently preserve a record of their pedigree. What is called blood in horses, however, only fits them in a higher degree for certain purposes; and with regard to this as to other animals, the judgment of the breeder must be exercised, as the perpetuation, increase, or combination of particular qualities may be the object which he has in view. Fleetness and strength are important qualities in horses, the extremes of which never co-exist in the same animal, but of which a certain combination is for some purposes very desirable; and either of these may be displayed in a great degree without much bottom, or power of enduring continued severe exertion-a quality of very high value. The properties most desired in sheep and oxen are very different from those most highly esteemed