1st Usage of Spencers in Civil War?

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by Sackett, Aug 13, 2006.

  1. Sackett

    Sackett New Member

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    Noticed in a past NRA magazine that a certain Spencer, can't remember the model, was NOT issued to the Yanks until the Fall of 1863.
    Gen. John Buford's cavalry used Spencers to halt the quickly approaching Rebs on the opening day of Gettysburg.
    Was this a mistake on NRA, or was it just another model Spencer that I saw?
  2. polishshooter

    polishshooter Active Member

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    I didn't see that article, but it MAY have been just a specific model, such as the later one with the Stabler Cutoff, although I BELIEVE that one was actually the Spencer Model 1865...

    The OTHER question is the word "issued." Many Spencers were actually purchased by soldiers and units privately before they were issued.


    But Spencer's were used both at Gettysburg, (It was Butlers Spencer's AND Battery B, 4th US with Napoleons that stopped them....I did a paper on Federal Field Artillery in the CW, and used a book written in 1896 by a gunner in that battery that fought at Gettysburg as a reference, and HE mentioned the "hot fire" from the Cavalry's Spencers that day...)but also in the West.

    Wilder's Lightning Brigade of mounted Infantry, at first. was supposed to be armed with Henry's, paid for by Wilder, with the agreement that the soldiers would pay him back in installments and they then would own it. To raise the money, the Good Colonel mortgaged his Greensburg, Indiana, farm.

    However, the deal for the Henry's fell through, so Wilder contacted Spencer, who was able to provide them with the Spencer Rifle, not carbine, and a quantity of ammo, along with bayonets. Some of the troopers actually started paying him back before Wilder "shamed" the US government into buying them for them, and paying him back. While these MAY have been considered "issued," they were FIRST contracted for privately. This happened a lot in the war, at least in the first years.


    This was in 1862, and the first use of them was at Tullahoma Gap (If I remember the name right) when Wilder's 1500 men rode their mules (actually "lost control" of their mules is closer to the truth) through the gap and held off Braggs 35,000 on the other side with their Spencer's until the regular Union Infantry could come double quick time and take the field. This is what opened the West to the plains of Tennesee so quickly, Bragg had thought the Union could be held in the Mountains.

    Then all through the war, and especially at Chickamauga, where they and Thomas' Corp and Eli Lilly's 10 gun battery held the field until everyone else retreated back to Chattanooga, they used the Spencers with deadly affect.

    SO since Chickamauga was just after Gettysburg (Longstreet's Gettysburg veterans shipped quickly by rail to reinforce Bragg is pretty much what won it for the South), the idea there were NO Spencers until the fall of '63 is wrong.

    And that was the Spencer full length Infantry RIFLE. There were many more cavalry carbines used, and I believe they were actually used in combat FIRST.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2006
  3. Sackett

    Sackett New Member

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    Thanks for the historical info. In the meantime, I've gone to a Gen. John Buford site to see if it could provide an account of what Spencer was used.
    I must confess that I'm now more confused than ever. On that site, it stated that it was a myth that Buford used Spencers and that his troopers were armed with breechloading Sharps. It went on to say that even Shelby Foote's book "Stars in Their Courses" had further perpetuated this myth.
    I like Shelby Foote too and it was him that I got my information from.
    I'll go back and look up some more sites.
  4. polishshooter

    polishshooter Active Member

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    IF you are interested in the Spencer Rifle, read anything about 'Wilder's Lightning Brigade" in the west, that is where I've read the most about actually using the Spencers in battle and shows them prominently in pictures of anything else I've see.

    Plus a pretty good account of them at Chickamauga, with the non-coms handing out boxes of extra cartridges to them before Longstreet's charge, how they usually fired them prone, how they reloaded them when standing by resting the muzzle on a toe, and a really funny account of them "sniping" at a reb leading a "charmed life" behind the Widow something's cabin.

    Another good book that has a lot about Wilder's Brigade and mentions Spencers is "The 18th Indiana Battery," a great account of Eli Lilly's battery that fought with Wilder most of the war....I especially like Lilly's claim he lived the entire war on "Quinine and Whisky...."
  5. That's not too hard to believe if you consider the fact that Grant did away with the quinine and just lived on the whiskey. :D Also, Thomas Jonathan Jackson was known to eat lemons constantly while on campaign.

    The Spencer carbines were interesting weapons. The Rebs called them "the gun you could load on Sunday and shoot all week." What they lacked in range, accuracy, and knock-down power, they made up in rate of fire. War is indeed the great innovator in terms of technology. Both sides learned (and should have learned more quickly still) in that great and bloody conflict that the days of massed armies charging headlong toward the enemy line or standing their ground in neat rows were gone forever. It is ironic that a half century later the generals were still using those tactics--with results like the Somme, Verdun, and Flanders.