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Confederate Morse Carbine: Centerfire Cartridges Ahead of Their Time

Sold for $12,650.

George Morse of Baton Rouge patented a design for a remarkably modern centerfire cartridge and breechloading rifle action in 1856 and 1858, using a standard percussion cap as a primer. This was coupled with a gutta percha washer for sealing and a rolled brass cartridge body that was strong and robust – easily reloaded, if somewhat complex to manufacture.

After positive trials by the Army and Navy, Morse received a contract to make first complete guns and then a royalty contract for the conversion of existing muskets to his system. Work began at the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal, but money ran out with only 60 conversion completed. When the Civil War broke out, Morse chose to side with the Confederacy, and the tooling for his conversions was taken from the captured Armory to be put to use. He initially set up in Nashville, but the city fell to the Union in 1862, and he was forced to relocate to Atlanta and the Greenville South Carolina. It was in Greenville that Morse was finally able to manufacture guns in quantity, and he built approximately a thousand brass-framed single shot cartridge carbines for the South Carolina state militia.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, the infrastructure to supply a modern type of cartridge ammunition really did not exist in the South, and this crippled any chance of Morse’s carbines becoming a significant factor in the war. The best technology in the world is still of no use if ammunition cannot be provided!

This Morse carbine is of the third type, using a sliding latch on the breechblock to hold the action closed when firing. Two previous versions used different and less secure systems, but this third type was introduced around serial number 350 and would comprise the remaining 2/3rds of the production run.

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