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The Greene Carbine: Too Tricky for the Cavalry

Sold for $4,313.

James Greene patented this unusual breechloading carbine design in 1854, and arranged to have it manufactured by the Massachusetts Arms Company of Chicopee Falls. He managed to sell 300 of them to the US military, in .54 caliber and with 22 inch barrels. Field testing was done in 1857, although it was found that they were too awkward for use on horseback, and no further guns were purchased. However, a much larger order was placed by the British military, apparently with the intention of arming the Cape Mounted Rifles.

The guns ordered by the British, including the one in today’s video, had 18” barrels but were otherwise identical to the American guns. The Greene uses a locking system in which the barrel rotates 90 degrees to lock two large lugs into locking shoulders on the frame of the weapon. A paper or linen cartridge is used, and a tapered needle at the center of the breechblock penetrates the base of the cartridge when the action is closed. This needle channels the fire from the percussion cap (the Maynard tape priming system was licensed and built into the carbines) into the cartridge powder charge.

The British spent several years testing ammunition for their Greene carbines, but were unable to find a construction method which was light enough to be punctured by the firing needle but also sturdy enough for field use. But the early 1860s a superior Westley-Richards breechloader had been adopted, and the Greene carbines were put into storage in the Tower of London until eventually destroyed or sold – having never seen field use.

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