Many people think that the advent of repeating firearms was a thing of the 19th century—a time dominated, at least in the Americas, by the U.S. Civil War and battles between cowboys and lawmen in the Wild West. While the 19th century was, indeed, a time skyrocketing popularity for repeating weapons, it may be surprising to learn that multi-shot firearms had already been around for hundreds of years.
Before the 19th century, repeating firearms were available for purchase, but were often ignored, as they were expensive to manufacture, difficult to repair and provided little advantage in accuracy over other muskets. The low demand for pre-19th century repeating firearms, however, did not stop ambitious gunsmiths from inventing primitive semi-automatic and automatic weapons. The mechanisms used in these interesting weapons could vary greatly, with some relying on swiveling gun barrels, while others used something akin to a Roman candle design, or even magazines of musket balls that could be individually loaded into a firearm through a contraption similar to those found in later lever-action repeating rifles.
Here are just a few of the bizarre repeating firearms that were in existence during the heyday of muzzle-loaded weaponry. In the 16th century, the 16-shot wheel-lock was one of the first firearms to use the Roman candle design, where one shot ignited the charge of the next, repeating until the ammunition was expended. In the early 17th century, two separate gunsmiths, named Lorenzoni and Kalthoff, created some of the first magazine-loaded flintlock rifles. During the 18th century, at least three more notable repeating firearms were produced. These included the Joseph Belton 8-Shot Repeating Musket, the Cookson Volitional Repeating Flintlock and the Girandoni Air Rifle. The latter of these weapons was actually carried by Merriwether Lewis during the famous Lewis and Clark surveying expedition into the American West.
Written by C. Keith Hansely.
Picture Attribute: (Battle of Bunker Hill by Howard Pyle (1853–1911), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Book of the Continental Soldier, by Harold L. Peterson. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Company, 1968.