Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Spencer" update - Rare Sharps and Hankins cartridges

I just stopped in to post a quick update and correction on last weekend's relic hunt post.  I posted pictures of my finds on several internet forums popular with Civil War detectorists and received some interesting feedback.  While I did notice something seemed a bit differs about the Spencer bullets and casings I found than what I have recovered in the past, I assumed they were simply a Spencer variant.  The oxidation of the bullet from close proximity to the casing and gunpowder confused the ID as well.

It turns out that what I thought were relatively common Spencer carbine bullets are actually much more rare Sharps and Hankins cartridges.  This can be seen most clearly on the second bullet from the left in the previous post, and a larger picture of that bullet is shown here.  These bullets were designed for the Sharps and Hankins carbine, a product of a short wartime partnership between the two weapons manufacturers..  About 8,000 S&H rifles were made, with more than 6,600 of these produced for the Navy and the remainder (about 1500 units) for the Army and Cavalry.  This may seem like a large number, but for comparison, there were more than 100,000 Spencer carbines and rifles produced for the war, and 700,000 Springfield rifles.

Rim-fire cartridges recovered from the wreckage of the USS Monitor. 
USS Monitor Center Blog

Interestingly, several parts of a Sharps and Hankins rifle and four S&H type rim-fire cartridges were recovered from the wreckage of the famous USS Monitor.  These cartridges are shown above, and more details can be found at the USS Monitor Center's blog here and here.  The Monitor Center's blog also shows a cloth patch on the inside of the cartridge, between the bullet and the powder charge.  It is speculated that the fabric was intended to help keep the powder dry in case the cartridge was subjected to wet conditions.  Further cleaning of my recently dug S&H cartridges does show remains of similar cloth fragments inside the cartridge!

The preserved fabric barrier between the bullet and powder chamber in one of my
S&H cartridges (L) and a cartridge recovered from the USS Monitor (R).