The Spencer 1860 was the world’s first widely used military repeating rifle. Designed by Christopher Spencer, the lever action, .52 caliber, 7-shot rifle had a sustainable rate of fire 14-20 rounds per minute, while muzzleloaders in use at the time fired only 2-3 rounds per minute. The Spencer was also much more accurate than the muzzleloader, with an effective firing range 500 yards.
For the first two years of the Civil War, the Army refused to purchase the Spencer, stating soldiers would run through their ammunition too fast with repeating rifles. They claimed the use of repeating rifles would place great strain on the already overburdened supply system, requiring tens of thousands of more mules, wagons, and wagon train guard detachments. The Spencers also cost three times as much as Springfields.
However, in June 1863, Col. John T. Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade,” using privately purchased Spencers, stunningly overwhelmed and shattered several Rebel units defenses at the Battle of Hoover’s Gap. Afterwards, the Army decided to equip several more cavalry and mounted infantry units with the Spencer, purchasing 200,000 of them by the end of the War.
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