Burnside Spencer Springfield Model 1865/1871 56-50 Lever Rifle, Antique

SOLD FOR: $1,081

WOA#: WY240311JH005

Make: Burnside Rifle Company, converted by Springfield Armory

Model: Model 1871 Rifle, converted from 1865 Carbine

Serial Number: 28587

Year of Manufacture: Ca. 1865, converted 1871

Caliber: 56-50 Spencer Rimfire

Action Type: Lever Operated Rotating Breechblock Repeating Rifle with Tubular Magazine Loaded Through the Buttstock

Markings: The top of the receiver at the chamber is marked “SPENCER REPEATING RIFLE / PAT’D MARCH 6, 1860 / MANUF’D AT PROV, R.I. / BY BURNSIDE RIFLE Co” and “MODEL / 1865”. The top of the receiver behind the breech-block and the left of the barrel are each marked “28587”.

Barrel Length: 32 1/2”

Sights / Optics: The front sight is a bladed post fixed to the front of the barrel. The rear sight is a folding ladder, showing a “V” notch when folded down. The ladder arm has broken and the slider is missing.

Stock Configuration & Condition: The stocks are two-piece smooth walnut. The forend is secured by two barrel bands with a metal nosecap and a slot for the included clearing rod. The buttstock has a straight wrist, straight comb and steel carbine-style buttplate. There is a sling bar with ring in the left of the wrist and a sling plate in the belly. The stocks have light wear with a few nicks and light scratches. There is cracking around the rear of the buttstock. The LOP measures 13″ from the front of the trigger to the back of the buttplate. The plate has gone to a light patina with some areas having the nickel-like appearance of old case hardened steel. Overall, the stocks are in Very Good condition as refinished Antique.

Type of Finish: Blue & Case Color

Finish Originality: Original to Conversion

Bore Condition: The bore is gray and the rifling is well defined. There is scattered erosion and some pitting in the bore. In this writer’s opinion, the bore rates 6 out of 10.

Overall Condition: This rifle retains about 5% of its metal finish. There is infrequent remaining finish in well protected areas. The receiver has some spots showing a nickel-like appearance, typical of old case-hardening due to higher nickel content in the surface. The barrel has mostly worn to white or gone to a light patina. There are scattered nicks, scuffs and scratches. There is some scattered minor surface erosion. The action shows operational wear. The screw heads range from sharp to tool marked with usable slots. The serial markings are clear, the manufacturer’s marking on the chamber ring is worn and incomplete. Overall, this rifle rates in Fair-Good condition as antique (see Mechanics).

Mechanics: The Stabler cutoff is loose, easily falling to a position that will interrupt the action. The cartridge finger on the top of the receiver is not sprung and moves freely. Otherwise, the action functions correctly. This rifle is equipped with a Stabler cut-off, allowing for single-shot or magazine-fed operation of the action. We did not fire this firearm. As with all used firearms, a thorough cleaning may be necessary to meet your maintenance requirements.

Box, Paperwork & Accessories: This rifle comes with a single 7-round tubular magazine.

Our Assessment: Spencer Repeating Rifles and Carbines were created by Christopher Miner Spencer. Spencer was a Northerner, and when the Civil War broke out a year later he was eager to offer his novel weapon system to the United States military. The Army initially rejected the novel design for fear that the constant need to provide ammunition for repeating rifles would place an insurmountable burden on its already strained logistics system. While limited numbers of Spencers were purchased in 1862 and early 1863, the weapon system remained sidelined.

At the titanic clash at Gettysburg, where US forces decisively defeated a massive Confederate invasion into the North, Spencer Repeaters played a decisive role. During the battle, General George Armstrong Custer’s 5th Michigan Cavalry Brigade utilized their advanced Spencers to defeat an attack led by General J.E.B. Stuart whose force outnumbered Custer’s by a margin of 3-1. The rapid fire capability of the repeaters proved more than a match for the large Confederate force which was forced to retreat. Despite this stunning success, President Abraham Lincoln was reluctant to invest in the Spencer manufactured repeaters, he had a personal experience with them that led him to believe they were unreliable. To remedy this misconception, Spencer himself secured an audience with President Lincoln to prove the worth of his invention.

On August 18th, 1863, just a month after Custer had proven the effectiveness of his invention, Spencer secured a meeting with the President. The following day the President fired a Spencer (it is unclear what exact model or type it was), and was impressed with the effectiveness of the arm. Unsurprisingly, the government began to place larger orders for the Spencer Repeaters, with the Carbine variant making up the bulk of the units offered to the US military. The demand for Spencer rifles was so great that a contract was also provided to the Burnside Rifle Company, though it was too late in the war to be used in combat. The weapon system proved its worth on the battlefield, it was reliable and highly effective. Interestingly, John Wilkes Booth had a Spencer Carbine with him as he made his final stand after having assassinated President Lincoln. Following the end of the conflict, both Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. and Burnside Rifle Co. went under. Not only were there no more military contracts to fill, there was a glut of surplus arms on the market, totally undermining consumer demand for new-production rifles.

There were still a number of Spencer Carbines in inventory after the end of the war, and the utility of a repeating rifle couldn’t be entirely denied by the Army. Just over a thousand were selected by Springfield Armory to be converted to a rifle configuration in 1871. The guns retained their sling-bars, but the barrels were replaced with longer 32 1/2″ barrels which were serialized to the receivers, and the forends were replaced with suitably long forends, having provision for a clearing rod. This example has a decent bore, and is fairly well preserved for a mid-19th century military firearm, though it has a couple of mechanical issues. This old repeater will certainly appeal to historical firearms collectors. Good luck and happy bidding!

Please forgive any typos, I was educated in California. -Bud

Burnside Spencer Springfield Model 1865/1871 56-50 Lever Rifle, Antique
Burnside Spencer Springfield Model 1865/1871 56-50 Lever Rifle, Antique