The History of the Rifle (Engels, 1860)

by cominsitu

Written between the end of October 1860 and the first half of January 1861. First published in The Volunteer Journal, for Lancashire and Cheshire, Nos. 9, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, November 3 and 17, December 8, 15 and 29, 1860, January 5, 12 and 19, 1861; reprinted in the collection Essays Addressed to Volunteers, London-Manchester, 1861. MECW 18: 433-459.

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The rifle is a German invention, dating as far back as the close of the fifteenth century. The first rifles were made with apparently no other object than to facilitate the loading of the arm with an almost tight-fitting bullet. To this end, the grooves were made straight, without any spiral turning, and merely served to diminish the friction of the bullet in the bore. The bullet itself was surrounded by a piece of greased woollen or linen cloth (the plaster), and was thus hammered down without too much difficulty. These rifles, primitive as they were, must have given far better results than the smooth-bore small arms of the period, with their bullets of considerably smaller diameter than the bore. Later on, the character of the arm was totally altered by the spiral turn given to the grooves, which transformed the bore of the barrel into a sort of female screw; the bullet, by the tight-fitting plaster, being made to follow the grooves, took the spiral turn as well, and thus retained a spiral rotation round its line of flight. It was soon found that this mode of fixing the rotation of the bullet vastly increased both the range and accuracy of the arm, and thus the spiral grooves very soon superseded the straight ones. This, then, was the kind of rifle which remained in general use for more than two hundred years. If we except hair-triggers and more carefully worked sights, it scarcely underwent any improvement up to 1828.