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Spencer Rife And Lincoln Target Board | by Sheehan Family
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Spencer Rife And Lincoln Target Board

The Industrial Revolution was well underway by the time the Civil War had begun. A young man by the name of Christopher Miner Spencer, born June 20, 1833 saw a need and proceeded to fill it. In his early years he worked in Samuel Colt’s armory where he gained valuable experience in the arms-making trade.


With the advent of self-contained metallic cartridges such as Smith and Wesson’s .22 short rimfire and the .44 Henry rimfire, Spencer foresaw great changes to come in the small arms industry. By the late 1850’s his inventive mind had begun to conceive not only a reliable breechloader, but a repeating one at that. He was fully aware of the deficiencies of other early repeaters such as the Volcanic with its “Rocket Ball” cartridge and Colt’s revolving rifle. But by using a completely self-contained metallic cartridge, their faults would be eliminated.


What he envisioned was a lever-actuated rolling block action. Cartridges were fed through a tubular magazine in the buttstock. The inner magazine tube could be withdrawn from the butt for loading. Similar in function to the modern .22 cal. rifle with an under barrel magazine. Capacity was seven rounds.


Spencer was anxious to arm the Union with this rifle. However, he son ran headlong into the thick red tape of the Federal government. Fortunately, he was able to obtain an interview with president Lincoln. Knowing that Lincoln was a man who would appreciate his rifle, he decided to go straight to the top. The following is a quote directly attributed to Christopher Spencer concerning his interview with the President.


“On the 18 of August, 1863, I arrived at the White House with rifle in hand, and was immediately ushered into the executive room. I found the president alone. With brief introduction I took the rifle from its case and presented it to him. Looking it over carefully and handling it as one familiar with firearms, he requested me to take it apart to show the “inwardness of the thing.” It was soon dissected, laid on the table before him. After a careful examination and his emphatic approval, I was asked if I had any engagement for the following day. When I replied that I was at his command, he requested that I “Come over tomorrow at 2 o’clock, and we will go out and see the thing shoot.”


"The end of the board which the President had shot was cut off by the Navy official, and handed to me when we parted on the steps of the White House. I kept it until 1883 when at the request of one of the staff of the Army and Navy Journal, it was sent to Springfield, Illinois."


Illinois State Military Museum

Springfield, Illinois

September 2008

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Taken on September 20, 2008