After visiting with Daniel Cockrell (Youth Education Coordinator at the Old State House Museum) at the recent Regional meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, I thought that we had a great post for the new blog. Daniel and Kent Goff (Mississippi Valley Educational Programs) put on a blackpowder workshop as part of the conference and they believe that they discovered why thousands of the Hall Rifles sat unused at Depots across the country….
Without further ado, here’s the article, courtesy of Kent Goff.
Shooting a 1819 Hall breech-loading flintlock rifle
The last weekend of February, as part of a workshop on blackpowder shooting for the Arkansas Living History Association and ALHFAM, we took the opportunity to live fire a reproduction 1819 Hall rifle belonging to one of the state museums.
This rifle was built up by a local gunbuilder using Rifle Shoppe parts (two year wait) for about $2000, vs. somewhat more for a serviceable original. The rifle is used as a representative of one of the variety of arms in the Little Rock Arsenal upon its capture by the Confederate Government of Arkansas 150 years ago last month.
This repro’s barrel has a different rifling pattern than the original, and the grooves are deeper, so we did not try to determine any accuracy potential for the original arms, but rather just the handling characteristics of this unique arm.
For those unfamiliar with the Hall, it’s a breechloader where a lock/chamber assembly tips up about 25 degrees at the front of the chamber to load. There is no gas seal between the chamber and the barrel except a relatively tight fit. The intent of the system was to achieve 7-9 rounds per minute of accurate fire versus 3 rounds per minute inaccurate smoothbore musket fire or very slow muzzle-loading rifle fire. For more info on the Hall story, Alexander Rose’s book American Rifle is a great read. He also published a Hall bio in the American Rifleman in the last two years. Hall made inter-changeable parts a key component of this weapon system, and was mostly successful.
We fired 30 rounds of test fire in windy (15-20 mph) cool, dry conditions.
Good points –
Easy to load, no rammer needed, which eliminated a lot of motions required with the standard muzzle-loading arm. The barrel still needs to be elevated about 60 degrees to load the chamber without spilling powder. So therefore, prone loading of the weapon would still be a bit of a challenge, unlike Hall’s claims of an advantage of this arm in that regard. Spilling powder down under the lock into the stock would add considerably to the excitement of shooting as will be explained later.
Easy to dis-assemble lock, no tools other than a screwdriver required, the springs are all flat springs and are under little tension when the lock is un-cocked.
The frizzen spring has adjustable tension, a nice feature as the cock has a short throw and the mainspring on this example was not very zippy.
When carefully primed, the rifle fires instantly in spite of the flash hole being nearly vertical. The key was not to allow powder to fill the channel (which is in the center of the pan)
Recoil with the 78 gr. service load and a .530 RB was minimal. So light the first time I fired I thought it was just a spectacular flash in the pan.
Gas leakage everywhere! Back into your hairline, out the trigger mortise (burns finger on trigger), and it blocks sighting down the barrel of the rifle. After a few shots, you sort of get used to the impression/feeling that the rifle is blowing up in your face. Safety glasses are not optional. Bystanders up to 5 yards away noted being hit by gas and gunk. Would not be fun for the rear rank in a typical period two rank formation as the gas leakage goes both to the left and right of the shooter.
The lock on top of the breech is open to wind, and the stiff breeze kept blowing the sparks to the side of the pan instead of into it causing a lot of misfires. A typical flintlock setup on the side of the barrel blocks wind from the sides from doing this. Hall carbines were all percussion, the first percussion US arms, and probably this wind problem helped motivate the early changeover to caps. We overcame this problem by canting the rifle slightly into the wind.
Filth – It’s a good thing the lock is easy to take apart, the whole lock and inside of the stock/lock receiver gets totally caked in residue, necessitating full disassembly. On a workbench, it’s easy, but there are a lot of small parts. It is the only US rifle that makes a modern M16 seem easy to clean. The Hall has no hidden crevices though, and a damp rag quickly cleans it up. Trying to clean the rifle in the field would be very difficult, and soldiers would have likely lost parts trying to maintain their rifles. I might try just boiling the lockwork/breech without dis-assembly if I could not easily dis-assemble the lockworks.
Overall, it seems these intriguing guns lay in the arsenals un-used (2000 at Little Rock, 5000 at Benecia, CA, 15,000 at Harpers Ferry in 1861) due to the flaws we noted. They are scary to fire, technically challenging to clean, would require a major change in tactics and formations, and were difficult to make.
A number of the flintlock rifles were converted to percussion. A converted block will have remnants of the flint pan and frizzen mounting block on these conversions. Sometimes a carbine block (originally all the carbine versions were percussion and made in greater numbers than the rifles) was dropped into a rifle to convert it from flint. The last rifles according to Riley were delivered by Simeon North in 1836 who also made about 24, 664 carbines. 19,680 rifles were made at Harper’s Ferry.