Massachusetts Arms Co.
As southern secession and even a possible war against the Union became more realistic by the late 1850s, many southern governments looked to bolster their armories. Thus, as demand for both edged weapons and firearms spiked around the country, arms production became big business – and not just for gunsmiths. Practically anyone with even a remotely practical idea on how to gain a battlefield advantage through superior firepower could cash in, and from the mid-1850s through to the end of the Civil War, an influx of firearm alterations, gadgets, gizmos and other weaponized curiosa emerged.
One such offering was the Maynard Carbine, named for its inventor, a New York dentist named Dr. Edward Maynard, whose southern advertising campaign emphasized ease of use: “Nothing to do with a Maynard but load her up, turn her north, and pull the trigger; if twenty of them don’t clear out all yankee-dom than I’m a liar…” The ads worked. Southern armories ordered about 1,600 of these first-model, breech-loading pieces prior to secession, and the Confederate Congress placed an additional order of 1,000 guns for assorted Cavalry units throughout Virginia and the Carolinas.
Carrying a nickname of “pop-gun,” the Maynard was anything but. It was an efficient weapon to say the least. Factory warranted to fire 12 rounds per minute with an effective range of 1600 yards, it was simplistic in its workings as a breechloader and, moreover, utilized brass cartridges. But, despite its overwhelming popularity, the Maynard had its shortcomings. The lack of a forward stock, for instance, forced the shooter to place his hand on a bare metal barrel, which after six or so rounds became quite hot to the touch. More of a liability, however, was its paper tape primer (similar to toy cap guns still around even now). In an effort to cut down on reloading time, Maynard devised a rolled length of tape embedded with multiple mercury fulminate capsules. Unlike the single-shot percussion caps, however, these capsules were embedded at measured intervals inside the tape and would automatically feed into place when the hammer was cocked.
To be fair, Maynard’s paper tape priming system worked great - at least until it started raining. Despite its varnishing, the tape roll still proved unreliable in damp conditions, and was soon replaced with the standard metallic percussion cap action.
Weaponry Wednesday: Each Wednesday we post an object (or group of objects) from the Charleston Museum’s diverse weapons collection. Many Weaponry Wednesday items may be on permanent exhibit in our armory or elsewhere in the museum, but some pieces rarely see exhibition, temporary or permanent, but are well worth sharing. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on WEAPONRY WEDNESDAY! Also, we always want to learn more about our collection - if you have some insights on a piece, please feel free to share! #WeaponryWednes