A place named Buttermilk Falls doesn’t sound like it should be associated with a deadly firearm, but that New York town was the home of Gilbert Smith, inventor of a .50-caliber breechloading carbine he patented in 1857 that bears his name.
In 1860, the Washington Arsenal Ordnance Board tested the carbine and was impressed with its ease of loading and accuracy, recommending “it be adopted….”
Many Northern troopers liked the Smith. The 10th New York Cavalry, for example gave it high marks for its durability and ease of use. But others complained that the external spring that held the breech closed was sometimes made of inferior metal, and could break and render the gun useless.
In 1860, Raleigh Colston, then a Virginia Military Institute professor who would become a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, tested the gun for his school and found that after 60 shots the Smith “clogged up so that it could no longer be worked.”
Despite its flaws, more than 30,000 Smith carbines were issued during the war, and it was the fourth most widely used carbine in the Union arsenal.
Pop! Pop! Watch a Smith Carbine fire. See our demonstration of an original Smith Carbine being loaded with .50-caliber bullets and fired at a target.
this article first appeared in civil war times magazine