The Burnside Carbine was invented by Ambrose Everett Burnside, born in Liberty Indiana May 23, 1824. He graduated Unites States Military West Point Academy in 1847 and became a Lieutenant of Artillery. He fought towards the end of the Mexican American War. He resigned from the Military in 1853 and organized the Bristol Fire Arms Co. in 1855. Burnside developed a breech loading idea and patented in 1856, U.S. Patent # 14,491.
In April 1856 he sold 200 Carbines to the Government. The following year it was rated the best breech loading weapons of the weapons tested. In September 1858 he sold another 709 Carbines to the Gov. for $35.00 each.
A further trail board was conducted in 1860 to test various breech loading carbines. The Board concluded that although the Burnside was capable of rendering good service, it does not consider it equal to Smiths and Maynard’s to Military Service.
At the outbreak of the war Everett Burnside was no longer associated with the Bristol Fire Arms Co. He had gone bankrupt and sold off the Patents to pay his creditors. He becomes Major General and leads the Army of the Potomac during the Fredericksburg campaign in the winter of 62, if your reading this article I’ll assume you know what happens, it wasn’t pretty.
So back to the Carbines, the U.S. Government purchased 53,031 Carbines and 21,819,200 cartridges throughout the the war. The earlier Models of the Burnside Carbines had a Walnut Stock, Breech Mechanism and a barrel with no wood forearm. However in 1864 the Forth Model was designed with a 14” wood forearm held to the barrel with a single barrel band. This allowed for better sighting and allowed the shooter to handle the barrel without getting burnt.
During the 1863-64 Ordinance Department survey of breech loading carbines, 185 officers were polled on the Burnside, with the following results. Best 17; Good 125; Fair; 12 Poor 28: and 3 considered it useless, far cry from the Maynard Survey. It makes me wonder why the Government purchased more Burnsides then Maynard’s. Go read my article on Maynard Carbines if you’re confused.
So that brings us to my next example of a Civil War Weapon. The Burnside that you see here is in excellent condition. I purchase this from a gun auction a couple years ago. It has a Government cartouche on the left side of the stock, some bluing still on the lever mechanism and a serial # in the 16,000’s. Overall this is a fine example of a Fourth Model Burnside Carbine.
Many thanks to John D. McAulay and his book Carbines of the Civil War. Thanks for the history, and the ones who are passionate enough to document it.