Carbines saw limited use with the infantry but they were the standard arm of the cavalryman. A muzzle loading rifle used on horseback is cumbersome and impractical, the best way to arm a cavalryman was with a breech loading carbine. The Sharps carbine was very popular and the similarly designed Starr carbine was also widely used, but it was not as hard wearing and was particularly susceptible to getting clogged with black powder residue after the weapon was fired several times.
The Smith carbine was unique in that it used rubber cartridges which sealed the gap in the carbine breech, but the drawback was that these unusual cartridges could be difficult to remove. Other weapons included Gibbs carbines, but these had to be broken apart at the breech to insert a linen cartridge and the weapon was later officially condemned as being unserviceable.
Merrill carbines had a top loading mechanism but
Colonel Richard H. Rush, the founder of the famed Lancer regiment that came to bear his name, wears a version of the stiff high crowned patented Whipple hat. It was one of the more unusual items of headgear worn in the Civil War and incorporated a rear flap to protect the wearer's neck. U.S. Army Military History Institute / Jim Enos.
Officer wearing regulation dress, but his boots are an odd pointed shape and he also appears to be wearing Mexican spurs with them. David Scheinmann.
Derided at the beginning of the war, Union cavalry turned into an effective arm and this cavalryman has the air of a true veteran. Unlike many cavalrymen he's retained his cumbersome Hardee hat. David Scheinmann.
These men of Company I Rush's lancers were photographed on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862. The company guidon visible in this picture still survives and is in the collection of the War Library and Museum, Loyal Legion of the United States, Philadelphia. USAMMHI/Jim Enos.
they were not popular and neither were Burnside carbines, where cartridges again had a habit of jamming. The Spencer was the most serviceable weapon. The army bought 95,000 of them and they became the most popular cavalry carbine. Ilenry rifles, usually privately purchased, were also used but as they were longer than carbines they were often unwieldy on horseback and lacked a ring attachment to fit on to the cavalryman's shoulder belt.
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