Ferguson Rifle at the National Museum of American History
|Place of origin||Great Britain|
|In service||British Army 1776|
|Used by||United Kingdom|
|Wars||American Revolutionary War|
|Designer||Maj. Patrick Ferguson|
|Mass||7.5 lbs (3.5 kg)|
|Length||various: 48 to 60 in|
|Barrel length||49 in|
|Rate of fire||4 rounds per minute at 300 yards and 6 rounds per minute at 100 yards|
|Effective firing range||200 and 300 yard sights on the Ordnance Rifle|
The Ferguson rifle was one of the first breech-loading rifles to be put into service by the British military. It fired a standard British carbine ball of .615" calibre and was used by the British Army in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, and possibly at the Siege of Charleston in 1780.
Its superior firepower was unappreciated at the time because it was too expensive and took longer to produce - the four gunsmiths making Ferguson's Ordnance Rifle could not make 100 in 6 months at four times the cost per arm of a musket.
The breech of the weapon is closed by 11 starting threads on a tapered screw, and the trigger guard serves as the crank to rotate it. One complete turn dropped the screw low enough to drop a round ball into the exposed breech followed by a slight overcharge of powder, which was then sheared to the proper charge by the screw as it closed the breech. Since the weapon was loaded from the breech, rather than from the muzzle, it had an amazingly high rate of fire for its day, and in capable hands, it fired six to ten rounds per minute.
The action was adapted from the earlier 1720 Isaac de la Chaumette design by Major Patrick Ferguson (1744-1780), who redesigned it around 1770. He received an English patent in December of 1776 (number 1139) on details of the design.
Roughly one hundred of the Ordnance rifles were manufactured by four British gun firms, Durs Egg being the most notable, and issued to Ferguson's unit when its members were drawn from numerous light infantry units in General Howe's army. The largest battle in which the rifles were used was the Battle of Brandywine, in which Ferguson was wounded. While he recuperated, his Experimental Rifle Corps was subsequently disbanded. This was in no way due to "excessive losses" or any political machinations; the unit was an experiment, and the men were always slated to return to their original units.
Ferguson's men went back to the light infantry units they had originally come from, and his rifles were eventually replaced with the standard Long Land Pattern musket. Some historians[who?] report the surviving rifles were apparently put in storage in New York. But as most surviving Ferguson Ordnance Rifles known to exist in the U.S. today were war booty taken North during the American Civil War, the usage of these weapons remain in dispute as to any possible deployment of Ferguson rifles in the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War.
The two main reasons that Ferguson rifles were not used by the rest of the army:
However, despite an unsubstantiated claim that one of the actions was found at the battle site of Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where Ferguson was killed in action, the only piece of a Ferguson ever found in America from a gun used in action is a trigger guard found in excavations of a British army camp in New York City. The only association the Ferguson rifle has with the Battle of Kings Mountain is that Patrick Ferguson was there.
Experience with early modern replicas, made before the proper screw and thread pitch of the breechblock were rediscovered, seemed to indicate that while reloading was rapid, it seemed to be necessary to first lubricate the breech screw (originally with a mixture of beeswax and tallow) or else the (replica) rifle would foul so much that it needed cleaning after three or four shots. However, through the research efforts of DeWitt Bailey and others, the properly made reproduction Ferguson rifle, made according to Patrick Ferguson's specifications of the 1770s, can fire beyond sixty shots.
A Furgeson Rifle is carried in "The Stonecroft Saga" by B.N.Rundell, it was collected during the Revolutionary War and carried west. The breech loading is not well described but the high rate of fire gets the explorers out of a few tight spots.
My com tech tells me it took centuries for Old Earth to advance from crude, fuse-fired smoothbores to anything remotely like this. In fact, she insists no one on Old Earth ever produced one that incorporated all of these features, except for something called a 'Fergusson Rifle,' or something like that.
It really was an ingenious design, he thought-one that virtually duplicated what had once been called a 'Ferguson Rifle' back on Old Earth.