Today, we tend to take the metallic cartridge and the guns that fire them for granted, but before the invention and perfection of the metallic cartridge case, arms designers faced stiff challenges in realizing the breechloading military rifle. Early attempts, most famously the flintlock Ferguson used in very limited numbers by the British during the American Revolution, were too expensive to produce in large numbers and only saw limited success.
The breechloader would finally come of age just before the dawn of the metallic rifle cartridge, in the 1830s, with the invention of the Dreyse needle gun. While the Dreyse was not the first breechloader to be adopted in large numbers by a military force – the American Hall preceded it by over two decades – it was one the first standard issue breechloading rifle to totally replace the muzzleloading weapons of its home country. The American Hall would be used in specialist roles, and eventually retired and replaced with muzzleloading rifled-muskets, but the Dreyse and the Norwegian Kammerlader both signaled the end of the muzzleloading era, and the beginning of the modern breechloader.
Forgotten Weapons takes a look at the Dreyse, and another important transitional breechloader that fought against it, the French Chassepot rifle, in a pair of videos covering auction items at Rock Island Auction, both embedded below. I have also embedded shooting videos of both weapons, illustrating the massive difference in gas blowback between the two weapons:
Readers who may want to purchase their own Dreyse or Chassepot rifles may also want to shoot them; embedded below is a video of how to make functional Chassepot ammunition (Dreyse ammunition is slightly different and uses a paper sabot):
Both the Dreyse and the Chassepot in the videos are available for auction as part of combined lots in RIA’s Regional Auction for June. Our readers can, if they wish, follow the links to the auction pages.