Joslyn M1862 and M1864 Carbines at RIA

While US infantry forces during the Civil War had only limited access to the newest rifle technology, cavalry units adopted a wide variety of new carbines in significant numbers. Among these were a design by Benjamin Joslyn. It first appeared in 1855 designed to use paper cartridges, but by the time the US Army showed an interest Joslyn had updated the weapon to use brass rimfire ammunition. The first version purchased by the government was the 1862 pattern carbine, of which about a thousand were obtained. Many more were ordered, but it took Joslyn a couple years to really get his manufacturing facility and processes worked out. By the time he had this all straightened out, the design had been updated again to the 1864 pattern, addressing several minor problems with the earlier version. Ultimately more than 11,000 of the 1864 pattern carbines were purchased by the Union, chambered for the same .56-.52 cartridge as the Spencer carbines also in service.

Interestingly, the Joslyn also holds the place as the first breechloading weapon manufactured by the Springfield Arsenal. Three thousand breech units were purchased from Joslyn and built into complete rifles by Springfield, although they came too late to see service in the war and were ultimate sold to France, it appears.


  1. How sure are you on the caliber? Wikipedia and several other websites list the Spencer carbines as 56-56 caliber, with 56-52 described as very rare.

    • No, not 100% sure. The .56-.52 was the best info I could find in a somewhat muddled set of references. Spencers used three different cartridges (.56-56, .56-52, and .56-50, not counting a much rarer bottlenecks .46 caliber ones), and the Joslyn carbines definitely used one of those, and possibly started out being chambered for one and then switched to a different one at some point. Without having the materials to do chamber casts, I can’t be completely sure.

      • “I can’t be completely sure”
        If you can get Vernier caliper, you should be able to measure bore diameter precisely enough to determine which of “.56-56, .56-52, and .56-50” was used. I assume that there are people knowning or able to get information about bore diameter of Spencer carbine of each chambering, only remember to don’t confuse bore diameter (lands) or bore diameter (grooves).

        Municion has article about “.54 Joslyn RF Long Case” cartridge, weren’t they used in Joslyn carbines?

          • “The rifle shown is a M1866 Peabody chambered for the .50-60 rimfire. (The .50-60 rimfire, or “.50-60 Peabody” is the same as the .50 Musket cartridge developed for the Springfield-Joslyn rifle, circa 1864.) The buttstock is marked CM (Canadian Militia) though others are reported to have been marked DC (Dominion of Canada)” That’s from the link below:

          • “First surprise was that the carbine was chambered in 56/50 (Or one of the equivalents ), not the 50/60 Peabody I assumed it was. I had already ordered 50/70 brass to cut down to about 1.45″. Chamber was 1.16″ deep so 56/50 Spencer would have saved the trouble of cutting the brass to size.” That’s from the link below, and he had a Peabody carbine to add to the confusion.

          • “Cartridges using the shorter .56-50 Spencer case will certainly chamber and fire in a .50-60 Peabody ….. but may not produce the best accuracy because of “bullet jump” from the case mouth to the rifling. This will be somewhat akin to firing a .22 short cartridge in a .22 Long Rifle chamber. Indeed, when Canada got its Peabody rifles (in response to the “Fenian Raids” emergency – look that up on Google if you’re interested) quite a few .56-50 Spencer rifles and carbines were also acquired. Rather than have to buy two different stocks of rimfire ammunition – and to avoid any risk of the longer Peabody cartridges being supplied by mistake to units armed with Spencers, in which such cartridges would neither feed through the action nor chamber – Canada bought only .56-50 Spencer cartridges, which would work in the Peabody” That’s from the link below, they’ve lost me he he.

        • This is interesting link:

          Turns out:
          “.56-50” does not denote a caliber followed by a powder charge weight, which is what we are used to with most old black powder cartridge designations. The Spencer company had its own unique way of designating cartridges – the first number being the “Head Diameter” (i.e. diameter of the case body just ahead of the rim – e.g about .56″) followed by what is arguably either the “Bullet Diameter” or the “Mouth Diameter” of the case- e.g. about .50″….. resulting in the various Spencer cartridge designations like .56-46, .56-50, .56-52 and .56-56″

          Here’s a link to another page with pictures of cartridges, the .58 Jocelyn looks fatter than the .52 case next to it, as does .58 musket next to the other Sharps cartridges. .54 Joslyn may have actually been the cartridge refered to as being the Peabody in essence then.

          • Or maybe not,
            “The Model 1864 featured many small improvements and refinements to the Model 1862 design, and could fire either the Spencer .56-52 cartridge or a .54 caliber cartridge made by Joslyn.” From Wikipedia. You’d think the .54 would fit better in a .56 than a .52, the 56-50 appears to have a longer case, more like the 50-60, 54 is more 52 than 50 though, well the Peabody has a .543″ shoulder but a .509 bullet can’t find a picture of .54 Jocelyn though.

          • Joslyn prefered the 56-52 over the 56-50 apparently, 56 through a 52 is a tight fit someone said, but the 56 went through a 54 but this says the 54 was interchangeable with the 56-52 and the 52 went through a 52 cal barrel seemingly which would suggest the .54 Jocelyn was more interchangeable with the 56-56 not the 56-52 Im going to cook some Scampi.

          • It’s very confusing, anyone got a 50-60 Peabody case to see if it chambers, a Joslyn in 56-50 should mean its to long but I am not even sure now after all that.

          • ““.56-50″ does not denote a caliber followed by a powder charge weight”
            When .x-y mainly refers to x as caliber and y as powder charge (mostly blackpowder, but sometimes also smokeless powder, like in .30-30 Winchester), there is many cartridge which doesn’t follow this.
            .30-06 refers to year of adoption (1906)
            .41-100 (more commonly known as .41 Short) should be as “caliber is 41/100 [i.e. 0.41″]”

          • Two more examples:
            .250-3000 Savage refers to muzzle velocity [3000 fps]
            .22-250 Remington means “.250 cartridge necked down to .22”, but NOT “.250 Remington cartridge necked down to .22” – truth is “.250 [Savage] cartridge necked down to .22 and introduced by Remington”

          • Interesting stuff, cheers, 1906… 30-06, .22-250… .250 Savage necked down to .22 sold by Remington.

  2. To me this era of firearms design and development is as interesting as the one for self-loading rifles. So many were working on how best to do it.

    Something I’ve found interesting and somewhat relate to the US infantry having limited access to new designs I learned from studying the archives of some state militia musters in the 1860-1862 era. For those not from the US, at that time in many or most states the militiaman still provided their own arms.

    Reading militia muster rolls one finds a surprisingly high percent of breach loads owned by the general public. Also, some brought artillery.

  3. According to Barnes (Cartridges of the World,6th ed., pp.368-69), the .56-56 Spencer came first, patented 2 March 1860, and was the cartridge used in the first run of Spencer rifles (for the United States Navy) in 1862. It was rifles from this run that were used at Antietam. This round was loaded with a 350 to 360-grain bullet and 42 to 45 grains of black powder. Bullet diameter varies from .540 to .555 inch, depending on who made the ammunition.

    The .56-50 came next. It was designed by Springfield Armory in late 1861. It was used in the Model 1865 Spencer carbine, which is the most common variant around today, being the “Indian Wars” model with the Stabler magazine cutoff. The 1918-19 Remington catalog lists it as “adapted to Spencer, Remington-UMC, Sharps, Peabody, and other rifles and carbines”. (Whether the “Sharps” mentioned is the Sharps & Hankin, or war-production Sharps linen-cartridge carbines converted to metallic-cartridge I don’t know; could be either one.) The 56-50 was loaded with a 350-grain bullet and 45 grains of black powder, period. Bullet diameter was a nominal .512 in, same as the later .50-70 Government.

    The .56-52 Spencer was Spencer’s own doing, in 1866. He didn’t like the Army’s .56-50 and so came up with his own version. It has a slight bottleneck, and was always loaded with a heavier 400-grain bullet and 45 grains of black powder. It also used the “smaller” .512 inch bullet spec.

    All of the above were loaded by American ammunition makers, notably Remington, well into the 1920s.

    Of the three, only the .56-56 is likely to be found in any rifle or carbine made before 1865. I suppose that the “Army” designed .56-50 could have been used prior to 1865, but there’s no documentary evidence of it that I’m aware of.

    It must be noted that in 1865, Starr, Gallagher, and Maynard carbines were apparently delivered to Army Ordnance in this caliber. All three were relatively easily converted to the rimfire round, with the Maynard being easiest of all. The Smith carbine was also supposed to be converted to the Spencer round, but the war ended before any were delivered.

    Few of the above are likely to have seen combat before Appomattox, but the Gallagher and Starr carbines stayed in service with the reserves until the 1890s, alongside the better-known Sharps & Hankin.

    The Navy and especially the Marines retained their Spencer rifles and Sharps & Hankin carbines until the introduction of the Remington-Lee .45-70 and Winchester-Lee 6mm bolt-actions in the 1880s and 1890s.

    For the record, there was also a purely sporting round, the 56-46 Spencer, developed in 1866 by Spencer alongside the .56-52. It is a bottlenecked round of .46 caliber, also known as the Spencer #46 or 46/100. It was usually loaded with a 320 to 330-grain .46 caliber bullet and 45 grains of black powder. Bullet diameter was a true .465 inch, so this one “shot what it advertised”. (Making it almost unique among not just the Spencer “family”, but small-arms cartridges of the era, period!)

    Ballistically similar to the .44-40 WCF, it was the round Spencer tried to market along with his postwar sporting and “business” (buffalo) rifles before the company went bankrupt in 1868-69 and was bought out by Winchester.

    The .46 round was loaded by Remington up to about 1919, so there must have been at least some of the rifles made for it sold. Nevertheless, the .56-.46 round, and the rifles made for it, are some of the rarest Spencer items today.

    Regardless of powder charge, bullet weight, diameter, etc., all the Spencer rounds had MVs in the 1200-1250 F/S range, and MEs around 1100-1200 FPE, except the 400-grain .56-52, which hit 1300 FPE at the same MV due to its heavier slug.

    Hope this helps.




    • Hi eon,

      since you are old cartridge guru, I want to ask you a question: what lead designers to switch from straight case to bottleneck? I mean still in time of black powder. Thanks.

    • I’ve posted a link above which has a picture of the 56-46 bottle necked cartridge, confusing calibre designations aren’t they.

  4. I obviously am not Eon, but allow me to comment: The first self-contained metallic cartridges used straight walled cases to achieve the maximum volume of black powder and the largest practical diameter projectile to achieve the highest level of kinetic energy possible using the relatively low-powered black powders available at that time. As an addendum, there were several classifications of black powder and many variations of formulation for specific applications other than rifle or artillery propellants.

    It became apparent that a lighter projectile driven at a higher velocity could deliver a higher kinetic energy, called “knock-down power” back then. To achieve this higher velocity it was required to use a heavier charge of powder relative to the diameter (bore) of the rifle. There was a very easy answer; swage down an existing large-bore case to a smaller diameter projectile thus enabling the use of heavy charges with a smaller diameter and lighter projectile yielding a higher velocity. The larger diameter based case also enabled a larger volumetric “combustion chamber” for the powder than a straight-walled case resulting in the more complete and more rapid combustion of the large powder charge yielding a higher and quicker pressure “spike” or plateau for more power. All this is apparent when comparing, say, the .45-70 to the .45 -120 vs. some of the later bottlenecked cartridges of that era. A better answer in this case was to “neck down” an approximately .50 cal. straight-walled case into a “bottle-neck” configuration. This was both more expedient and much more economical than developing new cases from scratch. We still do this in “wildcatting” circles.

    There was a lot of experimentation along this line resulting in some very odd-ball cartridge cases in this period. But all of this was negated with the adoption of the “smokeless” nitrocellulose and later the double-based nitrocellulose with the addition of nitroglycerine and later still the triple-based formulations and modifications.

    Curiously, the “bottleneck” form evolved into the rimless/rebated-rimmed casings that head-spaced off of the shoulder if it had at least a 17° or so angle and enough shoulder area to support and position the cartridge in the chamber. So the “bottlenecked case” is still with us today in a more refined form.

    • Great explanation! I also thought rimless bottle neck cartridges prevented you from accidentally loading them into rifles backwards (bullet facing you, primer facing the muzzle) in the dark, if you had been stuck with a bolt-action without stripper-clips (like the VG-2, perhaps?).

    • Well explained, Bill, much better than I could have.

      Throughout the latter half of the black powder metallic-cartridge era, both bottlenecked and straight-taper cases were made and used side-by-side, mainly because a lot of people just didn’t like the “new-fangled” bottlenecked cases.

      For instance, Remington made both their .32-30 (bottlenecked) and .32-40 (straight-taper) rounds side-by-side until just before WW1. The .32-40 dated to 1870, the .32-30 to 1882, and a lot of people who had Remington-Hepburn rifles in .32-40 stuck to them over the newer bottlenecked round. They produced both a bottlenecked and a straight-tapered .44-90 during the same time period.

      The .30-30 Wesson was a straight-taper black powder round that is absolutely NOT interchangeable with the later .30-30 WCF. The second “30” in the WCF designation means 30 grains of smokeless powder, not black. Power-wise, the Wesson is about equal to the .38-40’s lighter loadings (under 1000 FPE).

      Sharps, in its autumn years, made both a straight-cased .40-50 and a bottlenecked .40-50, with roughly similar ballistics. Mainly because not everybody liked a bottlenecked cartridge. They also had a pair of .40-70s, a pair of .40-90s, and their own version of the .45-100 Remington, theirs being straight-tapered instead of the bottlenecked Remington. (Whew!)

      Winchester developed one of their first “true” bottlenecked rounds, the .45-75, because they wanted the Model 1876 Centennial to have a round as powerful as the .45-70 Government, but the ’76 action wasn’t long enough to accommodate the .45-70’s lanky case. They also came up with the .50-95, an up-powered version of the .50-70 Government, bottlenecked and a bit shorter, to work through the ’76 action.

      Ten years later, of course, they threw up their hands and had John M. Browning design a lever-action that could handle the big, long cased rounds, the legendary 1886, grandaddy of the 1894 and great-grandpappy of the M/71 .348.

      Winchester also came up with the biggest bottlenecked round of all, the .70-150. Yes. .70 caliber, 150 grains black powder, a 750-grain lead slug at about 1400 F/S. It was based on a necked-down, shortened, 12-gauge brass shotshell and was only chambered in a specially-made M1887 shotgun with a rifled barrel, on special order.

      Exactly what it was for, Barnes wasn’t too sure. My best guess is that it was intended for military use. At the time, the world’s navies were worried about “torpedo boats”, steam launches armed with the new Whitehead “locomotive” torpedoes, the “tin fish” of so many WW2 submarine epics. Their usual response was a mechanical machine gun on the rail or in the tops, or both, usually Gatling guns, but also Nordenfelts, Gardners, or the Gatling-like Hotchkiss rotary 37mm cannon firing explosive shells.

      Colt made a lot of 1-inch bore Gatlings for this sort of work, and I think Winchester wanted a piece of the market. A .70-150 round would hit almost as hard as a 1-inch, have less recoil, and be lighter overall in any action. They may have intended the .70-150 for a Gardner-type gun, which at that time was being made by Pratt & Whitney. In fact, P&W may have asked them to develop the round in the first place. Just a guess.

      Generally speaking, bottlenecked cases benefit more from smokeless powders than straight cases do, simply because of the differences in burning characteristics. But in the last half of the 19th Century, any sort of combination of case and propellant was liable to happen.

      Oh, and before I forget;

      If anybody gets the urge to shoot a Civil War Joslyn, or any rifle or carbine chambered for a Spencer rimfire round, for G_d’s sake first have the bore and chamber checked for dimensions!

      Firing a .512 in bullet down the nominal .540-.555 bore of the 56-56 won’t hurt anything, but the accuracy will probably suck. But trying to fire a .540-.555 bullet down the .512 bore of a 56-50 or 56-52 will likely have very unfortunate, not to mention spectacular, consequences for the rifle and the shooter.

      Trying to put either one down the .465 bore of the 56-46 Spencer isn’t even worth considering.

      Make sure you have the right bullet diameter for the bore spec. And remember that these rounds look an awful lot alike, regardless of their actual specifications.

      Better to be safe than in the ER. Or worse. And seriously, you don’t want to be cruel to a nice old Civil War carbine, do you?



      • “mainly because a lot of people just didn’t like the “new-fangled” bottlenecked cases.”
        Similarly British ammo manufactures produce both rimmed (flanged in British parlance) and rimless cartridges.

        Also don’t forget that some cartridges were (and are) designed to fit in existing fire-arms, which often mean overall length restriction. This has long tradition and is still actual, some examples:
        .25-20 WCF designed to fit Winchester Model 1892 (originally chambered for .32-20)
        .350 Remington Magnum designed to fit fire-arms originally chambered for .308 Winchester
        .270 Winchester Short Magnum designed to fit fire-arms unable to handle .270 Winchester

      • And just to add to the confusion – many manufacturers abhorred stamping their competitors’ names on their weapons, which is why prewar N-frame Smiths in .45 Long Colt were so rare and Colt made their revolvers in .44 S&W Special with such reluctance. The .38 Colt Special and .38 S&W Special are the same round. I remember from reprints of turn-of-the-century Sears catalogs that the new Marlin smokeless lever actions came in .30-30 Marlin and .25-35 Marlin but I’m sure they worked just fine with Winchester ammo. Note to Daweo – the .25-20 is one of my all-time favorites, but just to keep things confusing there was also a .25-20 Stevens that was available in their falling-block rifles that is completely non-interchangeable. But one of the best truck guns I’ve ever had was an old Savage Sporter (Model 52, I think) bolt-action in .25-20. Sort of a “150 yard .22” if that makes any sense but it had a lot of reach and power while being was quiet enough that I could shoot it in Connecticut when I was stationed there without the cops paying a visit to the sand quarry, which most centerfire rifles (not to mention a re-enactors shipmate’s 1/3 scale Napoleon cannon!) invariably did. The Sporter seems a little more common in .32-20 than .25 but both are still much more in the shooter than collectable category. Not sure if they ever made it in .218 Bee (which was also a necked-down .32-20) or not but the Bee was a neat round that never came close to rivaling the similar-ballistics (in factory loads) of the much more popular .22 Hornet.

        • “And just to add to the confusion – many manufacturers abhorred stamping their competitors’ names on their weapons”
          Giving the aliases for cartridge was also popular where users were using inches as default and country of origin used metric system. To name few:
          7x57mm Spanish Mauser was known as .275 Rigby in UK
          12.7×70 Schuler was known as .500 Jeffery to UK
          5.6x39mm (necked down 7.62×39 designed by М.Н.Блюм for hunting) was known as .220 Russian in USA

      • So the .56 bullets barrel bore is .54, is that right… So a .54 is a .52, is a bullet of .509 a .52 then really is .52 .512?

        • Since bullet diameters on the 56-56 ran from a low of .540 to a high of .555, I’d expect the actual bore spec to be around .545 land/.560 groove. Remember, the SOP back then was hollow based or other bullets that “upset” at the base to take the rifling. Which means the original Spencer bore spec was probably a true .56″.

          The .512 in spec of the 56-50 and 56-60 would be consistent with the oft-quoted “.52 caliber” bore of the late Spencers. It would probably run around .516 land/.520 groove.

          The 56-46, with its .465 bullet, was probably about .468 land/.470 groove.

          The only way to know for sure is get a dozen or so examples of rifles and carbines in each chambering, with as near-pristine bores as possible, and inside-mike them to determine averages. Or else somehow find the original factory specs or barrel machinery cutters for each caliber. Which might not be too feasible after 146 years.



          • A Minie, type bullet- Has more of a “squishing” propensity through the lands of the rifling, right. I read in a link I posted the Joslyn was in 50-60 Peabody, but I am not sure that’s correct, although it sounds a bit longer than the 56-50 Spencer and that link claimed the Joslyn had a slightly more powerful round than the Spencer, you could fire the 56-50 in it’s chamber though presumably, on the Wikipedia page it says .54 and .58 cal, so I was trying to assertain if 50-60 is this .54 Joslyn, that it says could be used in the 56-52 therefore but thought well it sounds more appropriate for 56-50 there’s a picture of the cases above the 56-50 looks longest.

          • 50-60 Peabody was around in 1864 apparently, so maybe the 1864 was in that meaning it could fire 56-50 Spencer.

          • My Model 1860 Spenser carbine and many others shoot the original .56-.56 Spenser. A cerro-cast gives a bullet diameter of .535. That is the bullet I shoot in my gun. Thanks. Presto!

    • Thank you Mr.Bullock; it sounds fair and logical.

      So if I can recap it in my words, it was quest for more variations and performance upgrade, based of original large base, rimmed cartridges. The shouldered cartridge was left as by-product and recycled later with new propellants to even more performance. It makes sense.

  5. They could have done the kind of Needham conversion that locks the “swing door” via the hammer, for the 1864 modification, well a type of that conversion. You could have a spring loaded pin which passes through the swing door, into a hole in the barrel over the chamber which is pushed forward by the hammer falling just prior to it striking the firing pin. So the pin would sit in the swing door when the hammer was cocked- Allowing access to the chamber, you could do it how they actually did it as well I am just saying.

    • In a rimfire particularly, it could be an extension of the firing pin even, running above the chamber.

  6. On early cartridge and propellant development, one of the best and most accurate “wildcats” weapons I ever owned and shot was a small-frame Martini chambered for the .219 Zipper Improved” built by P. O. Ackley for Chuck O’Conner. It was a heavy-barrel with a hand-carved Ebony butstock and fore end with a 22X Fecker scope. The .219 ZI was a necked down and blown out .30-30 case with a very sharp shoulder. It was spot-on at 200+ yards. But I have a Winchester Low Wall that also has a standardized wildcat based upon the same case; a .38-55 that is great for deer and smaller (Black) bear and hogs. The most unique necked down I ever saw was an older Winchester lever action (I can’t remember the model) that we could not determine the true caliber so we sent it to Ackley and he cast the chamber and it came back, if I remember correctly, as a .45-75 bottlenecked rimmed cartridge base upon an older .50 cal rimmed case. We never got to shoot it though. At one time I had a Winchester in .25-20 that was shoot out so I had it re-worked into a .357magnum pistol cartridge. This was by P. O. Ackley as well. To me, this era of weapons development is extremely interesting as is the variations and complexity of the various formulations for black powder in this time period. The variability is almost endless!

  7. In regards to the 1865 Springfield Joslyn breech load rifle, the Springfield Armory Museum website states that 3,007 of these rimfire weapons were manufactured, there, in 1865. 1,600 of these rifles were subsequently converted to center fire ammunition, and sent to France. The likelihood, is, while some of these rifles were issued before the end of the Civil War, it’s doubtful (but not impossible) any were used in combat.

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