Almost Revolutionary: Patrick Ferguson’s Breechloading Rifle

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The Ferguson rifle has been seen by some as an extraordinary design that could have changed the course of history and by others as a mechanical complexity that never would have worked in the real world conditions that the British infantry would have found themselves in. When it comes to either perspective, we cannot deny that the utility of the Ferguson as a fighting weapon was not something to ignore, most likely being the first breechloading rifle to see combat, as standard issue to a unit in military history. The important point about this is that breechloading muskets and rifles had been around for almost as long as the manufacture of arms had been firmly established in Europe. But their practicality was essentially confined to hunting and their military use was almost nonexistent, especially in active combat. Ferguson certainly took his design from an earlier French designer called Isaac de la Chaumette, so he cannot be credited indegeniously coming up with it. But what he did do was perfect it, and he had the vision and the drive to convince elements within the British Army to allow him to prove the rifle in battle. 

Since the 1770s, there has been some controversy about the rifles that currently exist. Much of this focuses on the types of Ferguson’s out there. For example, the rifles that made history are the Ordnance contract rifles, of which there are only 100 that were ever made. There were commercial ones that Ferguson sold to civilians in addition to Officer’s ones that were variants of the commercial ones that he armed his officers with. But when it comes to the significance in military history, the Ordnance rifles are the most coveted ones. Of these there are only two known ones that survived. One is at Morristown National Historic Site in Morristown, New Jersey. The other is at the Nunnemacker Collection in Wisconsin.


Ferguson Rifle

Brown Bess

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