Burnside Carbine
Burnside Carbine
Country of origin

United States


Burnside Rifle Company, Bristol Firearm Company


Ambrose Burnside

Year(s) designed


Production began


Production ended


Weapon type



.54in (14mm) Cartridge


Percussion lock

Overall length

39.5in (1.00mm)

Barrel length

21.0in (0.53m)


7.0lb (3.2kg)

Magazine/Cylinder capacity


Maximum effective range

200yds (180m)

Used by

United States, Confederate States

The Burnside Carbine was an early breech loading carbine designed by former American serviceman Ambrose Burnside. The design was not, initially, popular when the Burnside was first patented in 1855, but would eventually see production figures enter the 100,000 mark by the end of the American Civil War.

Design DetailsEdit

The Burnside was a relatively unique design for a carbine/rifle largely due to the fact that it was equipped with a breech loading mechanism, in contrast to the typical muzzle loading designs in use during that era. The mechanism was operated via the two trigger guards which, when one was pulled, would open the breech to allow a cartridge to be inserted. The breech would then be pulled down into the firing position when the trigger guard was pulled back into position.

Other than this, however, the Burnside was a fairly typical firearm for the time. Designed with a percussion lock mechanism which required the user to place a percussion cap onto a nipple which the hammer struck to ignite the powder in the cartridge. The barrel was rifled (a practice which was becoming increasingly common in the mid 19th century) while the percussion lock mechanism was located to the right-hand side of the barrel.


The Burnside fired a unique, .54in (14mm) calibre, conical cartridge. This would slot into the conically shaped breech, ensuring a perfectly tight seal to prevent gas-leakage, when the breech was opened. The cartridge was made of brass and, due to the lack of extractor system, required to user to pull the cartridge out of the breech after it had been fired. 


The Burnside Carbine design was patented in 1855, (initially) at the detriment to Ambrose Burnside's military career, before the design won a competition in 1857 (beating 17 other carbine designs). Despite this the Burnside would not be a popular design, or atleast it would not be until the American Civil War.

American Civil WarEdit

Within the first engagements of the American Civil War, the US Government ordered 55,000 Burnside Carbines for its cavalry which eventually resulted in the Burnside becoming the third most widely used carbine in the conflict. A total of 43 Union cavalry units and atleast 7 Confederate cavalry units were fully equipped with Burnsides during the conflict, with the Burnside being common enough for Confederates to get their hands on them after battles. A total of five Burnside Carbine variants were also manufactured during the conflict, although production of the Burnside (during the war) would cease to enable the production of Spencer Carbines instead.

Ambrose BurnsideEdit

Despite being, by his own acknowledgement, a relatively poor military officer, Burnside's military career took off as his Carbine gained popularity. After several attempts by Abraham Lincoln to install Burnside as leader of the Union Forces, Burnside led his forces to two defeats before being named incompetent by several of his contemporaries.


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