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Percussion rifles used, as the name suggests, the percussion lock mechanism, whereby a percussion cap (the primer) was placed on a hollow nipple located directly above top of the breech section of the barrel. This percussion cap contained a small amount of impact sensitive explosive which then set-off the gunpowder. The percussion cap was struck by a hammer, which typically featured a point to ensure the cap was struck efficiently.The percussion rifle had a slight advantage when it came to rate of fire over its flintlock counterparts, the use of a percussion cap reduced the reloading time meaning the average number of shots per minute would consistently fall between three and four per minute. The percussion lock was also very reliable in wet conditions (the reverse is true for the flintlock weapons) with the primer not being affected by having water in contact with it, while the powder was virtually incapable of being exposed to water.
The first widespread percussion rifles were originally muskets which were converted from the older flintlock mechanism, with typical examples being the Brown Bess or Springfield Model 1822. The first purpose built percussion rifle, however, is disputed with the common consensus being the M1819 Hall Rifle produced by the Hapers Ferry Armory in the US from 1819.The invention of the Minie Ball in 1847 further pushed the development of the percussion rifle, when the first rifle to feature the Minie Ball, the aptly named Minie Rifle, became the template for all percussion rifles from 1851, spawning several renowned rifles such as the Pattern 1853 Enfield or Springfield Model 1861.
The percussion rifle was quickly replaced by the breechloading rifles of the 1860s, the 'Trapdoor' Springfields and the Snider-Enfield being, perhaps, the most notable. As early as 1848, with the introduction of the Dreyse Needle gun which used a firing pin instead of percussion cap, it was recognised that breechloading rifles were better equipped for warfare, their higher rate of fire meaning that they out-performed the conventional percussion lock. This was demonstrated in Austro-Prussian war where Prussian forces, equipped with the Dreyse Needle gun, defeated Austrian forces using the Lorenz and Vereinsgewehr rifled muskets, both of which used percussion lock mechanisms.
Notable Percussion riflesEditPercussion rifles were most commonly converted versions of flintlock muskets. However at the time of the widespread conversion of flintlock muskets, several percussion lock muskets and rifles also entered the arena. The notable percussion rifles/muskets include:
- Brown Bess - Converted from Flintlock from the 1840s
- Brunswick Rifle
- Charleville Musket - Limited number of conversions, unknown when they were converted.
- Infanteriegewehr Model 1842 - A Swiss percussion lock rifle
- Joslyn Rifle - An American Civil War era breechloading, percussion lock, rifle
- Lorenz Rifle - Austrian Minie Rifle
- M1819 Hall Rifle - The disputed first percussion lock rifle
- M1841 Mississippi Rifle - Named for the "Mississippi Rifles".
- Minie Rifle
- Model 1795 Musket - Produced from 1795 in flintlock, some conversion
- Model 1816 Musket - Produced from 1816 by Springfield, some conversion
- Model 1822 Musket - Produced from 1822 by Springfield, some conversion
- Model 1842 Musket - Produced from 1842 by Springfield, first purpose built percussion lock musket produced by Springfield
- Model 1855 Musket
- Pattern 1853 Enfield
- Sharps breechloading rifle
- Springfield Model 1861
- Springfield Model 1863
- Vereinsgewehr Rifle
- Whitworth Rifle