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     Many years ago, before I had the carbine I bought 20 Burnside cartridges.  It was a unique purchase as all of the 20 cartridges were in a cavalry cartridge box and had been in that box since it was carried in the U.S. Civil War. They are now moulded in place, the lead has oxidized to the wood block. They may remain so forever more. Whose hand put them there? Into what fight was he riding? Why were they never taken out? Alas, they give no story. They are silent like the soldier who put them there. Here is the box and here are the cartridges:


     Cover Flap - over all - 7-15/16" W  X  4½" H  (to center point of  flap)
     Thickness - over all - 2½"

     Not including cover and straps,  the box is 7-7/16" W X 1-11/16" thick.

     The inner wood block, holding 20 - .54 caliber cartridges, measures 6-15/16"  in width . It is 2½" high and 1-11/16" thick.

     There is an arsenal or maker's name on the flap. It is illegible.

The Cartridge

     The cartridge is approximately 5/16" at it's widest point and 2-15/16" long from tip of bullet to base. The .54 caliber bullet sits in a copper case and looks very much like an ice cream cone. The widest part of the casing is the collar which acts as a gas check  It's taper allows the spent casing to be easily removed .There is no primer in the casing - only black powder. There is a small sealed hole in the base. When the percussion cap is struck, it's fire instantly burns through the seal and ignites the powder therein. The seal is on the inside. It is paper treated with potassium nitrate.

The Carbine

      The weapon pictured here is a standard 4th Model Burnside percussion single shot breech loading carbine, cal.54. The trigger guard doubles as a lever that drops the breech block and swings up the cartridge chamber for easy drop in loading. Closing the breech block readies the carbine for firing. The hammer has to be manually cocked before the trigger is operative.  After firing, the block is dropped exposing the spent copper casing which is removed with the fingers and replaced with another shell. It is easily removed as the cartridge is tapered back from it's widest part (which functions as a gas seal) leaving room for the fingers to do the job.

       The carbine has a 21" long round barrel. The weapon is approximately 39½" overall. The markings are as follows:

Lock Plate = "BURNSIDE RIFLE CO./ PROVIDENCE =R.I."  (In 2 lines)
Barrel = "CAST STEEL 1864"  &  "B" in front of breech.
Top of Frame = "BURNSIDE PATENT / MODEL OF 1864"  (In 2 lines) over "19147" (serial number)
Top of Breech Block = "19147" (serial number)
Stock = 2 diagonal cartouches, forward left side of stock.

      Isn't that cartridge box something!  It's silence speaks volumes.............


Dave Radcliffe