MANUFACTURER(S): Harpers Ferry Arsenal - USA
OPERATORS: Confederate States; United Kingdom; United States
ACTION: Single-Shot; Breech-Loading; Flintlock or Percussion Cap
CALIBER(S)*: .525 Ball (early); .69 Ball (late)
SIGHTS: Iron Front and Rear.
Detailing the development and operational history of the Harpers Ferry Model 1819 (Hall Rifle) Service Long Gun / Carbine.
Entry last updated on 3/21/2019.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
John Harris Hall (1781-1841) proved a potent inventor and forward-thinking gunsmith during his time. Aside from his contributions to mass production, Hall also designed and developed the M1819 Hall Rifle that bears his name (along with inventor Dr. William Thornton). Though a single-shot long gun at heart, the primary quality of this rifle was its patented breech-loading system which now allowed the operator to load/reload his weapon at the action as opposed to the muzzle. The shooter no longer was required to stand his weapon on its butt and engage in a time-consuming reloading process. The M1819 Hall Rifle became the first breech-loading rifle in the world to be adopted in notable quantities by a national army.
The Hall Rifle patent was finalized on May 21st, 1811 and centered around the accepted action of the day - the "flintlock". Flintlock firearms relied on small shard of flint held in a vice-like assembly used in striking a metal surface which created the necessary sparks. These sparks then entered a small port and ignited gunpowder behind a bullet, the resultant expanding pressures sending the bullet (bal) out of the muzzle at speed. However, the action was temperamental and could be influenced by humidity and weather and thusly not wholly reliable in the heat-of-battle. In 1819, the United States Army took note of the Hall development and formally adopted the Hall Rifle into inventory, superseding the Harpers Ferry Model 1803 flintlock line.
In its initial form, the Model 1819 Hall Rifle utilized a 32.5-inch long barrel assembly embedded into a long-running. single-piece wooden body (52.5 inches long overall). The action - complete with flint stone cocking arm - was set at the rear of the weapon as was the underslung trigger group. The shoulder stock was formed from the same wooden piece and joined to the receiver by an integral grip. The barrel ran the entire forward length of the rifle and was clamped by a single barrel band. Internally, the barrel sported rifling which allowed for far greater ranges and accuracy at range to be achieved over that of contemporary smoothbore designs. The bullet of choice was the .525 Ball which provided a caliber equivalent of 13.3mm. This ball was coupled with a 100-grain powder charge. A bayonet could be affixed under the barrel for close-quarters work. Overall weight of the rifle was 10.25lb.
Hall began limited production of his rifle until the US Army placed an order for 200 of the type to be delivered sometime in 1815. However, lacking the required manufacturing facilities to meet the government deadline, Hall turned down this commission. To address the issue, Hall began dissecting his rifle manufacturing process which could, at best, output approximately 50 units per year. This rethinking brought about a complete revision of the process which ultimately sped up production through use of interchangeable parts along an assembly line-type arrangement. With the streamlining initiative in place, Hall then approached Army authorities to revitalize the commission. Impressed, the US Army then placed a new order for 1,000 Hall Rifles in 1819 which earned them the designation of "Model of 1819" - otherwise "Model 1819". The guns were produced out of the Harpers Ferry Arsenal utilizing Hall's methodology.
At one point, the US Army sought to test the Hall breech-loading rifles against contemporary smoothbore muzzle loaders (with a target at 100 yards) and found them to be more accurate and with a higher rate-of-fire, giving US infantrymen a considerable tactical advantage for the period. The American Army pressed their Hall Rifles into combat service during their many wars against indigenous tribes. A shortened 8lb version of the full-length Hall Rifle - the Hall-North Carbine - was developed in 1833 as a compact carbine form and this was also taken into service by the US Army. Carbines proved useful for specialist troops and mounted cavalry infantry not requiring the services of a full-length long gun.
By the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), the percussion cap principle was replacing the centuries-old flintlock action. The actions were somewhat similar in that old flintlock firearms could be converted to newer percussion cap forms through a bit of engineering. Percussion caps operated in a similar fashion to a child's toy cap gun in which a cap was placed over an awaiting nipple and struck by a falling hammer actuated by the trigger pull. The resultant spark ignited whatever charge in use in the chamber with the ignition driving the bullet out of the barrel through the muzzle - this same action was more or less seen in flintlock guns prior. Percussion caps were also less susceptible to weather and humidity and thusly more efficient and reliable.
The Model 1819 Hall Rifle saw a similar conversion as other guns in the lead-in to the Civil War, becoming the Model 1841 Hall Rifle. Paper cartridges, holding the propellant, and a .69 Ball were now in use. However, the life cycle of the rifle was quickly drawing to a close after several decades of consistent service. Many infantry also still preferred muzzle-loading weapons due to availability and familiarity. Hall Rifles did, however, still see use in the conflict before given up for good - all manner of guns and artillery were pressed into service by both the North and South - either produced in American factories or acquired form Europe. In all, 23,500 Model 1819 Hall Rifles were produced. Hall himself died well before the war on February 26th, 1841, though not before leaving his imprint on firearms and mass production history.