The Tarpley Carbine was built in limited numbers - about 400 - for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Southerner Jere H. Tarpley of Greensboro, North Carolina developed his aptly-named, breech-loading "Tarpley Carbine" of .52 caliber. As a breechloaded system, the cartridges were inserted into the weapon from behind the receiver as opposed to the muzzle (as in a muzzle-loaded weapon such as a musket). By the time of the American Civil War, both the North and South clamored for viable firearms supplies and developments such as the Tarpley Carbine became recognized.
When the option of securing arms by way of Europe fell through due to the Union blockade of major southern ports, Confederate forces looked within to find solutions. The governing Confederate States of America authority then granted Tarpley a patent for his invention on February 14th, 1863, and production of his carbine began soon after, spanning into 1964. In all, approximately 400 examples were outputted with manufacture handled out of J.F. Garrett and Company in North Carolina.
The Tarpley design made use of a single breech-loaded cartridge of .52 caliber, utilizing a falling/sliding block action brought into play by management of the lever. The action involved a solid metal breechblock moving vertically within the receiver, fitted against grooves etched into the breech itself (consider the up and down motion of a cigar-cutter). When in its upper position, the breech was locked in place and the gun made ready to fire. When in the lower position, the firing chamber was open and ready to accept a fresh cartridge, this inserted through the rear of the system. The action was not wholly unique to the Tarpley design for several other firearms made use of the system. The action was ultimately outdone by the introduction of the "bolt-action" system we see on many rifles today. While notable in its own right, the Tarpley Carbine exhibited a rather major flaw in its action for there was no seal to help divide the breech-block and barrel systems when firing. This resulted in rather corrosive gasses escaping from within, tainting the firing action and - within time - generating an ever-increasing gap between both the breech-block and barrel assembly.
Outwardly, the Tarpley design was highly conventional for firearms of the time and of this class. This particular carbine was characterized by its large, straight wooden stock, rather short receiver and cylindrical unfinished brass barrel assembly. The stock was capped by a metal plate and thinned near the receiver for an ergonomic hand hold. The trigger unit was curved forward, surrounded by a wiry lever system that was actuated by the operator. The receiver held the major internal and external working components of the carbine including the hammer, breech and corresponding breech block. The barrel was rather featureless, sporting a rear sighting device for accurized fire. Of note here is that the Tarpley design lacked any forend furniture, meaning that the operator was at risk to handle a hot barrel in the heat of combat. Tarpley Carbines were clearly marked with the Tarpley name ("Jere Tarpley") and patent date, these engraved on the barrel tang with the serial number imprinted along the top of the breech. In all, the Tarpley Carbine measured 40 inches long which proved suitable for firing from horseback, from within confined spaces or on foot across open terrain.
Of particular note concerning the Tarpley Carbine is that it became the only Confederate States of America firearm to be offered up for sale to the general public. No other Confederate firearm can lay such a claim.