The Lorenz Rifle was designed and developed by a lieutenant in the Austrian Army, Joseph Lorenz, and went on to bear his name. The weapon was categorized as a "rifled musket" for it retained the breech-loading action of the traditional musket with the bore rifling of a conventional rifle. The all-modern Lorenz Rifle was adopted by the Austrian Empire in 1854, replacing the aged Augustin rifled muskets then in use, and quickly modernized the Austrian land forces throughout through its simple adoption.
The Lorenz Rifle maintained a conventional long gun layout and form including a long-running (37.5 inches), single-piece wooden (beech or walnut) body which incorporated the grip handle and shoulder stock. The addition of a socket bayonet extended the rifle's length considerably. The action was of metal and containing in the woodwork itself, the barrel being inlaid across the top of the wood body. The body and barrel were connected through two barrel bands with a ramrod being recessed in a housing under the muzzle. The trigger lay in an oblong ring under the action and ahead of the grip handle. The Lorenz relied on the percussion lock system, surpassing the flintlock method in firearms history, in which a percussion "cap" was utilized to ignite the main charge of the bullet. A hammer fell upon the cap which, in turn, ignited the charge and generated the force required for the bullet to leave the barrel. The rifling inherent in the barrel served to promote greater accuracy at range - an evolution over the original smoothbore barrel itself. The percussion system was, in several ways, reminiscent of the flintlock system, complete with the offset right hammer (though no longer containing the chunk of flintrock). The cap was set atop a nipple where the "frizzen" and "pan" once lay. The Lorenz Rifle made use of a .54 caliber cartridge and was a single-shot weapon - requiring the user to reload the charge and bullet each time the weapon was to be fired - and this from the muzzle end.
The Lorenz Rifle was eventually produced in three common forms - the full-length long gun, the shortened service rifle and a more compact carbine version. The full-length long gun form was given a long-range sighting device and increased rifling in its barrel. The shortened service rifle variant proved a mix of short-and-long-range combat effectiveness and given an interim rifling pattern with adjustable sighting device. The carbine form was issued without long range sights and sported reduced rifling for accuracy in short-ranged engagements. The carbine version proved the most popular of the three while the full-length long gun variant was generally issue to sharpshooters for obvious reasons. Original rifles were of the Model 1854 "pattern" and these were followed by the Model 1862 pattern which instituted a new lock plate and improved production quality over the originals.
Due to the complex nature of the Lorenz Rifle's design, it was slow to reach frontline units in number. The Austrian military complex lacked the required resources to fulfill the need and charged private suppliers to raise production figures. However, this often led to discrepancies in the final products - some of great quality and others of poorer nature - giving mixed results in-the-field. Some were available at the time of the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 (Second Italian War of Independence) which saw Austrian forces fight against a combined French-Sardinia force. Despite a sizeable force of men, cavalry and cannon, the Austrians lost the initiative which led to the Armistice of Villafrance of July 12, 1859. It was then featured in the Austro-Prussian War (Seven Weeks War) of 1866 which, again saw an Austria defeat.
Some 326,924 examples were purchased by Union (226,924) and Confederate (100,000) forces during the years-long American Civil War (1861-1865). In fact, the Lorenz Rifle managed a third place finish to all other rifles fielded in the conflict (including the British Enfield and American Springfield), such was its widespread use in the war. Its results there were just as mixed as across European campaigns though its availability made certain that the weapon would see consistent use. Union versions were known to have been rebored to .58 caliber to take advantage of a larger, more standardized bullet. Since the South lacked much in the way of wartime manufacturing, their Lorenz Rifles were retained in their .54 caliber forms for the duration of the war.