New Jersey dentist Dr. Edward Maynard (1813-1891) lent his talents to developing a new primer system for guns which allowed for faster reloading of flintlock muskets. The system was intended to help offset the poor results generally encountered from such guns and took its name from the doctor himself as the "Maynard Tape Primer". The system was adopted in the U.S. Model 1855 musket. The tape primer was also used in a carbine that would also carry the doctor's name as the "Maynard Carbine" and this weapon would go on to see action during the upcoming American Civil War (1861-1865).
Work on the carbine began in 1851 and the design was taken up by the Massachusetts Arms Company of Chicopee Falls, MA for production. Initially set up to manufacture revolvers to counter Colt's grip on the handgun market, the company moved to producing long guns during 1855. Its first product became the breech-loading "Greene Carbine" of which some saw use in the Crimea War (1853-1856) by the British Army as well as the American Civil War. The next product to arrive became the Maynard Carbine.
The Maynard Carbine was a single-shot weapon primarily firing a .50 caliber metallic cartridge. Original cartridges were of .52 caliber there proved a rarer .35 caliber form as well. It was a breech-loading weapon in which its lever system (when pulled under the receiver and forward) provided access to the breech by folding the barrel down along a hinge (as in a hunting shotgun). There was a slight deliberate gap between the breech and receiver when the breech was closed and this space was intended to be filled by the wide flange base of the cartridge - providing the necessary gas seal in the action.
As with other firearms of the period, the action of the Maynard relied on a percussion cap being affixed to an awaiting nipple. The cap provided the necessary spark in the action when struck by the hammer. The hammer was cocked back in the usual way, the percussion cap in place and the cartridge set within the breech (the breech now fully closed and sealed). Once aimed, the trigger was pulled which released the hammer, striking the cap and generating sparks. The metallic cartridge itself was manufactured with a tiny hole at its base which, keeping its powder contents inside, allowed the sparks to enter and ignite the priming compound. This then allowed for ignition of the cartridge and the resulting pressures sent the bullet out of the barrel through the open muzzle. The lever was then actuated to open the breech, remove the spent shell casing and insert a fresh cartridge.
The easy breech access made for a quick reloading weapon by 1850's technology - especially when compared to the muzzle-loading rifles still in use at the time. Maynard Carbines were noted for their ease of operation, ease of maintenance and simple construction - as such it was favored by many users who found her a pleasure to fire with little violent recoil to contend with and proving very accurate at range. A folding rear sight at the receiver provided a setting for 100, 200 and 300 yards which aligned with a forward post sight. A trained shooter could reach ranges out to 600 yards and a rate-of-fire nearing 12 rounds per minute. The carbine was also compact, measuring 40 inches long with a 20 inch barrel which proved valuable for mounted infantry. The stock was of walnut while no forend was used - the latter representing something of an issue when a hot barrel developed over prolonged usage.
The Maynard Carbine appeared in two notable production forms differentiated simply as "First Model" and "Second Model" (also the "Model 1863"). First Model carbines appeared from 1858 to 1859 and were identified by their patchbox located in the stock as well as use of Dr. Maynard's tape primer system. Production totaled only 5,000 units and notable recipients included the 9th Pennsylvania and 1st Wisconsin infantry regiments. Some governmental departments were also given the type as were U.S. Marines. Use of the First Model went beyond these northern groups for procurement was also made by the hundreds by the states of Florida, Georgia and Mississippi while the militia forces of Louisiana and South Carolina also took on stocks. First Models appeared in their traditional .50 caliber form but were also seen in a lesser-known .35 caliber form. During the Civil War, the guns were highly acclaimed by Confederate Army forces as well as Union cavalry.
Following the First Model was the Second Model which lacked the patchbox in the stock and the tape primer system. Production of this version was vastly greater at 20,000 units and these appeared during the span of 1863 into 1865. Some notable recipients of the Second Model became the 9th Indiana, the 11th Indiana and the 11th Tennessee infantry regiments among others.