Friday, December 22, 2017

Booknotes: The Best Gun in the World

New Arrival:
The Best Gun in the World: George Woodward Morse and the South Carolina State Military Works by Robert S. Seigler (USC Press, 2017).

Robert Seigler's The Best Gun in the World explores the life of George Woodward Morse and discusses at length the inventor's rifled carbine and cartridge innovations. The book also delves into the history of the South Carolina state armory that produced the Morse Carbine during the Civil War.

From the description: "George Woodward Morse, originally from New Hampshire, was a machinist and firearms innovator, who settled in Louisiana in the 1840s. He invented a reliable breechloading firearm in the mid-1850s to replace muzzleloaders that were ubiquitous throughout the world." "The U.S. War Department tested Morse rifles and cartridges prior to the beginning of the Civil War and contracted with the inventor to produce the weapons at Harpers Ferry Armory. However, when the war began, Morse, a slave-holding plantation owner, determined that he could sell more of his guns in the South."

"The South Carolina State Military Works, originally designed to cast cannon, produced Morse’s carbine and modified muskets, brass cartridges, cartridge boxes, and other military accoutrements. The armory ultimately produced only about 1,350 Morse firearms." More historically significant than the carbine itself was Morse's breakthrough in ammunition technology. Morse "perfected the first metallic, center-fire, pre-primed cartridge," the descendants of which remain the standard today.

In researching this study, the author "mined state and federal factory records, national and state archives, and U.S. patents for detailed information on weapons production, the salaries and status of free and enslaved employees, and other financial records to reveal an interesting, distinctive story of technological innovation and industrialization in South Carolina."

Oddly enough, another book on the same topic was released earlier in the year, The Confederate Morse Carbine: Myth vs. Reality by Peter Schiffers.

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