A SHORT HISTORY OF THE TRAPDOOR SPRINGFIELD RIFLE
At the end of the American Civil War, the US Ordnance Corps had 1,000,000 muzzle loading rifled muskets in storage. The advent of the self contained metallic cartridge made all these rifles obsolete. Due to the expense of the Civil War, the Ordnance Corps was unable to afford new rifles. The problem of developing a conversion system to adapt these rifled muskets to a breech loading system was tackled by Erskine S. Allen, the Master Armorer at Springfield Arsenal, in Massachusetts. His first model of the conversion system was fashioned in wood. It is on display at the Springfield Arsenal Museum.
The first conversions were made in .58 rimfire in 1865. The breech end of the barrel was milled off and the trapdoor action was installed by silver solder and a large screw. In 1866, the caliber was reduced to .50-70 Centerfire and the trapdoor action was fastened to the barrel by threading the barrel and action. The Model 1870 was introduced and it would be the last of the conversion rifles adopted.
The following Countries adopted systems to convert muzzle loading rifles to use metallic cartridges.
England: Snider System
Sweden and Denmark: Remington Rolling Block System
Switzerland: Milbank-Amsler System
Russia: Krunka System
In 1873, the decision to reduce the caliber of the US Service Rifle to .45-70 made further conversions of rifled muskets impossible. There were many repeating rifle systems available but the US Ordnance Corps was conservative in their development of firearms. The felt that soldiers would waste ammunition if they had a fast firing repeating rifle. The Model 1873 rifle and carbine were adopted and manufactured from scratch without using any parts from the obsolete Civil War Muskets.
The Springfield Rifle Model of 1884 was adopted in that year. It had several improvements over the Model of 1873. The sights were changed as well as the extraction system for the cartridges. Colonel Buffington of the US Army developed a rear sight that was vastly superior to the 1873 Buckhorn sight that was used on the Model of 1873. The same sighting system with minor changes was used on Springfield 1898 and 1903 Rifles. Springfield 1884 rifles were manufactured until 1891 with one other major variation adopted in 1889. The Model of 1889 is the ramrod bayonet version of the 1884 rifle. The 1884 bayonet is of the angular variety and its style of bayonet was in use on US Service Muskets and Rifles since 1795. Note that the French, German, British, Swiss, and Belgian Armies had already adopted repeating, smokeless powder service rifles before 1891.
Allen-Springfield rifles were used in the American Indian Wars and the Spanish American War of 1898. After the adoption of the Springfield Model of 1892 (Krag-Jorgenson) .30US Rifle, the trapdoor rifles were used by National Guard Units until well into the 20th Century. Quite notably the trapdoor rifles were used in the Fetterman Fight and the Wagon Box Fight. The Fetterman Fight was the largest defeat of a US Army Unit until the Custer Massacre. The Wagon Box Fight was a victory for the US Army
The use of the .45-70 cartridge extended the range of the US Infantry Rifle to 1400 yards. It is interesting, when Colonel Buffington was given the task of graduating the new sights, he built 12”x12” Pine target frames. At 1000 yards the .45-70-500 Government Standard bullet would penetrate the 12” Pine timbersThe terminology of the .45-70-500 cartridge means: 45 caliber, with 70 grains of FFG Black Powder and a 500 grain bullet. A shooter could look at the cartridge designation and know what the power level of the ammunition was.