Special Interests - Groups & Societies > Spencer Shooting Society

Blakeslee and Other Methods of Carrying Ammo


Two Flints:
 The following comments describing the various methods of carrying ammo are attributed to Trailrider, SSS member # 47,  and are used here with his permission.   Two Flints 

"Prior to about 1874, the cavalry was armed with a mixed bag of both pistols and carbines. The three primary pistols were the M1860 Colt's Army cal. .44, and the Remington New Model Army revolver, which used pre-packaged paper cartridges and loose percussion caps. The third pistol, issued on a trial basis in the early 1870's was the Smith & Wesson America, which, of course, fired .44 cal. metallic cartridges.

Aside from the loads carried in the pistol proper, spare 6-round packets of paper cartridge and "conical ball" were carried in the Civil War-issue Pistol Cap & Cartridge Pouches. These were issued from stores, and carried on the saber or waist belt. They have the single-piece flap which buttons over a stud finial on the bottom of the pouch (see my website or catalog). As issued, the pouches have a short inner flap and are lined on inside of the back with sheep's wool to keep the caps or the cartridges from flopping around. These have room for about one packet's worth, or six rounds, though you might be able to squeeze a few more in. Haven't tried it, but maybe you could get 10-12 rounds in there.

Following the CW, these pouches were used as-is as long as the cap and ball revolvers were in use. Standard issue was one per trooper, but I'd bet they'd scrounge a few of them for actual campaign use.

Following the issue of the Colt's "New model strap pistol", aka, the Colt's Single Action Army, in .45 Colt, the ".45 Colt's Revolver" cartridges were issued generally 24 rds to each trooper for the field. However, again, the cap and pistol cartridge pouches were used to carry "ready loads" on the trooper's person. The rest were carried in the saddlebags. The pouches had their wool liners and the little loop for the cone pick removed, and sometimes the inner flap was also removed. The rounds were carried one of two ways, depending on the configuration of the pouch. One was just to carry them loose. Of course, they rattled around unless jammed full in the pouch. The second type used a wooden block drilled with 6-holes to carry cartridges. The problem I find with these (aside from being SASS-unacceptable) is the rounds rattle in the holes, since the holes have to be loose enough to easily remove the rounds. Neither, method is entirely satisfactory, and I believe the wood blocks were used primarily in garrison.

Carbine ammunition was carried in a variety of ways. For those units armed with Spencer Repeating Rifles (or carbines), there were two possibilities: The first, which would seem the most practicable, was the Blakesley Pouch, which held loading tubes of seven-rounds each. A leather-covered wood block was drilled out to take the tubes, in varying numbers. The cavalry version, which held 10 tubes (there was an infantry version that held more tubes) and was hexagonal in cross-section, was carried by a leather strap suspended from the shoulder. There was a short strap that allowed the box to be connected to the belt, to keep it from flopping around. A sketch can be found in Vol. II of Randy Stefan's bookset "The Horse Soldier". The upper end of the Pouch had a cap-style closure, fastened by a strap and stud finial. In practice, the troop would remove the magazine tube follower assembly from the buttstock of the Spencer, hold it in the fingers of the left hand, removed a tube with 7 rounds from the pouch, poured the cartridges down the magazine from the Blakesly tube, re-inserted the follower in the buttstock, and either threw away or returned the empty tube to the pouch (depending on the heat of combat, you were supposed to save the tubes for re-use).

There were also CW leather cartridge belt pouches with wood insert blocks drilled for the cartridges used in various CW metallic cartridge-firing guns. These included the Spencers. Some were also later used for .50-70 rounds. The later Hagner #2 leather belt pouch had 24 canvas loops inside, 16 inside the pouch and 8 on the front, but all covered by the flap. These loops can hold either Spencer ammo (.56-56 or .56-50) or .50-70 Gov't. Later, the McKeever style boxes in both .45-70 and later .30-40 Krag and even .30-06 were issued, primarily to the infantry, but there were cavalry versions. (I believe McKeevers are still used by the 3rd Inf. at the Tomb of the Unknowns, but I could be wrong. They are probably empty, just for show.)

Probably the most widely-issued, though not so popular, was the M1874 Dyer Carbine cartridge pouch. This is the one I make. It has no loops inside, but a wool liner on the front and back walls, and can hold around 30 rounds of .45-70 (or 8 rounds of 12 ga. shotshell for Cowboy matches!)
Because the rounds are carried loose, they are very easy to get to and withdraw cartridges from. The wool tends to keep the ammo from shifting too much.

The disadvantage of the Dyer pouch (and, indeed, all the others) is that they concentrate the weight and are fairly bulky. The Dyer board attempted to solve this problem by designing the 1874 Hazen slides, which were in .45-70, and carried 20 rounds, with 12 on the front row and 8 on the rear. The rear side had the three leather belt loops sewn to it, taking the place of 3 rounds, which were carried on the front row, rather than two rows of 10 ea. Supposedly, two were to be issued to each trooper, but whether they actually were issued and used is open to question as few come to light.

While the Ordnance Dept. was floundering around, the troops took matters into their own hands, resulting in the creation of the various configuration of leather "prairie" belts (aka "thimble" or "mountain" belts). These were usually made up from waist belts by company saddlers, probably with the tacit or direct approval of the C.O.'s. The belts had the advantage of distributing the weight, and permitting a larger number of rounds to be carried, depending on the size of the trooper's waist, and what else was to be carried on the belt. The distinct DIS-advantage was that the combination of leather loops and copper cartridge cases, with moisture, resulted in verdegris (green corrosion) forming on the ammo. The combination of verdegris, soft copper cases and BP fouling resulting in cartridges sticking in the chambers of the M1873 Springfields. (BTW, there is NO evidence of Custer's demise being related to verdegris...his troops didn't live long enough to fire their carbines enough to have problems with stuck rounds. Reno and Benteen, on the other hand, DID have to clear a number of carbines with stuck shells.

The final development in the 1870's was the CANVAS prairie belts issued by the Ordnance Dept. beginning in late 1876 to both cavalry and infantry. (The latter had brass loops to permit the bayonet scabbard to be hung on the belt.) These were varnished canvas, with a layer of leather between the folds of the canvas, and a brass or iron buckle and a leather tongue.

The loops on these were sewn to the belt body. Technically, these are NOT "Mills" belts, as that term is correctly applied to the canvas belts where the body is heavier and the loops are woven directly into the body. The belt and the machinery were designed by Capt. (Bvt. Col.) Anson Mills, whose brother-in-law managed the company that produced them. Today this would be a distinct conflict of interest, but worked out well for Col. Mills.

For more information on the pouches, consult "Indian War Cartridge Pouches, Boxes and Carbine Boots" by R. Stephen Dorsey.

I made what turned out to be a five-tube one for myself, for my M1860 Spencer Carbine in .56-56 Central Fire (S&S Conversion). It was NOT an easy task. I tried drilling the holes with a long wood boring bit, and found the bit drifted off to one side or the other. I then discovered that the originals wood blocks were made in separate sections that were about 2-in. thick and then glued together. The hexagonal cross-section was something else that would have been a problem to make easily with the tools available. Then there was the matter of the tubes. I happened to have some tubing of the proper inside diameter to handle the cartridge rims, but only enough to make five tubes. I suppose it would be easier for .45 Schofield or .44 Russian, but would have to investigate what tubing might be suitable. Then, of course, the whole thing must be covered in leather.

Due to the limited number of potential customers at the time, I decided against attempting to make any for sale at the time I made mine. I'm not sure what it would actually cost to make one now. It would be a development project. Lots of labor involved. Wouldn't be cheap!"

Hope this is of interest.

Your obdt servant,
Capt., 3rd Cav.,Detailed Ordnance
Dept. of the Platte, GAF
Owner/Pres. Trailrider Products
SASS #896

French Jack:
The Spencers were also procured with one cartridge pouch for each rifle.  These pouches were made of leather, and contained a tin liner to hold six 7-round packets of Spencer ammuniton.  Internal measurements correspond to those of a full box of 42 Spencer cartridges-- 4 1/4"x 2"x3 3/4".  A small internal flap protects the top of the pouch opening, and is covered by the large leather fron flap which is secured on the bottom by a single slooted strap which fits over a brass button.  The rear of the pouch has two belt loops.  Empty, the pouch weighs 12 ounces; filled, pouch and ammunition wiegh 4 lbs., 2 oz....The front face contains an implement pocket measuring 3 3/4" wide by 3" high, used for carrying cleaning patches, a take-down tool, and other small implements.  The original delivery of Spencer Navy rifles in 1863 included one cartridge pouch for each rifle.  Numerous Army Ordnance Department orders refer to the purchase of "Spencer cartridge carriers", as these were purchased from the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company, which acted as an agent, but was not the manufacturer.

The Spencer cavalry cartridge box was quite similar to those manufactured for the Burnside, Merrill, Sharps, Smith, and the Warner.  The Spencer box contains a wood block bored with twenty holes, each .57 inches in diameter and 1.33 inches deep.  The block measures 7 inches long by 1.8 inches high by 1.5 inches deep.  Exterior dimensions of the leather are 8 inches wide by 2.57 inches high by 1.8 inches deep.  These were obtained from a variety of leather goods manufacturers.  Tkhe box weighs 15 ounces empty, and 2 lbs. 7 oz. when filled with twenty 56-56 rimfire cartridges.  Twenty -four hole boxes are known, but no archival documentation has been found to authenicate them.  The method of carry was a shoulder strap, and two belt loops were also on the back of the box.

Source:  Spencer Repeating Firearms, by Roy M. Marcot, 1983,1990


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