Henry Repeating Rifle

    .56-50 Spencer Blank Review

Selma, AL 2011 "Wilson's Raiders" 

 The Quest for Spencer Knowledge

Using a Spencer in the reenacting world today in numbers is something new.  In the past original Spencer rifles and carbines have been used.  In fact I used an original Spencer carbine and rifle in some early events of the 1980s.  Blank ammunition was always the problem.  Today is different.  There are reproduction Spencer rifles and carbines offered in a variety of calibers.  Also the issue of blank ammunition hopefully has been solved.  Not only the availability of blanks but the cost was always a limiting factor.  Today there are two great options for the .56-50 Spencers.  One was developed by Andrew L. Bresnan using a 32 gauge shot shell hull as the parent case.  The other is a plastic version by Charles Misulia. Both offer a cheap way of shooting the Spencer at a cost of about 22 cents for the 32 based .56-50 if you load these yourself and about 30 cents for the plastic ones.  Also for those that want to use the 32 gauge based blanks but don’t want to load them they can be purchased complete from Todd Koster.

 The 2011 Selma, Alabama Civil War reenactment held April 29 to May 1 was an excellent opportunity to try out my 32 gauge shot shell based .56-50 blanks.  It would also provide a learning opportunity on using a Spencer at a reenactment.  Jim and I made the 1240 mile round trip down to Selma from central Illinois with our Spencer Rifles and plenty of blanks.  Charles Misulia put out a call for those with Spencers to join him for this event.  I think we had 4 Spencer rifles and 3 carbines.  Several calibers were represented but the .56-50 accounted for 3 rifles and a carbine, I think. 

 Jim and I both had our Blakeslee boxes, Jim’s a 6 tube box and mine a 10 tube box.  We also made up several paper tubes loaded as “Blakeslee tubes” so we did not have to handle one cartridge at a time.  For Saturday we both carried about 325 rounds of blanks.  Once the battle started our Spencers spoke almost non-stop.  The 32 based .56-50 blanks that Jim and I had made were working almost flawlessly.  Jim did have one that jammed him up for a very brief moment.  I was out of action for about 2-3 minutes also.  My Spencer just failed to fire with the hammer hitting on the frame instead of the firing pin.  Charles suggested that it was probably the lock plate screw.  Once I tightened that screw up I was back in business blasting rebs again.  Jim and I both found out that it was a lot of “work” using a Spencer, much different than working the lever on our Henry Rifles.  We found out that it did not take long for the barrel to warm up and to get down right hot.  With the battle over we returned to our camp, my van, to cool down and clean the Spencers.  One very big plus of the 32 gauge based .56-50 blanks is that upon firing the chamber is sealed allowing no “blow back” fouling into the action.  We both fired about 150 rounds and the action was as clean as when we had started.  The load we used was 35 grains of fffg so the barrel had a lot of fouling that was easily cleaned out.  Our Spencers were cleaned and ready for the battle on Sunday.

 For the Sunday battle we decided to see what the least amount of “stuff” we needed for the battle would be.  It was decided that all we would take was our Blakeslee boxes, haversack with 30 paper tubes, canteen and Spencer.  I carried my screwdriver in the leather haversack with the paper tubes.  Once the battle was under way the Spencer armed men kept up an almost non stop firing rate against the fort.  Jim and I started firing as a team rotating shots as we levered the rounds through our Spencers.  This really seemed to work very well.  The 35 grains of fffg is an excellent load and one that I will probably stay with.  At one point in the battle Jim commented on the fact that it does not take long to go through a lot of ammunition.  We had gone through 6 tubes in a short amount of time.  Seeing all of the little red shells, “my children” as I called them,  on the ground was kind of neat.  We did not see a single shell that was left over from the Saturday battle.  I think the kids must have made a sweep through the battlefield on Saturday and found every one of them.  We finally advanced on the fort and took it with the Spencers speaking the entire time.  The battle on Sunday lasted around 45 minutes or a little longer.  Upon doing a round count I found that I had emptied my Blakeslee box, 70 rounds, and had also gone through 19 of the paper tubes as well as having 8 rounds in the Spencer to start with, 211 rounds total for Sunday.  Jim and I had absolutely no problems on Sunday.  I had checked every screw to make sure they were tight after cleaning it on Saturday.  The only issue on Sunday was a very hot barrel. It was a great weekend for the Spencer firing my way through over 350 blanks.

 The weekend of Selma was learning experience.  Here are some of the observations from the weekend:

1.  Make sure to keep all screws tightened and have a screw driver with you.

2.  We developed a way of carrying what we need to field our Spencer.

3.  The 32 based .56-50 blanks worked almost to perfection.

4.  Fouling in the action using the .32 gauge based .56-50 was almost non-existent.

5.  The Blakeslee box was a neat addition but sometimes got in the way.

6.  Making paper tubes so as not to have to handle individuals rounds was a good     idea.

7.  As I had already learned the only downside of using the 32 gauge based .56-50 is the color of the shells, red.  It does look neat to see a pile of casings as you move to the next location.  The color red also makes it easier for the kids to pick them up after the battle so that could be a positive.

8.  Not everybody is a reloader like Jim and I are so the option that Charles offers is a great way for those people to go.

9.  A neat observation was to see 7 Spencers in one group. 

10.  I really did not know how many rounds to carry.  Those that know me know that I never run out of ammo for a reenactment.  My best guess now is that at a spectator battle of an hour or less 250 rounds would be more than enough for the Spencer.    

11.  Don’t mix different makes of ammunition once you have started firing. One of my rounds stuck in Charles’ Spencer.  He  was using his plastic rounds and when he tried the on 32 based .56-50 I gave him it stuck in the chamber.  A quick tap with the wooden ramrod knocked it out. 

12.  A glove could be beneficial since the Spencer will get very hot.

Selma, AL 2011 Wilson's Raiders