The Warner Carbine is a fine example of the many styles of innovative, breechloading, metallic cartridge arms that were procured in relatively small numbers by the US Ordnance Department during the American Civil War. The Warner Carbine was the brainchild of James Warner of Springfield, MA. Warner had a long history of employment in the firearms industry, and had at one time worked at Eli Whitney’s factory in Whitneyville, Connecticut, where he was involved with the production of the Walker pattern Colt revolvers that Whitney produced for Colt. He subsequently went to work for the newly formed Springfield Arms Manufacturing Company of Springfield, MA. Warner served as factory superintendent and sale agent for the company and contributed his designs in the form of several percussion revolving rifles. Springfield Arms Company also produced several models of percussion revolvers in a variety of calibers, some with manually revolved cylinders and some with self-rotating, single action lock mechanisms. In 1864 Warner received two patents related to his newly designed carbine. The carbine was a single shot, breech loading, metallic cartridge carbine. It had a brass frame and a 20” round iron barrel. The Warner holds the distinction of being the only brass frames carbine that was purchased by the Ordnance Department during the American Civil War, with the exception of the Henry, which was considered a repeating rifle. The carbine had a walnut buttstock and a separate “splinter” walnut forend that was secured with a single barrel band and a single screw. The gun was chambered for a proprietary .50-rimfire cartridge, and was loaded through a hinged breechblock on the top of the receiver. His patent of February 23, 1864 covered the loading aperture in the frame of his carbine. A second patent, issued on December 27, 1864 covered the firing pin in the breechblock that was struck by the hammer when the trigger was pulled. The hammer nose engaged a slot in the breechblock when it fell, which not only hit the pin, but also held the block closed while firing. Warner’s system was very simply, as the hinged breechblock was only held in place by the hammer nose. Placing the carbine on half cock allowed the block to open by pivoting it to the right. Empty cartridges were extracted with the help of a manual extraction lever under the frame, similar to those found on Ballard rifles and carbines. The extractors were notoriously weak and often did not exert enough force to remove swollen cartridge cases from the breech. Apparently Warner’s design looked good enough on paper that on January 13, 1864, the US Ordnance Department agreed to an initial contract for 1,000 of the carbine at $18.00 each, more than a month before Warner would be granted his first patent on the carbine. The sample carbine was delivered 11 days later, and the first 200 guns of the contract were delivered on March 31, 1864. Warner delivered 300 more on April 25 and the balance of 500 on June 23. Apparently the Ordnance Department was sufficiently satisfied with the initial deliveries that in October of 1864 they accepted an additional 500 carbines and on December 7, 1864 they contracted for 2,500 more of the guns. While the first 1,501 carbines had been manufactured by Warner’s Springfield Arms Company, the Greene Rifle Works of Worchester, MA, manufactured the guns for the second contract. The carbines produced by Springfield were in the original .50 Warner caliber, but the guns produced by Greene were in the newly adopted .50 Government Rim Fire caliber (.50 Spencer or 56-50). There were some other changes as well. The troublesome extractor was modified in order to make it more functional, and the simple eye-bolt sling ring of the 1st contract carbines was replaced by a more conventional sling bar and ring. The deliveries under this 2nd contract began on February 2, 1865, when the first 500 carbines were delivered. Additional deliveries were made on February 18 (500), February 27 (800) and March 15 (700). All told, Warner delivered a total of 4,001 carbines to the Ordnance Department in 15 months, a feet not matched by many patent arms manufactures that contracted with the US government during the Civil War. The majority of the Warner carbines were issued to two US volunteer cavalry regiments, the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry and the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry. The 1st Wisconsin was formed early in the war and spent the first year or so in the Missouri area. They then joined the Union armies in Tennessee and participated in every major western theater engagement from the Tullahoma Campaign through Chickamauga, the Atlanta Campaign and the Nashville Campaign. The 3rd Massachusetts was a late war regiment that cut its teeth on the Red River Campaign in Louisiana and was subsequently transferred to the Eastern Theater where they participated in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. After the war, the Warner Carbines remained in limited use through 1867. The majority of the carbines were sold off to Schuyler, Hartley and Graham in 1870, when the firm purchased 2,492 of the guns and sold them to the French for the Franco-Prussian War. This is one reason that the guns are relatively scarce today. The remaining carbines were probably sold off to various retailers for resale to the public during the later part of the 1870s. This no doubt accounts for the numerous extant examples that are found with checkered wooden stocks, an enhancement probably added by civilian retailers to make the obsolete guns more attractive and marketable as sporting arms.
This is a VERY GOOD+ example of one of a 1st Contract Warner Carbine. The gun is almost certainly one of the first 200 guns that were delivered by Warner and Springfield Arms on March 31, 1864. 1st contract Warner carbines are typically marked on the left side of the brass frame: JAMES WARNER, SPRINGFIELD, MASS / WARNER’s / PATENT and are serial numbered under the breechblock. This gun has an unmarked receiver and is serial numbered on the toe of the buttplate. Several sources, ranging from Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Arms to John D. McAulay’s Carbines of the Civil War note that the first 200 carbines appear to have been delivered without receiver markings, as the patents were not granted in time for the initial production guns to be marked. They both also note that these very early guns are serial numbered on the toe of the buttplate, not on the breechblock. Interestingly, this gun is serial numbered 2565 on the buttplate. This suggests that Warner either started his serial numbers well above “1” in an attempt to make it look like more carbines had been produced than had been (a fairly common gambit in 19th century arms making as it made a model appear to be more successful than it really was), or that he serial numbered all of the Springfield Arms Company guns sequentially. An examination of known Springfield Arms production figures suggests that around 2,500 guns of all models (revolvers and revolving rifles) were produced prior to the production of Warner carbines. In either case, the unmarked receiver, combined with the buttplate serial number classify this gun as one of the earliest carbines produced and part of the initial military delivery on March 31, 1864. The carbine is 100% complete and correct in every way. The metal of the gun is mostly smooth throughout, with only some scattered pinpricking and very light peppering noted, along with some minor pitting around the muzzle and breech areas. The barrel retains traces of its original blued finish, which has faded and blended with an attractive smoky blue-gray patina. The bore of the carbine is in about VERY GOOD condition. The bore is partly bright and has strong rifling the entire length of the barrel. The bore shows light pitting that is evenly distributed along its entire length, with some scattered patches of more moderate pitting present as well. The brass frame has a lovely dark bronze patina that is very attractive. The buttplate has a matching deep bronze patina as well. The hinged breechblock operates exactly as it should and moves smoothly. The action of the carbine is excellent and fully functional, and the gun remains in mechanically fine condition. The extractor under the barrel still functions smoothly as well. The carbine retains its original multi-aperture flip up rear sight, as well as the original front sight. The original eyebolt sling ring is present in the wrist of the carbine as well. The stock and forend of the carbine rate about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD. They both show a substantial number of bumps, dings and mars from service and use. The thin, “splinter” style forend shows a handful of minor grain cracks, as well as a couple of chips missing at the juncture of the barrel, frame and forend. There is also some minor cracking and minor wood loss around the extractor mounting housing. The buttstock shows a number of minor surface grain cracks, most of which are the result of stress around the sling ring eyebolt mount and at the frame juncture. The butt and wrist of the buttstock have been professionally checkered, likely during the period of use and when the gun was sold commercially after the war. A number of Warner’s are known with the exact same pattern of checkering, which suggests the retailer who sold them after the war did it. All of the stock defects are fairly minor, but should be well depicted in the numerous high quality photos of the carbine at the bottom of this page.
All in all this is a very attractive example of a fairly scarce and desirable Warner’s Patent Carbine. The gun remains in complete and original condition with no repairs or replacement parts. The frame and buttplate have a wonderful, untouched patina, and the stock (although well worn from issue and use) remains very attractive as well. These earliest guns are from the first delivery under the first contract are quite scarce, even more difficult to find than a standard production Warner. With more than half of the guns produced having been sent to France for the Franco Prussian War, it is hard to find a nice example of these guns for sale at a reasonable price. This is a really nice, complete, early gun for a fair price, that will be a great addition to your carbine collection.SOLD