The US Military’s first breechloading rifle —- The Hall M1819,
Invented in 1811 by John Hancock Hall, the Hall rifle was the first breechloading firearm to be adopted by the US Military and the first breechloading rifle to be adopted by any nations’ military in significant quantities. A unique breechloading design, the Hall rifle featured a breech that pivoted upward, exposing the chamber for loading (see pic above).
The user then loaded the chamber with powder and a bullet. While self contained metallic cartridges had yet to be invented, the breechloading mechanism of the Hall rifle was still significantly faster and easier to load than contemporary muzzleloading firearms. More importantly, since this was a breechloading firearm, it could use bullets that were the exact same caliber as the rifle itself (.525), thus increasing accuracy. Before the invention of the minie ball, muzzleloading rifles had to be loaded with a bullet slightly under caliber to ease the process of craming a ball against the rifling of a barrel. Hence why armies at the time prefered smoothbore muskets over muzzleloading rifles. The Hall rifle’s breechloading mechanism made rifle more practical for the battlefield. The Hall rifle used a flintlock mechanism for ignition, with the pan, frizzen, and cock mounted on the top of the breech. Typically the Hall would have been loaded using paper cartridges.
The US Army adopted the Hall rifle in 1819. In subsequent tests it was found that the Hall rifle, in the hands of skilled soldiers, could fire 8-9 rounds per minute. In addition, the Hall rifle was 16% more accurate than smoothbore muskets at the time. The biggest drawback of the Hall was that it’s breechloading mechanism allowed gasses to escape from the breech, decreasing muzzle velocity by 1/3rd compared to common muskets.
Production of the Hall rifle began in 1819 at Harper’s Ferry National Armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1833 upgraded models entered production which featured a more reliable percussion action rather than flintlock.
Between 1819 and 1846, 51,184 Hall rifles were produced, most at the Harper’s Ferry Armory. The rifles were issued to rifle regiments and sharpshooters, as well as cavalry and dragoons since the breechloading system was easier to load from horseback. The Hall rifle saw combat during the Mexican American War as well as limited use during the American Civil War.
While the Hall rifle was a great improvement over other firearms of the day, it was also costly and time consuming to manufacture. As a result, the backbone of the US Army remained the Springfield Musket up to the end of the Civil War.