Sharps Carbines in New Mexico

In February of 1854, the government shipped 30 M1851 Sharps Carbines to the Department of New Mexico for field tests. The following letter (found in Nat’l Archives microfilm number 1120, roll 3, at 1125) briefly discusses the trial of one such weapon and the distribution of carbines amongst the various commands.


Headquarters Fort Defiance, N.M.
April 10, 1854

Ft. Union, W.A.Nichols
Asst. Adjt. Gen.


Pursuant to instructions from the headquarters of this department, under the date of March 29th, 1854, calling for the result of our experiment with Sharp’s carbine, I have the honor to report that although we were at first, from insufficient practice, prejudiced against this carbine, the effect of more numerous trials, has been to thoroughly convince us (waiving the consideration of the pistols), of its great superiority over every other fire arm that we have yet seen for the use of mounted corps, and especially for such use in Indian warfare.

It is incomparably superior to the musketoon in every aspect, except in its balance; its gauge and accuracy are greater than those of Hall’s Carbine. While it is certainly more liable to get out of order; it holds up its ball much better than the service rifle does. Its accuracy is superior to the latter (especially at long distance) while it loads far more rapidly, with less display of the pers0n’s [sic], and with less liability to accident.
From its manner of loading there is no objection to giving its barrel a length equal to that of the musketoon (an increase of about 4 inches) which would only slightly add to its weight, but would increase ___________ ____________and improve its balance.

In our trials we observed no tendency to get out of order from its manner of loading, that seemed to be perfect, and all danger of having a ball stick in the barrel from want to coolness in loading is obviated.

In relation to the primers, (Maynard), the mechanical construction works admirably, but the primers themselves that were furnished to us were bad. Out of 200 which we tested, only 40 exploded the charges; but whether this was due to a deficiency in the quality or quantity of the fulminate, or to the paper having driven into the vent of the cone; or to some other cause, we cannot tell as yet, but one of the common service caps failed to ignite a charge.

The primers apparently were quite useless and jammed. Their covering was perfect, but their real character rendered it impracticable to test their power of resisting moisture and rough usage.

I believe the officers here, who have witnessed the trials, fully concur with me in these observations.

Very respectfully,

H.L. Kendrick
Capt. 2nd Arty. & B. Major
Comd. Fort Defiance

Fort Union Ord Depot
April 25, 1854


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt, this inst. of your letter of the 29th March ult. — enclosing the copy of a letter, Chief of Ordnance, dated Feb. 15th & relative to the xxxxxxxx of Sharps Carbine for our service. In reply I have to state that thirty of Sharps carbines were sent to this Depot, 29 of them were almost immediately issued, as follows, 8 to Major Carleton, 5 to Capt. Ewell 6, to Major Kendrick, 5 to Lt. Johnson Co. F 1st Dragoons & 5 to Bvt. Lt. Col. Chandler. As the arm has been entrusted to these officers for trial, I suppose that their reports would be most satisfactory. Not having had an opportunity to give the arm a trial in field service, I am unable to afford any information other than was derived from seeing a few rounds fired from one of them at a target at the distance of 600 yards, where I discovered that the recoil of the piece was so great as to present that accuracy which is expected in a rifle. I also discovered that the Maynard primer was liable to injury from each fire, in consequence of several of the caps exploding at a time, and I observe that several officers into whose hands they have further found the same fault & have requested caps of the old pattern to be issued for the arm to obviate the uncertainty of fire with the Maynard primer.

Very Respectfully,
I am, Sir,
Your Obd.Svt.
W.R. Shoemaker
Master of Ordnance
Comg. Depot