The Springfield Model 1873, often referred to as the Springfield "Trapdoor" Model 1873, was the first breechloading rifle to be adopted by the US army (although the earlier "Trapdoors" such as the Model 1865 or Model 1868 had been used by the American armed forces in very limited numbers).
The Springfield Model 1873 used the heavily refined hinged breechblock mechanism, often referred to as the "Trapdoor" because of its hinge located ontop of the barrel which opens vertically. This mechanism had originally been designed by Erskine S. Allin for the Springfield Model 1865 (named, occasionally, the "First Allin") and had been improved through the Model 1866 and Model 1868. The Model 1868 would also form the basis of the Model 1873, although with several significant changes.
The barrel of the Model 1873 was made of a low grade steel, rather than iron as the Model 1868 (and earlier Springfields, all the way back to the Model 1795 Musket) had used. It was also given a tighter 1:22 rifling twist (producing a greater spin on the bullet than the Model 1868 was capable of) and the bore was changed to accept the smaller .45-70 Government cartridge, which fired a .45 caliber (11.4mm) bullet.
Other mechanical features to be changed from the Model 1868 included the hammer, which was rounded off (to improve the contact with the firing pin, and reduce the potential to dislodge it) and rear sight, which was changed and moved further along the barrel (improving the accuracy of the Model 1873 when using the sights).
Major aesthetic changes were made to the Model 1873 with parts such as the stock given rounded edges, screw heads rounded off (and rivets replaced by screws), metal parts blackened (or occasionally browned) and the ramrod being redesigned to improve the grip when using it to clean the barrel. Furthermore the front barrel band was redesigned to improve the sling swivel (where the sling was attached to the rifle) to allow a stacking swivel to be attached (to allow large numbers of Model 1873s to be stacked together in armories).
The Springfield Model 1873 used the .45-70 Government, the first instance of this cartridge being used in any rifle. The .45in (11.4mm) bullet was smaller than the .50in (12.7mm) bullet of the .50-70 Government cartridge originally designed for the Springfield Model 1866. This change improved the muzzle velocity that could be achieved by the Model 1873 (the smaller bullet was also lighter) and the greater barrel twist improved the accuracy of the Model 1873 over the Model 1866 and Model 1868.
The Springfield Model 1873 was a popular gun for infantry use. It won the approval of the Board of Ordnance Officers (a group drawn together to select the most appropriate breechloading rifle to replace older rifled muskets, like the famed Springfield Model 1861) and immediately a carbine version was designed (for cavalry). Further refinements were made in 1875, with these improvements being named the Model 1875.
Springfield Model 1873 CarbineEdit
The Springfield Model 1873 Carbine was heavily based on the Model 1870 Carbine, with the same design changes as the full size Model 1873 had endured. The Model 1873 Carbine was given a 22in (0.56m) barrel with the same 1:22 twist rate.
Springfield Model 1875Edit
The Springfield Model 1875 was often referred to as the "Officer's Rifle" (as it was usually wielded by Officers who could afford the higher $36 price) featured a checkered stock (around the breech) and was finished in white metal. It was also given the possibility of having a hair trigger (as the Model 1873 had received limited critism for a heavy trigger) and had changed sights (a "buckhorn" rear sight and "globe and pinned" foresight).
The Springfield Model 1873 was the first breechloading rifle to have been selected for US service after tests by the Board of Ordnance Officers. This was the second phase of standardisation in the US armed forces, after the Model 1868 had been issued to some units to replace older firearms. The Model 1873 would be replaced in 1884 (in part) by the Springfield Model 1884, before ultimately being replaced by the bolt-action Krag-Jørgensen (as the "Trapdoor" mechanism fell out of favour in America).
The first use of the Model 1873 was the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn in June, 1876. It was at this time that the .45-70 Government cartridge received heavy criticism as it could expand when fired and jam the Model 1873. From this point forward all US made cartridges were made of Brass, which would not expand as much as the copper cartridge the .45-70 Government was originally made in.
The Model 1873 would also see notable use in the Spanish-American War (as a sidearm) and the Phillipene-American War. The Model 1873 was a significant evolution in the Springfield rifle design which would remain in use until the introduction of the Krag-Jørgensen in 1892.
- .45-70 Springfield-Book II - 1865-1893