By Richard T. Addison
|Norwich Armory in 1864|
Norwich, the scene of our present story, is a beautiful city of Connecticut, at the head of navigation on the Thames, where that pleasant river is formed by the confluence of the Yantic and Shetucket.
It is a wide-awake little town, and as vociferous in sounds of busy and thriving industry as any place of its size in the good old State of steady habits, or, indeed, in all the thronged length and breadth of Yankeedom. The natural features of the neighborhood are so surpassingly picturesque that the stranger might well fancy himself in some famous summer resort far off from the strife and the din of commerce and of common life; while, on the other hand, its noble lines of manorial and palatial residences smack most fragrantly of the elegance and sumptuosity of the favored suburban aside some great metropolis.
Besides these unexpected landscape charms, and these unwonted social delights of the old place, many a chronicle of historic interest has embellished its wild hills and glens during its long life of more than two centuries; chronicles which it might he pleasant and profitable to read, were it not that we find there scenes of yet greater and fresher attraction in the resounding halls of the great armories which the exigencies of the times and the boundless capacity of American will and skill have so magically conjured up during the past two or three eventful years.
In studying the craft of the armorer, always the most curious and most cunning of all crafts, but of supremest attraction now, in this terrible hour of national trial, we turn to the private rather than to the public or Government works. not only that the former are less known, but that the individual effort, in this as in all other things, better illustrates the genius of the people and better promotes progress; relying as it ever does upon its merits alone for success. We bid the reader also to Norwich rather than to some other of the many similar enterprises which have so lately grown up in various parts of the land, because the works there are of all others the first in the magnitude of their operations, and in their assurance of perpetuity when minor establishments may, and no doubt will, pass with the passing of the necessity which has called them into existence.
|Lock, stock, and forge department at Norwich Armories|
The ease and celerity with which the capitalists and the artisans of Norwich, and of so many other places, have at a moment's call turned from their looms and their spindles of a lifetime to so untried, so intricate, and so difficult a toil as that of the manufacture of arms is scarcely less astonishing than is the wonderful success which has followed their efforts. That the national works, as those at Springfield, should he, as they have been, trebled even in extent, as soon as the enlargement was required, is highly creditable to the public capacity and energy but how much more commendable and gratifying is it that such enterprise - guaranteed in it result and reward by the treasury of it great nation - has been, in degree, more than rivaled by individual effort; and that effort, made boldly in the dark, almost without precedent and in a new and most difficult labor. The day thus seems not distant when the people, in their private enterprise, may outstrip the Government even in this great Government specialty, the arming of the nation; for though lacking, perhaps, the assurance doubly sure of the public purse, are they not free from the red tape which ever more or less binds the best of governments in that prejudiced indolence of indifference which prevents their seeing the ever opening paths of progress; or, if they see them, delays their following them with the necessary spirit and speed. Whether will the inventor most likely and most wisely turn with Ids new discoveries, his valuable improvements in machinery or in manufacture, to the tedious and ungracious ante-rooms of official dignity, or to die ever-watchful, ever-ready, ever-accessible, and - when it promises to pay - ever-liberal individual capitalist? Thus, at Norwich, we shall see anon, there is an immense production of a new and beautiful breech-loading arm, recently invented by a Western mechanic, and which promises, in its superior construction and capacity, to exceed and supersede all similar weapons now in use.
To these remarks it may not be amiss to add the curious fact, illustrative of the vis inertia of great governmental organizations, that though the English authorities were some years ago most liberally permitted to make drawings of our own wonderful machines for the turning of irregular forms, those machines now used everywhere among us in the making of the stock of the gun, and though copies of the machines were also made here and taken to England, with American mechanics to erect and to operate them, yet such have been the obstructions thrown in the way of their adoption in the British armories by this, that, and the other opposing interest, that to this day the gun-stock, which these machines produce with such marvelous rapidity and accuracy, is, except at the works at Enfield, and maybe a few other minor establishments, yet made in the old toilsome and uncertain way by hand; and this despite the asserted fact that the watching of the magical movements of the stocking-machines was a never-ending wonder and recreation of the late Prince Albert.
The capital of the Norwich Arms Company (the corporate name of the Norwich works) is six hundred thousand dollars. The capacity of the establishment is greater than was that of the Government foundries at Springfield before their extensive enlargement at the commencement of the war, and is nearly half as great as is that of those works now in their increased extent. With their present machinery and accommodations the Company are able to produce about four hundred finished muskets per day, or two hundred of the Springfield arm, and as many more of the new and beautiful breech-loading rifle to which we have already once alluded, and of which we shall speak further hereafter. Just now, as we write, the works are producing about twelve hundred muskets, three thousand bayonets, and two thousand locks, besides rifles and carbines, per week. The product of the works in their present capacity would reach a value of nearly a quarter of a million of dollars annually in their yield of four hundred muskets or other arms daily, at the Government price of twenty dollars each. Of course this product may be at any time increased by adding to the working facilities of the Company.
A glance at the illustrations at the opening and closing of this paper will sufficiently enlighten the reader in respect to the exterior appearance of the works at Norwich. The buildings, though spacious and substantial, and though charmingly located, make no especial pretensions to architectural beauty. They are simply solid and serviceable brick structures designated for use rather than for show, after the general style of the New England factory edifices. The larger of the two piles of buildings occupied by the Armory 18 situated directly within the city, and under the shelter of one of the bold, rocky hill-sides which give so much picturesque beauty to the place. It. is known as the Barrel and Bayonet Department, and is used in the execution of various finishing processes in the making of the barrel and of the bayonet, as we shall see when we come to enter it by-and-by. The extent of the building is two hundred and eighteen feet in length and sixty feet in breadth, with a wing of one hundred and twenty feet by fifty feet. In height it is three stories, with spacious basements and attics. The apartments are huge, well-ventilated, and in all respects thoroughly appointed for the use for which they are designed.
The other buildings are at some little distance removed, and are delightfully perched upon the quiet banks of the Shetucket, one of the two beautiful streams which, uniting their waters at Norwich, form the River Thames. These edifices contain the stocking-rooms, the great lock-rooms, the rolling-mills, drops, trip-hammers, forges, and smithies of the establishment. It is a wonderful place, and we will enter it first in our proposed study of the armorer's art.
A musket is certainly a very simple piece of mechanism when seen casually in its finished state; but the reader would hardly so consider it after watching the myriad varying and wonderful processes by which it is produced, and the marvelous machinery employed in its construction. His estimation of the work may possibly be very considerably heightened by a knowledge of the one little fact that each arm, simple as it looks, is made up of no less than forty-nine distinct parts, all of which, except two that remain permanently attached to other parts, may be taken to pieces and put together again, in the space of a few minutes, simply by loosening screws and opening, or shutting springs that any one of the half-hundred pieces can be used with-out failure in the breadth of a hair in connection with any or all other parts of any one of a million of guns, so wonderfully precise is the machinery employed in its unerring operations. Then, too, not only is the gun thus divided into so many distinct pieces, all accurately fitting any part of any other gun, but the number of separate operations made upon each and every weapon amounts to more than four hundred, no two of which are performed by the same hand, and are, indeed, all so distinct in their character that the artisan employed upon one may have and generally has no knowledge whatever of any other.
The most curious part of the gun in its construction, though by no means the most vital in its use, is perhaps the stock, which in shape is so mysteriously eccentric, and runs riot in such a marvelous maze of grooves, and cavities, and sockets - of planes and perforations - that it would seem to be utterly impossible to fashion it by any species of machinery, or in any way except by the laborious hand process. And such indeed was the ease with us, as with all the rest of the arms-making world, until the now eminent machinist, Thomas Blanchard, formerly of Springfield, and now of Boston, Massachusetts, had the wonderful wit to invent a machine for the turning of irregular forms, which he speedily adapted to the manufacture of gunstocks, and introduced into the Springfield Armory about the year 1820. Since that period the stock has been always made here by machinery, and - borrowing our models to some extent - also in the British and other European works. It is very much to this great invention, which made so complete a revolution in the armorer's art, that America owes her proud pre-eminence over all the world in this high department of human ingenuity and industry. Mr. Blanchard's discovery is now made available in a thousand manufactures of irregular forms besides that of the gun-stork; such as axe-handles, shoe-lasts, and even in the accurate copying of the choicest productions of the chisel.
Let us overlook the forbidding inscription "Positively no Admittance," on the grim walls of the edifice on the Shetucket, and entering the great halls watch for a while the weird movements of those mechanical genii, the stocking-machines. With what speed and with what grace and precision they act, and how wonderfully nice and accurate is their work There is a rude, misshapen, Caliban-like chunk of black-walnut, which looks as though it might be more at home in its native forest wilds in Pennsylvania or Canada. It is placed in the first of the machines, from whence it speedily emerges with its sides cut to the proper shape for turning. Passing the ordeal of another machine, it comes out with its butt-end daintily sawed, and with a diagonal line cut at the breech. The third, armed with two circular saws, fashions the upper part of the stock in its finished form. Another machine reduces the butt to its ultimate shape. Another simply planes vitriolic places in the sides of the stock as points for the working of yet other machines - an operation which is known as spotting. A sixth Machine performs six distinct items, called grooving for the barrel, breech-pin, and tang, heading-down, milling, and finish-grooving. The stock is at this stage prepared for the fitting in of the barrel. A sevenths machine planes the top, bottom, and sides, while the eighth and ninth do the shaping and bedding for the butt-plates. The next machine, which is of all the most curious in its performances, prepares the stock for the reception of the lock. Yet another machine is used to cut for the guards, to bore for the side-screws of the lock, and two more to make places for tips and hands. After these various operations comes the second turning and smoothing of the work; then the grooving for the ramrod and afterward, by a still different machine, the boring for the ramrod from the point at which the groove ends. These machines are provided each with a pattern or mold in iron, which is the exact counterpart of the cavity or other form to be produced in the stock. They are furnished also with cutters or borers, which being placed above the stock are made to revolve rapidly, and with various motions, as the workman wills, cutting the wood with surprising velocity and speed, and in exact imitation of the pattern below. The movements of the borer or cutter are controlled by a guide which is inserted within the pattern. The tool is made to revolve by means of small machinery within its frame, the frame and all within it moving together with both lateral and vertical motions. The movements of the cutting tool are not subject to the will and pleasure of the workman, but are rigidly governed by the guide, which is connected with it by the aid of a very intricate and curious machinery. The work of the artisan, when the machine is in motion and the stock is adjusted in its bed within it, beneath the borers or cutters, is simply to bring the guide down into the pattern, and move it about the circumference and through its center. The cutting-tool follows the action of the guide inexorably, and the result is a perfect duplicate in the stock of the form in the mold below.
The vital portion of the musket is, of course, the barrel, and its construction involves an amount and variety of careful and delicate labor, almost incredible to one unfamiliar with the complicated process. The barrel is made from a plate of iron, or scalp, as it is technically called, of about a foot in length, which, when heated to a white heat, is rolled around an iron rod and then passed through a rolling-mill, or rather through three separate sets of rollers, each of which in turn elongates the scalp, and at the same time reduces its diameter and helps to give the proper size and taper to the barrel.
Until very recently the barrels were produced by the much slower and much less satisfactory process of welding under the weighty blows of trip-hammers upon anvils which contained a die (after the manner of the present "drop") of the form desired, a similar die being placed above, within the descending hammers. This style of welding the barrel required numerous beatings and many blows of the hammer, since but a small portion of the seam could be closed at one time, and when completed it was a far more costly labor and much less perfect than is the work of the rolling-machine. The roller is an English invention, and its mode of operation is said to have been known to one individual only in America prior to the breaking out of the present war. At that period there was but one set of rollers in the country which, together with the operative who worked it, had been procured from England a few years before by the superintendent of the armory at Springfield. The English workman keeping his secret, and refusing to impart it to others, had the field to himself until the necessities of our government compelled the importation of more machines and more men to work them. The process is a secret now no longer among us; and the barrel which a few years ago cost twelve cents to weld is now rolled for four. The operation is a very responsible one, and is said to be difficult of thorough practical acquisition. Four men are employed in the working of each mill, one to heat the scalps or barrels, a second to straighten them after passing through the rollers, the catcher who catches them as they come from the mill, and lastly the fireman.
When the barrel is rolled it is next subjected to the process of boring, which at the Norwich Works is done at the Barrel Department building. At this stage of the labor, it is, of course, very much larger in the circumference and smaller in the bore than it is meant to be when finished, since each successive operation will more and more reduce the metal. So great, indeed, is the reduction which thus takes place, that while the barrel or the scalp passes into the rollers with a weight of ten pounds, it comes out reduced to seven, and when it is entirely finished it is only four and a half pounds, so that more than one half of the first weight of the metal is lost in the forging, or is cut away in the boring and in other finishing operations.
The boring of the barrel is a process by which the hollow or bore is widened, and by which at the same time the roughnesses left there by the rolling-machine are removed. Formerly it was the custom to subject the barrel to no less than half a dozen of these operations, but at the present time four only are allowed, each one of which, in its turn, contributes to enlarge the interior diameter or calibre until it has reached almost the size required. We say almost, because other processes have to be used before the part is finished, and some allowance has to be made for the small quantity of metal which they may yet take away. Besides the flair borings, there is yet another, called the rifling of the barrel, which differs, however, so widely from the boring proper, and is a process of such great interest and importance that it will claim our notice under a distinct head. The boring is performed by augers, in the form, not of the ordinary tool so called, but of highly polished square bars of steel, with extremely sharp edges, and mounted for convenience in handling them at the end of long, stout iron rods. The barrels are placed in heavy square iron frames called boring banks, when the shank of the auger is inserted into the center of a wheel at one end of the bank, where the proper machinery gives it a slow rotary motion, and also a yet slower progressive movement.
The interior of the work thus properly advanced, attention is now given to the exterior, and the barrel is placed in a lathe and subjected to the operation of turning, by which its outer surface is reduced, and the various unevennesses removed, as were those of the inside under the action of the augers in the boring. In the turning the piece is maintained in the lathe by the help of mandrels inserted into its two ends, when it revolves so slowly as to bring all parts of its surface gradually under the action of the tool. The barrel has at the same time a slow progressive motion, and the instrument, or cutter, together with the rest in which it is secured, both advances and recedes with en even and gradual progression, by means of which the barrel receives the proper taper from the breech to the muzzle. It is through the rotation of the barrel though that this part of the work is chiefly accomplished. The most curious feature, to the casual observer of this part of the work, is to see the hard iron curl up under the action of the turning tool, in shavings as smooth and flexible as any which accompany the carpenter's plane.
After the barrel is turned its surface is still further perfected in the grinding rooms, where it is subjected to the action of ponderous and swiftly-revolving stones, against which all parts of it are successively pressed. In this operation the workman manages his piece by holding it on a long iron rod, inserted into the bore, which rod is furnished with a crank-like handle to aid in turning the barrel round and round against the stone.
The barrel is inserted into a hole in the wooden case - in which the stone is, for safety, enclosed - where it is pressed hard against the stone by the help of a lever placed behind the workman, and against which he leans more or less heavily, according to the force required. These grindstones inure with such velocity, and the reaction of the iron of the barrel upon them is so great, that less than a fortnight's use wears them down from their original diameter of eight feet to the reduced dimensions of two feet, at which point they are rejected and replaced.
The grinding of the barrel was, in former days, esteemed a very dangerous performance, and it is not without its risks at the present time. The stones have been known to burst and to scatter their huge fragments in all directions; sometimes with very fatal results. Such an accident occurred years ago at the Springfield works, when several of the operatives were thrown down, but no one, fortunately, was seriously hurt - the workman who had been grinding at the stone having had the good luck to absent himself from his post only a moment or two before the catastrophe. This danger is now very much lessened by the improved methods of securing the stories in their places; and instead of the old plan of suspending the ponderous mass on an iron axis passing through a hole cut in the center of the stone, it is now clamped to the axis in such a manner as to avoid the weakening effect of the old way, and the wedging incident to it; and thus, with the decrease of the strain upon it, lessening the liability of the stone to break or burst. Still the labor is more or less unhealthy by reason of the great quantity of fine dust which, escaping from the stone, fills the air, and also in consequence of the great dampness which follows the necessary use of large quantities of water.
Another interesting operation in the manufacture of the barrel is that known as polishing. This is accomplished with the help of hard wooden rubbers, plentifully supplied with lard oil and emery. The barrels are placed in upright frames, five in each frame. The grooved ends of the rubbers are then pressed by springs against the barrels, as they move up and down with a very regular and very rapid motion. At the sometime the barrel is caused to revolve slowly and steadily by a lateral movement, and thus receives a very perfect polish in all its parts. After remaining in the first polishing machine for a quarter of an hour they are transferred to another and similar apparatus, where they undergo a second polishing, differing front the first only in the omission of the use of the emery upon the rubbers, oil alone being employed this time.
The ramrod - to diverge slightly from our especial theme at this moment - is polished by machines very similar in their arrangement to those just described, ten of the rods undergoing the treatment at the same time.
The bayonet is polished by means of wheels, which are bound on their circumference with bands of leather, coated with very fine pulverized emery, applied with a sizing of glue. While these emery wheels are revolving with amazing velocity, the operatives, holding the pieces in their hands, press them upon the circumference until every portion in turn receives a very brilliant polish. During the application a gorgeous train of fiery sparks, or globules of melted metal, shoots from the wheels opposite the workmen. The danger in this operation came not from the emission of the fiery particles but from the suffusion of the air by the constant shower of emery dust, and the inhaling of the deleterious substance into the lungs. The trouble is now almost entirely provided against by the means of air-trunks, which are placed beneath the floor, and so connected with the stones, by suitable openings, as to thoroughly convey away the noxious atmosphere.
No part of the labor upon the barrel is more curious, more subtle, or of greater importance (excepting maybe the welding or rolling) than is the process called straightening. We refer to it at this point, though it does not necessarily follow in exact order. In fact, the operation is performed and re-performed at different stages of the manufacture; as before turning, and again after turning; and following various other processes, any of which may produce some deflection which will require to be corrected. Thus, in the same manner, the boring may require to be repeated and alternated with other labor.
No one needs to be informed that a gun-barrel, to be of any service, should be straight; and yet many which might appear limitless in this regard to the unaccustomed eye, are at once seen by the initiated observer to be atrociously wanting in evenness. The workmen - who are seen in some of our illustrations standing with barrels in their hands, held up to their eyes, in the direction of a window, and those whom the visitor will see thus occupied here and there throughout the armory - are all, for the moment, engaged in the process of straightening the barrels. When the observation here referred to is completed, the operator will be next seen to place the piece upon a small anvil nearby, and then to strike it a gentle blow with his hammer. This blow remedies the little variation which has been detected through the observation at the window.
The workman though, with all his skill and experience, does not always perceive the flaw without artificial aid. This he obtains through the agency of a transparent slate, which, when marked by two parallel lines, is placed in a window pane, and the lines are reflected upon the brilliantly polished surface of the interior of the barrel, in such a manner as to reveal the minutest variation to the vision of the workman though invisible altogether to an unpracticed eye.
In former times a hair or some other very slender line was passed through the barrel, when it was tightened and drawn successively across each portion of the inner surface; the concavities, if any existed, being revealed by the distance which would appear between the line and the reflection of it in the metal.
This plan was next followed by the use of a mirror, which was placed upon the floor near the bench of the workmen. This mirror reflected a diagonal line drawn across a pane of glass, which line was again reflected within the polished bore of the piece, when it was adjusted in a proper position to receive such reflection. The two parallel shadows, thrown by the reflection upon the opposite sides of the glittering interior, were made by another deflection to come to a point at the lower end; their appearance instantly revealing defects if they existed, and the precise point which required revision. The use of the mirror upon the floor saved the workman the labor of holding the barrel up to the window for each of his observations. The barrel was by this method also placed in a proper rest, so that it could be directed with ease and exactness toward the tale-telling lines reflected into and from the glass. The method of straightening the barrel, just described as the one now generally used, is said to have been for a long while the carefully-guarded secret of one man alone, from whom it could neither he coaxed, nor bought, nor stolen. This lucky proprietor was long fruitlessly watched before his mystery was at length revealed. Day after day his confreres peered knowingly into the barrels which passed through his hands, always failing - as you would fail, good reader, should you try it - to see what he saw.
|Breech-loading rifle - open and shut|
When the barrels are nearly finished, after undergoing the various operations which we have described, they are subjected to the actual test of powder and ball. For this purpose they are taken to a place especially set apart, and known as the proving-room, where they are loaded with a charge much heavier than any they are likely to be subjected to at any after-time. A number of barrels are tested at the same discharge. They are placed side by side in the grooves, which are made upon the top of a massive cast-iron table or platform. A train of powder connecting with each piece is laid on the back side of the stand, from whence it is conducted through a hole to the outside of the apartment or building. When all is prepared and the room closed the train is fitted, and the battery of barrels send their unwonted contents into the earth-works, which stand in the shape of a bank of clay on the opposite side of the room. The general result is, fortunately, that nobody is hurt, unless it be a weak brother here and there among the barrels themselves, which, not chancing to respond fully to all that the service requires of them in efficiency, burst under the trial, and are condemned to obscurity ever after. It has, however, happened that the barrels have exploded prematurely, and the man superintending their disposition been cruelly slain. Such a sad catastrophe occurred in the proving-room of the armory at Springfield within the past two or three years. The dulled sounds, as of distant thunder, which startle the visitor every now and then as he wanders through the great barrel-room of the Norwich Works, are the heavy reports from the proving-room, which is, of course, in perpetual use.
The barrels which stand the first test are subjected to a second one - but this time with nothing more than the ordinary load - to make sure that they have sustained no damage from the first heavier discharge. This second trial successfully passed, they are stamped with the mark of approval, and are transferred to other departments for further labor. The number of pieces which burst in the proving is hardly more than one in a hundred or one per cent.
All failures are charged to the account of the workman through whose fault the failure has been caused. For this purpose each defective piece is carefully examined, in order to discover whether the fault belongs to the bad quality of the iron, or to imperfect rolling, or to errors and carelessness in other portions of the manufacture. This is readily determined by the appearance of the rent made in the bursting; and as each operative stamps his name upon his work as it passes through his hands the responsibility is as easily fixed as is the cause of the trouble. In the case of the failure of a barrel in the proving, the workman to whose fault the defect is traced is required to pay a dollar therefore, which is not an unreasonable fine, since he is paid for his work by the piece, and is paid well, and since the whole value of the barrel is lost to the establishment through his remissness. The same system of payment and of accountability for defects or bad workmanship extends through all departments, and is found highly provocative of attention and watchfulness everywhere.
The last operation to which the interior of the barrel is subjected is that called rifling, a very dainty and important process, and not very intelligible to the general spectator. The rifling of a gun is the cutting on the surface of the interior, or bore, of the barrel of a series of delicate concentric grooves, or lines, for the purpose of impressing upon the tightly-fitting ball a rotary motion round its axis of progression, and thus to keep it in a straight line as it speeds forward. The principle is very well illustrated by the motion of a top held upright while it is spinning.
The general use of the rifle action, and especially as applied to the ordinary military musket, is of recent date, although the principle itself is almost as old as the hills. Even as far back as the year 1498 there were gun-barrels in Vienna which were furnished with straight grooves, though the object here is supposed to have been nothing more than to provide a space for the deposit of the residues of combustion, and to facilitate the loading by lessening the friction when the ball was pushed home. Rifled, or screwed arms, as they were formerly called, were in use in several countries of Europe as early as the seventeenth century. The French Carabiniers employed them in 1692, and the principle was even adapted to the old matchlocks of a century yet earlier. In Berlin there is yet preserved a rifled cannon with thirteen grooves, of the date of 1664, and another at Munich of eight grooves. The rifled barrel, however, does not appear to have found much favor until the period of the American Revolution, when a regular corps of riflemen was formed in our army, which did such severe execution as to astonish the enemy, and set the military heads of old Europe all to thinking. The meditation did not, however, for a while result in very much, owing in a great measure, no doubt, to the fact that Napoleon did not fully appreciate the subject at its proper value, and so discouraged it in his own great armies, and, of course, in the ranks of his lesser neighbors. The final and universal success of the rifle-barrel in all species of arms, from the little pocket weapon to the ponderous siege-guns, may he credited in a great degree to the persistent preference shown to it at all times by our own people, and especially by our shrewd backwoodsmen and trappers in the West. The chief objection formerly to the rifled bore was the difficulty and slowness of loading; but this objection has been entirely overcome by recent admirable inventions.
At the Norwich Works the rifling is executed in one of the great halls of the barrel department, where a number of beautiful machines, marvelously constructed for the work, are in constant employment. The body of the rifling machine is a broad iron frame, with a horizontal surface, upon which the barrels are placed and firmly secured. The corrugations which are to be made on the inner surface are then cut with narrow bars of steel, which are placed within three apertures near the end of an iron tube, whirls is made to pass through the barrel by a slow motion, both rotary and progressive. The rod snakes twelve revolutions in a minute, and thirty minutes are occupied in rifling a barrel. Looking within the bore at this time the visitor will marvel greatly at the effect which is produced upon his vision by the startling brilliance of the curiously concentric lines, with their flashing and ever-changing light; and, if only as a matter of artistic beauty, he will no longer wonder that the old "smooth bore" has become a bore indeed to all sensible soldiers, who, when they fire, like to fire effectively.
|Musket and bayonet|
With the rolling, boring, turning, milling, straightening, proving, polishing, and rifling processes which we have now cursorily witnessed, the barrel is about finished, and little remains to be yet performed, excepting to attach to it the two of the forty-nine pieces of which it is composed, and to which we have already alluded as the only ones of all these parts which are permanently secured to any other.
Those are called the sight and the cone seat. At the proper stage of the work the barrel is placed in the forge and heated to a white heat, when the cone, which has been previously fashioned by the trip-hammer, is deftly welded upon the barrel by half a dozen more blows of that effective engine. The work is accomplished with no less speed than accuracy. During the process an iron rod is placed in the barrel to preserve the continuity of the bore.
The sights are brazed upon the barrel in slots left for the purpose with pieces of brass wire half an inch in length. In that portion of the works of the Norwich Arms Company which we have described as reflecting its huge walls in the waters of the Shetucket, the visitor will find the great trip-hammers, the ponderous dropping machines, and the forges and furnaces which are used in the fashioning of the various parts of the lock and of many minor, yet no less important, belongings of the finished arms. The great lock-room, in this division of the armory, is an astonishing place where hours and days might be swiftly and charmingly passed in the unraveling of its many magic labors.
The manufacture of the several parts of the lock is accomplished with the aid of the dropping or swaging machine. This effective instrument works very much in the way of the common pile-driver - being simply a construction by means of which a wonderful weight of many tons, varying according to the power required, is dropped upon the object beneath it. Dies of the parts which are to be produced are made of iron, and placed one half on the under end of the drop or weight above, and the other half on the block or anvil underneath. The piece of heated iron out of which the part is to be made is taken from the glowing furnace, placed upon the die which is set on the anvil, when the mighty drop above with the counterpart die is allowed to descend, and, presto! Quicker than we can speak it, out comes the part desired as easily and as completely ant from the hard metal as are the cakes of the simplest housewife when she presses her little tin mold upon the freshly-kneaded dough.
Not less than one hundred and fifty operations are performed upon the several parts of the gun by the dies in the dropping-machines. Many of the pieces are produced by a single drop, though others require more, and some repeated blows. The hammer passes twice through the drop after it has been forged, and the butt-plate is subjected to three separate blows. It is a noisy place here among the forges and hammers, and alarming to see as the globules of fiery metal fly around your ears. The timid or nervous visitor would scarcely feel less at home upon the battle-field itself when the finished arms are at their maddest play.
Notwithstanding the precision with which the dropping-machines execute their task the parts are by no means completed by them; for so great is the accuracy and finish required in the manufacture of arms, that a hundred minute operations are made everywhere after the work seems perfect to the uninitiated observer. Thus a writer, referring to the Enfield Armory in England, speaks of the rifle-barrels which arc manufactured there as of such subtly exact construction that, while a steel gauge of 577 parts of an inch can be passed freely through them, one of 580 will not enter the muzzle. No less minute is the accuracy in the Norwich Works in every division and stage of the work performed. The little part called the cone, for instance, after being struck in the die, has its entire outer surface trimmed, after which a thread is cut upon the screw and both ends are drilled - processes in which fourteen distinct operations are made, after which again it is squared at the base and then casehardened. The hammer, after being forged and dropped, is subjected to the numerous operations of trimming, Flinching, drifting, milling, turning, filing, and casehardening. The little bends which surround the barrel and stock (after they have been struck in the dies of the swaging machine) have their inner surfaces cut out and polished by the process of broaching, in which a remarkably beautiful apparatus – even among so many wonderful inventions - is employed. They are subsequently milled on the exterior by a process known as profiling, then they are drilled for the rings, and afterward they are filed and polished and case-hardened.
The bayonet-blade is forged under a trip-hammer, after which it is rolled to its proper form - somewhat as the barrel is rolled. The socket is then forged, when blade and socket are welded together. It is next passed twice beneath the drop, after which it is ground and then polished, in the manner already described, in connection with the polishing of the barrel. The very valuable process of rolling the bayonet, by means of which the milling may be dispensed with, is the invention of a mechanic of Northampton, Massachusetts, and was first used in the private armories.
As with all other portions of the arm so the bayonet is carefully tested in respect to its quality, strength, and temper. It is rigidly gauged and measured in every part, and is sprung by the strength of the workman or the inspector with its extremity set upon the floor, and a weight is suspended from its point to further try its temper. If it fails to answer all the trials thoroughly it is condemned and laid aside.
The ramrod is first cut front such rods, after which it is ground as the barrel is ground, anti the hammer is attached by two operations beneath the drop. Minor work, as the cutting and polishing of the screws, is perfumed with the characteristic ease, grace, rapidity, and certainty of the art in all its divisions of labor. Of the product of the admirable and diversified machinery of the armory it may truly he said "there is no such word as fail," while the mistakes of the operatives themselves are of praiseworthy rarity. The putting together of the several portions of the musket is an important division of labor, which is performed in what is called the assembling room.
In this section of the armory there are gathered great racks of finished barrels and stocks, and cases of hammers, triggers, bands, screws, and other items, from any of which, picked out at random, a completed musket is made, or assembled, as it is called, in an incredibly short space of time. The expert picks up the several parts from their separate cases or rucks, and skillfully adjusting springs and inserting screws, combines them with as easy a dispatch as that with which the compositor will assemble the types for the printing of this paragraph, the entire work not requiring more than ten minutes to execute.
To perform so speedily what would seem to ho such a toilsome task requires, of course, that the workman should have every possible facility, and every serviceable tool, and other aid within his easy and immediate reach. Yet with all such means and appliances in ever so great perfection, it would require hours rather than minutes to assemble a musket but for the fact, already mentioned, that the parts are all made each of its kind so exactly alike that any barrel will fill any stock, and any screw will enter any hole or band for which it is designed of all the thousands and hundreds of thousands which are manufactured from time to time. This uniformity prevails not only throughout the works of the Norwich Armory, but in all the muskets made in all the armories, public or private, throughout the country - at least in all made for Government use, as nearly the entire manufacture everywhere is made. It results from this fact also that a broken weapon may be readily repaired, even by the soldier himself in camp or on the battlefield, if he be only provided, as he usually is, with a few spare screws or springs, and with a small tool made for the purpose. He may even, should he lose his piece in action, speedily concoct another from the various imperfect ones which may lie around him.
The most costly as well as most important of the parts which the workmen in the assembling room have to put together in order to form the complete arm, is the barrel, the value of which is about three dollars. The most inexpensive of the many portions is the little wire called the ramrod spring-wire, the value of which is only one mill, or one dollar for each thousand. The workmen are paid so much per piece for their labor, and so also, as before remarked, are the operatives paid in all other departments according to the value of the article they manufacture and to a graduated tariff of wages.
The weight of the finished musket is nearly ten pounds, and it is sold to the Government for twenty dollars.
All portions of the musket are closely inspected, by persons especially assigned for this duty, in all the various stages of their production, after which (since the work done here at the Norwich Armory is almost, if not entirely, for Government use) they are again closely scrutinized by inspectors appointed by the Government for that purpose.
Should any flaw, even the slightest, he revealed, the part is condemned and set aside without mercy, the loss falling always upon the workman to whose fault or misfortune the defect may be traced. The losses, however, are always comparatively small, telling so unpleasantly as they do upon the operative's sum total of receipts when the busy scene of pay-day comes round; for the artisans at the Norwich Arms Company are no less than other folk, very much controlled in their actions by self-interest, however great may be the influence upon them of higher motives.
What has been said of the processes in the manufacture of the musket applies directly to the production of the other arms at present made at Norwich, and particularly the beautiful new breech-loading rifles and carbines, excepting that portions of the machinery employed vary in accordance with the variations in the size and form of the arms.
The breech-loading rifle is a new invention of Messrs. Armstrong and Taylor of Augusta, Kentucky, and is made in this country only at the Norwich Works. It is adapted to the use of the metalic cartridge, and can he applied with equal ease to the rifle, the carbine, the fowling-piece, or the pistol. The breech is opened by pressing the thumb upon a spring on the small of the stock. This spring half rocks the piece, and at the same time raises a latch and permits the barrel to be turned over to the right, thus exposing the chamber into which the cartridge is inserted. At the edge of this chamber, or portion of the barrel, a lip or segment of the barrel is arranged to work outwardly on a worm screw. On this device rests the lip of the cartridge, and after discharging the piece, and detaching the barrel to reload, a further turn moves the segment and at the same time carries out the alien of the cartridge. This part of the gun is extremely simple and interesting. It is so fashioned as to be secure against all liability to get out of order - a fault but too common to this kind of arm. The piece cleans itself at every discharge, and may be fired a thousand times without fouling, the only debris of the powder being a slight deposit of white dust in the grooves of the rifle. It has been subjected to the severest tests, and its performance has always been most admirable. The rifle of this pattern weighs when completed less than seven pounds and the carbine about six pounds.
Before closing oar description of the processes in the manufacture of the musket or rifle, we will refer to another of the ills which the iron of the armorer is heir to in the little flaw known as the cinder-hole. This is a minute cavity left in the iron when it is prepared, and is considered to be the result of some slight development of gas, forming a bubble in the substance of the metal. When the cinder-hole appears near the inner or bore surface, and the iron is still sufficiently thick to permit it to be done, it may be driven in by a blow of the hammer, and then is bored or cut away in the after-operations. This defect was not, in former years, deemed to be of very great consequence, but it has been found that these holes or air-bubbles retain the moisture and other results of combustion, as the piece is discharged, and afterward, through corrosion, increase in size so as ultimately to prove of fatal injury to the barrel. Therefore, in the present high condition of the art, and the greater excellence demanded, the cinder-hole, when it cannot be removed, is regarded as cause enough for the rejection of the part in which it may be found.
The absolute necessity of all this nice watchfulness and this rigid requirement in the quality and temper of the iron employed in making arms, and also in the perfect use, in all respects, of perfect material, is sufficiently obvious in view of the very grave service which they may be required to perform.
From the lack of such care it has often happened to the poor soldier in the field that his very defense has been his direst danger, and that his weapon, when used, has done more damage to himself than to his enemy. Many of the arms served out at this day to the troops of Continental Europe have no value except as scarecrows, and are far more likely to do execution at the butt than at the muzzle. It is a pity that there must be added to this the fact that but too many of those in the ranks of our own armies are no better provided, despite the great resources of the country in this respect, and that tens, may we not say hundreds of thousands of the poor fellows yet carry the same insufficient weapon manufactured in those same continental shops and borne by the continental soldiers?
This is a difficulty which time alone may remove; yet happily, time can and will very soon accomplish the task with the good aid of such establishments as those of the Norwich Arms Company, and other similar efforts added to the great improvement constantly going forward at the Government works proper,
At the commencement of the present gigantic war, nearly three years ago, and when seventy-five thousand troops were called into the field there were but fifty thousand Springfield muskets at the command of the authorities; and when afterward levy followed levy, in rapid succession, rising from seventy-five thousand to one, two, three, and even five hundred thousand men, not all the industry of the land, even with the help of the prodigious efforts which were made by both public and individual industry and skill, was sufficient to meet the requirement. The consequence was that vast importations had to be made of foreign arms, and while these were at the best far inferior to our own, it so happened - as it generally does so happen in most things - we got not the best such as it was, but the very worst, and to this day it is with such weapons that more than one half of our troops are served.
On the 1st of January, 1863, not more than one hundred and fifty thousand good muskets were in use among us, while the rest wore only the refuse of European manufactories. What the proportion of inferior arms in use in our ranks was at that period the reader may learn by the easy process of subtracting the number of good guns in use from the number of men in the field. The final figuring it is not agreeable to record.
Evert now as we write we have not in use in all our armies more than two hundred and fifty thousand suitable muskets among all the far greater number of volunteers in service. This statement may appear, perhaps, rash, when it is known that large supplies, amounting maybe to one hundred and fifty thousand, now lie stored at the Government Armory at Springfield. These, however, are supposed to be held in reserve for the equipment of new levies, since it has been found more easy to keep the veteran in the field with his old weapon than it is to persuade new recruits there with an insufficient equipment. Experience is a good teacher, and the Yankee soldier is always quick to learn. He knows a good arm from a bad one, and he knows too that he will be better off with the one than the other on his shoulder. He expects to use his weapon seriously and to its fullest capacity, and not, as the European formalist and mercenary so often does, merely to display its terror to scare the foe to death.
This glimpse at the crying need of good arms for our national service, will, we are sure, increase the gratification of the reader at the record we have presented to him of the great advances which the country is every day making in this direction, both in continually improved weapons and in the ever-increasing supply. As he remembers how eagerly the poor soldier is waiting for his trust-worthy piece, he will look again with added interest at all the perplexing mysteries which we have shown to him at Norwich; will find yet more pleasant music in the thundering refrains of the hoarse hammers, and see more meaning in the swarthy and grimed visages of the ever-toiling operatives.
The satisfaction of the Norwich visitor may yet again be increased by the reflection that the great work which he has witnessed is to subserve not only the passing emergency and then cease, but that it is on the contrary merely the begging of far greater good to be wrought out during a long future. Come the happy hour ever so swiftly when peace shall again smile upon the land, our military arm will never more be the nominal thing which it has been in the past. Hereafter, even under the most auspicious circumstances, we shall always stand upon a firm war-footing and as a great military power and people. In such a position there will be required ever-increasing supplies from the armorer both for home security and for foreign defense. Not only will the demands of the General Government, in this line, be enormous, but the State authorities will need other vast supplies, under thenew military organizations which some have already formed, and which the others, no doubt, will soon form. And moreover, so great are the improvements which are being constantly made in the art that it is probable that long before the time shall arrive when all the arms required for the field and for the arsenals of the General and the State governments are provided, there will have been invented weapons so much better in all respects that it will be found desirable to renew the whole complement, and to continue renewing or discarding one supply for other and more serviceable ones. Neither is it to be doubted that, with the pre-eminence, which our country has always held over all others in this high art of manufacturing arms, and which we are by no means likely to lose, the burden may be imposed upon us not only of answering our own vast wants, but of contributing much toward tilling the arsenals of the world.
The toil of the armorer thus promises to be endless, and our private establishments (at least the more considerable of them, as that at Norwich), though they have sprung up in a day simply to meet the emergency of that day, seem destined to become increasing and enduring institutions in the land.
It is much the custom of the present to boast itself over the past, and vaunt its own superiority, not at all times with reason; and yet in the art of making, if not in that of using, arms the self-gratulation may be allowed. The jaw-bone of antiquity was doubtless a formidable weapon, and murderous in the hands of a Samson; but as we have no Samson’s nowadays to wield it its merits need not he considered. The stone and sling of the young volunteer David certainly did good execution on the boastful Philistine, but a modern Minie ball, with its range of nearly a mile, might have been used with more confidence and more certainty. The bows and javelins of the stubborn Medes and Persians, of the Assyrians and the Parthians of old, would be of very little avail against a modern armed host. A flank movement in the fashion of the present day would, we think, sorely puzzle he barbaric hosts of ancient Hellas, with no other means of defense than their pikes of twenty-four feet in length, however adroitly the weapons might be manipulated. The six-foot javelin and the two-edged sword with which the Roman carved himdelf an empire look more worthy of regard, and might be unpleasant even now to encounter in Roman hands. So also would be the longbow, with six feet of span, of the sturdy English archer, if arrows were as portable and as sure in their flight as the cartridge.
One's martial ardor glows even now at the memory of the barbed steed and of the mailed knight of the Middle Ages; the final lance, the trenchant sword, and murderous battle-axe have not quite lost their terrors; and yet with all his gorgeous array, and despite his chivalrous heart, he would cut but an indifferent figure in Virginia, and could hardly be expected to reach Richmond very soon, by either the Rappahannock or the James. In point of fact, the earliest and rudest ventures of the modern soul of war - great gunpowder - were too much for him; and he was extinguished forever by nothing more terrible than the old match-lock arquebuse, tired from a rest, and with no assurance as to where the ball would strike. But the absurd old weapon won the field of Pavia, and forever ended the days of personal encounter in war; for though the pike was used long afterward, and though the bayonet and the sword still glitter on every field, yet it is said that nine-tenths of all the battles fought since that quaint old sire of firearms, the tinder-lighted arquebuse, put the English chivalry to flight, have been decided by musketry and artillery, without the thrust of a bayonet or a blow of a sword, unless in an occasional charge of horse, or in the pursuit of a broken and flying foe. While the unwieldy arquebuse was thus the alpha of that new and splendid era in the history of arms, of which we have just seen the omega in our stroll through the wonderful halls of Norwich, yet long years and weary centuries of war and bloodshed lie between the two extremes of time - years in which watchful science and patient labor have struggled on, adding here a little and there a little to the progress of the art; now discarding the match for the flint, and the flint in turn for the percussion-cap, and at length doing without either; now shortening a barrel, or improving its calibre; now reforming a stock, or producing more ready means for loading and discharging the piece; now adding to its strength and temper - ever increasing its power and precision, and each day giving new lessons in the art of using it.
|The drop, or swaging machine|
With all this steady progress, however, through the centuries, it was not till the period of the French wars of the Revolution against the Tyrolese, and the days of the American Revolution, that the art of making firearms began to show signs of the great excellence to which it has now reached. It was at this time that the rifle came into use, with its improved accuracy of aim, and giving rise to many other important improvements, which have at length culminated in the common and scarcely-remarked production of the variety of beautiful arms now everywhere in use.
We bid adieu to Norwich with the single regret marring the pleasure of our visit, that there should ever be occasion for the wonderful performance which we have so earnestly and so delightedly watched; and with the hope that the good time will eventually come, the world over, when the armorer may be able to turn to richer and more peaceful ways of employing his toil and genius.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. March 1864.