Welcome to today’s Photo of the Day! Here we have America’s first bolt action rifle. This is the Greene Underhammer Rifle. Lt. Col. J. Durrell Greene of the U.S. Army devised this innovative breechloader with an unconventional oval bore. He obtained the distinctive oval-rifled barrel equipment from the renowned Charles Lancaster firm of London. Around 1,500 of Greene’s inventive rifles were produced for American customers, while 3,000 more were made for Russia. Though it was the first bolt-action military rifle engineered in America, only 900 were purchased by the U.S. Army.
The truly ingenious feature was loading two bullets – one remained in the breech as a seal, while the other exited the barrel when fired. During reloading, the leftover bullet moved into firing position as a new “gas seal” bullet took its place. Each bullet had a dual purpose: first sealing the breech, then becoming the projectile on the subsequent shot. Unlike other underhammer designs, these rifles required capping underneath the barrel, so percussion caps often detached at inopportune moments. This less-than-ideal occurrence led to its quick discontinuation.
“Around 1,500 of these rifles were manufactured for the U.S. contracts in addition to 3,000 for a Russian contract in 1859 to the early 1860s. These are considered to be the first bolt action firearms adopted by the U.S. Ordnance Dept. and are also the only U.S. contract weapons to use an underhammer system. It also has Charles Lancaster’s distinctive oval rifling. The design was patented by Lieutenant Colonel James Durrell Greene of the 5th Massachusetts Militia (brevet Brigadier General during the Civil War in the 17th United States Regular Infantry) and manufactured at Asa H. Water’s armory in Millbury, Mass. Some were reportedly used at the Battle of Antietam by the Massachusetts militia, and the distinctive Greene cartridges with the powder ahead of the bullet have been recovered from that battlefield. It has a bayonet stud/blade front sight, notch and folding ladder rear sight, “GREENE’S PATENT/NOV. 17 1857.” on the upper tang, the serial number is on the bottom of the bolt, and no visible government markings.”
Lot 266: Civil War Greene Underhammer Breech Loading Percussion Rifle – Civil War Era Greene Patent Bolt Action Underhammer Percussion Rifle. (n.d.-l). Rock Island Auction Company. photograph. Retrieved July 31, 2023, from https://www.rockislandauction.com/detail/77/266/civil-war-greene-underhammer-breech-loading-percussion-rifle.