Lincoln and the Spencer Rifle
Gather round for a story about the indomitable President Lincoln and the famous Spencer rifle.
The popular version of the story tells how on late a Summer day in 1863 Christopher Spencer, the inventor of the Spencer repeating rifle, took his invention to the White House to demonstrate it for the President. On that day out in the backyard of the White House Lincoln took the rifle in his hand and fired seven rounds at a painted target board, hitting it in rapid succession. Duly impressed the story goes that he ordered a large quantity of the rifles on the spot.
That board that he shot at that day is in the picture above having been given to Christopher Spencer as a souvenir.
The Real Story
Now for the real story. It turns out that the Spencer rifle was already in service in the Federal Army in small numbers. The Navy Department had heard about it and wanted to order some for their own use. Eventually, the Navy’s request reached the desk of Lincoln who was intrigued and asked for a rifle to evaluate for himself. He received one, and it didn’t work. He took the second one, and it didn’t work. After that, he denied the request for the Navy and went about his business (you know, running a war).
A higher up at the Spencer Company heard about the President’s experience and sent Christopher Spencer to change his mind. Once in front of Lincoln, he had Spencer strip the rifle down. Once reassembled they went out and shot at the board. The same one in the picture above. The rifle worked perfectly this time. Lincoln thanked Spencer and sent him on his way.
The next morning Lincoln went out with his secretary and shot the rifle again and became duly impressed. Eventually, an order was placed and the Spencer became a part of history. So not quite as exciting as the campfire tale that is told, but even the biggest legends have to start somewhere.