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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
(Non-U.S.) Black Powder, Metallic Cartidge, Military Rifles
1865 to 1890
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M1868 & M1870 Spanish Remingtons
(Fusil Remington Norteamericano Mo. 1870)
Fusil Remington Norteamericano Mo. 1870
THE REMINGTON-BUILT SPANISH ROLLING BLOCKS
Historical Context: From the 1492 discovery of the New World, through Spanish conquests in North Africa in the early 1500s, the acquisition of the Netherlands in 1506 by marriage, claiming of the Philippines in 1521, and conquering Portugal in 1580, Spain was called “The Mistress of the World” and “Queen of the Ocean.” But, unlike Great Britain’s experience, this period of glory was fueled by gold exploited from its New World territories and, as the gold flow slowed, so did Spain experience a slow sporadic decline, beginning from the loss of its Great Spanish Armada of 1588. 200 years later Spain was still a force to be reckoned with, but Spain’s union with Napoleon to fight the British ultimately resulted in its fleet meeting the British fleet at Trafalgar on the southern coast of Spain in October, 1805. Spain suffered a terrible naval defeat in which its sea power was permanently destroyed. The ensuing years of civil war and loss of overseas possessions decimated the Spanish economy. Spanish civil strife became so rampant that in 1868 other European monarchies intervened, leading to the abdication of Queen Isabella II. A new period of political whipsawing between republican government and a desire for monarchy ensued, with some modicum of stability beginning in 1874 with the reign of Alfonso II, through the regency of Maria Christina to 1902.
While wealth from its overseas possessions continued to flow, Spain had never industrialized, nor did its citizens compete significantly in the global economy. Military defeat abroad (the Spanish American War of 1898) and poverty at home caused unrest to continue in Spain throughout the first part of the 20th century, until General Francisco Franco’s victory during the Spanish Civil War in April of 1939, led to relative stability to the present day.
The great political turmoil in Spain during the middle of the 19th century, that is the instability of the government from 1868 into the roughly 1873-4 period, is associated with both “La Gloriosa” (La Revolución de 1868), corresponding with the adoption of the M1867 Spanish Berdans detailed elsewhere, and the Third Carlist War (1872-1876) corresponding with the Spanish Government’s adoption of a series of classic Remington rifles that would see the model purchased directly from Remington and also manufactured in Spain by Spanish armories from about 1870 all the way to their very last 1,000 manufactured Rolling block rifle in 1891.
This rifle is, without question, the quintessential Remington military rifle of the Rolling Block era. When the phrase “.43 Spanish Remington” is used, it is this rifle which is most commonly being referred to. Spain’s interim Spanish Berdan conversions were well understood to be only a stop-gap to a new rifle. Trials to select a new breech-loading rifle were held in 1867-1868 but Spain was in great need of new rifles and thus well before the Remington was officially adopted by the Spanish provisional government in 1871, at least 10,000 (Layman) and possibly as many as 32,000 (Walter) Remington-built rifles had been ordered and delivered to Spain’s Cuban colony for use there by the Spanish Ejército de Ultramar (Overseas Army).
While this was going on, the Spanish were also intent on licensing production rights to the rolling block and began their own manufacture of the Remington-design rifles at Oviedo in 1870 beginning with the M1870 Royal Bodyguard Remington and following on in 1871 with the M1871 Spanish Remington.
There were at least three separate contracts of rifles filled by Remington between 1869 and 1873 resulting in three different production runs and three slightly different rifles, if only in markings. These are detailed below.
Walter indicates that after 1878, these Remington-manufactured rifles were relegated to the Cuerpo carabineros, or border guards once sufficient Spanish-manufactured infantry rifles were available to arm Spain’s regular troops.
This rifle is the Remington Rolling Block standard that most American collectors are familiar with which isn’t otherwise easily identified by markings or obvious distinguishing characteristics. Like all Remington Rolling Block rifles, the action is locked by shoulders on the hammer body, which at the moment of firing rotate under the radial breech-block, locking it solidly in place and both hammer and breech block each being supported by a massive transverse pivot pin. The twin pivot pins are locked in place with a screw-retained keeper mounted on the left side of the receiver. To operate the rifle, first the hammer is pulled back to full cock, which clears its shoulders from beneath the breech block, allowing it to rotate backwards. Rotating the breech block backwards using the thumb lever simultaneously exposes the chamber and engages the extractor, withdrawing the spent case. Most Remington rifles are not equipped with any ejection mechanism, and the spent case is manually removed from the chamber after extraction with the fingers and discarded. A fresh cartridge is thumb-pressed into the chamber, the breech block is rotated into the closed position (being held in place with a light flat spring within the action) and the rifle is ready to be fired. After loading, the hammer can be lowered to half-cock, which acts as a safety and keeps the breech block positively closed.
Spanish contract Remington rifles may not have any apparent government or sovereign markings, although it is believed that the often-seen fleur-de-lis on the left side of the barrel flat at the receiver as well as on the left side of the barrel bands is a mark of the Spanish Crown, but this is unconfirmed.
The early (M1868) model is most readily distinguished by its two-line, upper tang patent declaration markings, which read “REMINGTON’S ILION N.Y. U.S.A.” above “PAT. MAY 3D NOV 16th 1864, APRIL 17th 1866” which markings are coupled with a concave breechblock and screw-retained firing pin. The left receiver flat might also be marked with a “*” over “R”, denoting Spanish acceptance. One example examined also had “DB” marked on the barrel bands.
2nd Contract rifles are marked identically, but with a flat breechblock.
The later 3rd Contract Spanish Remington has the “three-line” tang patent information, reading: “E REMINGTON&SONS, ILION, N.Y. U.S.A.” above “PAT. MAY 3D 1864, MAY 7TH JUNE 11TH NOV12TH. DEC24TH 1872” with “DEC31ST 1872,SEPT 9TH 1873 JAN 12TH MAR 18TH 1874” on its upper tang. Note a flat breechblock, bar extractor, screw-retained firing pin and spring-retained barrel bands.
Like all rolling block rifles, the M1870 Spanish Remington has a two-piece stock. The forestock is mounted with three spring-retained barrel bands and its tip is fitted with a small nosecap. The buttstock carries a buttplate mounted with two large wood screws, on in the upper tang and the other is the center of the buttplate itself. Sling swivels are mounted beneath the center barrel band and along the lower edge of the buttstock. The buttstocks of the Remington-manufactured versions are more deeply curved than European rifles, including the Spanish-made versions. The rifle mounts a socket bayonet, thus there is no dedicated bayonet lug or tenon, that role being played by the font sight. The extractor of all of the Remington-built Spanish contract rifles is a slide type that is engaged by the breech block via a small hook on the extractor’s underside and retained by a dedicated screw. This can be readily distinguished by the small additional screw on the left side of the receiver, just below the rounded receiver top which holds the extractor in place. When compared to the Spanish-made variants, the curve of the butt comb is greater on the Remington rifles than on the later Spanish ones, and the buttplate of the Remington has a deeper curve than the more European, flatter Spanish-built buttplate.
The three contracts: Layman indicates that Spain placed three distinct contracts with Remington, an initial order in 1868 for the delivery of 10,000 rifles to Spain’s colonial army in Cuba, a second 50,000 rifle contract in about 1871, and a third contract placed in 1873. While all of these rifles will be identical in substantial layout, the same dimensions, weights, chambering, sighting, including all of which are fitted with screw-retained, sliding bar extractors, etc., the three contracts are nevertheless likely to exhibit differentiating characteristics.
The 1st Contract rifles will be fitted with Remington’s early concave breech blocks and will be marked with two-line upper tang markings ending “…APRIL 17th 1866.” The breech area will actually look a lot like that of the M1867 Danish Rolling Block rifles.
The 2nd Contract rifles will also have the two-line tang markings above but these will be fitted with breech blocks which are “flat” across their base, below the face.
The 3rd Contract rifles will be fitted with the later flat breech blocks but now exhibiting three-line tang markings ending in “… MARCH 18th, 1874”.
Identifying the Remington-built Spanish 1st, 2nd and 3rd Contract Models
Look for a Fleur de Lis marking on the left barrel flat at the receiver as well as crown-marked barrel bands. Do not confuse the Spanish crown markings with similar crown-marked bands on the Danish Rolling Block M1867, which has a serial number on the barrel flat instead of a Fleur de Lis.
Many rifles are also marked on the forward half of the left receiver flat with a small (~5mm) round marking that looks like a miniature Japanese “mum.” These rifles would have been for colonial use, that is, for delivery to the Spanish Army in Cuba or in the Philippines.
All three have the following common characteristics:
All parts, including barrels, manufactured by Remington; none will carry Egyptian markings
All were chambered in .43 Spanish, though many, if not most, have been upgraded to the Reformado cartridge (see below)
All have a screw-retained, horizontal sliding bar extractor.
All rifles are full length with about 35 1/4" barrels
All have flat, non-mortised frames with slightly stepped shoulders,
All have 3 spring-retained bands (not screw retained bands) and the bands are nearly always stamped with crowns rather than letters.
None have bayonet lugs nor tenons (their Spanish Remington socket bayonets mount on the front sight)
1st model (1868-1869):
"Crown over 'B' " marking on the frame
2-line patent date of 1866
2nd model (1871-1873):
NO "Crown over 'B' " marking on the frame
2-line patent date of 1866
3rd model (1873-1874):
Fleur de Lis markings on the frame and crowns on the barrel bands
3-line patent date of 1874
Early Spanish contract Remington rifles are distinguished by their chambering for the .43 Spanish cartridge, screw-retained bar extractors, spring retained bands, and sometimes, but not always, their markings. Layman suggests that the photo with the "mum-like" marking on the left receiver flat denotes a rifle supplied to the Spanish Colonial forces
Distinguishing the Spanish M1870 from the M1874 “Export” model: The M1870 Spanish rifle looks very similar to the follow-on M1870/74 Remington, a commonly encountered Remington variety extensively distributed throughout South America but not likely bought by Spain. This later model has an improved extractor system, wherein the extractor is no longer the “slide” type (no extractor screw on the left side of the receiver). The extractor is now mounted coaxially with the breech block on the breech block pivot pin, and rotates with the breech block to provide extraction. Extractor rotation is delayed until the last third of the breech block’s rotation to provide an additional primary extraction mechanical advantage. On this later version, the barrel bands are the screw type rather than being spring retained as on actual M1870 Spanish rifles and while the barrels are of similar length, the forestock is usually slightly shorter. The firing pins of both models are located identically but the retractor spring and the retainer screw in the left side of the breech block on the earlier model are abandoned in favor of a simple, free floating firing pin in the M1874 “Export” and later variant.
Example and features of the Remington M1874 "Export" model; not a Spanish contract.
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
Chambering: 11x58R, rimmed
Overall Length: 50.3 inches
Weight, empty: approx. 9.26 lbs
Barrel Length: 35.1 inches
Rifling: 5-groove; RH, concentric
Sight: Front is typical Remington military blade, rear is a ramp-and-leaf type with the leaf hinged at the rear, graduated to 1,000 yards and marked 1 through 4 on the left flat of the sight base and the leaf marked 5 through 8 and a “1” at its top.
CARTRIDGE: .43 Spanish Remington, US made ball cartridges aka: 11mm Spanish Remington, 11x57R, and 11.15x58R. Many rifles were later converted to a 11.4x58R consisting of the same case fitted with a slightly larger brass jacketed bullet referred to as the Reformado cartridge, discussed at the M1877 & M1871/89 Remington (Oviedo) page. Despite the use of the same case, the two cartridges are not the same.
Case: Brass, rimmed, bottlenecked
Load: 5 grams Black powder
Muzzle Velocity: 1,365 fps
Primer: Berdan-type w/ 0.012 grams mercury fulminate
Bullet: 25.1 gram lead round-nosed w/ lubricating grooves
Bullet diameter: 11.15 mm
Neck diameter: 11.61 mm
Base diameter: 13.21 mm
Rim diameter: 16.31 mm
Case length: 56.9 mm
Total length: 75.6 mm
Total weight: 40.2 grams
.43 Spanish on the left; the later 1889 Spanish Reformado cartridge on the right
Manufacturing Data: Made by E. Remington & Sons, Ilion, New York, USA, beginning in 1868-69.
Production total: While there were at least 90,000 rifles made for Spain pursuant to Royal Spanish contracts, there were additional rifles sold influential cities and provincial governments such that perhaps some 100,000 – 115,000 were ultimately manufactured for Spain and Spanish entities, as well as 3,700 rifles which appear to have been sold to France during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Further, this model is likely to have been manufactured in additional quantities for Mexico, other Central and South American Countries. Certainly considerable numbers of the closely related M1874 Remington Rolling Block were exported there.
Conversion to 43 Reformado:
Some Remington-built Spanish rifles have an “FB” stamped over the barrel just ahead of the receiver (Which may represent “Freire Brulle”, being the last names of the developers of the Reformado cartridge, Lieutenant Colonel Luis Freire y Gongora and Captain Jose Brull y Seoane) indicating that the rifle has been re-chambered for the .43 Spanish Reformado cartridge. Interestingly, only American (Remington) made rolling blocks are stamped with “FB” marking, and these being mostly carbines.
The Spanish made rolling block arms which have been so re-chambered are stamped with an “R” (Reformado) on the top of the receiver.
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
Model 1870 Short Rifle (Carabina Remington para Carabineros, Mo. 1870) : Adopted concurrently with the M1870 rifle discussed above, this Remington-made short rifle was similar to the rifle described above but is considerably shorter than the infantry rifle and was fitted with only two barrel bands. Further distinguishing this variant, it mounts a bayonet lug and tenon to allow the use of a saber bayonet. Sling swivels on this variant are mounted below the upper barrel band and along the lower edge of the buttstock, half way between the lower tang and butt plate. This version will be Remington-marked on the upper tang.
Specifications, Statistics & Data of the Short Rifles:
Chambering: 11x58R, rimmed (.43 Spanish)
Overall Length: Unknown, but likely to be close to 45½ in (1156mm)
Weight, empty: approx. 9.26 lbs.
Barrel Length: Unknown but likely to be about 30 1/4 in (768mm)
Rifling: Unknown, but likely to be 4-groove; RH, concentric
Sight: Unknown but almost certainly Ramp-and-leaf, graduated to 1,000 m
Model 1870 Spanish “Civil Guard” Short Rifle (Carabina Remington para Ejercito Ultramar, Mo. 1870) : Layman asserts that the “Civil Guard Model” was first introduced with Spain’s 1869 contract with Remington but that it wound up being supplied principally to arm the Ejercito Ultramar (the Spanish Colonial Overseas Army) which at the time would have been based principally in Cuba and the Philippines. Like the infantry rifle, the Civil Guard Model has an action with flat lower breech block and early screw-retained extractor. As with the foregoing short rifle, it too has only two barrel bands and also a bayonet lug and tenon for saber bayonet and a sling swivel under the upper barrel band. Differing from the above, however, its lower sling swivel is mounted in the trigger guard, directly ahead of the trigger. Both short rifles are chambered for the .43 Spanish cartridge.
Neither of the foregoing short rifles was ever manufactured in any significant quantity, the only estimate of actual numbers being 3,000 delivered to Colonial Cuba. There is no current, reliable information on total production, nor on deliveries to either Spain, or to the Philippines or any other colonies.
Special Note: After this page was created we received the following from noted historian and author George Layman regarding the Spanish Civil guard Model:
“. . . regarding the Civil Guard Model, a mere 1,135 were purchased by Argentina on December 26, 1879, from Schuyler Hartley & Graham. Outside of some fifteen issued to the constabulary of British Honduras in March 1880, no other recorded sales have been observed, aside of the two or three samples recorded in the SH&G records. What is very odd though, is that in reality, the CGM was officially introduced in the 1877 Remington catalogs, but still retained the early 1866 period "Remington's" tang logo, over the much later patent marks ending in 1874. In addition, the receiver and buttstock retained the early non mortised, shouldering where the stock met the frame. A good indicator, Remington must have had a surplus of original 1st contract Spanish receivers and wood.
In a nutshell, it seems the CGM was an idea that didn't catch on as Spain by this time produced an Oviedo made variation with Saber bayonet known as the Bodyguard Model for the king.
Keep in mind that each factory correct Civil Guard Model /variation, has its sling swivels on the rear buttstock, in lieu of the triggerguard as may be encountered on altered Spanish Model rifles, special ordered through SH&G. Additionally, genuine Civil Guard Models will also have a full length, long Saber bayonet lug, and not the popular short or long combination stud.
I n any case, I ... now feel, no more than 2500 CGM rifles were manufactured, and its difficult to fathom why it didn't take off, being so much handier than a three band Spanish Model...it seems the configuration was ideally popular in Latin America of the 1880s given so many altered, two band Spanish models were sold through SH&G on special order...let's just say a day late and a dollar short on Remingtons behalf, as bankruptcy was just about to become a reality, and once the left over Spanish contract parts were exhausted, they didn't have the funds to keep producing a CGM on an as needed basis.”
Model 1870 Spanish “Civil Guard” Short Rifle (Carabina Remington para Ejercito Ultramar, Mo. 1870)
Remington M1871 Spanish Carbine (Tercerola Remington Modelo 1871): It is uncertain whether or not Remington-made cavalry carbines were supplied to Spanish forces as part of the first three Remington contracts. It is certain that the Oveido armory manufactured cavalry carbines of the same pattern as their m1871 Spanish Remington rifles as there are examples which are Oveido marked and have full Spanish features (Model 1871 Spanish Remington Cavalry Carbine (Tercerola Remington Mo. 1871)). Therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that some Remington manufactured carbines were included with one or more of the infantry rifle contracts. If so, they will almost certainly have similar features to the rifles and are likely to be configured along the lines of the below specifications.
Remington M1871 Spanish Carbine (Tercerola Remington Modelo 1871)
Specifications, Statistics & Data of the Cavalry Carbine:
Chambering: 11x58R, rimmed (.43 Spanish)
Overall Length: 36 inches
Barrel Length: uncertain: 20½ or 23½ inches
Sight: Base-and-leaf, graduated 300yds & 500yds
Will carry either sling swivels below the single barrel band and underside of the buttstock or be fitted with a staple and saddle ring to the left side of the receiver.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
The Remington Rolling Block design was perhaps the most widely used black powder metallic cartridge military rifle ever adopted. Remington alone made well over 1,000,000, and this does not begin to count rifles produced under license by the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden and Norway), the various Spanish-manufactured models, and those manufactured by the Liége armories for sale to Egypt, Uruguay, and the Vatican. While the Remington system was adopted in unique patterns by other countries (Argentina for example), these specific “Spanish Remington” models were also adopted “as is” throughout much of South America, and purchased in significant quantity by France during the Franco-Prussian War. While the British Sniders and Martini-Henrys might have served over a wider range of the globe owing to Britain’s empire of the time, the Remington was clearly the most widely adopted rifle of its era.
This work will attempt to discuss all of those foregoing rolling blocks manufactured under license in linked pages devoted to them. This rifle, the M1870 Spanish, was used principally by Spain, although it found some use in South America. South American use of the M1870, as well as most of the generic Remington-made and exported rolling blocks, will attempt to be discussed in various relevant pages.
Colonial Spanish Remington Rolling Block Rifles
By the middle of the 19th century, the “glory” of Spain had already faded considerably. Virtually all of its South American colonies had become independent, and Spain’s dependence on centuries of the flow of gold from them had allowed the Iberian Peninsula to prosper without having to participate in the industrial revolution that fueled much of European development leading up to this point. And yet, Spain continued to be a colonial power, maintaining colonies in both Cuba and far-away Philippines. And these colonies too needed to be armed. Not the least reason for which was the chronic attempts at revolution by the colonial populations.
So it is not surprising that when Spain adopted the Remington, it elected to arm its colonies with the rifle from Illion, New York as well. The question is, were these rifles distinct at all? There seems to be some evidence that at least some of them were. The 1st Contract rifles discussed above were ordered for and delivered to the Spanish colonial forces in Cuba. Additionally, many 3rd Ccontract Remingtons have a distinctive Fleur d Lis marking on the left chamber side of the barrel and a bubble like "flower" marked on the right chamber. It is speculated that these being the mark(s) of the Ejercito Ultramar or the Spanish Colonial Overseas Army, indicating that the rifle was issued in Cuba, or Puerto Rico or even in the Philippines.
Additionally, some Remington rifles have been found with a relatively crude “RV” marking on the left side of the receiver. Current thought is that the marking may be associated with the Cuban Volunteers of the 10 Years War as the marking can also be found both on sabers and on Joslyn carbines (known to have been sold to the volunteers). For examples of such markings and for additional information please visit: https://www.remingtonsociety.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=5377
Note that the Cuban independence movement, like many independence movements including the American Revolutionary War, was never as popular with the Cuban population as we would today imagine. Most of the troops recruited to put down the first revolution (1868-1878) were Cubans themselves, loyal to Spain.
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