American Rifleman | This Old Gun: Model 1866 Chassepot
The French were expected to crush the Prussians in the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870 to January 1871). The bandbox military machine of Emperor Napoleon III. Was considered unbeatable. The majority of the troops were armed with a highly regarded new bolt-action rifle, the Fusil Modèle 1866.
Like its opponent, the Dreyse “Needle Fire” rifle, which first came onto the market in 1841, was equipped with a self-contained, combustible cartridge. The French cartridge contained a modern 11mm conical bullet and was much more sophisticated than the one used by the Germans. It far exceeded the range, speed, and stopping power of the Dreyse’s egg-shaped projectile. The rifle was also slimmer, easier to handle and – with a more robust firing pin than the long, slender needle in the Prussian arm – less prone to interference.
Despite the predictions of military experts around the world, and despite being armed with a superior rifle, the French armed forces, largely based on a defensive strategy, were defeated in just over six bloody months by an enemy who made up for the shortcomings of its small arms with superior ones Artillery and more mobile tactics.
When the opportunity arose, the Fusil Modèle 1866 (commonly referred to as “Chassepot” after its designer Antoine Alphonse Chassepot) easily outperformed the Dreyse on the battlefield. In fact, the Germans had taken note of the advantages of the Chassepot before the war and shortly after the war presented the excellent metal cartridge 11 mm Mauser rifle model 1871 to their own armed forces.
The Chassepot Fusil was a slim, manageable piece that was described by a German officer who described a man caught in combat as “a beautifully working murder weapon, a dainty little thing”. Chassepots were manufactured in several locations: St. Etienne, Châtellerault, Tulle and Mutzig.
Its composite, linen-wrapped cartridge fired a 386-gram. Ball powered by 86.4 grs. of black powder. The round had an integrated detonator at its base – unlike the Dreyse’s, which had a detonating mass halfway up the cartridge body that required the long, delicate, needle-like firing pin mentioned above.
The muzzle velocity of the Chassepot round was 1345 fps. The rifle had an effective range of about 1,000 meters and a maximum range of 1,500 meters. For a time, the Chassepot was considered state-of-the-art and gained international renown, often mentioned in non-war locations, such as Gilbert & Sullivan’s song “I Am the Model of a Modern Major General.” from her comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. Unfortunately, the crash of the Chassepot meant that it was eventually replaced by the Mauser in the number of the musical.
The chassepot bolt was locked into an opening on the right side of the event using a long, rectangular outer eyelet. To open the action one had to first pull back a thumb piece on the back of the bolt. The complete obturation was influenced by a rubber seal on the screw head.
At the end of the percussion era and at the beginning of the age of metal cartridges, the Chassepot had a relatively short lifespan. Fortunately, it could be easily modified to handle the Modèle 1874 French Gras cartridge, as the Gras rifle took over much of the Chassepot’s behavior, including its 11mm chamber.
The Chassepot shown here is typical of the breed. It is kept in white, beautifully finished and shows only minor signs of use and no mechanical difficulties. It has all matching serial numbers and an excellent bore. The stock’s markings are a bit thin, but by and large the piece is pretty solid and, as such, is worth $ 1,150.
Gun: Manufacture d’Armes de Châtellerault rifle model 1866 “Chassepot”
Chambering: 11 mm (caliber .43)
Condition: NRA Fine (antique weapon standards)
Value: $ 1,150