Girandoni Air Rifle

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Girandoni Air Rifle


Girandoni Air Rifle - Girardoni Air Rifle Girandoni Air Rifle
Length: 4ft. (1.2m)
Weight: 10 lbs. (4.5 kg)
.46 cal. (contested 13mm?)
Tubular, gravity-fed magazine with a capacity of 20 balls
Range: Approx. 125 yds. with a full reservoir

Girandoni Rifle Accouterments Bag - Girardoni Air Rifle

Recreation of an Austrian Girandoni system Accoutrements Bag, including spare air flasks, air pump, wrenches, bullet mold and ladle.

The Girandoni Air Rifle was an airgun designed by Tyrolian inventor Bartholomäus Girardoni circa 1779. The weapon was also known as the Windbüchse (“wind rifle” in German). One of the rifle’s more famous associations is its use on the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803 – 1806).
The gravity operated design was such that the rifle had to be pointed upwards in order to drop each ball into the breech block. Unlike its contemporary, muzzle-loading muskets, which required the rifleman to stand up to reload with powder and ball, the shooter could reload a ball from the magazine by holding the rifle vertically while lying on his back and operating the ball delivery mechanism. The rifleman then could roll back into position to fire, allowing the rifleman to keep a “low profile”. Contemporary regulations of 1788 required that each rifleman, in addition to the rifle itself, be equipped with three compressed air reservoirs (two spare and one attached to the rifle), cleaning stick, hand pump, lead ladle, and 100 lead balls, 1 in the chamber, 19 in the magazine built into the rifle and the remaining 80 in four tin tubes. Equipment not carried attached to the rifle was held in a special leather knapsack. It was also necessary to keep the leather gaskets of the reservoir moist in order to maintain a good seal and prevent leakage. The air reservoir was in the club-shaped butt. With a full air reservoir, the Girandoni air rifle had the capacity to shoot 30 shots at useful pressure. The power declined as the air reservoir was emptied.
The Girandoni air rifle was an important first. It was the first repeating rifle of any kind to see military service. It was one of the first uses of a tubular magazine. And, although it saw service for only 35 years, it predated and was more advanced in design and mechanical technology than the Henry rifle which arrived fifty years later.
PLAYERS – Lewis & Clark Expedition; Meriweather Lewis & William Clark)

FYI: the gun in use on the Expedition.

Big bore, repeating, pneumatic rifles, had been developed and used in Europe some 70 years. Captain Meriwether Lewis’ must have known the rifle’s reputation before he bought one to bring on the famous expedition. For three years, he kept meticulous records of the expeditions activities and discoveries. In the 13 volumes which we know today as the “Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”, he made 39 references to his air rifle.
Historians originally believed the airgun had been built by Isaiah Lukens and therefore, likely a single shot. Here are two historical excerpts which confirm the gun was a Model 1779  Girandoni repeater.

“Left Pittsburgh this day at 11 ock with a party of 11 hands 7 of which are soldiers, a pilot and three young men on trial they having proposed to go with me throughout the voyage. Arrived at Bruno’s Island 3 miles below halted a few minutes. Went on shore and being invited on by some of the gentlemen present to try my airgun which I had purchased brought it on shore charged it and fired myself seven times fifty five yards with pretty good success.”
Above mentioned journals – August 30, 1803

“Visited Captain Lewess barge. He shewed us his air gun which fired 22 times at one charge. He shewed us the mode of charging her and then loaded with 12 balls which he intended to fire one at a time; but she by some means lost the whole charge of air at the first fire. He charged her again and then she fired twice. He then found the cause and in some measure prevented the airs escaping, and then she fired seven times; but when in perfect order she fires 22 times in a minute. All the balls are put at once into a short side barrel and are then droped into the chamber of the gun one at a time by moving a spring; and when the triger is pulled just so much air escapes out of the air bag which forms the britch of the gun as serves for one ball. It is a curious peice of workmanship not easily discribed and therefore I omit attempting it.”

Robert Beeman, “New Evidence on the Lewis and Clark Air Rifle” (2008)
Which includes this description of Lewis’ airgun by traveler, Thomas Rodney,
who met Lewis in Wheeling, OH (09/1803)
(misspellings the result of direct quoting)

Here’s the issue illustrating the immense value of this rifle to the Expedition
and thereby to the nation…

Lewis and Clark brought 15 muzzle-loading, single shot “Kentucky Rifles”, which required flint, muslin patches, two grades of powder and some time in loading each shot. The air rifle proved to be a key element of survival. True, it did not tap the precious, non-renewable powder supply, to hunt, but that was not its greatest asset.

When encountering new tribes, the air rifle could demonstrate amazing, superior firepower, Lewis could shoot 20 rounds accurately in less than 30 seconds. Of course, it was prudent to imply you carried a number of such guns in the party, not just one. But as a bloodless means of securing safe passage further west it worked quite well. The following passages from Lewis’s journals illustrate the point.

“Lewis Shot his air gun a few times which astonished the nativs, we set sail.”
August 3, 1804

“After the Council was over we shot the air gun, which astonished them, and they all left us.”
October 10, 1804

“Shot the air gun which both surprised and astonished the nativs, and soon dispersed.” October 29, 1804

“we shot the air gun, and gave two shots with the cannon which pleased them verry much, the little Crow 2d Chf of the lower village came & brought us corn.”
January 15, 1805

“I also shot my airgun which was so perfectly incomprehensible that they immediately denominated it the great medicine. The idea which the Indians mean to convey by this appellation is something that eminates from or acts immediately by the influence or power of the great sperit; or that in which the power of god is manifest by its incomprehensible power of action.”
August 17, 1805

“My airgun also astonishes them very much, they cannot comprehend it’s shooting so often and without powder; and think that it is great medicine which comprehends every thing that is to them incomprehensible.”
January 24, 1806

“Capt Lewis fired his air gun which astonished them in such a manner that they were orderly and kept at a proper distance dureing the time they continued with him.”
April 3, 1806

“After this council was over we amused ourselves with shewing them the power of magnetism, the spye glass, compass, watch, airgun and sundry other articles equally novel and incomprehensible to them.”
May 11, 1806

“I now got back to the perogue as well as I could and prepared my self with a pistol, my rifle and airgun being determined as a retreat was impracticable to sell my life as deerly as possible.”
August 11, 1806 – This was a very tight situation…

From 1803 to 1806, the air rifle that Meriwether Lewis purchased and carried on the Expedition proved a tough, reliable, formidable weapon that could be counted on to perform when needed. Perhaps, without the ability to demonstrate superior fire power, the results of the journey might have been very different. Throughout the charting of the western half of the nation, this rifle, not so subtly, obviously, prevented conflicts that might have left a very different United States on today’s maps. Perhaps we need to add one more rifle, the 1779 Girandoni Air Rifle to the list of “The Guns that Won the West!”  {001}

see also:
References – DictionaryThe Guns that Won the West!
Photo Gallery Index – Weapons Photos Index – Firearms – Ammunition, Then and Now

barbed wire divider - Girardoni Air Rifle End: Girandoni Air Rifle
This page also appears in the Just for Fun Pages.

{001} C 02/17; E 05/19; F 12/17; P 02/17

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