During the American Civil War the Sharps Military Carbine was the most popular breech loading firearm with over 90,000 in use. Because of its easy loading mechanism and short compact size it was popular among cavalrymen as well as scouts and specialty soldiers. Unlike most firearms of the day, which were loaded by the muzzle, the Sharps carbine was loaded through the breech. The user pushed the trigger guard forward, which exposed the breech, inserted a paper cartridge, closed the breech, placed a percussion cap on the nipple, then fired by pulling the trigger. On horseback this was a much easier process then loading a musket from the muzzle with a ramrod. It also gave the Sharps a greater advantage in firepower because it was faster to load than common muskets.
Some rare examples of the Sharps carbine have an unusual feature, what is commonly called a Sharps coffee grinder. Integrated within in the stock is a grinding device, complete with a folding handle, an opening to material material in to be ground up, and an opening from which ground material would be deposited. While commonly referred to as a “coffee grinder”, in reality it was used to grind up grains such as corn or wheat. Not every Sharps carbine was outfitted with this device, it was intended that every squad or platoon would be issued at least one coffee grinder Sharps carbine. While it may seem goofy, it is actually a brilliant idea when one considers that the men who would have been issued these carbines were soldiers who would be expected to spend a lot of time behind enemy lines (cavalrymen and scouts) without regular access to supplies.
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