Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The "Union Pacificator"

Lorenzo David Sibert
I recently received a call from Wayne F_________ asking me to help another friend, Gary S______, to find out some more information about a rifle invented/manufactured in Staunton called the Pacificator or some such. This repeating rifle was supposedly invented and/or built by Gary's 2 or 3X great-grandfather.  But for this request I might never have known of this gun.

An immediate search of on-hand reference materials (books) in my personal library yielded no results. Fortunately, the internet was a bit kinder in that regard.

Lorenzo David Sibert was born about 1804 in Virginia to Charles Francis and Mary Ann (Riddle) Sibert. His father ran the Van Buren iron furnace in Shenandoah County and it was there he learned the trade. He must have been pretty sharp because he had several patents in that field. When the coal-fired Van Buren furnace closed Lorenzo was forced to move and settled in Mount Solon, in Augusta County. A civil war was nearly at hand and that likely motivated his development of the "Pacificator" rifle. The rifle was actually built by William Shaffer (who is more than likely Gary's ancestor) from North River Gap near Mount Solon and Lorenzo was in partnership with J. Marshall McCue. Interestingly, the patent drawings are signed by J. D. Imboden and John Johnson (witnesses) and W. D. Baldwin (Lorenzo's attorney). All of these people are important in Staunton and Augusta County at that time.

Patent drawing of the "Pacificator"
The rifle took a unique approach to the repeating dilemma and combined an 8-chambered cylinder with the magazine approach by utilizing 6 cartridges in each chamber of the cylinder giving a total capacity of 48-rounds. Lorenzo announced in the gun about Apr 1860, exhibited the gun in July, had a patent by September and by November of 1860, a factory to make the gun was supposedly being established.  While the New York Times thought this must be something similar to a roman candle, i.e. firing continuously from the trigger pull until empty, the patent application specifically says, " rapidly as the gun can be cocked and fired...", which implies manual operation while other descriptions are more akin to fully automatic fire.

However, his cartridges were more like the breech sections of ancient breech loading cannons, becoming, as they cycled, an extension of the barrel. "... the cartridge shall be exploded in an open chamber and form a continuation of the barrel of the gun, in contradistinction to those devices in which the cartridge is either inserted into the barrel itself or into a tight breech-chamber, or into both combined..." This means that each cartridge would have to have been able to independently contain the pressure of the gas created by the exploding gun powder. This would have made a pretty heavy cartridge in standard .58 caliber.  For reference look at the cartridges Gatling created for the early versions of his gun. Perhaps this is why the caliber of the gun is reportedly .24!  That was a very small bore for the time. 

These guns, of which one (the original?) still exists in the holdings of the Virginia Historical Society, was mentioned in at least one article in the New York Times. Receiving national attention, it was considered an important invention given the political atmosphere.

Lorenzo David Sibert died in Staunton, Virginia of "paralysis of brain" on 25 September 1881 and was buried in a supposedly unmarked grave in Thornrose Cemetery. 

William Bell Shaffer
As I mentioned earlier, the gunsmith who built the "prototype" rifle was William Shaffer (shown as "Shaver" on many census documents and the spelling has changed over time to "Sheffer" for some branches). William was born 25 Dec 1807 in North River Gap (now Stokesville), in Augusta County, Virginia near Mount Solon son of Daniel Shaffer, also a gunsmith. In 1850 he was enumerated on the federal census as a blacksmith but as a gunsmith in succeeding census. He died near his place of birth 9 Jul 1891.

Of course there is a back story, it seems that the Shaffer family tells the story that Sibert stole the credit for the rifle from William Bell Shaffer and then John D. Imboden and John Marshall McCue (both witnesses on the patent drawings) stole it from Sibert. On 23 Jan 1861 legislation passed the Virginia legislature incorporating the Virginia Arms Manufacturing Company in Richmond. More to follow!

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