Journal Des Armes Spéciales and the Battle of Robert vs Lefaucheux
Journal Des Armes Spéciales was an important French technical journal about arms and armament that was published monthly on the 25th of the month from 1834 – 1870. It was an offshoot of Journal Des Sicences Militaires which started in 1825 and ran through 1914.
In 1834, Journal Des Sicences Militaires ran this article introducing Journal Des Armes Spéciales. The article is amazingly intense, aggressive, rooted in French military pride and filled with the glories of warmongering.
I’ll translate some of the highlights:
The military spirit will never perish in France. Vainly conquerors will succeed peaceful princes; for a Numa we will have twenty Romulus, and, worthy heiress of the eternal city, France will for a long time bear this scepter of the warrior supremacy which the people of the land have inherited, and which has placed it at the head of the nations from the beginning. Unpredictable philanthropists dream of universal peace, of which everything seems to note the impossibility. As for we think that if it could ever exist, it would be funeral to humanity.
We have seen, in all centuries, the powers to grow only by crushing what surrounds them, and we are not yet disillusioned with a single empire, with universal peace? And what would we gain from it? When Peruvians believed they had subdued all the known land, men, of whom they did not even know existed, came out of the ocean and slaughtered them by the millions. If ever the earth could be united under one domination, do not doubt that supernatural conquerors do not descend from some other planet, rather than believing that our globe can enjoy an eternal peace that does not seem to us to have entered the designs of the one who created everything.
God forbid that we recommend war for the horrible pleasure of destruction, we know how to appreciate all the advantages of peace. We deplore, with the wise, this sad necessity where man too often finds himself slaughtering his fellow man; but the inexorable history is there to attest to us that at all times, the weak were always the victim of the strong, the coward of the courageous, the brave poorly armed and poorly disciplined of the brave educated in the art of war. We therefore insist that one never neglects the study of combat within peace; so that we take advantage of all possible opportunities to maintain the fire of courage and the contempt for danger among the people, and especially among the wealthy; so that one does not finally hesitate to wage a war when it is just, and that one cannot avoid it without a moral stain, which degrades a nation and ultimately more than ten lost battles.
Let the lessons of history not be lost for us, that the progress of military art is marching in concert with those of the industrial arts. If we are richer and more enlightened, let us also be stronger and more valiant. Let us not let this sword rust in our hands that Brennus and Clovis left us, that Charlemagne and Napoleon walked all over Europe; then all the tyrants and all the barbarians of the earth will not prevail never against a nation that can present a compact mass of eight million men, ready to pay their blood for the defense of the fatherland.
It is for the purpose of contributing to such a glorious result that we are undertaking today the publication of the Journal Des Armes Spéciales. Happy if we can contribute to maintain among the French, the sacred fire, the taste for arms that have always distinguished our ancestors; if we can root out these alluring doctrines, but disastrous, which tend to effeminate one whose people will always be passionate about war, and who will always support or the terror of Europe. The more the sweets of peace take root in the heart of our statesmen, the more the taste for peaceful pleasures tends to spread, the more gold finally gains consideration among us, the more urgent it is to return the honors due to it to the iron. Then the French people, drenched by the revolution, will again travel fourteen centuries of existence; if he conquers, they will be peaceful: he will have allies, friends and no subjects; it will use force only to resist an unjust aggression, to defend its allies, to avenge the injury done to only one of its citizens, and if some reckless enemy were to challenge in combat the great people, one would see reappear the great army more numerous and more formidable than ever.
One of the first issues of Journal Des Armes Spéciales in 1834 has a 42 page article comparing and contrasting The new breech-loading rifle made by Joseph-Alexandre Robert and the one made by Casimir Lefaucheux. Both men reportedly worked for Jean Samuel Pauly’s company for years as apprentices or gun makers. Casimir Lefaucheux would eventually buy the patents for the Pauly/Roux/Picherau guns from Eugène Picherau on July 10, 1827 and use them for the basis of his new gun.
If you are familiar with Pauly’s gun you will instantly notice the resemblance in Robert’s gun. He uses a different type of cartridge though. It is a paper cartridge that has a percussion tube primer stuck in it.
Lefaucheux’s gun should also be familiar to people who are familiar with the pinfire system; or any other break-open shotgun ever made after this. But this predates the pinfire cartridge. This first gun of his design (he had an addition to the Pauly system gun a few years prior) had a percussion nipple that used a percussion cap. It also had a special cartridge that had a metal capsule around the back of the paper cartridge that closed the breech and made it more gas-tight. He would add this cartridge and capsule to an addition to his patent in 1834.
You can read the full French document below.
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The article goes into detailed reviews of each gun including recording the exact step-by-step instructions on how to load and shoot and unload each gun. They have three separate trials of shooting each gun by different people including having Lefaucheux shoot Robert’s gun and Robert shooting Lefaucheux’s gun.
Ultimately they do not choose a winner or loser and are pretty amicable on the results. They fairly point out pros and cons on each gun. The biggest take-a-way is their glowing appreciation for how far of a technological leap these guns are and that they are definitely the future of guns.
Some of the criticisms of Lefaucheux’s cartridge are quickly improved with the invention of the pinfire cartridge less than a year later which would be a major turning point in the history of modern guns and ammunition.
This same gun documented in the report would then be modified to take this new cartridge and begin to take the shape of the modern breech-loading sporting gun. Some of these percussion guns were even modified to remove the percussion nipple and converted to pinfire guns.
Though there were no winners or losers declared in this report, history clearly assigns the win to Casimir Lefaucheux who would go on and Continue building his company which would become extremely successful.