A few years back one comment heard often about the new Italian-made Spencer replicas imported by Taylor & Company was, "They are really neat guns, but I don't want one chambered for something like .44 Russian or .45 Schofield. I want a big bore like the 56-50!"
The 56-50 was one of the Spencer's original chamberings, but there was a hitch in that gitty-up. All of the original Spencer calibers were rimfire; hence not reloadable. To make the new Spencer replicas for a centerfire version of one of its original cartridges meant several hurdles would have to be overcome. First there would have to be brass made since the original Spencer rounds were not based on anything existing today. Then there would have to be reloading dies made to fit those cases. Even bullets were a potential problem. Several of the Spencer calibers were .50, but they didn't use any of the bullet weights common in that bore size today. For example, nominal bullet weight for the 56-50 Spencer was 350 grains, whereas the lightest Lyman and RCBS factory made 50-caliber bullet moulds are for 450-grain slugs.
The saying "where there's a will there's a way" comes to mind here, and today's cowboy action shooters axe nothing if not willful. They wanted big- bore Spencers and by golly they now have them. Wisconsin gunsmith Kenny Howell worked closely with Taylor & Company to develop the new Spencer replicas, and he was the driving force behind getting us new centerfire 56-50 ones too. I've known Kenny for some years and have several of his conversions of cap-and-ball revolvers to fire cartridges. In a conversation with Kenny last winter at the 3fd SASS Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, he offered me the loan of his personal Taylor & Co. Spencer 56-50 along with the suitable dies for reloading same.
The Best Civil War Carbine
Let's cover a little background of the Spencer in general and the 56-50 version in particular. If not for the American Civil War of 1861-1865 the Spencer versions of repeating rifles and carbines may never have achieved historical significance. A young inventor, Christopher M. Spencer, had been making his living in the silk textile industry of New England, but had a deep interest in designing firearms. His invention of a repeating rifle using rimfire metallic cartridges was timely in that his Model 1860 saw the light of day just as hostilities commenced between North and South. Space will not allow us to detail all the hoops Spencer had to jump through to get his repeating rifles and carbines adopted by the US Government. Also, after the US Army's Ordnance Department had the Spencers actually in storage considerable cutting of red tape by officers was required to actually get them issued to their troops. For details and plenty of illustrations I refer readers to the excellent book Spencer Repeating Firearms by Roy M. Marcot.
However, by the summer of 1863 the Spencer firearms--most being of carbine configuration--were mostly issued to cavalry troops. In fact, by the end of the Civil War more Spencer carbines had been purchased by the Federal...