Spanish American War Website Banner

Lee United States Navy Rifle, Model 1895

By Patrick McSherry

The 1895 Lee Rifle
This image shows the Model 1895 Lee Rifle, with its ammunition belt and bayonet with scabbard
(photo courtesy of the Doug Howser Collection)

Please Visit our Home Page to learn more about the Spanish American War
Click here for an article concerning the qualities of the Lee Rifle from the period of the war
Read about the effects of gunfire by clicking here


This rifle was designed by James Paris Lee, "one of the foremost arms inventors of the century". It was a standard U.S. Navy weapon in the Spanish-American War era.


The Lee rifle was accepted by the Navy in 1895 and manufactured by Winchester beginning in 1896, with an initial order of ten thousand units. Eventually close to twenty thousand were produced. A large number of these weapons were aboard the USS MAINE when it sunk in Havana Harbor. Fifty of these were later recovered and sold. The Lee was considered to be ahead of its time, and was not well-liked outside of the U.S. Navy. Production stopped in 1902.

The Lee has what is frequently referred to as a straight-pull action. In fact, the action is more properly a camming action in which pulling the bolt caused a the bolt to rock, freeing a stud from the receiver and unlocking the bolt. The cartridge used by the weapon was the smallest cartridge adopted by the U.S. military up to that time.

Lee Rifle Cutaway View

Acut-away view of the mechanism


The weapon, unlike the Krag-Jorgensen Rifle of the time period, was not designed for the ammunition in the magazine to be held in reserve for emergencies while the weapon itself was basically used as a single shot rifle. The magazine could be reloaded very quickly, allowing the "ammunition reserve" to be unnecessary.

The ammunition used for the Lee utilized smokeless powder, offering a definite advantage over the "trapdoor" rifle. Shell casings were automatically extracted from the weapon. The extractor, however, had a tendency to fall out in battle, and if not carefully replaced, would render the rifle non-functional.

One disadvantage of the weapon was that, when the magazine still had ammunition in it, the gun could not be used for firing single shots. A second problem was severe erosion of the bore because of the powder used in the weapon's cartridges.

Lee Rifle Ammuntion and Clip

Lee 6mm cartridge with five round charger


Straight pull bolt action rapid-fire breech-loader 
Total length:
47.75 inches
Length of barrel:
28 inches
6 grooves, making one turn in 6.5 inches.
8.32 pounds
6mm rimless, in five round clips
33 grains of smokeless powder 
Weight of cartridge:
332 grains
Weight of projectile:
135 grains
Muzzle Velocity:
2,460 feet per second at 60 feet from the muzzle. This gave the

weapon the ability to penetrate 3/8 inch steel boiler plate at 100 feet.
Knife-type, 8.25" long


Alger, Prof. P. R. USN, and Ensign N. C. Twining, USN, The United States Navy Rifle, U.S. Bureau of Ordnance.

Gluckman, Arcadi, United States Muskets, Rifles and Carbines. Buffalo: Otto Ulbrich Co., Inc., 1948.

Howser, Doug (Image of rifle with belt and bayonet, and image of ammunition).

Kirkland, K. D., America's Premier Gunmakers: Winchester, New York: Exeter Books, 1989.

New York Sun, June 1898.

Schreier, Philip, "The Guns of the Spanish American War," Military Classics Illustrated (Los Angeles: Emap USA, 2001).

Support this Site by Visiting the Website Store! (help us defray costs!)
We are providing the following service for our readers. If you are interested in books, videos, CD's etc. related to the Spanish American War, simply type in "Spanish American War" (or whatever you are interested in) as the keyword and click on "go" to get a list of titles available through

Visit Main Page for copyright data

Return to Weapons Profiles
Return to Main Page