I just finished reading THE ROAD TO RECKONING by Robert Lautner, a Western/historical (I don't know what else to call it because it takes place east of the Mississippi but in frontier areas). The book was great, chockfull of historical details and a coming-of-age story to boot.
One of the characters in the book carries a Girandoni "Wind" rifle, a weapon I'd never heard of, and after I dug into the history of the rifle, I'm surprised I hadn't. One of them made the trip across the Louisiana Purchase with Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, and was very probably what saved their lives.
The rifle shot a huge .46 caliber ball that was accurate up to 150 yards away, and it could be fired several times on one tank of air. Refilling the rifle's air tank (in the weapon's butt) took 1500 strokes of what was essentially a bicycle pump to build to 800 psi, so it took about an hour to reload. The weapon could be fired up to 70 times, but only the first forty or fifty rounds were lethal. The rate of fire was around 30 rounds a minute.
Originally built back in 1779 by Italian inventor Bartholomaus Girandoni, the weapon was used by the Austrian army and spread to several different countries, including the United States. Napoleon was said to have made owning one of the rifles a crime punishable by death.
There is no powder residue on these weapons, nothing a man needed to carry with him other than shot, and care was simple. It was also relatively silent, came with an accurate, rifled barrel, and didn't give away a shooter's position with expelled gunsmoke. The drawback were that the weapon was fragile and the compressed air tanks exploded like bombs when damaged.
Replicas are evidently made today, and refilling the air reservoir is simple with pumps. I'm extremely curious about these weapons and would love to see one in action.
Here's a video for those of you who would like to know a little more.