An Englishman recently stopped at my inn with his hunting party. He had a variety of very expensive rifles and shotguns. The one that most caught my eye was a very light 13 gauge single barrel shotgun. It was doubtless a bird gun, perhaps the fanciest firearm I have ever looked upon. The balance and workmanship were as fine as any that have ever crossed my hands.
I am a simple man but I can appreciate beauty when I see it. The scroll work was exquisite and the fit and finish finer than any I had held. The balance was superb. The light weight made the shotgun fit for only a light load and bird shot. Should the game ever be interested shooting back I expect the user would be at a severe disadvantage.
The party stayed only one night. They paid well for their food and board with more than a little coin sent towards drinks in my tavern. While I was not overly impressed with the Englishman those he had hired to guide him were another matter entirely.
His butler had served with the Highlanders in the Crimea, another had served in India and three of the American guides were veterans of the Civil War. They were also rather contemptuous of the natives they might encounter as they headed farther west. Their party numbered just twenty men and four wagons with almost thirty good horses. They did not understand how inviting those horses would be to any Lakota or Cheyenne war party they might encounter. While five of the men had seen some real fighting none had ever dealt with anything like the Lakota or their Cheyenne allies. The Civil War veterans were all veterans of the war in the east. A war of lines of battle and artillery would not have prepared them for the style of warfare preferred by the Lakota.
The fools seemed to think that all Indians were the same and their experience with the Dakota they had encountered had prepared them. They could not be more wrong. The Dakota had been exposed to the white man and forced to become dependent upon him. The Lakota and other plains tribes I had dealt with were fighting men par excellence.
The English fool was hoping to encounter a few hostiles. He wanted to experience the thrill of fighting. As they were planning to travel as far west as the Missouri and then on to the Rockies I expect a belly full of fighting to be in his future. I would not place much coin on their survival.
The guides all insisted that the Indians had been pacified. I expect their hair will decorate a lodge pole with a few months. Those fine horses, rifles and shotguns will likely have new owners as well. The very idea of a man heading onto the plains with servants instead of men who knew the land seemed odd. The idea of hiring American guides who had never been west of the Minnesota river was foolhardy if not outright suicidal.
Early in the war the shortage of modern arms required both armies to scour their armories for any available military arm. I saw quite the variety of arms in the hands of volunteers with many being considerably older than the men they were issued to. The M1816 conversion from flintlock was rather common. It was not a bad weapon but many had seen hard service before they were ever converted from flintlock to percussion. While firing buck and ball they were a valid weapon at ranges of under one hundred yards and as lethal as they ever had been. But like their counterparts from the Continent of similar vintage all predated the American manufacturing revolution that led to machine made small arms of the American System. They were hand made instead though I never found the quality to be wanting.
In the 1850’s the US Army took their more modern flintlock arms and converted them to percussion by simply removing the flintlock hardware and replacing the hammer then plugging the flint touch hole and drilling and tapping the barrel for a percussion cone. It was simple and most importantly cheaply done. There were some who worried that the cone in barrel conversion weakened the barrel and made it prone to burst. Though I know of no incident where such happened. Other methods of altering arms from flintlock to percussion were attempted but the US Army chose to use the cone in barrel conversion due to cost.
Muskets such as those above were turned in at the first opportunity for rifled arms of the Springfield pattern or for arms from the Continent such as the P53 Enfield of M1854 Lorenz. By late 1863 most M1816 muskets were back in the armories or in the hands of rear echelon troops such as those assigned to guard prisoners of war or in some cases in the hands of those facing the Dakota during the Dakota War. I know of no incident where soldiers given the opportunity to exchange their M1816 percussion conversions for more modern arms. Though to be brutally honest at close range with buck and ball they were far more destructive than rifled arms. But at longer range men with muskets would be cut to pieces by those with rifled arms.
After the war many were quickly cut down to shotguns and sold for a pittance. I prefer them in their original configuration. That was how they were designed and that is how they should remain.
At the beginning of the War the US found itself quite short of small arms. They initially solved this by purchasing anything and everything they could from the Continent. England, France, Austria and Belgium were all quick to sell off their old surplus arms. There were many a complaint to the quality and effectiveness of those arms. Some were valid complaints as most had seen hard use; though the reality is that most had served the premier armies of Europe less than twenty years prior. If men were honest then they would admit that they wanted the latest US made Springfields. While the Springfield was as good as they came there were just not enough of them.
The US resorted to contracting out the manufacture of the M1861 and by the middle of 1863 they were pouring into the US Army in sufficient numbers. One of the contractors for the M1861 was Colt. In an way to make a little extra coin Colt arranged to use existing machinery to make rifle muskets. They had bought machinery from Windsor Arms. Windsor had made excellent P53 Enfields for the British but when the Crimea War ended the British cancelled the contract leaving Windsor in a lurch. Bankruptcy followed.
The resulting Colt Special Model M1861 was a very good arm in which I had only one complaint; it lacked barrel band springs. While it may have been slightly less expensive I don’t consider it quite the equal of the Springfield. I did consider it the equal to the P53.
The demand was so great that Colt worked with LG&Y and later Amoskeag Mfg. Amoskeag Mfg was better known for making fire fighting equipment than firearms but they pitched in and provided 27,000 rifle muskets in about a year and a half. Between Colt, LG&Y and Amoskeag something less than 175,000 Special model M1861 were sold to the US Army. They would see hard use and gave good service. Generally they were thought as good as the Springfield by those who were issued them, there was certainly nothing wrong with those I dealt with. The fit and finish was excellent and they were interchangeable with other Special Model but not with the M1861.
This one was left in the corner of my tavern. I have no idea who left it or why but I have no complaint. The ramrod was broken and the nipple badly worn but those were easily repaired.
I am not really a fan of the shotgun but I must admit at close range there are few weapons more dangerous. But it is really only a close range weapon. This particular one was made in England and is of very fine quality. It is short and handy of the kind ideal for the close work a coachman or bartender has occasional need. During the War Rebel Cavalry and Union teamsters used them to good effect but as military arms they were rapidly eclipsed by various breech loading carbines like the excellent Sharps carbine. The problem with a shotgun is its range and men with carbines or rifles can cut them to pieces at range.
Judging from the man who brought this to me for repair I believe this William Moore made shotgun was likely made sometime in the 40’s. It has been well used and well cared for. When it was handed to me one nipple had snapped off and it was necessary to remove and replace it. It took a little work but I was able to accomplish the task with some time and effort. As it was a man I consider a friend I refused to accept anything but his thanks for my work.
I have seen many a shotgun over the years and found the English made to be among the best. That said as the American gunmakers have fully adopted the American system of manufacture their new models are superb. The new model by Remington is a site to see and I fully expect breech loading shotguns like that to fully eclipse these nice hand made English guns in short order. I fully expect the double shotgun will remain the master bird gun until the end of time.
The short ladies of my military career are pictured here. My beloved .58 caliber Colt Alteration of the superb M1841 which I carried throughout the Civil War. The excellent .69 caliber Special Model M1842. The .71 caliber Dragon modele 1842 T for Dragoons. And on the bottom a shortened M1809 Potsdam. All four are very interesting arms.
Anyone who knows me is aware of my love affair with the .58 caliber M1841 I carried throughout my Civil War service. It is a weapon that is short, handy to use and puts the bullet where I aim. There were several different versions of this excellent arm in my Regiment and they were generally well liked by the men who carried them. They would largely be replaced in the spring of 64 with the excellent M1861 series arms which included the M1861 itself as well as M1863, M1864 and even a couple M1855’s there were also a few of the Special model M1861 in the mix. All were excellent arms which I had few things to complain of. The most common broken or damaged parts of these weapons were the mainspring and the nipple both of which would break in hard use. I had no real issues with any of the various M1841 arms that were in the Regiment, I recall no serious issues with them at all. They were a fine arm that my men often used to effect well past 400 yards.
The Special Model M1842 is an interesting rifle. It is not a common weapon and I do not recall seeing more than a half dozen in my US Army career. I believe we had several in the Regiment at the time we were initially issued out weapons from the Minnesota Arsenal. By the time we left Jefferson Barracks outside of St. Louis I believe our Regiment had all but completely been rearmed with various versions of the M1841 though K Company, I believe, received a full issue of first rate M1855 rifles. There are several interesting stories of how the Special Model M1842 came to be and all seem to center around the Explorer Fremont. Supposedly, he wished a .69 caliber rifle to deal with grizzly bears as he had encountered them on one of his early expeditions and did not feel the .54 caliber bullet of the M1817 or M1841 was sufficient to deal with such a creature. They were made for only the year of 1847 at Springfield Arsenal and the majority of parts are interchangeable with the M1842 musket. Those I have seen bear no eagle upon the lockplate. The reason for this absence is supposedly a slight to then Colonel Fremont a he apparently went around standard army channels to have the weapon made for him. Whatever the truth I care not as the weapon is a good one; accurate, reliable and quick to the shoulder it puts bullets where they need to go. I must admit my curiosity as to why the US Army did not produce more of these excellent arms. I am told only 3,400 were manufactured which seems foolish to me as it is an excellent arm.
The Dragon modele 1842 T or Dragoon model M1842 was an excellent arm. While I learned to use a rifled weapon on the Voltigeur or Light Infantry. It was some longer than the Dragoon model, I find that I prefer the shorter Dragoon model as it is more handy and quicker to the shoulder. In my own experience using the Voltigeur model in the Crimea the .71 caliber bullet is a man stopper and accurate enough to make life uncomfortable out to at least 400 meters. The modele 1842 is an excellent arm but it is not a parts interchangeable arm. This one was manufactured in 1847 at St Etienne and I am glad to own it. I am pleased to say that I have dropped a running deer at close to two hundred yards.
This M1809 Potsdam is another short weapon; though she did not leave the Potsdam Arsenal this length. She was professionally shortened at some point. Who or where this was done I do not know, but it was very well done. I paid less than a dollar for it. I cleaned and did a simple repair to her then sold her on for use as a shotgun. The shortened length makes her lighter and handier than her original length but the recoil is some uncomfortable. The lack of rifling relegates this arm to a a short ranged shotgun. She was originally intended for a .71 caliber ball but their use during the Civil War was most common with the standard .69 caliber buck and ball then in use with both the US and Confederate armies. The buck and ball cartridge of the US Army was a single .64 or .65 caliber ball and three or four .31 caliber buckshot. In my opinion there are few cartridges that are more lethal at close range. But at anything past 100 yards men with rifled arms can cut them to pieces. The reality of the combat I experianced and knew of during the War such a weapon was still quite effective as I can think of only two occasions where I ever fired my weapon at targets more than one hundred yards distant. At the siege of Vicksburg, a small skirmish and at Alatoona Pass I took men under my sights who were well past three hundred yards distant.
All four of these arms along with the excellent English P56 were hard used during their military service. I like to refer to them as my short ladies. They are fine young ladies who my lovely wife need never be jealous of. I supplement the income from the tavern, inn and bakery by taking in weapons and repairing or selling them on occasionally. I am always sad to see M1861 or P53’s that have been turned into shotguns for use on the farm or in the woods. For a man like me who fully appreciates the effect of a rifled arm I find such butchery of a fine weapon as a sin, but I am also a realist and know these arms are readily available for a pittance and as a result men feel no remorse at making them fit their immediate needs.
A man stopped into my tavern recently and upon learning that I had served in the French Army asked if I might have any interest in a French rifle. I shrugged my shoulders and said I might. He stepped out to his wagon and asked me if I would give him $9 for it. Well after a little bit of haggling and a half bottle of cognac we settled on $7 and I paid him from the till.
The French M1842 was the first rifle I ever held in my hands. I had been chosen to learn how to use a rifle instead of the typical musket because of good eyesight and an apparent natural aptitude. This one is the Dragon modele 1842 T, Dragoon model intended for mounted Infantry, I learned on the Voltigeur model which was some longer. At the time I liked the weapon immensely finding it handy, accurate as well as easily cleaned and maintained. I used the weapon to some effect in both North Africa and the Crimea. At the time I felt it compared favorably to the P51 & P53 Enfields I had an opportunity to compare it to. But now I know that to have been a biased reaction. The reality of the M1842 is that while I believe it to have been a revolutionary arm that changed the face of warfare forever it was a far cry from the best. The angle of the hammer made the rear sight rather difficult to use in an effective manner as it obscured the sight picture. The weapon was also not an interchangeable arm which put it second fiddle when compared to modern US made arms
Several regiments carried these in the Civil War along with a variety of newer models of French rifles and rifle muskets. Generally they were not all that highly thought of in comparison to American made arms such as the M1841 and M1861 series arms. When the opportunity to trade them for a new Springfield arose I know of no instance where anyone thought twice.
The Dragoon model M1842 is similar in length but a touch lighter than my beloved M1841. I will admit it took me a little while to re learn how to hit anything with her but I satisfied myself that I could still shoot straight if need be. But if it comes time to pick up a rifle again it will not be an M1842 such as this one but my tried and true M1841, Springfield or Sharps rifle. This nice old M1842 is past her prime surpassed by designs that improved upon the road she set the world upon. I hold a fondness in my heart for her as she reminds me of times long past, a time in my life of blistering sands and numbing cold.
I first handled a P1853 Enfield Rifle Musket during the Crimea when I mingled with Scottish soldiers of the 42nd Highlanders of the “Black Watch.” I was used to the French M1842 Rifle Musket; having been issued one and trained to use it prior to the War while in north Africa I liked it. I remember at the time thinking that the P53 seemed too light. I didn’t care for it and was not impressed with the accuracy when I took my turn sending a bullet into the Russian works. On reflection that may well have been no more than the prejudice of familiarity.
When I came into the United States one of my first purchases was an excellent P53 made by the United States company of Windsor. I was quite pleased to see it and several of its brothers at a drygoods store where I was outfitting myself. It was the only legitimate arm for sale. While there were a variety of shotguns and sporting rifles as well as several Colt revolvers and a few “pepper box” pistols I saw the P53 as the only legitimate arm there. I was quite pleased with the quality, workmanship and all around good value of the Windsor Enfield that I would carry with me for the next several years. I found it to be accurate, reliable and quite robust in even the most trying of situations.
When I volunteered at Ft Snelling I carried that Windsor with me. I placed it in the care of the Barnaby family and was later issued an excellent Colt altered M1841 which I admit a fondness for. My regiment was never issued the P53 but I handled many in my role as a regimental armorer; after Vicksburg the P53 became more plentiful in other regiments and I had many an opportunity to handle them. As I recall a dozen or so did make their way into the regiment for a short while but did not stay long.
All in all I was wholly unimpressed with the arm. There were a number of manufacturers with a vast variety of quality in them. I would handle a couple more Windsors and found them to be of the same high quality as my own and found those marked LA & Co to be every bit as good. Other makers were considerably less so. By far the most common were those marked Tower and I found these a confusing lot with some of excellent quality and others unfit for much more than kindling. I found poorly seasoned stocks, loose and sloppy fittings, weak springs and various other minor but annoying issues. What I found most frustrating was the lack of interchangeability, with the exception of the Windsor and LA & Co arms, in these supposed first rate arms.
Those marked LA & Co as well as Windsor were of the highest quality and some marked Tower were also as good as any. But there were also some marked Tower that were poor substitutions for a pike. Poorly seasoned wood splintered easily, loose or poorly fitted metal parts created problems and the lack of interchangeability made extra work for those of us working as armorers.
As a result many men who had been issued various models of the M1841 held on to them and no regiment I know of passed up the opportunity to exchange their Enfields for new arms of the Springfield variety.
I must admit that I have had a love affair with the M1841 since they were first issued to the Regiment. We had several different models in the regiment and often different models in the same company. All were in .58 calibre and had some form of rear sight and bayonet lug. The majority were issued with a sabre bayonet; though I do seem to recall a few with a standard bayonet but I may well not be remembering correctly. All had some form of effective long range rear sight. But the reality of combat had us only rarely needing to adjust our sights for long range fire as most of our firing was done at well under three hundred yards.
Originally the M1841 was designed for a .54 calibre patched round ball with a simple Kentucky rear sight. It had no provision for a bayonet and a knife was issued with it. That round ball combined with the simple rear sight was an effective weapon out to about 250 yards. The first to reach our Regiment were of the original model but these were quickly replaced by those that had been modified to fire the .58 minnie bullet and mount a bayonet. By mid 1862 all of the rifles in the Regiment were excellent M1841’s of various manufacture and modifications. In July of 62 D Company received a number of M1855 rifles. In all honesty I still preferred the M1841 and managed to hold on to mine through to the end of the war. When we returned from furlough in the spring of 1864 we received a “new” issue of the excellent M1861 series arms. There were a couple of refurbished M1855, M1861, M1863 & M1864’s in the issue and once again I managed to retain a few of the M1841’s I so loved.
I carried the Colt Alteration and liked it for its simplicity. The Harpers Ferry modified rifle you see here was of a type also present in the Regiment. They were a good weapon and in the hands of a man who knew what he was doing could make an enemy very uncomfortable at 400 yards. Their short length and reputation for accurate fire made them popular in the works before Vicksburg where my Regiment gained a reputation as “shooters.” It was also at Vicksburg where the men took up the “Indian War hoop” instead of the more common US “huzzah.” I know that war hoop scared hell out of the enemy as well as the regiments beside us. Having a few Ojibwa and Dakota men in the ranks who were apt to take scalps did not hinder our reputation.
When it came our time in the trenches we were each given a couple hundred rounds and told not to come back with any. Most of the fire was harassment fire to keep rebel heads down while the engineers and sappers worked. And work it did, our sappers and engineers were rarely bothered by enemy fire. I have no doubt our fire told upon enemy morale as they could not raise their heads without inviting a shot. Many a rebel chose furlough by bullet. Rebel fire was no less effective as they had the benefit of rather well designed and sighted works, but our fire was considerably more plentiful and I daresay more telling. I have never been one to brag of those I have killed or wounded, I prefer not to dwell upon such things. But there is no doubt when it came the turn of my men to take to the trenches we did our duty and contributed enough to the siege that when it came time to march into the newly surrendered city my Regiment was at the head of the column.
In my military careers I have carried the French M1816/22 & M1842, US M1841, M1855 & M1864. I have fired all in anger and consider the finest to have been the M1864 but admit a soft spot for that M1841. As a civilian I have carried the P53, Sharps and a shortened Potsdam. I have to admit that Sharps is quite a weapon… but hand me my M1841 as I know exactly where I can put my rounds. If I have to rely upon a weapon to shoot exactly where I need it to an if necessity demands it to mount a bayonet I will still take that M1841. She is a beautiful piece with a history and I like her.
Picture courtesy of the relicman
Anyone who knows me understands I have no fondness for pistols. I believe them the toy of the dandy. I prefer a good knife. During the war I was the Regimental Armorer and on occasion was required to repair a damaged pistol. I was the Regimental Armorer for my own infantry regiment but there were occasions when cavalry would be garrisoned with us and a few officers carried pistols. I remember the Whitney Navy revolver as a well made and serviceable pistol. I felt the same about the Remington. While the French Lefaucheux was superbly built it lacked the machine made quality of most US made pistols. As various models of Colt revolvers were quite common I had my hands on a few of those as well as an officers Smith and Wesson. What you see on display is the Starr revolver, an excellent pistol well ahead of its time in that it was a double action pistol. The Starr was quite popular with the men who carried them. She was rugged, reliable and quite well made.
The majority of repairs I made to pistols involved cracked, broken or clogged nipples. I once was asked to repair a cracked frame on a Colt Navy whose owner had used it as a club; no armorer is that good. There were other minor issues better repaired by a professional gunsmith but only rarely was I unable to return a pistol to service. The Starr is memorable to me because of the distinctive frame and the fact that those that passed through my hands were all of excellent quality and the repairs I made were typically minimal.
After the war quite a few gunsmiths made a trade converting percussion pistols to fire the new cartridge. Most that I have seen converted such were Colt or Remington pistols though I have seen several Starr pistols converted to cartridge by simply modifying the cylinder.
One company of the 4th were issued the M1817 rifle early in the war. I don’t recall if they left Minnesota with them or not. They would be replaced by either the excellent M1841 in .58 or the M1855 rifle and later with the M1861 series arms. The M1817 was a short and handy rifle with good accuracy out to about 250 yards. The simple notched rear sight really wasn’t good for anything past that 250 yards. Like the M1841 the M1817 was reliable and effective; but unlike the M1841 I so admire the M1817 was hand made and thus not interchangeable with the resulting variety in quality.
Those that I handled were well built with good fit and finish and I could see why the men appreciated them. However the deep rifling designed for a patched round ball quickly fouled when using a standard .54 caliber bullet. That fouling was more difficult to get out as well due to the deep rifling necessary with a patched round ball.
I do not know if any were converted from flintlock to percussion by national armories or if they were all done by private contractors. The one I recall had an 1841 date on the lock and by all appearances had left the factory as a percussion arm.
One of the drawbacks I recall of the M1817 was the patch box; it seemed to become difficult to open and close with heavy use. While easily large enough for the required tools and a few patches it seemed to get out of order fairly easily. I was required to repair several because of this. While it was an easy repair job for me it was an annoyance to the man who carried one.
Like the original M1841 the M1817 was not originally designed for a bayonet though I do recall seeing a few that had been modified to take a sabre bayonet. Though to be honest I don’t remember if those were M1817 that had been issued to my regiment or some that I encountered in the hands of rebels.