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.