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Scarce Springfield Armory Model 1855 Type I Rifle, c. 1858

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Springfield Armory Model 1855 Type I Rifle, c. 1858

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This is an original and correct Springfield Armory manufactured U.S. Model 1855 Rifle Musket with Maynard Tape-Primer Mechanism with the brass forend tip that was manufactured in 1858. This is the Type I Model 1855 and only 12,202 were manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1858 and was one of the last Type I’s manufactured.

Following the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th Century, arms developers in Europe began to digest the lessons learned from the linear style of warfare used by Napoleon and his numerous opponents on the continent. One of the critiques of the infantrymen of the day was that the standard lead ball, which was only slightly less in diameter than the bore diameter, would become harder and harder to load as the bore became fouled with carbon and partially burned powder. In response, arms designers began to experiment with projectiles that were significantly smaller in diameter than the diameter of the bore, so that rapid loading could be accomplished. The problem that developed as a result was that although a smaller diameter projectile might be easier to load, there was a corresponding loss of accuracy from a bullet that would essentially bounce down the barrel along with decreased muzzle velocity from gas escaping past the projectile. Designers then began to look for projectiles that, while small for loading, would expand to "fit" the bore during firing. One method of resolving both of these problems was to use a soft lead bullet that was smaller than the bore diameter. The breech end of the weapon was designed with a shaft that protruded forward. When the softer bullet was rammed into the breech, the shaft would deform the projectile outwards causing it to expand to the diameter of the bore. While it worked in theory, this method was actually slower as experiments showed that breech end fowling, and the very act of ramming a piece of lead sufficiently to deform it enough to expand to the diameter of the barrel, increased loading times.

This problem was ultimately resolved in 1847 by French Ordnance Captain Claude Etienne Minie, who invented a projectile, which still bears his name, that was smaller in diameter than the bore but had a hollow base. Captain Minie's design was actually based upon the work of two other French Ordnance Officers who had started work on hollow base projectiles that incorporated a tapered wooden plug or sabot that was inserted part way into the hollow base. When the weapon was fired, the initial expansion of gases drove the plug into the hollow base, which then expanded the rear side walls of the projectile to the diameter of the bore. Captain Minie's design, which became known as the Minie Ball, replaced the wood plug or sabot with a metal one, which gave greater consistency in accuracy than the wood design. Minie's projectile design, in conjunction with a rifled barrel that he designed in 1849, was used to devastating effect during the Crimean War. The Minie Ball in a rifled barrel significantly increased both range and accuracy and rendered the linear, close-in style of fighting used during the Napoleonic period, obsolete. Unfortunately for the Americans soon to fight in the Civil War, the development of new tactics lagged behind the development of small arms.

Needless to say, the new Minie Ball and rifled barrel design of Captain Minie sparked considerable interest in the United States Army. In 1853, Harpers Ferry manufactured several experimental rifles with various bore diameters and rifling systems. Colonel Benjamin Huger conducted tests of these experimental rifles, as well as a number of European production rifles, at Harpers Ferry during the winter of 1853-1854. At the same time, Lieutenant James G. Benton was conducting parallel tests at Springfield Armory. Benton's experiments led him to develop a conical-pointed projectile with a hollow base that did not need the tapered plug or sabot to expand the walls to the diameter of the bore. Benton accomplished this by simply thinning the walls surrounding the hollow base so that the expanding gases alone could accomplish what had earlier required the use of the plug. Once Benton came up with this breakthrough, he began to work on improving the ballistics performance of the round by lengthening the front, conical portion of the round. Benton's final design would be the standard projectile used during the Civil War with such devastating effectiveness.

French Captain Minie's contributions would not be the last Continental influence on the American's new design. The United States Ordnance Department received two examples of Britain's new Pattern 1853 Rifle Musket in 1854 for test and evaluation. The British Pattern 1853 Rifle would have a significant influence over the final American design. All of the previous years' work culminated in tests conducted from the fall of 1854 to the spring of 1855, when Colonel Huger and Lieutenant Benton conducted firing trials at Springfield and Harpers Ferry. The final result was a recommendation by the Ordnance Board of a new rifle with a .58 caliber three-groove barrel with a twist rate of one right-hand turn in 72". The grooves and lands were to be the same width and the groove depth would increase from the muzzle to the breech. The method of priming and firing the new rifle was based on the automatic tape-priming device patented by Dr. Edward Maynard, who was a dentist in Washington, D.C., after the government purchased the rights to Maynard's design for $50,000. The new rifle could also use standard percussion caps as needed. Interestingly, the Ordnance Board's recommendation for the new rifle was sent to, and approved by, then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America. Secretary Davis authorized the new rifle on July 5, 1855. Jefferson Davis' approval that year led to the development of the U.S. Model 1855 family of weapons, which included the rifle, a Model 1855 Carbine, and the Model 1855 Pistol Carbine.

The US Model 1855 Rifle Musket was the United States' first service pattern, standard issue infantry, musket configuration, rifled bore shoulder arm. All examples of the US Model 1855 Rifle were manufactured at either Springfield Armory or Harpers Ferry Armory. The initial tooling at both armories was influenced significantly by Ordnance Chief Colonel Craig who instructed the armories that the new Model 1855 rifles were to have "perfect uniformity," and that "[e]very possible exertion compatible with perfect accuracy of workmanship should be used to complete the Model Musket..." So exacting was Colonel Craig's expectation of "uniformity" that the established tolerances were reduced from the previous tolerance of .01", which permitted functional interchangeability of components, to only .0025", one fourth of the previously allowed tolerance. This exacting demand for close tolerances significantly slowed down production such that not one US Model 1855 Rifle was completed in 1855 and only three were completed by June 30, 1856. The first 310 Model 1855 Rifles were completed during the first quarter of calendar year 1857. Springfield and Harpers Ferry would eventually produce two distinct types of Model 1855 Rifles. The first, generally known as the Type I, is characterized by a long range sight, graduated to 900 yards, no provision for a patch box in the stock, and a brass forend cap. The second, or Type II, incorporated a changed rear sight with a simpler two-leaf design configured for firing up to 500 yards, added an implement compartment (or patch box) in the right side of the stock, and changed the forend cap from brass to steel. These changes were made in 1858 and remained the same until the end of production of the Model 1855, which was in 1861.

This US Model 1855 Rifled Musket is the first or Type I design manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1858 with an original Model 1855 adjustable Rear Sight. Because the new Model 1858 Rear Sight was incorporated into production of Model 1855 Rifles at Springfield Armory beginning in August 1858, this particular rifle was manufactured prior to then. The Stock is its original oil finished black walnut that is 52 13/16" long. The original steel Butt Plate has the curved rear profile and convex rear surface with 2 1/8" long, round-ended tang. The Tang has the "US" stamp. The Butt Plate Screws are both single slotted and exhibit significant pitting. The Butt Plate exhibits significant pitting throughout on both the tang and the back side.

The interior of the lock mortise is in fine condition. There is a crack to the rear of the lock mortise but the crack is solid and does not move. On the left stock flat is the correct oval cartouche with script “ESA,” which is the stamp of Erskine Allin. The Stock has numerous dings and scratches and a hairline crack from the lockplate recess back approximately 1 1/2" but it is barely noticeable and the stock is still tight. There is another small crack at the front edge of the trigger guard but it is also tight and does not flex. The stock retains its original oil finish.

All three original Barrel Bands are present. The Bands, each approximately 5/8" wide with flat surfaces, each gradually taper towards the muzzle for a secure fit and each is correctly marked with a serif "U" on the right side, level with the Band Retaining Spring. The three Bands all exhibits considerable old pitting along with a dark plum patina. The Band Springs, or Band Retainers, are also original and are located forward of their respective bands. The Middle Band has its original Upper Sling Swivel riveted to a lug on the bottom and it rotates freely. The Forend Cap is brass and is secured by an interior-run screw that secures it to the Stock. 1858 was the last year that the forend cap was made of brass and, in the same year, Springfield transitioned to steel caps.

The original Ramrod is 39 5/8" in length and has the cupped "tulip"-shaped head. The Ramrod has a retaining swell approximately 5" to the rear of the head and the rear end of the Ramrod is threaded for 5/16" to attach the ball screw and wiper. The Ramrod exhibits a dark plum patina with small areas of old pinprick pitting noted. The Ramrod Channel in the Stock shows normal dings from use and from removing and reinserting the ramrod during firing and the Ramrod still secures in the swell portion of the channel (Model 1855 Rifles did not use a ramrod friction retainer to secure the ramrod when stowed).

The original Trigger Guard and Trigger Plate are present. The Trigger Plate, which measures 7 5/8" by 5/8" wide, exhibits old pitting with a dark plum patina. The Trigger Plate is secured with two single-slotted screws. The Plate has moderate pitting. The Trigger Bow is approximately 15/16" wide at the bottom and is still tightly secured to the plate by internal slotted nuts. The Bow also shows moderate pitting and a plum patina. The Lower Sling Swivel is correctly riveted to the front of the Bow and it rotates freely. The original Trigger is present and is suspended from a lateral machine screw through an internal lug on the Trigger Plate and the screw still moves freely.

The original Lockplate measures 5 7/16" by 2" and is flat with beveled edges along the perimeter. The Lockplate is marked "1858" horizontally to the rear of the Hammer. The front of the Lockplate is marked "U.S./SPRINGFIELD." The Lockplate has a deep plum patina and has evidence of minor pitting but remains in remarkable condition. The original Maynard Tape-Primer Assembly is present and is fully functional. The magazine is approximately 1/4" deep and is designed to hold a roll of 50 primers. The original Pawl, which advances the roll of primers, is present. The original Primer Magazine Cover is present and is correctly marked with the spread eagle looking to the eagle's left (towards the muzzle). The Cover is secured by the original spring stud or detent and it opens and closes easily on the vertical pin through the hinge. The Lockplate is secured from the left side with the original single-slotted Side Screws and Washers. The original Hammer is present and measures 3 1/16" tall with a convex surface. The thumb piece is straight and has the correct borderless checkering. The bottom of the Hammer nose has the cutting edge, which would cut the tape upon firing. The Hammer Screw is a flat, single slotted screw with rounded edges.

The interior of the lock is in fine condition. The original Main Spring is present and remains strong. The original Bridle and two-position Tumbler are also present as is the original Sear. All of the original lock screws are present and all have unmarred single slots. The lock functions perfectly.

The original Nipple Bolster is present and has a convex outer surface with single-slotted clean out screw. The Nipple itself appears to have a clear path to the bottom of the inside of the Bolster. The Clean Out Screw can be removed.

The original 40" long rifled barrel is present with octagonal surfaces at the rearmost 2 1/4". The front of the Barrel has the original Base and integral Front Sight Post brazed to the Barrel approximately 1 1/4" behind the muzzle. The Front Sight also served as the bayonet lug. The bore still shows original rifling from the observable portion near the muzzle. The barrel date is obscured by pitting from firing. The top, exposed portion of the barrel exhibits considerable old pitting with a dark, plum patina. The bottom, protected area of the barrel still retains most of the original National Armory Bright finish. The original breech plug and tang is present and is secured by a single-slotted screw. The back edge of the barrel is marked “5 CB.”

The original Model 1858 Rear Sight present. It is graduated on the right stepped walls from 100 to 400 yards. The original folding Leaf is present and it is graduated from 500 to 800 yards. The original elevation slide is present and still moves on the leaf. The two sights have the same dimensions from the dovetail to the spanner hole. The original spanner screw is present.

U.S. Model 1855 Rifles are very rare today and Type I examples from 1858 when Springfield transitioned to the Type II with the patch box are desirable. Only 70,254 Model 1855 Rifles, of both types, were manufactured from 1857 to 1861, 47,115 at Springfield Armory and 23,139 at Harpers Ferry Armory. In 1858 when this particular US Model 1855 Rifle was manufactured, only 12,202 were made at Springfield. Surviving examples are scarce in any condition, particularly when one learns that these rifles, being state of the art at the time, were immediately pressed into service by both the Union and Confederate Armies upon the commencement of hostilities in 1861 and were used throughout the war.

This rifle is an antique and can be shipped to anyone. This rifle will also come with an historic writeup and a CD containing all of the photos in the listing. I accept Visa and MasterCard and charge NO FEES. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like additional photos posted.

 

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