View Full Version : 1st Minnesota/ Model 1855 Weapons issue?
01-22-2011, 12:16 PM
I am looking for a better description of the first weapons issue of the model 1855 rifle musket for three companies of the 1st. Minnesota. Were they Springfields, Harpers Ferry, or Whitney weapons? Richard Moe's, "The Last Full Measaure" explains they were Springfields. Unfotunately today, I find this more of a generalized descrption that all Model 1855 rifle muskets were Springfields. There are some very unique differences from the mentioned Armories.
Any help would be appreciated...
Lee Lodge #30 F.&A.M.
01-22-2011, 12:51 PM
Ordnance records would not make a distinction between the manufacturers, just the model and caliber of musket. The best way of tracking the manufacturer itself would be to try and find any existing muskets with provenance to the unit being portrayed.
01-23-2011, 09:10 AM
Thanks for the reply on my question... Was hoping maybe our friends from the "great white north", would have some evidence of a manufacturers name mentioned for the model 55.
01-23-2011, 11:50 AM
This link may help.
have not read the parts on the 1st. The section on the 5th MN states they where issues harpers ferry rifles.
01-23-2011, 09:17 PM
Thank you for that link. Very helpful!
01-24-2011, 10:10 PM
While conducting our research for "Raising the First Volunteers" We found that the 1st Minnesota had 1855's, 1842's and some had Mississippi rifles. Since the fort was owned by a private land developer and it was falling apart. The government sold what was in the fort in 1858.
The person I would contact would be Steve Osman
01-25-2011, 07:41 PM
Thank you for that tip... I take it, Steve O. is still at Ft. Snelling.
01-26-2011, 11:11 AM
Steve Osman retired a few years ago from the Minnesota Historical Society. He has not been at the Fort for quite some time now. Steve is registered here, but you may also want to contact Jim Moffat, who is also here.
01-26-2011, 02:00 PM
There are a total of 5 recognized variations of M-1855's. Two "Rifles". Commonly referred to today as the type I brass mounted Rifle and the type II iron mounted Rifle) only made at Harpers Ferry. And three "Rifle Musket" length arms made at both Harpers Ferry and Springfield Armories. Commonly referred to as the type I, II and type III depending on the time period and features found on them.
Dates of production for Harpers Ferry will be fro 1857 to 1861. Production dates for Spingfield will be from1858 to 1860.
Whitney does make two versions, one with Maynard Priming system and one with out (sometimes called or referred to as Whitney/Richmond). The US Government does not purchase any of these Whitney made arms. There are, however, some States that do buy these arms.
If you would like to e-mail me, I can send you photos of the two "Rifles" and the three "Rifle Muskets" as were manufactured by the National Armories. These photo may give you a good idea as to the features that define these type designations.
This info may not help you determine the exact variation of the M-1855 this Unit received. This will depend greatly on the nomenclature/description used within the official records, which can be lacking in the actual details needed for proper ID-ing the exact arm.
I hope you find this helpful,
01-26-2011, 07:25 PM
...Don't forget the cadet M1855 rifle-musket.
01-26-2011, 07:47 PM
Or the single shot Pistol Carbine.
Both of which were made in very small number and not considered basic Infantry arms. But, worth mentioning.
01-27-2011, 09:16 AM
Thank you all for your valued feedback...
What I hope to find is a definitive description stating the weapons some received indeed were the "Harpers Ferry', model 1855 rifle musket. Logistically it would seem given the location of Harpers Ferry to the frontier states at the time would make it a good option to supply them. Evidence showing some indeed were issued the Harpers Ferry raises this question. I know its a long shot.
Lee Lodge #30 F.& A.M.
01-27-2011, 12:53 PM
Bad opening for a forum observation, but, "as I recall", new Harpers Ferry arms were more often issued-out to the States under the 1808 Militia Act whilst Springfield production tended to be reserved for Federal issue. Harpers Ferry was subject to quality control issues.
01-27-2011, 12:53 PM
As shared, INDEED a very long shot as NUG that "level of detail" was:
1. not important
2. typically falls under the rather lax us eof "descriptors" BOTH among Ordnance folks and particularly among everyday soldiers. (Meaning an RM was likely to be a ".58 in a ammumition return, or "Springfield" or "Minie gun" could apply to M1855, M1861, SM1861, M1863/M1864 as musket, rifle, gun, etc., randomly.
IMHO, one would have had find a soldier somewhere who thought that the armory or contractor names on his gun was important to make note and write it down. (In the Modern World, it would remind me of a WWII soldier talking about whether his M1 Carbine was made by General Motors, IBM, Winchester, Underwood Typewriter, and the Rock-Ola jukebox company, etc.).
01-27-2011, 04:09 PM
The individual soldier may have found this important info, however, is not often the one filling out the returns and/or reports that we have access to today.
Sometimes there are clues in these reports. Such as the caliber of the arm. Or the type of bayonet issued with that particular arm that may give us a clue today as to what it was.
A great deal of confusion can often be added to this search, if one takes into account the "up grades" that were being preformed on the M-1841 Rifle's at Harpers Ferry between 1855 and 1861, just before the War.
These two models are commonly referred to as Harpers Ferry "Rifles" (along with the M-1803's and the 1819 Hall Rifles)
I wish you a great deal of luck in finding the detailed description you hope to find.
Unfortunately, at least within my experience, this does not often happen.
In most cases, one has to take a rather educated guess (assumption) base on your individual knowledge of the weapons variations and the documentation that is available.
As to the quality control issues Harpers Ferry may/might have had... I could not disagree more.
This is based solely on my knowledge of the various types of work and alterations HF was known for doing.
Craig L Barry
01-27-2011, 04:21 PM
Agree. I have not heard that about Harpers Ferry (quality control) either. It does not track
with my experience, limited though it is, working with original parts from there. If that were
true, why would HF be the Armory selected to make the US 1841 percussion rifle rather
01-27-2011, 04:38 PM
I think, and yes, this is my opinion... but much of the flint to percussion conversions Muskets can also be included with what was being done at Harpers Ferry too. (Not excursively.)
It is actually rather amazing that HF was able to produce as many arms as they did during this time priord with all the other work they were involved with.
01-27-2011, 05:17 PM
The same would be true for the M1855 Rifle at HF rather than Springfield.
I have never encountered any references to inferior HF quality or quality control, nor in the originals I have seen or owned.
And I forgot to add, the location of armories, arsenals, and depots does not always necessarily match or make sense when it comes to the issuance of not only weapons but also uniforms and gear. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes not at all. The U.S. Ordnance as well as Quartermaster folks shipped stuff here and there, in an inter-linked network system- and it does not always make sense to look at the closest facility for the closest troops.
01-27-2011, 07:15 PM
It is also very important to note, that even here on the Authentic Campaingner... where most want to be extremely authentic... few care little about the firearms that the soldier actually needed to ply his trade.
Hundreds, even thousands of dollars maybe willingly spent on more "stuff"... but who is willing to spend good money on a quality firearm?
Who can be a soldier without the primary tool of a soldier, the firearm?
I often wonder at peoples priorities for this hobby.
This is a very good question, BTW
01-27-2011, 08:05 PM
Harpers Ferry Armory was chronically deficient in economy and quality control when compared to Springfield. References below are to "Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology" by Merritt Roe Smith (Cornell Univ. Press, 1977). "The (Harpers Ferry) armory's disappointing performance was...atributed to managerial shortcomings, craft traditions, harsh environmental conditions, bizarre local customs (!), and the baleful influence of several families who owned and controlled the town...." (p. 76). "Over the years many workmen left the factory to escape the dreaded 'bilious fever' epidemics which occurred almost annually. Each outbreak of the fever inevitably reduced the labor force to a skeleton crew and sometimes even forced closure of the armory for weeks at a time." (p 76). The workers maintained "an indifference toward mechanization" which "permiated attitudes at Harpers Ferry" (p 113). In the years prior to 1830, Springfield musket barrels sustained a 10% failure rate while Harpers Ferry barrels suffered a 25% failure rate, which an examining board found to be "unusual and extraordinary". (p. 115) "...(U)nusually high consumption of alcoholic beverages" (p 77). Ordnance inspectors pronounced the arms manufactured at Harpers Ferry '40 per cent inferior' to those made at Springfield" (p. 279). "Springfield concluded preparations for interchangable production during the summer of 1840, Harpers Ferry had only partially accomplished the same objective by 1846." (p. 283) Workmen at Harpers Ferry assaulted an inspector because "the inspection was too close" (p. 159), one HF master armorer's name "seemed to be synnonymous with corruption, turmoil, and intrigue...he had taken bribes, falsifed records, intimidated workers, played favorites, (and) condoned...violence...." (p. 179). One HF armorer murdered a reform-minded HF superintendant at his desk. (p. 256). "Throughout the period from 1815 to 1861 the Harpers Ferry Armory maintained an aloofness from the forces shaping industrial civilization" (p. 326). For these and other reasons, the Army Ordnance Department sequestered Springfield arms for the Regular Army where possible and preferred to issue-out the products of Harpers Ferry to the states. Thus, if Minnesota had M.1855 arms to issue-out before the scramble of mid-1861 which anniliated distinctions, they were more likely to be Harpers Ferry manufacture.
01-27-2011, 08:17 PM
Joseph E. Johnston, in his inspection tour of forts in Texas and New Mexico in 1859-60, noted that many of the 1855 rifle muskets of Harpers Ferry manufacture had rear sight screws that were set too deep, and interfered with loading. He was very displeased.
Craig L Barry
01-27-2011, 08:18 PM
Well how 'bout that? Thank you for the referenced material gents. Learn something new every day.
In that Texas fort reference about the r. sight screws...how would the sight screws interfere with loading?
Were they all the way through the barrel walls?
01-27-2011, 08:35 PM
Craig, likely so. A whole shipment of M.1816/22 flinters went out of the Ferry allegedly fully proofed and inspected, but were found not even to have had their vents drilled. Earlier in this thread someone mentioned M1 carbines. Harpers Ferry was to quality control in the 19th Century what Rock-Ola was in the 1940s. And, as a fellow accumulator of martial weapons, due to the eccentric nature of Harpers Ferry and Rock-Ola products, like a doting mother, I tend to love them the best.
01-27-2011, 08:53 PM
I left the book at work, but Johnston said that they created a bulge on the inside of the barrel that would catch the bullet or even the ramrod by itself. Apparently, many of the few pistol carbines that were produced were used by the mounted branches in the area, as well as the 1841 rifle and the 1855 rifle carbine, as well as several other types of carbines. The Mounted Rifles thought the 1855 rifles were less accurate than the 1841's, and it seems no one liked the tape primers.
01-27-2011, 09:46 PM
You make several references to or for some sort of documentaton, where do these points actually come from? Can you post an actual reference to these so the rest of us can evaluate them for ourselves?
I must admit, I have never read this type of info. Especially not in this vain about HF.
01-28-2011, 05:25 AM
Friend Blair: as aforementioned, the quotations cited above are from the book "Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology" by one Merritt Roe Smith. Just checked and reprints in paperback are available from Amazon. It's a great source for anyone interested in the manufacture of early American small arms, the evolving methods of manufacturing them, and, concurrently, the checkered, colorful history of the facility at Harpers Ferry. There are several books written about Springfield Armory; this is the only thorough treatment of the Ferry of which I'm aware. It is heavily footnoted. Harpers Ferry was a particularly unfortunate choice...a political choice...of a place to build an armory. It was physically and culturally remote, flood and disease prone. The superintendants tended to come from the local planter class and the individualistic, eccentric character of the early workers...many of them Pennsylvania riflesmiths...survived for decades, peculiarly adverse to modernization or mechanization. For much of its life, the administration of the armory was in conflict with the Army Ordnance Department who constituted an ongoing irritation due to its push for improvement and efficiency. Harpers Ferry weapons were often of marginal quality and routinely more expensive to produce than like arms from Springfield.
01-28-2011, 09:07 AM
Thanks, I'm going to have to get this book.
I knew of the issues regarding the location of the Armory. Flooding was a major problem. Along with getting raw materials to that area.
The thing I was interested in most was this "marginal quality" thing. This is not something that I have experienced with the arms had a chance to examine.
01-28-2011, 12:19 PM
Your thoughts and opinions are good. I thank you for that...
Must go with Dave on the Ferry though. The James Henry Burton letters, Yale Univwersity, reveal like descriptions of conditions at HF.
Just to get back to the question posted, I am looking for a reply from probably the most knowlegable person I know on Minnesota troops, Steve Osman. I'll share with you what I learn from him.
01-28-2011, 01:03 PM
I knew I should not have tossed that book into the Books to be Read Pile when it came out. It is around here somwhere!
01-28-2011, 11:01 PM
A few comments.
HF and the New Technology is a great book. It did shed a new light on Harper's Ferry - much to my Chagrin. However. Most of the period - problems discussed in the book are with teens, twentys and thirties. In 1842 after another investigation the military took over the leadership of both armories and at least in my opinion HF moved into being a first class operation. The book does not get into the 1840's until almost page 300. The chapter begining on page 305 discusses the period 1859-61 so there is an abrievated coverage of the 1840's and 1850's.
That being said I think HF both suffered and benifited from it's location. Springfield was in a consitrated industrial area. How many major manufacturing facilitied were within 50 miles of SF? That provided good access to materials and skilled labor. Conversely HF was somewhat isolated, though close to Washington.
In the conculsion Smith does note the cost difference between SF and HF weapons, but even comments that given the variety of weapons produced and the struggles with both the political system and the raw materials it is a wonder that there was not more difference.
HF providing the militia while SF provided the regular army (?) My opinion/ understand is that the contract weapons were for the militia and armory production was for the Army. That changes though with the 1842 & 1855. Few 1842's were produced under contract - but that is a mute point becaues I am not sure there was a mass issue of 1842's - the Mexican war being primarly fought with flint 1816's. And I think there was a concern over transportation expense, so SF would provide for the North East and North West while HF would be closer to the south.
The Johnston and Mansfield Inspection reports are a wonderful source for some of what was in the hands of the troops. The report on the HF 1855 RM barrel screw problem was at Ft. McIntosh (page 147) Mansfield mentions a special report on the rifle musket at the end - but my reprint does not seem to have it.
I skimmed them tonight and did see where Johnston commented at three or four posts that the officers did not favor the Tape primers. His inspection was in 1859 and at several of the posts, he mentioned they had just recieved ammuniton and could begin practice. There tends to be some lag time in troops adjusting to a new weapon - recall the restance to the adoption of the M1 over the 1903. Also most of the posts visited the arms were excellent and functioned well.
It is interesting to note that Mansfield, who was inspecting in late 1860 and early 1861 did not record similar opinions on disliking the tape primer. His report from Ft. Stockton from November 17 1860 mentions "... There were but 7 snaps of the tape primer out of 144..." (page 113) He did critize the new rear sight. At Ft. McIntosh (page 145) he said "Four of the muskets of this company had sights different from the standard & were arranged for 100, 300 & 500 yds. only. This is disadvantageous innovation. The great benefit of the rifle musket is the long and certian range & why cut off its range & efficiency [at] 600 yards."
Mansfield did mention "Harper's Ferry Rifle" at several posts, but I think he is refering to the 1841 rifle. The ammunition at San Antonio lists both rifled musket ammunition and rifle ammunition. At fort Brown Mansfield mentions ammunition stored "... 1000 musket ball cartridges .. 115,000 rifled musket ball cartridges of caliber .58, 10,000 Harpers Ferry rifle ball cartridges... " (page 164) The only need to distinguish the difference would be caliber.
Granted the words used are not the same terms used today.
In my opinion the HF of the late 1840's and 1850's was preimer installation. Look at the model gun development that went on and people like James Burton who went from being the Master Armorer at HF to building the British Small Arms plant at Enfield. Granted Springfield made an excellent product as well.
Well food for thought
01-29-2011, 12:30 AM
I wanted to add that I agree with Blair. The original Harper's Ferry weapons I own and have examined have been nice quality. The period of the 1850's I believe the tolerences were in the 2 - 3 throusands of an inch. Even the early HF weapons do not seem any different quality wise from the other manufacturers.
01-29-2011, 02:06 AM
Fellows: far be it from me to place myself betwixt those enamoured with Harpers Ferry and its weapons and the objects of their affections. This gentlemanly exchange demonstrates perhaps an unexpected if tiny additional reason why the Civil War and its era remains controversial to this day...some argue ad infinitum the causes of the war, we who have more focused interests wax potentially ouchy concerning perceived calumny heaped upon an obscure and long dormant manufacturing site. I'm one who also has a soft spot in my heart and head for the Ferry (Great Grandpa was briefly stationed there in 1862 after routing the Rebs out of Antietam's Bloody Lane with a little help from his II Corps friends). I hope to be up there next month on another pilgrimage. I skimmed the stuff from the book on the Ferry for the purpose of demonstrating a theory why, if the State of Minnesota had M1855 rifle-muskets on hand at War's beginning, they perhaps were more likely to have been made at the Ferry than at Springfield and, thus, in the hands of those of the 1st Minnesota Infantry who may have been armed with '55s. That aside, one of my favorite Gettysburg monuments is that somewhat eccentric looking fellow atop the 1st Minnesota's. I always pause when there to commune with him.
01-29-2011, 09:44 AM
Well put David
I have always been enamoured with Harper's Ferry and their products. History seemed to have stoped there many times. John Hall acomplished a Technological marvel there with his acomplishments with interchangable parts and he was working against the grain at the Armory. I got to visit Springfield for the first time last year and it was interesting they did not even mention that. Guess they were being site specific. Roswel Lee was a driving force for innovation there early in their history.
Sometimes I think we study history partly for those pearls.....
01-29-2011, 10:29 AM
Taken from Document files held by Minnestoa State Historian Retired, Steve Osman, four companies of the 1st Minn. received the model 55 rifle musket. Records show that three shiments were delivered from the St. Louis Arsenal as State Property. There is no mention of the maker or dates produced. The mention of the the 1st being issued the Springfiled 55 made in Richard Moe"s "Last Full Measure" was a generic description. There was no research done by him to determine the makers of this weapon.
01-29-2011, 11:56 AM
Do you have a date for the arms shipments "delivered from the St. Louis Arsenal"?
This may give you some idea as to which '55 Rifle Musket variant was in this shipment. It won't help identify which Armory was the maker.
01-29-2011, 09:27 PM
I have asked Steve if he would share with me the file info he has. The same question occured to me. I'll sure post that if I get anything.
01-31-2011, 06:36 PM
I have at this time a rather couplet set of photographs of the three various types of '55 "Rifle Musket" produced at both Harpers Ferry and Springfield.
If you would like, I will send these to you via an e-mail request, by their respective variation/group (three e-mails).
I can also tell you the various dates of production throughout this time period, which may help you in your search.
E-mail me and let me know how you would like to continue with this.
I hope this info may help you,
02-11-2011, 06:24 PM
I have handled an original M1855 w/ provenance to a 1st MN Veteran it was a Springfield Manufacture w/ an 1860 lock and barrel. Though there was some question as to when it was aqcuired or if it was the same arm carried by the man or one purchased post war.
02-13-2011, 12:32 PM
Thank you for that post Johan...
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