Infantry formation of the 18th and 19th century generally designated a small number of troops to carry rifles. To the armies, a “rifle” was a two-banded weapon (or of similar length) that had a rifled bore and was equipped to support a saber bayonet.
By the turn of the century, flank companies in U.S. Army regiments generally were equipped as riflemen. Though they had weapons capable of sharpshooting, these “flankers” primary role was not that of marksmen, but rather, as skirmishers. The shorter weapon was seen as an aid to mobility, not a tool of deadly accuracy.
After the War with Mexico concluded in 1848, it became apparent to military planners that the rifle afforded more than simply lightening the load of flankers. The world’s armies were rearming with rifled weapons. The United States would be forced to follow suit if it wanted to remain a recognized power.
The Army, however, was not ready to give up on its vision of the well-equipped soldier. Plans were made to provide rifled weapons, however, the bulk of troops would received the full-length rifle-musket. Rifles would still be reserved for the flank companies.
When the southern states seceded and declared war, the delineation between who would receive what weapons became increasingly clouded. Rather than just two companies receiving rifles, entire regiments received issues of the shorter, lighter weapons. In most cases just as accurate as a rifle-musket, rifles became one of the soldiers’ favorite weapons.
The US Model 1841 Rifle
From 1843 until 1855, gun manufacturers produced 91,796 Model 1841 rifles. The National Armory at Harpers Ferry produced 25,296 of those (nearly a quarter of all rifles). Several US contractors provided the remaining 66,500 rifles to the US military.
The Model 1841 percussion rifle was also known as the “Mississippi rifle,” “Windsor rifle,” “Harpers Ferry rifle,” “Whitney rifle,” “Remington rifle” and “Yaeger rifle.” As originally produced, the Model 1841 rifle was equipped with a brass blade front sight and a simple V-notch rear sight. They were produced without any provision for a bayonet.
During the last year of production (1854-55), Harpers Ferry attempted to bring Model 1841 rifles up to current specifications by equipping each with more precise sights provisions to accept a bayonet.
When the Secretary of War ordered that the .58 caliber Minié cartridge be adopted for all U.S. shoulder arms, The Model 1841 had been designed for use with a .54 caliber ball and loose powder. With his declaration, the Secretary of War made the Model 1841 obsolete. At the same time, however, he gave life to a large conversion aftermarket that would convert the Model 1841 to current specifications, including reboring many to .58 caliber.
Harpers Ferry barrels are marked with a VP and eagle head at rear of breech in addition to PM over P, AW over P, WW over P all in small letters, No cartouches on stock, but JLR or JHK in block letters appear opposite lock.. There is no US on the buttlplate. The patchbox has three small router holes.
Contract Model 1841 Rifles
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Remington contract
Remington barrels are marked US over JH or JCB or ADK over P. The barrel flat is marked Steel with two cartouches opposite lock.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Robbins, Kendall & Lawrence contract
On February 18, 1845, the firm jointly owned by Samuel E. Robbins, Nicanor Kendall and Richard S. Lawrence received a contract for 10,000 Model 1841 rifles. The Windsor, Vermont, firm was to deliver the rifles at the rate of 2,000 a year at a price of $11.90 each. The contract was complete 18 months early.
Robbins, Kendall & Lawrence barrels are marked US over JCB or NWP or JAG over P. There are two cartouches opposite lock.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Robbins & Lawrence contract
Robbins & Lawrence barrels are marked US over JH or JPC, JAG, JCB, LBC,GW, or SK over P. There are two cartouches opposite lock.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Tryon & Son contract
Tryon barrels are marked US over JH or NWP over sunken P. Additional markings include small US on the barrel and buttplate. There are two cartouches opposite lock.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Whitney contract, type I
Whitney barrels are marked US over SK, SM, GW, JAG, JH, JCB, JPC, or ADK over VP. Marked Steel on barrel flat. There are two cartouches opposite lock.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Whitney contract, type II
The 600 rifles of Whitney’s 1855 delivery were altered to conform with Harpers Ferry’s second style of alteration. Before this last shipment was made, the stock of each rifle was shortened slightly. Whitney replaced the brass-tipped ramrods with a steel-tipped version cupped for use with Minié bullets. Furthermore, each of the 600 was fitted a with a bayonet stud that incorporated a 1” guide brazed to the right side of the barrel. Like the Harpers Ferry altered rifles, Whitney’s featured shortened front double-strap barrel bands.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Whitney South Carolina contract
The State of South Carolina contracted with William Glaze to purchase 274 Model 1841 rifles in 1849. Glaze contracted with Eli Whitney of New Haven, Connecticut, to supply the rifles. South Carolina rifles featured a blade-type front sight affixed to the upper strap of the front barrel band and a bayonet lug on the underside of the barrel near the muzzle to accept a socket bayonet.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Whitney Mississippi contract
No illustration available.
On June 6, 1860, Eli Whitney agreed to supply the state of Mississippi with 1,500 Model 1841 rifles with bayonets. By October 15, 1860, he had sent 60 to Mississippi Adjutant General W.L. Sykes for inspection. Sykes reported that the “arms were received and examined and proved to be old guns fixed up.” With the exception of the 60 sample rifles, no others were delivered under the terms of the contract.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Palmetto Armory, South Carolina Contract
William Glaze and James Boatwright formed the Palmetto Armory in 1850. William Glaze entered into an agreement with Benjamin Flagg, owner of B. Flagg & Co. and signed a contract with the State of South Carolina on April 15, 1851 to produce a number of arms—including 1,000 rifles—all of which were “to be made with in the confines of the State of South Carolina. The contract stipulated that the first 350 rifles be ready for inspection by January 1852. U.S. General William Sherman’s forces reported that 500 Palmetto rifles were destroyed at the Citadel College in Columbia on February 17, 1865.
(Reilly reports that Palmetto Armory M1841s were not fitted for a bayonet, but it appears he studied a sample that had a replaced barrel. Madaus and Richard Taylor Hill report that the rifle had a bayonet lug affixed to the top of the barrel located 1-3/16 to 1-1/2 inches from the muzzle to accept a US Model 1816 socket bayonet).
Alterations to the U.S. Model 1841 Rifle
This photographic guide is intended to take the confusion out of deciphering the many variations of the Model 1841 rifle. This would not have been possible without the generous cooperation of Rock Island Auction Company. In August 2005, the firm conducted the largest sale of Model 1841 rifles since the Civil War. The efforts Rock Island made to accurately catalog and categorize the rifles was a major contribution to the field of collecting and studying these stunning rifles.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Harpers Ferry Type I alteration, 1854-1855
Breaking down the alterations performed at Harpers Ferry into "types" is a modern classification — the terminology was not used during the historic era of the rifles. Documentation of any alterations of Model 1841 rifles at Harpers Ferry prior to 1854 does not exist.
The various types refer primarily to the style of rear sight:
Type I: Model 1841 rifles equipped with the screw pattern long-range sight.
Type II: Those equipped with the slide-pattern long-range rear sight soldered to the barrels.
Type III: Rifles equipped with the Model 1855 rifle long-range rear sight attached by mortise and screw.
Type IV: Rifles equipped with the Model 1858 rear sight.
To further distinguish variations of a particular rear sight pattern or bayonet attachment style, a lower case letter a, b, or c is added to the Type designation.
During 1854-1855, the Harpers Ferry Armory did alter 590 Model 1841 rifles from its own inventory and 1,041 Harpers Ferry manufactured rifles stored at the Washington Arsenal.
The armory fitted the rifles with a new long-range rear Benton sight consisting of a single-standing ladder with a screw adjustable range setting on a 1/2”-long base dovetailed 2-15/16” from the breech (this style of site was found to be unsatisfactory and many were replaced with simple open “V” block sights).
In addition, the armory modified the barrels to accept the 27-1/4”-long Snell-pattern saber bayonet. The modification required two ½” horizontal slot milled on the right side of the muzzle and a ½” elliptical cut milled perpendicular to (but not intersecting) the horizontal slot. Harpers Ferry produced 1,646 bayonets for these altered rifles in 1855. The first style Harpers Ferry alteration were left in .54 caliber.
In addition to the first “Snell” alterations, 449 rifles of Harpers Ferry’s production and 1,200 rifles stored at the Washington Arsenal (all Harpers Ferry-produced) were adapted to accept a second style of saber bayonet that did not incorporate a ring on the handle like the Snell pattern.
The Armory brazed a bayonet lug with a 1” guide key on the right side of each barrel to accept this new bayonet. A stamped letter/number code on the face of each barrel mated it to a bayonet marked with the same code on the quillion.
Between 1855-1857, Harpers Ferry produced 10,286 bayonets of this type. To accommodate this style of bayonet, the double-strap front barrel band was replaced with a new, shorter double-strap band and the forestock was slightly shortened.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Harpers Ferry Type II alteration, 1855-1856
When field trials of the Benton screw-style rear sight proved that it was too fragile for field use, the Armory altered rifles by soldering a sliding rear sight similar to the style adopted by the British government for rifled muskets in 1853. Today, we refer to these as "Type II" alterations.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, Harpers Ferry Type III alteration, 1856-1858
The introduction of the Model 1855 rifle led to changes to existing Model 1841 rifles. The 803 Model 1841 rifles that were converted to .58 caliber during 1856-1857 and the 1,663 rifles altered during 1857-1858 (presumably left in .54 caliber) as well as the 842 .58 caliber rifles altered during 1858-1859 at Harpers Ferry were all modified to take the saber bayonet and sights of the Model 1855 rifle. This alteration added a bayonet lug with no guide to each barrel.
The Armory added an iron block/blade front sight and a Model 1855 rifle long-range rear site with a 2-7/16” base. The side walls of the rear sight were graduated in 100 yard increments and denoted with “2,” “3,” and “5.” All of these arms went through an inspection after the alteration. Those that passed were marked “W.C.K.” on the barrel flat forward of the nipple bolster and in the wood opposite the lock plate.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .58 caliber, Harpers Ferry Type IV alteration, 1859-1860
When a new sight was adopted for the Model 1855 rifle in 1858, it was applied to the Model 1841 rifles still undergoing alteration at Harpers Ferry as well. The new pattern rear sight, which did not become available until 1859, consisted of a 1-3/16” long stepped block and two folding leaves for 300 and 500 yards (marked “3” and “5”). It was dovetailed and screwed to the barrel 2-15/16” from the breech.
All of the 2,133 rifles that underwent this alteration were rebored to .58 caliber (three grooves equal to the width of the lands) and received a full steel, trumpet head ramrod without a brass tip.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .58 caliber, Colt alteration, 1861-1862
In the summer of 1861, the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, purchased 11,368 U.S. Model 1841 rifles from the Federal government for $10 each. His intent was to rebore the rifles to .58 caliber, equip each with a saber bayonet and sell them back to the Ordnance Department for $18.50 per unit.
Apart from 468 rifles in .54 caliber that Colt sold to Connecticut (with saber bayonets), all were rebored with 7-groove rifling to .58 caliber. Colt re-sighted each with the Colt New Model 1855 revolving rifle pattern rear sight and affixed a slip ring clamp with a guide stud to the muzzle to accept a Collins & Company saber bayonet. Both the clamp, bayonet, and the lower right side of the barrel near the muzzle were stamped with matching serial numbers.
In addition to the inspector’s initials, “CC” stamped on the left side of the barrel and either side of the butt stock or comb, each of Colt’s altered rifles bear an oval cartouche encompassing the script initials CGC, WAT, or GTB.
By May 1862, Colt had sold 10,200 of the altered rifles back to the Federal government.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, New York (Remington) alteration, 1861
In 1861, New York contracted for delivery of 5,000 Remington U.S. Model 1841 rifles from Watervliet Arsenal. On May 30 of that year, the state contracted E. Remington & Sons to equip each rifle to accept a Collins, Hartford brass hilted saber bayonet without shortening the stock or front barrel band. Remington brazed a slightly longer than ½” stud 4-1/2” from the muzzle on the right side of the barrel.
By September 1861, Remington was only able to acquire enough bayonets to deliver 3,286 altered rifles (see Grosz alteration for the balance of the 5,000). The Remington altered rifles remained .54 caliber.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, New York (Grosz) alteration, 1861
When E. Remington & Sons was unable to complete the modification of 5,000 U.S. Model 1841 rifles to accept a saber bayonet, 1,600 old U.S. Model 1842 musket socket bayonets were procured from the Springfield Armory.
New York City gunsmith Frederick H. Grosz received the contract to alter the rifles that E. Remington & Sons was unable to equip with saber bayonets. Grosz turned town the barrel of the each rifle to the inner diameter of the Model 1842 socket bayonets from the muzzle for 2-11/16”. He moved the brass blade front sight behind the turning. Finally, he brazed a square bayonet stud on the underside of the turned town section to act as the bayonet’s retainer.
Grosz delivered all of the rifles by December 1861. All of these rifles remained in .54 caliber.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .58 caliber, Pennsylvania (Leman) alteration, 1861
In 1861, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania contracted gunsmith Henry E. Leman of Lancaster to convert 2,352 U.S. Model 1841 rifles to .58 caliber and modify them to accept the triangular U.S. Model 1842 socket bayonet.
Leman bored and rifled each barrel with three wide grooves equal in width to the lands. He then turned down the barrel from the muzzle to 2-11/16” (.853" tapered to .64" at muzzle) and brazed a .23" x .24" rectangular lug to the underside to accept a socket bayonet. This required a new, triangular front sight set back from the muzzle. The rear sight was not changed.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Massachusetts (Drake) alteration, 1862
In 1862, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts contracted A.J. Drake of Boston to alter 1,839 Windsor rifles (most likely U.S. Model 1841 rifles made by Robbins, Kendall & Lawrence of Windsor, Vermont).
On each rifle, Drake replaced the front blade sight with a block base site suitable for mounting a socket bayonet and added a three-leaf rear sight. All of the Drake-altered rifles remained in .54 caliber. The barrels were stripped of their browning.
The majority of the Drake altered rifles were issue to either the 46th or 51st Massachusetts Infantry and bear additional markings appropriate for either regiment.
Less than 75 of the Drake rifles were left in the brown. These “brown Drakes” do not have show any regimental markings.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Maine alteration
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, New Hampshire alteration
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Massachusetts had about 560 Model 1841 rifles in their state inventory. Sometime in the later part of 1861, the state received an additional 4,000 1841 rifles made by Robbins and Lawrence. These rifles were in original configuration, 54 caliber, with a fixed rear sight and no provision for a bayonet. Massachusetts shared these rifles with Maine (2,161) and New Hampshire (961).
The original sights were not altered. Most of New Hampshire's 1841 rifles were issued to the 9th New Hampshire Infantry.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, Vermont alteration
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, New Jersey alteration, Type I
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, New Jersey alteration, Type II
Like Type Is, the front 2-3/4” of the barrel was turned to 13/16” inches and a round stud fastened to the bottom of the barrel to accept and hold a bayonet in place. The front sight is mortised into the socket of the imported Belgian or Austrian bayonet rather than on the muzzle of the barrel. The barrel on Type IIs are stamped “N.J.” on the left flat side of the breech. Type IIs were Whitney-assembled rifles.
U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle, .54 caliber, New Jersey alteration, Type III
New Jersey Type III rifles are composites of Whitney barrels and Tryon locks or vice versa. Otherwise, details are the same as Type I and IIs.
Linder Alteration of U.S. Model 1841 Contract rifles, .54 caliber Combustible Cartridge, Percussion
Merrill Alteration of U.S. Model 1841 Rifle .58 caliber, Percussion, Combustible Cartridge
Early in the Civil War, approximately 100 U.S. Model 1841 Rifles were altered with the addition of the Merrill breech loading apparatus. The alteration involved boring out the barrel and rifling it for use with .58 Minié bullets, removing the original breech plug and installing the Merrill breech system as well as adding the lever catch to the barrel, adding a screw through the lock plate, and using a bolster with a clean out screw.
On December 30, 1859, Secretary of War John B. Floyd (a devoted sympathizer of the South) authorized the delivery of 2,000 .54 caliber M1841 Rifles to each of the southern arsenals at Fayetteville, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, Augusta, Georgia, Mount Vernon, Alabama, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana — 10,000 rifles, in all.
When the Civil War began in 1861, 19,304 Model 1841 rifles in southern arsenals (many still .54-caliber and with no provision for mounting a bayonet) fell into possession of the Confederacy. Of those, the United States had provided 9,304 rifles to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi based on the terms of the Militia Act of 1808. And of those, only 1,411 had been modified with bayonet lugs and long range sights by the Harpers Ferry Arsenal.
Unfortunately, information about alternations to Model 1841 rifles in southern arsenals is not plentiful. After hostilities began, an unknown number were converted to accept bayonets. The records of these conversions, however, are scant.
References to bayonets manufactured for use on "Mississippi Rifles" do exist. The records are unclear as to whether the bayonets were for actual Model 1841 rifles or if they were intended for Southern-manufactured rifles most commonly and generically referred to as "Mississippi rifles."
It is my hope that readers will share what information they have uncovered so that it can be added to this article. Below are a few of the scant records I have been able to uncover:
A style of removing the top of the forward strap of the front barrel band to permit it to pass over a right-side bayonet lug has been documented on several Model 1841 Rifles attributed to Confederate soldiers. Because most of these served in Virginia, collectors have dubbed this alteration the "Virginia style."
Boyle, Gamble & MacFee Alteration
In addition to saber bayonets, Richmond-based Boyle, Gamble & MacFee produced two versions of slip-on bayonet adaptors.
J. H. Happoldt, Charleston, South Carolina
J.H. Happoldt adapted approximately 264 Model 1841 Rifles to accept bayonets. His adaptation included brazing an 1/2 to 9/16-inch iron lug to the right side of the barrel about 3-1/4 to 3-3/8" from the muzzle.
He also made a pair of cuts on the bottom lip of the rifle barrel band that removed enough brass to allow the band to be slipped forward and rotated 90 degrees allowing it pass over the fixed bayonet lug.
Union Car Works Bayonets
Company G of the 9th Virginia Infantry (the "Portsmouth Rifles" were armed with “Remington Mississippi rifles”.
“Upon the outbreak of the war, the Portsmouth City Council voted to provide saber bayonets for the Rifles. These were manufactured at the Union Car Works in Portsmouth.”
Source: A Record of Events in Norfolk County, Virginia From April 19th, 1861, to May 10th, 1862, with a History of the Soldiers and Sailors of Norfolk County, Norfolk City and Portsmouth, who Served in the Confederate States Army Or Navy, by By John W. H. Porter · 1892, p. 78
Hillman Bros. Bayonets
"I would also respectfully recommend that contracts be made for 25,000 sword bayonets for Mississippi rifles and 10,000 for double-barreled shotguns. These bayonets complete will cost about $9 each, making a total cost of $315,000 for the 35,000. Bayonet and gun barrels for rifles really forged out for rifling can be procured in any quantity at $3 each from Hillman Bro., on Tennessee River. The dies for locks and nipples are being made here and can be turned out in large quantities. A foundry and shop in this city can turn out gun stocks at the rate of 100 to 200 per day, and we can thus have a weapon equal in all respects to the Mississippi rifle, while it will not be so heavy."
Source: Wm. Richardson Hunt, Capt. of Ordnance to Maj. General Polk, August 12, 1861, concerning the inventory of armament available in Tennessee. OR, Ser. I, Vol. 4, pp. 386-387.
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