Website, Books and Defective Ramrods

The world Wide Web can be a heady adventure -- especially on a cold rainy day in autumn. Vast amounts of information, raw and processed, on any subject imaginable, are at your fingertips. The only thing you have to do is determine what is valuable and what is bunk. And much is bunk!

As in any research, the most critical task is evaluating the authority of the source. In any study of American military firearms, it helps a great deal if the source is the Springfield Armory. The Friends of the Springfield Armory (founded in 1998) have established a website linked to Springfield's National Park Service site. . ( The Friends' site, "The Springfield Armory Collection" (, provides descriptions and illustrations of several hundred items from the Springfield Armory collections. The Friends periodically add new items to the list and will continue to do so until the entire collection is cataloged.

Although all eras of Springfield and firearms history are represented, there are plenty of Civil War era arms to study, and most are pictured and have interesting documentation regarding their acquisition by the Armory.

A brief perusal of the Springfield on-line display adds more fuel to the blue versus "bright" Enfield finish argument. Both types are present in the Springfield collection. Several bright guns are reported as having arrived at the armory at the end of the war for reconditioning, while a blue barreled gun with its tube split into four pieces was shipped to Springfield as a curiosity during the conflict. This sustains my growing belief that guns were usually issued blued and, if they were returned to an arsenal for repair and reissue, the blue was often stripped as part of the process.

New Jersey nine months troops turned in their arms, including a number of Enfields, to the state arsenal when they were mustered out of service in the summer of 1863. These guns were overhauled by state arsenal employees and many of the Enfields were reissued to the newly formed 33rd, 34th and 35th New Jersey Infantry. Remaining Enfields in the arsenal at the end of the year were specifically described as having a "bright" finish. It certainly seems possible that the reissued arms were "bright" as well.

Another entry clarifies the old Springfield "artillery model" dispute. During the Civil War, heavy artillery units in garrison around Washington were armed with standard infantry rifle muskets, and light or field artillerymen were not issued long arms at all. Light artillery soldiers were generally armed, if at all, with sabers and/or revolvers. Revolver issue appears to have been, for the most part, limited to drivers and non-commissioned officers.

There is really no such thing as an "artillery model." The term is used because an early rifle musket researcher, Clyde Fuller, referred to two barrel band, short Springfield rifle-muskets as "artillery models." These guns appeared to be professionally shortened and consistent in dimensions, and not the work of some post-war gun tinkerer. Lacking any source, Fuller based his speculations on the fact that, prior to the Civil War, Federal armories cut down some smoothbore muskets for use by heavy artillery units serving in coastal fortifications. The guns were intended to be more handy in the cramped quarters of the forts.

The "artillery model" was accepted as a legal North-South Skirmish Association gun in the organization's earlier years, using Fuller's work as a source, although he used a 30-inch barreled gun as representative of the genre, and N-SSA specifications classify a 33-inch barreled gun as an artillery model. Today, this style of gun would not be approved for use by the association's Small Arms committee, but it has been "grandfathered" in as approved. In short, it is a mythical weapon, but you can use one for competition.

There has been a lot of post-Fuller speculation on the true origin of the "artillery models." Most researchers have agreed that they were post-war alterations, most likely for the civilian cadet corps market. This is the probable origin of most of them.

Recent research, posted with a picture of one of these guns on the Springfield Armory Collection website, however, provides documentation that almost 2,000 rifle muskets, returned from battlefields with damaged muzzles, were deliberately shortened into two band guns with 36-inch barrels for potential post-war use by West Point cadets, most likely in the year 1865. They were never issued to the cadets, however, and were later disposed of on the surplus market.

You could literally spend hours going through the interesting and valuable Armory Collection Website. In order to keep this privately financed good work going, join "The Friends of the Springfield Armory." Membership details are available at the website and dues are $35 a year.

Once in a great while, a Civil War book which really breaks new ground is published. J. Tracy Power"s splendid work Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox (Chapel Hill; UNC Press, 1998), the first book to detail the life and times of the common soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia in the final year of the war, is one of those books. It may well be the best book ever written on Lee's army and I cannot recommend it enough for those with an interest in the common soldier.

In the area of small arms and ammunition research, Dean S. Thomas' Round Ball to Rimfire: A History of Civil War Small Arms Ammunition, Part One, (Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA, 1997) is, in its own area of expertise, on a par with Lee's Miserables.

The result of many years of primary source research and study of surviving specimens, Round Ball to Rimfire is a quantum leap forward from the previous definitive work, Berkeley Lewis' now out of print Small Arms and Ammunition in the United States Service. (Washington: Smithsonian, 1956).

Thomas provides a detailed introduction to his subject, giving an overview of ammunition developments up to 1853 and then detailing the trials and experiments conducted by Colonel Benjamin Huger at Harper's Ferry Armory with the Minie and a tige bullets which led to the development of the American Burton bullet design and its adoption along with the 1855 family of small arms.

Round Ball to Rimfire provides all the information an arms historian could desire on Civil War era ammunition, including bullet casting and swaging operations and dimensions (There were a number of bullet diameter variations, both officially sanctioned and otherwise.), powder charges and cartridge manufacture.

Thomas also provides capsule biographies of significant Union ordnance officers and details on all major Federal arsenals, including production figures. The book is well illustrated with photographs of surviving cartridges, contemporary pictures and maps.

Thomas' chapter on Federal combustible cartridges was of particular interest to me, and would have been a great help in the research for my own book Civil War Firearms, had it been available earlier. The First New Jersey Brigade was issued combustible musket cartridges prior to the battle of Gaines' Mill, and the description left by officers and men, plus Lewis' description in Small Arms and Ammunition... led me to believe they might have been the Von Lenk guncotton cartridge. Round Ball to Rimfire conclusively proves that the Jerseymen drew Johnston and Dow cartridges.

And this is only one thing I learned.

No one will be able to research or write about Civil War small arms again without consulting Round Ball to Rimfire. I eagerly await volume II.

The Armi-Sport Model 1842 smoothbore musket was a welcome addition to the ranks of reproduction arms of the Civil War era for both shooters and reenactors. Lately, however, I have been hearing of some problems regarding the gun's ramrod from both reenactors and shooters.

Armi-Sport ramrods have been bending and breaking off where the tulip joins the staff of the rod. This defect proved most inconvenient for several reenactors who were participating in a movie shoot. It has also proved to be a major annoyance on the target range.

Several correspondents have reported that their complaints regarding the ramrods have gone unheeded by the gun's importer, Taylor & Co. Hopefully this problem is the result of a communications mix-up and will be resolved by the time this is published. It is both bad public relations and bad business practice to ignore the consumer.

1998 by Joe Bilby

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