The Quintessential Union Firearm

Full-Length View of Springfield US Model 1861 Rifle Musket.
View of distinctive Springfield Proofs, Date on flat slightly obscured.
1861 Dated Springfield Lock.

Over the last twenty years I keep getting one question asked over and over again. What was THE CIVIL WAR FIREARM? In a war right at the cusp of the industrial revolution that is a more difficult question then it may seem. With the use of every arm ever made in American Arsenals and Imports from almost every country in Europe, the total of Arms used in our Civil War is over 600 distinct types!

But, if I had to pick one, THE STANDARD of the Union Army 1861-1865 it would be the Springfield .58 Caliber US Model 1861 Rifle Musket. Springfield Armory made over 265,000 of these accurate, graceful weapons during 1861 and 1862. They were completely issued throughout the Union Army and because of constant and heavy use are fairly uncommon today.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of “clones” of this fine arm were made under contract by a myriad of wartime contractors. The total production was over a million. These will have the name of the manufacturer on the lock. All parts are interchangeable with the Springfield and collectors should be aware of several points that that prove the arm to be 100% Springfield because people have been putting Springfield lock plates on contract arms for years. Springfields will almost invariably be worth more than a “contract” rifle musket in the same condition.

Some things to look for are shown in my photographs. The lock, obviously will be marked Springfield with the dates 1861 or 1862. The barrel will have a corresponding date on the top flat. The barrel will be proofed with the distinct Springfield “Eagle Head”. Finally the stock will be cartouched at the off side of the lock with an oval bearing at least one set of initials “ESA”, who was Erskine S. Allin, Asst. Superintendent at the Springfield Arsenal. These are the marks of a true Springfield US Model 1861 Rifle Musket.

While not everybody in the Union army had a Springfield or one of it’s offshoots, it would be a fair guesstimate to say at least half of them had one at one time or another.

Next week we’ll do the Standard Confederate Long Arm of the Civil War!

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