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Attractive 1862-Dated British Commercial Enfield Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine

Attractive 1862-Dated British Commercial Enfield Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine

  • Product Code: FLA-CD002-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $2,795.00

The best possible description of the British Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine is that it was a compromise; a carbine that no one wanted, and yet was the only logical solution to the current needs of the British military. The mid-19th century saw the British Board of Ordnance in a transitional phase, in fact the Board of Ordnance ceased to exist in 1855, being replaced by a section within the British War Department. It is sometime around 1856 that we begin to see the changeover from the B {Broad Arrow} O Board of Ordnance storekeepers mark in the stocks of firearms, to the W {Broad Arrow} D War Department mark. This mark still conveyed the same information, that the gun was British military property, but was now marked by the War Department, rather than the Board of Ordnance. The year 1853 had seen the adoption of the Pattern 1853 “Enfield” Rifle Musket by the British military and had brought the most advanced muzzle loading, percussion ignition rifle musket of the period into use for all regular infantry regiments. An entire series of long arms would be spawned from the Pattern 1853, including the Pattern 1853 Artillery Carbine, the Pattern 1856 and Pattern 1858 (and eventually the Pattern 1860 and Pattern 1861) short rifles, and the Pattern 1856 cavalry carbine. The “Enfield” family of small arms was the first widespread adoption of a “reduced caliber” rifled long arm for a major world power. While the .577 bore of the Enfield does not appear to be “small” by today’s standards, it was somewhat revolutionary in concept for the period, as at the time most of the world’s powers still relied upon muskets and rifles that were nominally .69 to .71 caliber. The fact that the Enfield was rifled was revolutionary as well, as up until that time standard infantry doctrine called for rifled arms to only be issued to specialty troops and relied upon the smoothbore musket for the line infantry. Now, all British infantry regiments would be issued rifled long arms. 


During the early part of the 1850s, the British cavalry was armed with a variety of outdated and non-standard longarms. The most widely issued was the Pattern 1844 Yeomanry Carbine, a .66 caliber smoothbore percussion weapon, and the next most common was the .66 caliber smoothbore Pattern 1847 Padget Percussion Carbine, many of which were either converted from flint or made up from old flintlock parts, some of which still retained their Georgian era markings! Additionally, some Padget’s were rifled in an attempt to make them more modern, and several regiments serving in India, South Africa and Ireland used double-barreled carbines of various patterns that saw issue only to those regiments. None of the cavalry arms were standardized, beyond a general preference to have them made up in “carbine bore” which was nominally .66 caliber and had been the “standard” carbine caliber for some 100 years. A serious attempt to standardize general issue small arms had been one of the chief goals of Board of Ordnance Inspector George Lovell, and it was he had helped champion the modernization of British military small arms.


At the same time that the Pattern 1853 was revolutionizing the concept of the infantry musket, it was becoming clear that some form of breech loading rifled carbine was going to be the best choice to arm the cavalry. The problem for the new War Department was to decide which one. In 1855, a number of American made Sharps Model 1855 carbines were ordered for the British cavalry. These were delivered between May of 1856 and April of 1858, with a total of 6,000 of the guns seeing British service. All were issued to cavalry regiments serving in India. In 1855, another American design was ordered as well, the Greene Patent Carbine. Over the next 18 months or so, some 2,000 of these carbines were delivered to the British military as well, but these arms saw only trials issue and service, and no real use in combat. Domestic designs were considered as well, including the Calisher & Terry breechloading carbine, and eventually the Westley Richards “Monkey Tail” breechloading design. Both of these designs were still percussion ignition guns, despite being breechloaders. None of these arms provided the solution the British military was looking for. In almost all cases the primary issue was with the ammunition. In the case of the Greene and Sharps carbines, the problem was that combustible cartridges that were sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of field service tended to be too tough for the carbines to use and detonate effectively, while those that were easily cut open by the Sharps’ breech block or pierced by the Greene’s firing pin shaped flash channel tended to fall apart in the cartridge box during regular field service. The Terry Carbine had accuracy and durability issues with its patent ammunition as well. Other patterns and designs of breechloading were also tested in smaller numbers, but none proved to be the answer the British were searching for. 


The end result was that in 1856 the Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine was authorized, a gun essentially based upon the carbine in service with the East India Company at that time and was thus known in service as the East India Service Pattern. The gun was a compact, muzzleloading percussion firearm with a 21” barrel with the service standard .577” rifled bore. The carbine closely resembled the Pattern 1853 Rifle Musket that it was patterned after, with a blued barrel and barrel bands, color casehardened lock and brass furniture. The ramrod was of the captive design, mounted to stud under the barrel, near the muzzle, with a pair of swiveling arms. The rear sight was of the same pattern used on the Pattern 1853 Artillery Carbine and consisted of a fixed 100-yard notch and two folding leaves graduated for 200 and 300 yards, respectively. The sight had been developed by Thomas Turner as part of the design process for the Pattern 1853 rifle musket and had originally been intended for use in conjunction with an adjustable long ladder sight regulated out to 1,000 yards. This pattern of sight was never officially adopted for general issue with the Pattern 1853, but the 3-leaf portion used for 100, 200 and 300 yards did see use on the carbines until a new sight based upon the Pattern 1853 Enfield rear sight was adopted for cavalry and artillery carbines in 1861. The carbine was 37” in overall length, and included an iron sling bar opposite the lock, secured to the stock with iron side nail cups that also secured the lock mounting screws. Although the majority of the Pattern 1853 family of arms utilized progressive depth rifling, the majority of Pattern 1856 carbine production did not, although the standard 1:78” rate of twist was retained in the carbine bores. In the end, in an era where even the US military had discovered that breechloading carbines were the wave of the future, the British military settled upon an essentially obsolete design and kept it in use for a decade, when it was finally replaced by the Snider carbine, the British version of the American “Trapdoor” system, that altered percussion muzzle loaders to breech loading cartridge guns.


Despite being essentially obsolete technology at the outbreak of the American Civil War, some commercially produced British Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbines were imported for use during the war. However, such guns are not common. The US Government only purchased about 250 of the carbines, while the Confederacy which had a more pressing need for the short cavalry gun purchased about 10,000 of the carbines, by the accounts of most researchers. While it had always been assumed that the majority of the Confederate purchased carbines arrived during the first half the war, substantial evidence suggests that the arrivals may have been somewhat continuous through most of the conflict. In fact, the Payne Ledger, which details the late war Confederate imports through the port of Wilmington, NC notes that some 4,700 English cavalry carbines were landed there between July of 1863 and November of 1864. Many of these guns were probably marked with an {ANCHOR} / S Confederate viewer’s mark on the comb of the stock, forward of the buttplate tang, although some were no doubt speculative purchases and were not inspected in any way. The Birmingham-made guns tended to have lock dates of 1863 or 1864, while the London-made guns usually have the gunmaker’s name on the lock and no date. At least some of the earlier guns, acquired before the fall of the 1862, were struck with the more well-known JS / {ANCHOR}inspection mark in the same location. Purchasing documents located in the McRae papers indicate that Caleb Huse purchased 120 Pattern 1856 cavalry carbines from S. Isaac, Campbell & Company on August 1, 1862. He paid 65 schillings each for these guns, and they were shipped to the Confederacy aboard the blockade-runner Gladiator. Huse purchased one additional case of twenty carbines from the same source on 6 August 1862, for the same price. These guns crossed the ocean in the hold of the blockade-runner Harriett Pinckney. These two orders only account for one hundred forty of the carbines and may be an indication of why the JS / {ANCHOR} marked guns are so incredibly scarce and are rarely encountered for sale. 


To date, the Confederate marked Pattern 1856 carbines that are known have had locks marked TOWER (Birmingham contractor produced guns), BARNETT, or in extremely rare instances EP BOND and Parker, Field & Sons, who were all London-based gunmakers. While 10,000 cavalry carbines may seem like a significant number to have been imported, it is quite low when compared to the fact that most researchers put the total of all “Enfield” pattern English arms imported by the Confederacy at somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000. Even by the most lenient standards, that puts the importation of Pattern 1856 cavalry carbines at only between 3%-4% of all Enfield pattern arms obtained by the Confederacy. Their absolute paucity on the collector’s market underscores the fact that these guns saw hard use during the war and were used up in the field. Extant examples of Confederate marked Pattern 1856 carbines tend to appear in two conditions; heavily used and well-worn, or nearly mint guns that were captured from Confederate blockade runners. In either case, the guns are very scarce and are rarely found available for sale. One reason for the lack of survival for these Confederate purchased carbine comes from the Report of William H. H. Terrell, Adjutant General for the State of Indiana. The report dated December 1865 concerning the Seventh Indiana Cavalry states in part:


"On the 21st of December (1864) the Seventh Cavalry moved from Memphis with a cavalry expedition under General Grierson. On the 28th Forrest's dismounted camp at Vernon, Mississippi, was surprised and captured, and a large quantity of rebel stores destroyed, including sixteen railroad cars, loaded with pontoons for Hood's army, and four thousand new English carbines."


This clearly indicates one clear reason for the scarcity of these guns. When the Federal troops captured them, they simply destroyed them. Since nearly all US cavalry regiments were armed with some form of breechloading carbine by this point in the war, a muzzle-loading carbine was of no real value. However, US troops regularly used captured CS imported Enfield rifle muskets, as they were of use to the infantry. No doubt some of those carbines that were destroyed were not marked in any way to indicate they were Confederate guns but were simply commercially made Pattern 1856 Carbines that were acquired and imported by Confederate speculators.


The example of a Commercial British Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine is in about VERY GOOD to condition. The gun appears to be complete and correct in all ways and shows the matching assembly mating mark X / | | | on nearly every major and minor component. The lock is crisply and clearly marked with the usual British {CROWN} to the rear of the hammer, without the “VR” that would be indicative of British military ownership. The lock is marked 1862 / TOWERforward of the hammer. There are no British military ownership or inspection marks on the lock of the carbine. The interior of the lockplate is marked with the initials WG over the mainspring and with an additional and a 1. The top edge of the lock plate is marked with the mating mark X / | | | as noted above. The left rear quadrant of the carbine’s breech is marked with the usual post-1813 Birmingham commercial proof, view, and definitive proof marks, as well as a pair of 25 gauge marks which indicate the gun is .577 caliber. The bottom of the barrel does not show the usual myriad of maker and assembly marks but is marked WG like the lock and has the mating number 18 to match the breech plug which is also marked WG and 18. The barrel also has the file slash mating mark that is found elsewhere on the gun, X / | | |. This same mating mark is found on the necks of both lock screws, on the neck of the breech plug screw and in the ramrod channel of the stock. The gun was not further disassembled, but this mark is likely on some of the other small parts as well. The initials “WG” in gunmaker’s position and under the barrel suggests to me that this gun was likely manufactured by the famous Birmingham gunmaker William Greener.


As noted above, the overall condition of the carbine is about VERY GOOD. The gun retains no original finish on the exposed portion of the barrel, while the protected portion of the barrel in the barrel channel of the stock retains some minute traces of its original blued finish. The metal has a very even, thinly distributed brownish-gray patina and the barrel shows some very lightly distributed surface oxidation. The barrel also shows some lightly scattered pinpricking which is more prominent in the breech area and at the muzzle. The lock has a mottled grayish-brown patina and this patina hints at the original color casehardening. The lock is mechanically excellent and functions perfectly on all positions. The markings on both the barrel and the lock remain clear and crisp. The bore of the carbine rates about VERY GOOD as well. It is mottled with patches that are partly bright and some that are darkly oxidized. The bore retains very good rifling but also shows some scattered light to moderate pitting along its length. The original rear sight is present and complete, and the two leaves fold up and down, as they should. They are still marked “200” and “300” on the 200 and 300-yard leaves. The original front sight is in place near the muzzle as well. The original sling bar is present on the flat of the carbine, opposite the lock, and remain fully functional. The upper portion of the bar is stamped T&CG and indicates that it was made by the Birmingham small-work contractor T&C Gilbert. The firm of Thomas & Charles Gilbert produced a wide range of gun parts ranging from ramrods and barrel bands to screws, gun tools and other small metal components. The swivel ramrod is in place in the channel under the barrel and is Gilbert marked as well, although the mark is much weaker, with only the “T&” legible. The rod works smoothly, exactly as it should. An original snap cap (nipple protector) is included with the gun and is attached to the original tiny ring forward of the triggerguard. The chain and metal portion of the snap cap are complete, but much of the leather pad is missing from the top of the metal piece. The stock is in about VERY GOOD condition overall as well. The wood remains fairly crisp and still has good edges. However, the stock does appear to have been very lightly sanded at some point in time. This was done very carefully and as noted, had not substantially reduced the crispness of the stock’s edges. The stock does show the usual assortment of bumps, dings, rubs and minor blemishes from field use, handling, service, and storage, but nothing significant or abusive. In fact, the only real wear to the stock is along the edges of the ramrod channel, where some of the tiny pieces of wood have slivered and are now missing. This is not uncommon for any carbine that saw actual use. There is also some very minor chipped wood loss at the leading edge of the lock mortise. The stock is full-length and solid with no breaks or repairs noted.


Overall, this is a very nice example of a Commercial British Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine. These unmarked commercial guns are good representative examples of the guns that were imported by both sides during the American Civil War. As the guns speculatively imported by the Confederacy had no inspection markings, this could well have been one of those guns and it is impossible to know if it was or was not. The gun has a lot of eye appeal and is very attractive. The gun has lots going for it, in that none of the usual broken or missing parts like the rear sight and ramrod are broken or missing. The gun shows some real world use as well as some light firing wear, but still retains a decent bore. This carbine would be a nice addition to any collection of Civil War import arms and would be particularly appropriate for a Confederate cavalry display.


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Tags: Attractive, 1862, Dated, British, Commercial, Enfield, Pattern, 1856, Cavalry, Carbine