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Attractive & Nicely Priced US Model 1855 Pistol Carbine

Attractive & Nicely Priced US Model 1855 Pistol Carbine

  • Product Code: FHG-2216
  • Availability: In Stock
  • $2,995.00

This is a VERY GOOD condition example of the US M1855 Pistol Carbine. The Pistol Carbine was a classic example of the pre-Civil War US Ordnance Department’s inability to be forward thinkers and look at current and emerging technology when it came to firearms design. Even though much more advanced breech loading carbines and revolvers were already in use by the US military, like the Jenks Naval Carbine, the several models of Sharps’ patent carbines and various Colt’s patent repeating revolvers, the Ordnance Department chose a design that was clearly a step backwards – a single shot, muzzleloading pistol carbine with a detachable shoulder stock. The end result was a weapon that was neither fish nor fowl – an oversized and ungainly pistol or an overly short-barreled carbine with a shaky attachable stock. 


The Ordnance Department intended that new the weapon would be issued to the cavalry and used as a pistol when mounted and a carbine when dismounted. The gun was to be carried in the typical pommel holsters of the day, with the pistol in one and the butt stock in the other. US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis approved the gun on July 5, 1855, along with the rest of the M1855 family of firearms. Since the Federal Government operated on a fiscal year system, the gun was actually adopted five days into fiscal year 1856. This explains why Ordnance Department records show no deliveries in to store of Model 1855 pistol carbines in 1855. The armories also maintained their records and booking keeping on a fiscal year basis, but dated their manufacturing (locks, barrels, etc.) on a calendar year basis. The Springfield Armory delivered a total of 4,021 of the M1855 pistol carbines to the Ordnance Department during its brief production run. In fiscal year 1856 a total of 2,710 were delivered into stores and in fiscal year 1857 an additional 1,311 were delivered. 


The first issues were to a squadron of cavalry from both the 1st and 2nd US Cavalry Regiments. The guns were far from successful or popular in the field, and no further pistol-carbines were manufactured after fiscal year 1857. In 1858, the pistol-carbine was also tentatively issued to some light artillery units for trials, with the thinking that is might be a handy weapon for those troops. However, it was not popular or successful in that role either. Eventually, the Ordnance Department finally saw a glimpse of the future and proceeded to issue revolving pistols to the cavalry and undertook additional trials of breech loading carbines. 


As of October 1860, some 3,022 of the M1855 Pistol Carbines were in storage at various arsenals, with only nine 992 being in the field. However, the outbreak of the American Civil War created such a pressing need for small arms that most of these pistol carbines were issued, at least on a temporary basis. According to George Moller’s research, elven different companies of US cavalry were completely or at least partially armed with the M1855 Pistol Carbine during the first part of the Civil War. John D. McAulay’s research indicates that as late as the December 31, 1862 quarterly field reports, slightly less than four hundred of the M1855 Pistol Carbines were still in service in the field. The regiments listed in that report, still carrying the Pistol Carbine at the end of 1862, as well as the number of guns that they had in service during the quarter ending December 31, 1862 include the 9th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry (27), the 1st Indiana Volunteer Cavalry (41), 2nd Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (53), 5th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (76), 6th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (61), 4thMissouri Volunteer Cavalry (10), 11th New York Volunteer Cavalry (59), 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry (5), 2ndWest Virginia Volunteer Cavalry (66).


Eventually, the guns were withdrawn from service as more practical weapons became available. Despite the fact that the gun was obsolete from the day it was adopted, as late as 1880 some of the Pistol Carbines were still in government stores, as some 332 were sold at auction as surplus from the New York Arsenal in that year.


The US M1855 Pistol Carbine has the dubious honor of being the last single-shot percussion handgun to be issued to the US military, at a time when percussion revolvers were the standard of the day, and metallic cartridge revolvers were beginning to emerge. The gun was just under 18” in overall length with a 12” .58 caliber barrel, rifled with the traditional Springfield Armory three groove rifling. The gun used a reduced sized version of the Maynard automated “tape primer” lock that was also used on both the M1855 Rifle and Rifle Musket. Although all previous sing-shot pistols had utilized a roundball projectile, the new M1855 Pistol Carbine used the expanding base, .58 conical projectile used in the US M1855 Rifle, Rifle Musket and Carbine. The only substantial difference was a reduction in the powder load from 60 grains for the longarms to 40 grains for the pistol carbine. Like most arms produced at the National Armories during that time frame, the gun was polished to “National Armory Bright”. It was mounted with brass furniture and a walnut stock. The butt of the pistol carbine had a large swivel ring, allowing either a lanyard or carbine sling to be attached. A sling swivel was also mounted on the bottom of the single brass barrel band, as well as in the toe line of the detachable buttstock. The pistol featured a captive ramrod that was retained by a swinging link system, similar to the pattern used on the US M1842 pistol and the earlier M1847 Cavalry Carbine. Why this system was adopted, when it had been universally despised on the M1847 Carbine is somewhat of a mystery. A large iron front sight was installed very close to the muzzle and a multi-leaf rear sight was graduated for use at 100, 200, 300 and 400 yards. The 300-yard graduation was provided via a small peephole in the 400-yard leaf. The iron backstrap was cut to allow the attachment of a removable shoulder stock, which was typically numbered to the gun. The guns and stock were batch numbered from 1-20, with the number stamped into the top rear of the brass butt cap and into the lower part of the buttstock’s brass yoke.


This particular US Model 1855 Pistol Carbine is in VERY GOOD condition and includes a very well made, aged and worn reproduction buttstock. The original stocks are considerably less common on the collector market than the guns, and while this one is not an original it looks great and enhances the display of the gun almost as much as an original one does. The gun shows moderate use but still remains in nice condition with most of the markings in the metal legible and a legible cartouche on the counterpane. The barrel of the gun was cleaned to bright at some point and is toning down. The barrel shows some moderate oxidation and age discoloration over much of its upper portion and moderate pitting at the breech and bolster area. Scattered light pitting is also present along the balance of the barrel. Some scattered bump, dings and impact marks are also present on the barre, along with a couple of dings around on the face of the muzzle. The top of the barrel tang is clearly dated 1855 and the left breech flat is marked with clear V  / P / {EAGLE HEAD} proof and inspection marks. The lock has been cleaned to bright at some point in time as well, and now has a mottled and moderately oxidized darker gray over lighter gray appearance. In this case, the cleaning left the markings on the lock plate slightly smeared, and the eagle on the tape primer door partially obscured. The lock is dated 1856 in a single horizontal line behind the hammer. Mismatched dates by a single year are not uncommon on arsenal produced arms, as components produced and dated in the previous year were not discarded when the calendar year changed, rather they were used up as needed without any particular regard to matching lock and barrel dates. Forward of the tape primer door the lock is marked in two horizontal lines: U. S. / SPRINGFIELD. The tape primer door is marked with the usual {Spread-Winged Eagle}, with the usual Springfield five arrows in one talon and olive branches in the other. The tape primer lock mechanism is 100% complete and remains fully functional. The lock of the pistol carbine remains mechanically excellent and functions crisply on all positions. A very high quality, reproduction multi-leaf rear sight is in place on the barrel tang and operates smoothly. The sight retains some traces of its blued finish and would pass as an original to even many experienced collectors. The clean-out screw in the bolster and the front lock retaining bolt are replacements as well, but again require close examination to recognize as such. The original swivel ring is in place on the butt cap of the pistol and the original captive ramrod is in place under the barrel. The bore of the pistol carbine is in FAIR condition. It has been bored to smooth and now measures about .62 caliber with no rifling present. The bore is mostly bright, with evenly scattered light to moderate pitting along its length, as well as some scattered darker oxidation. The brass furniture has an attractive golden mustard patina that does not indicate any recent cleaning. The brass butt cap is marked with the mating number 5 indicating that it was intended to mate with butt stock number “5”. The original sling ring is present in the buttcap of the stock and the original sling swivel is present on the single brass barrel band. The original captive swivel ramrod is in place in the channel under the barrel as well. The brass mounted walnut stock is in about VERY GOOD condition as well. The stock is full-length and without any breaks or repairs. This is unusual for these carbines, as they are often found with broken or severely damaged stocks, particularly through the grip area where the stress of the detachable buttstock tends to cause cracking. In this case, the grip does show the expected curved indentations from the yoke of the buttstock. These marks that are typically encountered on pistol carbines that have spent most of their lives with the buttstock attached, but amazingly this one shows breaks or repairs. There are not even the commonly encountered grain cracks in the grip, which is extremely uncommon for these guns. There is a legible script JS cartouche on the stock flat opposite the lock. This is the mark of Springfield Armory sub-inspector James Stillman, who worked at the arsenal from 1835 to 1891; the longest serving employee of the arsenal! During most of his tenure at the arsenal he the foreman of the stocking department, a position that he held for fifty year. He also inspected arms from time to time over about a twelve year period, with most of his inspections made between 1847 and 1860, at which time he inspected US M1842 Muskets, M1847 musketoons, M1851 Cadet Muskets and M1855 rifle muskets and pistol carbines. The stock shows no sanding, and retains good edges and lines throughout, with any rounding or softening of edges due to carry, use and a likely old light cleaning. As would be expected, the stock of the carbine shows the usual assortment of scattered bumps, dings, minor mars, scratches and scuffs from use and handling, but all of this is honest wear. The wood to metal fit of the carbine is also quite good throughout.


As noted, the pistol carbine in accompanied by a high-quality, artificially aged reproduction buttstock that bears the mating number 16. The stock fits the carbine well but shows the usual moderate looseness and shakiness that made this weapon unpopular in the carbine configuration. The buttstock retains a fully functional attachment mechanism as well as the sling swivel in the toe line. Like the carbine, the brass furniture of the buttstock has a dark golden mustard patina. The stock has been aged, worn and had script initials carved into its reverse, all of which contribute to create a very convincing looking display stock to accompany the carbine. The buttstock shows numerous scattered bumps, dings and minor mars from handling and use and the “aging” process. 


Overall this is a very nice, solid example of the US Model 1855 Pistol Carbine that is complete with a nice displaying buttstock. The gun is much better than many of the examples encountered on the market today, and the reproduction stock really enhances the display. These unique guns fit into both the Civil War martial handgun and carbine categories in terms of collecting. They are also only the second handgun to be produced in any significant quantity at the Springfield Armory, with the earlier pistol being the M1817 flintlock pistol. The US Model 1855 Pistol Carbine was made in rather limited quantities, making them relatively scarce on the collector market. This solid example is very fairly priced and would make a nice addition to any collection of Civil War martial arms and would require spending at least $1,000 more to significantly upgrade to a nicer example.

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Tags: Attractive, &, Nicely, Priced, US, Model, 1855, Pistol, Carbine