Fine US Model 1871 Army Rolling Block Rifle
- Product Code: FLA-3764-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
In March of 1864, the US Ordnance Department placed an order with the Remington Arms Company for 1,000 breechloading carbines chambered for the .46 caliber rimfire cartridge. With this order, the Ordnance Department had agreed to acquire the first metallic cartridge long arm to be produced by Remington, and the gun that was the direct predecessor to the famous “Rolling Block” series of arms that the firm would produce over the coming decades.
The rolling block action was designed by Leonard Geiger and involved a simple pivoting breech cover at the rear of the chamber that allowed the insertion and removal of a metallic cartridge. This breech cover was “split” to allow the nose of the hammer to pass through it and contact the rim of the cartridge for firing. The design was simple and sturdy and allowed for a relatively thin receiver without unnecessary bulk. Prior to the delivery of these first “Split Breech” carbines, an additional order for 15,000 of a larger variant of the gun which was chambered for the newly standardized .50 Rim Fire Government cartridge, was also placed. While none of the “split breech” carbines ever saw Civil War service, and most were subsequently sold as surplus to see service with the French during the Franco Prussian War, the overall concept and design must have impressed at least someone in the Ordnance Department, as not long after the war, the newly improved Rolling Block action, which been modified by Remington’s brilliant designer Joseph Rider, was adopted for use on a trial basis.
At the conclusion of the American Civil War, the US military found itself with a huge supply of archaic and completely obsolete muzzleloading percussion muskets, as well as thousands of carbines, in dozens of different patterns, that all used varied and often patented ammunition. The immediate goals were to select a single caliber for long arms in order to standardize ammunition and to find an economical way to alter existing stocks of muzzleloading muskets to beech loading cartridge arms. To that end experimentation began at Springfield with new and existing action types that lent themselves to being adapted to use with existing musket barrels, stocks and furniture. The first major attempt to produce altered arms in some quantity were the US Model 1865 Rifles, or “1st Allin Conversions”, which adapted Erskine Allin’s “Trapdoor” breechloading action to Civil War muskets. These were chambered for a .58 RF cartridge, allowing the use of the original .58 musket barrels without alteration. Numerous forces combined to make the Ordnance Department realize that a centerfire cartridge of reduced caliber was preferable, and even though testing suggested that a .45 bore was the best compromise in terms of ballistics, accuracy and downrange stopping power, the board decided to adopt the new .50 caliber .50-70 cartridge in 1866. Production of US Model 1866 “2nd Allin Conversion” trapdoor style rifles began immediately, but the strength and simplicity of the Remington Rolling Block action remained on the minds of the board. As a result, the Ordnance Department contracted for Remington to mate 504 of their Rolling Block receivers with surplus US M1861/63 musket barrels for trial use. The barrels were shortened slightly so that the overall length of the barrel and action was 39” and a liner was brazed into the barrel to reduce the bore size from .58 caliber to .50 caliber. The barreled actions were then forwarded to Springfield where surplus musket stocks and furniture were used to finish the rifles. After a short period of testing the rifles were returned to Springfield to have their barrels further shortened to 36” overall (including the action) so the guns would be the same length at the M1866 Trapdoor rifles currently in service. During the same period, Springfield Armory produced 5,095 Rolling Block carbines (Model 1867) for use by the Navy, as well as 498 Cadet Rifles for naval use as well. Like the army trial rifles, Remington produced the actions, but in this case, Springfield barreled the actions and then fully assembled the rifles.
The results of the initial testing of the 504 rifles must have been fairly positive because in 1870 it was decided to produce some experimental US Model 1870 Rolling Block rifle and carbines for field trials. A total of 1,008 rifles and 313 carbines were assembled for the trials. As before, the system of Remington manufactured receivers was used. Springfield then mated these actions to US M1868 rifle barrels and added stocks, forends and furniture. The reports from the field were mixed. The two primary complaints were that the loading action of the rifle required putting the hammer at full cock to open the breech, which meant when the action was closed with a live cartridge in the chamber while the rifle was still at full-cock. The solider was then expected to lower the hammer to the half-cock safety notch. This was a potentially hazardous situation with untrained troops on a firing range but was absolutely deadly with raw recruits in the field under combat stress situations! The other complaint was that the mainsprings were not powerful enough to ensure positive extraction of spent cartridge cases, particularly after several shots had fouled the chamber of the rifle. Additional complaints suggested that the action allowed water and dirt to enter it easily and foul it or cause rust. However, it was almost universally agreed that the Rolling Block was more accurate than the current standard US M1868 rifle and at least as accurate as the earlier M1866 rifle.
In 1870, Springfield began the production of 10,000 Rolling Block rifles for the US Navy (Model 1870), which eventually became a production run of 22,000 after selling the initial 10,000 to the French for the Franco-Prussian War. This time Springfield built the entire rifle, including the Rolling Block action, and paid a royalty to Remington for the use of their design. With the machinery and fixtures in place at Springfield to manufacture the Rolling Block rifle, it was decided in 1872 to produce Rolling Block rifles for the army as well. This time the guns were slightly improved. As a result of the two primary complaints, a modification was made to the action by Remington which added a safety bolt that dropped the hammer to half-cock automatically when the breech was closed. This meant the rifle had to be cocked to fire it and was now rendered safe at the end of the loading process. The mainspring was also strengthened to improve ignition reliability as well as to insured positive extraction. With the improved and safer action in place, Springfield began to turn out US Model 1871 (sometimes referred to as Model 1872) Rolling Block Army Rifles. As with all earlier variants the rifle was chambered for the .50-70 Government cartridge. It had a 36” round barrel (measured to the rear of the breech) and was finished in the white, “National Armory Bright” with a color casehardened receiver and triggerguard. The buttstock was of the same design as the muskets from the previous decade with a rounded iron buttplate, and the forend was secured with two barrel bands; a solid rear band and a split upper band with a screw and sling swivel. Both bands were retained in position by band springs. The rear sight, a folding leaf graduated to 900 yards was the standard US M1870 Trapdoor rifle rear sight and the cleaning rod, barrel bands and most of the furniture was of the same pattern currently in use with the Model 1870 Trapdoor rifle as well. Initially, most of the 10,000 rifles produced during 1872-1873 remained in storage at Springfield and were not issued. This was standard practice dating back to the period of the US M1816 flintlock musket. The policy was to issue the oldest arms first and retain the newest in storage for immediate issue in case of a national emergency. The first 236 rifles were all issued to the arsenal in Leavenworth, Kansas, with at least 120 being received prior to December 21, 1872. On that date, 60 M1871 Rolling Block Rifles were issued to each of Companies A and I of the 5th US Infantry, based at Fort Leavenworth. In 1874, 449 of the rifles were issued to the state of Texas for the use of their state militia forces. Other issues appear to have been sporadic at best, likely because the rifle had been produced in .50-70 Government, and in 1873 the new .45-70 Government cartridge was officially adopted as the standard US military long arm cartridge. The fact that the military had to pay a royalty to Remington for the use of their action design also factored into the decision not to produce any further Rolling Block rifles as the “Trapdoor” system had been “developed” by Springfield’s master armorer Erskine S. Allin, and thus the government owned the rights to the design. In the end, most of the US M1871 Rifles remained in inventory awaiting an emergency that never materialized, and when the Spanish American War did erupt in 1898, their obsolete .50 chambering kept them from being issued even as secondary arms. While the rifle was inherently very accurate, and had found much favor with the US Navy, it never really caught on with the army, with the exception of the New York Militia, who ordered their own version of the rifle from Remington. After most the rifles languished in storage for more than three decades, the government began to sell them as surplus during the early years of 1900. Few buyers were found initially, and such diverse groups as GAR Halls and Boys Clubs purchased them for parade and target shooting use. Based upon reprints of old Francis Bannerman catalogs, it appears that the famous military goods dealer probably acquired most the remaining stocks of Rolling Block Rifles sometime during the pre-World War I years and offered them for sale for more than 50 years, until the supply was finally exhausted.
Offered here is a FINE condition example of a US Model 1871 Rolling Block Rifle, manufactured in 1872. The rifle is clearly marked on the left side of the receiver MODEL 1871 and on the right side with a large spread-winged eagle over US / SPRINGFIELD / 1872. The upper receiver tang is marked in two lines:
PAT. MAY 3D NOV 15TH 1864 APRIL 17TH 1868
The buttplate tang is stamped with the standard US and both barrel bands have the expected U on their right sides. A small sub-inspector’s D is stamped in the stock toe to the rear of the triggerguard. No other external markings are present, other than a crisply stamped script ESA cartouche in an oval boarder on the right wrist of the stock. The rifle retains about 50%+ vivid case hardened coloring on the receiver with some fading and dulling from age and use. Both sides retain similar amounts of vivid color and nearly complete coverage of strong mottling, although much of it has faded and dulled. The triggerguard and trigger plate retain less vivid color and show more fading and dulling to a smoky blue-gray color. The frame and tangs show scattered flecks of minor surface oxidation and some tiny patches of light surface crust and very minor roughness, as do the bright breech block and hammer. The barrel has a medium silvery patina with very tiny scattered areas of lightly oxidized pinpricking and some tiny scattered flecks of surface oxidation and peppered discoloration. The buttplate shows some more moderate surface oxidation and discoloration. The furniture of the rifle has the same gently dulling silvery gray patina as barrel does, with scattered oxidation and discoloration present on the surface. The bore of the rifle rates about VERY FINE and is almost entirely bright with some frosting in the chamber and some scattered frosting in the grooves. The bore shows some very lightly scattered pinpricking along its length but retains crisp, nearly new condition rifling its entire length and a good scrubbing may reveal that some of the frosting is only accumulated old oil and dust. The action of the rifle is mechanically EXCELLENT as well. It operates crisply on all positions and the hammer falls correctly to the half-cock safety position when the breech is closed. The trigger pull remains relatively crisp for a military rifle, if slightly heavy, and combined with the fine bore will probably allow very accurate shooting with the correct soft lead black powder loads. The original sling swivels remain in place on the upper barrel band and triggerguard bow. The original rear sight is in place and remains fully functional. The rear sight retains about 80%+ of its original blued finish, which is starting to fade and dull. The original combination musket-style front sight/bayonet lug is in place on top of the barrel near the muzzle as well. The original cleaning rod is also in place and is full length and retains fine threads at the end. The stock of the rifle remains in FINE condition as well. Both the buttstock and forend are full length, solid and show no breaks, cracks or repairs. Neither piece of wood has been sanded and both retain fine lines and very crisp edges. Some of the wood even retains its original slightly feathery texture to the open grain. The stock shows numerous scattered bumps, dings, and surface mars as well as a handful of more moderate dents. These all appear to be the result of handling, use and storage and not of any type of abuse. There is also some very minor slivering and slivered grain splitting along the sharp edge of the ramrod channel, a not uncommon issue with any gun with a ramrod.
Overall, this is very attractive, 100% complete and correct example of a US Model 1871 Rolling Block Army Rifle in FINE condition. The rifle retains very nice case coloring on the receiver and just a little effort would easily return the barrel to National Armory Bright condition and remove the discoloration in the pinpricking on the barrel and the bands. The action remains crisp, the bore very fine and the rifle would no doubt be a fun shooter with correct black powder loads. This would be a wonderful addition to any collection of Indian War era US military rifles and is certainly a rifle that you will be proud to display and will not have to make any excuses for.