This is a fine and untouched, unaltered example of a US M1841 Mississippi Rifle. The M1841 was the first general issue percussion long arm to be adopted by the US military. The rifle was adopted in 1841 and production began in 1843. As had always been the tradition since the inception of the US military, that the military rifle of the early to mid 19thcentury was a special purpose arm, intended for limited issue and use. The rifle was not designed to accept a bayonet, as the tactics of the time called for riflemen to be deployed as skirmishers or to take long range shots at specific targets of opportunity (such as officers, artillery crews, etc.) and then retreat behind the main infantry battle line prior to an assault. The riflemen would then harass the enemy from the flanks. The US M1841 Rifle earned the sobriquet “Mississippi Rifle” in the hands of the 1st Mississippi Rifles during the Mexican-American War. The regiment was led by future US Secretary of War, and later Confederate States President, Colonel Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. The riflemen under his command turned in yeoman’s performances at the battles of Monterrey (September 1846) and Buena Vista (February 1847) and from that time on, the gun was known as the “Mississippi Rifle”.
The rifle was a single shot, percussion ignition rifle that produced with a 33”, .54 caliber barrel that was rifled with 7 deep grooves with a moderate rate of twist at 1:72”. The barrel was secured to the rifle with a tang screw and two brass barrel bands, the upper of which was double-strapped. The rifle was designed to fire a patched round ball of .535” diameter. The rifle had an overall length of 48 ½” and weighed 9 pounds, 12 ounces. The rifles were produced with a lacquer brown finished barrel, a color casehardened lock and hammer, brass furniture and screws that were fire blued during their drawing process. The furniture was of polished brass, with a large brass patchbox in the obverse of the buttstock for the storage of lubricated patches and tools for the maintenance of the rifle. The rudimentary fixed notch rear sight was optimized for a point of aim / point of impact of 50 yards, but proved to be effective out to 300-400 yards, with a number of period accounts referring to the successful use of the rifles at those distances, especially against Native American combatants in the west. With the adoption of an expanding base conical projectile (Minié style) for the rifle in 1855, a variety of experimental alterations were tried in an attempt to find a more effective rear sight design. At the same time, many of the rifles were additionally altered to accept bayonets, mostly of the saber variety. As the decade of the 1850s ended, and the new .58 Minié ammunition became the standard for use by the US military, many of the M1841 rifles in store at the various national and state arsenals were altered to the new caliber and were also re-rifled. At this time even more of the guns were altered to accept bayonets, with some of the alterations being adaptations to use socket bayonets. At Harpers Ferry alone, some 9,800 M1841 rifles were altered for use with expanding base, conical ammunition of either .54 or .58 caliber.
In the months leading up to the opening of Civil War hostilities, Secretary of War John B Floyd ordered that 10,000 .54 caliber M1841 Rifles be delivered to the southern arsenals at Fayetteville, NC, Charleston, SC, Augusta, GA, Mount Vernon, AL and Baton Rouge, LA, with each location receiving 2,000 of the rifles. Floyd was an ardent supporter of the south and wanted to help make sure that arms would be available for the coming conflict, which he felt was inevitable. As the Civil War began, even more M1841 rifles were altered to .58 caliber in both the North and South, further reducing the number of arms remaining in their original .54 configuration.
During the production of the US M1841 Rifle from 1843 to 1855, some 91,796 were produced. Of those, the National Armory at Harpers Ferry produced 25,296 of the rifles (roughly 28%) and the balance of the 66,500 guns being produced by contractors for the US government. Eli Whitney Jr. produced 26,500 (about 29% of total production), Robbins & Lawrence produced 15,000 (16%), E. Remington & Sons produced 10,000 (11%), Robbins, Kendall & Lawrence also produced 10,000 (11%) and Tryon produced only 5,000 (about 5%). Due to the large number of arms that were altered and adapted to the new caliber and to accept bayonets from the mid-1850s through the Civil War, unaltered M1841 rifles can be difficult to find on the collector market today. Additionally, due to the heavy use and the fact that nearly every one of these rifles saw use during the American Civil War, high condition examples are extremely scarce today.
This particular US M1841 Rifle is in about FINE and untouched condition. The rifle was produced by the Whitney Arms Company of New Haven, CT. The rifle is marked on the lock in two horizontal lines, forward of the hammer: E. WHITNEY / US and in two vertical lines behind the hammer: N HAVEN / 1850. The lock markings are clear and sharp, stronger than those encountered on many Whitney rifles, which tend to have weakly stamped locks. The lock retains some traces of its original color case hardened finish, which has faded to a dusky gray color with some lightly scattered mottled patches of the darker gray and traces of blues, hinting at the original case colors. The lock also shows some very minor, scattered surface oxidation. The lock is crisp, fully functional and mechanically excellent. The barrel tang is crisply marked with the matching date <b>1850</b>. The barrel is marked at the breech with the US proof and inspector marks: US / SM / V P. The left flat of the breech is deeply stamped STEEL and is marked with the sub-inspector initial K. The barrel retains about 30%+ of its original lacquered brown finish overall, which is thinning and shows fading and wear. About 20%+ of the thinned brown is present on the exterior of the barrel and about 50%+ present under the barrel where it has been protected by the stock. The brown under the barrel bands is thicker and richer, again due to the protection from the air and handling. The barrel is primarily smooth with some lightly freckled surface oxidation here and there on the barrel. Some of this minor surface roughness might be able to be carefully cleaned off the barrel without disturbing the underlying brown finish. The largest amount crud and oxidation is present near the muzzle area, with some moderate pinpricking and light pitting in the breech area as well. Some lightly scattered pinpricking is also present along the length of the barrel. The bore of the rifle is in about VERY GOOD to NEAR FINE condition. The bore remains in the original, unaltered .54 caliber and has fine 7-groove, round ball rifling. The bore is partly bright, with some light scattered pitting visible along the length of the barrel and some small patches of more moderate oxidation and pitting present as well. A good scrubbing might improve the bore and bring up to fine overall. A pair of inspector’s cartouches are present on the stock flat, opposite the lock. The forward cartouche appears to be a script SK, for Armory Sub Inspector Samuel Knous. It is Knous’ “K” present on the barrel flat. This cartouche has a ding in it that mostly obscures it. The rear cartouche is a clear script WAT in an oval, the mark for US Ordnance Department Captain William Anderson Thornton. Even a tiny D sub-inspection mark is present at the tail of the counterpane. A similarly sized Cis present on the reverser of the hammer nose as an inspection mark as well. The brass buttplate is marked on the top with a small US to the rear of the buttplate screw. The brass furniture has a mellow golden patina that is quite attractive. All of the wood and hardware mounting screws retain some of their blue, ranging between traces to as much as about 50% of their original blued finish, which has faded, thinned and dulled. The screw heads are mostly crisp, with only some minor slot wear noted on a couple of the screws. The trigger retains some of its original blue as well. The rifle retains its original fixed rear sight, and its original brass blade front sight. The gun retains both of its original sling swivels as well. The correct, original production brass tipped ramrod is in place in the channel under the barrel. The rod is full-length and retains excellent threads on the end. The stock is in about FINE condition. The stock is full-length and has no breaks or repairs noted. There is a tiny, very tight grain crack present running form the rear lock mounting screw to the barrel channel, the result of the screw being over tightened. The stock is relatively crisp and sharp throughout, with no indications of having been sanded at any point in time. All of the edges remain fairly sharp and well defined and all of the markings remain excellent, with the exception of the forward cartouche which has a ding obscuring part of it. The wood to metal fit of the rifle is very good throughout as well. The stock does show numerous scattered bumps, dings, and mars from handling and use during the period of issue but shows no abuse or significant wear.
Overall this is simply a very nice example of the always desirable and extremely attractive US M1841 Mississippi Rifle as produced on contract by Eli Whitney Jr. It is interesting to note that Whitney lamented that due to the low price paid by the government for these guns, and the huge expenses he incurred in the set up and tooling for production of the rifles, that he had spent “thirteen of his best years” in the production of the M1841 and “never really made a profit”. Of course, Whitney subsequently put the tooling and machinery to good use during the American Civil War, producing thousands of first class arms for the US government and thousands more of his very profitable “Good & Serviceable”arms for state and militia contracts. While Whitney produced the largest number of “Mississippi Rifles”, their guns also had the highest incidence of modification and alteration in the years just prior to, and right after, the beginning of the American Civil War. As such, unaltered examples are very scarce, especially in this outstanding level of preservation. For any collector of 19th century American martial long arms, the US M-1841 Mississippi Rifle is an essential part of the collection. They were the first official US military percussion long arms and earned a reputation for reliability and accuracy during the Mexican War. The guns saw even more service during the Civil War and fought on both sides. This is simply a fine condition rifle that is absolutely righteous, and you will be very proud to add to your collection and to display.