Oldenburg "Cyclops" Infantry Rifle Musket - Extremely Rare
- Product Code: FLA-3625-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The American Civil War provided an opportunity for the arsenals of the European continent to divest themselves of a wide array of obsolete and unwanted small arms in a very short period of time. While some of the arms were of relatively high quality, some equal to the American US M1855 and M1861 Rifle Muskets, others were practically useless; either due to their age and obsolescence or due to their poor condition. The Confederate purchasing agents concentrated their efforts in obtaining first quality arms like the Pattern 1853 Enfield from Great Britain, with secondary arms being sourced from Austria in the form of the M1854 Lorenz. US agents pursued these sources as well, but also obtained practically anything that was for sale on the continent. The reasons for the US acquisitions were two-fold; first to arm the rapidly growing army of Union volunteers, but secondly to keep these arms from potentially falling into the hands of Confederate purchasing agents.
Some of the most varied, and in many cases most obsolete arms acquired by United States purchasing agents came from the various Germanic states. During this period there was no unified German nation, but rather a loose confederacy of Germanic states, including Kingdoms, Duchies, and smaller principalities, with militaristic Prussia as the largest and most powerful of them all. In 1841, the Prussians had adopted what was the most advanced infantry rifle in the world the, Leichte Perscussions-Gewehr M-1841 or the“Light Percussion Rifle M-1841.”Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse’s invention would be known as the Zündnadelgewehr in the German speaking countries, and as the “Needle Gun” around the world. This bolt action breechloading rifle was so technologically advanced that it made all percussion ignition muzzleloading long arms obsolete. The Prussians, however, kept their invention under wraps as a state secret. Thus, it was the early 1850s before the technology was widely known outside of Prussian military circles. Due to the major technological advance of the Needle Rifle, Prussia and its Germanic allies, found themselves with huge quantities of obsolete arms that they were only too glad to offer for sale to US purchasing agents. The models for sale ranged from the ubiquitous Prussian Model 1809 “Potsdam” Musket, a percussion converted flint musket which was imported in quantities that exceeded 100,000 units, to guns purchased in relatively small quantities like the Prussian M1849 Naval Rifle, Saxon (Dresden) M1851 and M1857 Rifles, Bavarian M1842/51 Rifles and Suhl made copies of the British Pattern 1853 Enfield and the US Model 1861 Springfield, just to name a few. One of the rarest and least often encountered of the more unique Germanic arms are those that had been used by the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg prior to acquiring the very modern Prussian Model 1841 Needle Rifle.
Among the smaller Germanic states was the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg. Of the thirty-nine member of the German Confederation, most sources rank Oldenburg tenth in size. While larger than many of the other members, some of which were little more than glorified City-States, the small territory of Oldenburg appears like little more than tiny subsection of the much larger Kingdom of Hanover that surrounds it on period maps. The Duchy was located in the northwest corner of the German Confederacy, on the North Sea, and had been a major part of the old Hanseatic League. With the rise of the German Confederation (1815-1866), Oldenburg in association with the Hanseatic cities of Bremen, Lübeck and Hamburg formed the Hanseatic Brigade and served in the 10thCorps of the German Confederation’s army. Oldenburg has adopted a revolutionary oval bore percussion musket in 1839, initially rifled with two grooves and later four grooves. These guns were conventional side lock percussion rifle muskets with nominally .68 caliber bores (17.2mm) that fired either a patched .66 caliber (16.8mm) ball for accurate fire or a quicker loading .65 caliber (16.4mm) ball for more rapid, sustained volley fire.
In 1843, Oldenburg adopted a new pattern of percussion muzzleloading long arms, known as the Mittelschlossgewehr (Center Lock Rifle) and which has been given the nickname Cyclops by American collectors. The guns used an unconventional, internal lock mechanism with no external lock plate and a centrally mounted hammer. For collectors of Civil War arms, the design somewhat resembles the Reed & Watson muzzleloading alterations done by the Confederacy to Hall Rifles. As the hammer was centrally mounted and obscured the front sight, a sighting “window” was cut into the hammer between the spur and the nose that allowed the shooter to align this notch with the front sight, when the hammer was cocked. This unique sighting feature provided the source for the gun’s nickname as the “Cyclops”. The design was the brain child of Lt. von Weltzien of Oldenburg, who championed the theory that a straight, central line of ignition directly from the breech was the most efficient method of getting reliable detonation of the powder charge. The gun was adopted in 1845 in two models, a Non-Commissioned Officer’s Rifle and a longer Infantry Rifle Musket. References in English are somewhat limited, and these guns are given several different model year designations based upon the interpretation of the various authors. Firearms from Europe (2ndEdition) by Whisker, Hartzler, Yantz (and Noe) uses the Model 1849 designation for both variants. This is the most commonly used name for these guns in America but is likely the least accurate one. In European Bayonets of the American Civil War by Noe & Serbaroli, the designations of Model 1844 and Model 1845 are used for the Infantry Rifle Musket and NCO Rifle, respectively. The most recent work on the subject, European Arms in the Civil War by Schwalm & Hofmann use the designation of Model 1843 for the NCO Rifle and do not apply a model designation for the Infantry Rifle Musket, leaving one to assume that they also consider that gun to be a M1843. As the authors are German, have access to information on German arms not typically available to English language researchers and have been studying the subject in their own country for many years, I will defer to their designation for the NCO Rifle and will use the Noe & Serbaroli designation for the infantry musket. It should be noted that Schwalm & Hoffman also identify the Model 1843/48 as being those arms of the pattern that were modified by adding a Tige pillar breech circa 1848. Like much of Europe during the late 1840s, the Duchy of Oldenburg modified these guns circa 1848 by adopting the French Thouvenin tige (pillar breech) system to adapt the guns from round ball to elongated, expanding base ammunition.
Regardless of pattern designation, both models of “Cyclops” used the central lock and hammer mechanism and had 17.2mm caliber bores (about .677”) which were rifled with four narrow grooves. The central patent breech and chamber area was octagonal, becoming round about 3” from the breech end. The NCO Rifle had a nominally 33” barrel, while the Infantry Rifle Musket had a nominally 39” barrel. The guns used wedges to retain the barrels, two for the rifle and three for the rifle musket, giving the appearance of older pattern flintlock arms. The guns were mounted with a combination of both iron and brass furniture with iron for the buttplate and finger-groove trigger plate and brass for the triggerguard, nose cap and ramrod pipes. Sling swivels were attached to the forward bow of the triggerguard and the upper pipe. A heavy iron ramrod was secured by the brass pipes. As previously mentioned, a sighting “window” in the arc of the hammer nose provided a rear sight, while the front sight was a brass blade dovetailed into an iron base. A stud to accept a socket bayonet was located under the barrel, about .875” from the muzzle. Stocks were of walnut, with a raised cheek rest on the reverse. Like most Germanic arms of the period, the guns were serial (assembly) numbered throughout, with the full serial number on larger components and the last two digits on smaller components like screw heads.
The guns were produced on contract by the Hanoverian firm of Carl Phillip Crause located in Herzberg. The old Hanoverian state armory had been located in Herzberg and when the Kingdom of Hanover fell to Napoleon in 1807, it had been put back into service to make arms for the French military and Napoleon’s allies. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the armory again fell into disuse. Crasue took over the Herzberg armory circa 1820 and began to produce small arms for Hanover and other small Germanic states, including the Hanseatic League. Crause produced the earlier oval bore long arms and also received the contract for the new Oldenburg Mittelschlossgewehr long arms. He produced a total of three hundred of the shorter NCO Rifles and nine hundred of the Infantry Rifle Muskets, although it had been intended to produce fifteen-hundred of the longer guns. In 1848, as the transformation to Tige breech arms took place, the older pattern arms were found to be more adaptable to the new elongated ammunition, as new rear sights could be added to take advantage of the new ballistic capabilities of the ammunition. However, the Center Lock “Cyclops” Rifles could not be so modified because of the hammer location, so little advantage could be gained from the modifications. As a result, the guns were soon withdrawn from front line service, and by 1854 were being issued only for garrison duty. By 1860, the guns were simply in storage and Oldenburg was looking for buyers for their obsolete guns to help finance an order for Prussian M1841 Needle Rifles. According to research by Schwalm & Hofmann, the Cyclops guns, along with some 4,100 other “Herzberg” muskets and some 2,500 guns from Wurttemberg were sold to the firm of Friedrich Wipperfuerth, who was located at Beneisstrasse 61 in Cologne, one of the larger Prussian cities of the period. Wipperfuerth subsequently offered these guns for sale to willing buyers.
The association of the Cyclops Rifle with the American Civil War was first mentioned in William B. Edwards’ ground breaking book Civil War Guns. This was one of the first serious books to look not only domestically produced small arms used during the conflict, but to also look at imported arms use during the war. Edwards was little more than speculating about their acquisition, but he did note that a couple of extant examples were known, most prominently one in the collection of the US military museum at West Point. It was not until much more complete research during the last few years was published that the actual source for the guns was determined along with their concrete association with the American Civil War.
Author and researcher Joe Serbaroli Jr. discovered this link while going through the correspondence of Henry Sanford, the US Minister to Belgium during the Civil War. Sanford had been given access to one million dollars in funds, held in a London bank, for the acquisition of small arms in Europe. Sanford was one of the purchasers who was very clear that his intent was aimed more at depriving the Confederacy of arms, rather than obtaining them for Union use. As such, he seems to have concentrated on acquiring guns that today we would consider marginally useful at best. Mr. Serbaroli reprints part of a May 18, 1861 letter from Sanford in his book, which is quoted in part below:
“There are yet here 4,000 exceedingly fine Herzberger Infantry Rifles partly used partly quite new, 1,400 of them are twice rifled and remainder 4 times all of the same caliber and same shooting qualities (900 of them are extra tirailleur rifles with the cock in the center line of the gun)….The lowest price would be $6 – (six American dollars) a piece net cash without discount by the average to a buyer of the whole lot.”
Obviously, Sanford is referring to some of the surplus guns from Oldenburg and the other Hanseatic League members that were being offered for sale in Cologne by Wipperfuerth. The “twice rifled” guns are clearly the oldest of the two-groove, oval bore guns, but it is the parenthetic comment that I underlined: “900 of them are extra tirailleur rifles with the cock in the center line of the gun,” that pertains here. Clearly, this indicates that nine hundred “Cyclops” guns were being offered for sale. Interestingly Sanford uses the French term “tirailleur” which means “sharpshooter” to describe the guns. This may be a result of his assuming the center mounted hammer somehow made the guns special and more accurate. More likely, it simply shows his lack of knowledge about small arms, as he also goes on to describe these obsolete arms by saying “The fine quality of these arms which can compete with every other gun is guaranteed.” While no specific document lists these arms again as being purchased by Sanford, he did purchase a total of 27,648 rifled muskets of various patterns. As this group was clearly made up of several different patterns of arms, it is likely that the guns were simply lumped into a category like “Rifled Muskets, Prussian, .70 caliber”in later reports or correspondence, as the gun originated from an arms dealer in Prussia and did not come directly from Oldenburg. As the guns are practically non-existent in modern Germany and the handful of known examples typically survive in American collections, as well at West Point, it seems almost certain that the majority of the twelve hundred “Cyclops” guns produced (900 Infantry Rifle Musket and 300 NCO Rifles) were acquired by the US government during the early days of the American Civil War. Authors Schwalm & Hofmann refer to additional research that notes that some 2,680 “Oldenburg / Lübeck / Bremen”muskets were provided to the state of Ohio by the US Government and that some of these saw service with the 56thOhio Volunteer Infantry.
Offered here is an extremely rare and NEAR FINEcondition example of an Oldenburg Mittelschlossgewehr Infantry Rifle Musket Model 1844/48. The gun is 100% original and complete with the exception of the ramrod and socket bayonet lug, both of which are missing. The tang of the musket is clearly engraved in script: Craufe in Herzberg, with the “s” in Crause executed as the archaic “f”. The gun is serial number 658, and the complete number is found both on the top of the breech and on the trigger plate tang. The balance of the parts are marked with the last two numbers, 58. These numbers are found on the rear of the breech face, on the rear of the upper tang, on the left side of the hammer neck, on the top of the buttplate, on the triggerguard, on both ramrod pipes and on the heads of all of the screws. A small Crown / R proof mark is present on the left of the breech, and several small R inspection marks are found on the gun; on the upper tang, on the trigger plate tang, on the buttplate and on the obverse butt. The breech is additionally inspected with a BR mark and a small H mark is present on the rear of the breech face and on the face of the hammer neck. A crowned Oldenburg ownership or inspection cartouche is present on the obverse butt as well. All of the marks remain quite clear and legible with the exception of the stock cartouche, which is a little weak.
The gun remains in really wonderful condition considering its age and scarcity and the fact that it had a service life of some two decades, initially in Oldenburg and eventually during the American Civil War. The metal of the gun has a mostly mottled, dull pewter patina with scattered patches of brownish surface oxidation and discoloration. The metal is primarily smooth, with scattered pinpricking and some light pitting, most of which is around the breech and bolster area of the barrel. There are some patches of minor roughness from surface oxidation here and there, both on the barrel (most notably near the muzzle) and somewhat more noticeably on the iron buttplate. The gun is in excellent mechanical condition and the action works crisply and correctly. The unique, center-mounted hammer has no half-cock position, so the guns were obviously capped right before firing. The bore of the gun is in about FINE condition. It is mostly bright with some scattered discoloration, oxidation and some light pitting, but retains very strong rifling along its entire length. A bright light shone from the muzzle towards the breech reveals the Thouvenin Tige at the rear of the chamber. The gun retains both original sling swivels, the lower on the forward triggerguard bow and the upper on the flared upper ramrod pipe. The original sighting “window” is present in the hammer with the small “V” shaped sighting notch on the bottom still quite crisp. The original brass front sight blade is in place, dovetailed into the iron base. The blade is drift adjustable for windage and is slightly off-center to the left, appearing to have been put there intentionally to regulate the point-of-aim / point-of-impact of the gun. The blade is mounted tightly in place and shows no movement. All three original barrel keys (or wedges) are in place in the stock and secure the barrel tightly to the wood. The only missing components are the iron ramrod, which has been replaced with an old brass-tipped wooden shotgun style ramrod and the socket bayonet lug which is missing from the bottom of the barrel. The outline of where the lug was located is barely visible and the patina suggests the lug may have been missing since the period of use, or at least since it was used on this continent. The stock is in about FINE condition as well. It remains crisp with well-defined edges on the flats on either side of the center mounted lock. The stock shows no real indications of sanding, with the possible exception of the weakness of the stock cartouche. However, the lines of the cartouche are not blurred, just weak, suggesting wear rather than sanding. The stock is solid and full-length and free of any breaks or repairs. One interesting feature of the stock are two tiny holes drilled at angles from either side of the triggerguard up to the rear of the breech which may have served as emergency gas relief vents, in the case of some gas leakage from the patent breech. The stock has a wonderful, evenly polished appearance much like a very old banister that has been rubbed to a fine sheen buy thousands of hands over more than a hundred years. This is not added finish, simply the look of fine old wood that was handled regularly. The stock shows numerous scattered bumps, dings, mars and minor surface scuffs, but shows no abuse or any wear not in keeping with the balance of the gun.
Overall this is a really superb example of one of the rarest of all the Civil War import muskets, the Oldenburg Model 1844/48 Cyclops Infantry Rifle Musket. This is a gun that is rarely found in any collection, no matter how advanced. For decades I specialized in collecting Civil War import arms and during that period I never saw one example for sale, so I simply assumed that I would never have the chance to acquire one. Over the last decade, I have only seen two other examples of an Oldenburg Cyclops for sale; one was a relic infantry musket in need of major restoration and the other was the even rarer NCO rifle. With only nine hundred of these guns made and known examples at less than ten, this is an extremely rare gun to find. It is also a really spectacular example, considering its rarity. It is certainly worthy of being a centerpiece in a truly advanced collection of Civil War import arms. This is truly one of those guns where your collecting friends will not be able to say, “I’ve got one” or even worse “Mine is better.” I honestly don’t know when, or if you will get another chance to own one of these guns and if your collection includes Germanic import arms that saw Civil War use, you really need to acquire this gun to add to that collection.