Rare Whitney Long Range Sighted US Model 1841 Mississippi Rifle for Saber Bayonet - Only 600 Produced in 1855
- Product Code: FLA-TB41-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
This is a fine and untouched example of a scarce variant of the US Model 1841 Mississippi Rifle produced by the Whitney Army Company. This was one of the very last Model 1841 Rifles to be produced and represented the end of the .54 caliber round ball rifle era and the introduction of the .58 expanding based elongated ball era in the US military.
The M1841 was the first general issue percussion long arm to be adopted by the US military. While percussion ignition Hall carbines had been introduced in the early 1830s, these guns were specialty weapons that were not produced in large quantities when compared the M1841 Rifle. The new US rifle was adopted in 1841 and production began in 1843. It had been the tradition of the US military, since its inception during the American Revolution, that the rifle was a special purpose arm, intended for limited issue and use. Thus, with the exception of the Hall Rifle, US military rifles were not designed to accept a bayonet. This was because 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 move to 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 several 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 as well. 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 Model 1841 Rifle is in about FINE and untouched condition. The rifle was one of the last ones produced and delivered by the Whitney Arms Company of New Haven, CT. and is dated 1855 on the lock and barrel. What is of particular interest is that this rifle left the Whitney factory equipped with a long-range, long-base adjustable ladder rear sight, a shorter than standard upper barrel band, a lug to accept a saber bayonet on the right side of the barrel, near the muzzle, with a 1” guide key and a steel head ramrod cupped for use with Minié style ammunition. For all practical purposes the rifles delivered conformed to the Harpers Ferry altered M1841 Rifles that have been designated as “Type IIB” variants by collectors. According to Ordnance Department correspondence, a sample altered Harpers Ferry M1841 Rifle was delivered to the New York Arsenal for use by Whitney as an example of what the upgraded rifle should look like and to be the model from which measurements for the location and installation of the new features could be derived. The Ordnance Department agreed to supply the long-range ladder rear sights to Whitney, as well as the shorter than standard double-strapped front barrel bands that had been used in the alteration of most of the Harpers Ferry Rifles. The Ordnance Department modified the terms of the contract by noting that Whitney was now responsible for “altering 600 Common Rifles to Long range rifles, adapted to sword bayonets, including bayonet studs, new upper bands, putting on elevating sights, smithing muzzles, (and) extra buffing and browning.” The modification to the contract also increased the number of outstanding rifles to be delivered by 100, to make a total of 600 of the new pattern “long range” M1841 Rifles. Whitney delivered the new variant M1841 Rifles in two groups of 300, the first on October 3, 1855, and the second a few weeks later, on November 21. In addition to the guns themselves, Whitney also supplied an additional 1,100 of the special steel ramrods that were designed for use with elongated ball ammunition. These were delivered a week after the last of the rifles, on November 28.
With the delivery of these last “Long Range Rifles” from Whitney, the era of contractor production of the US M1841 Mississippi Rifle came to an end, as it had at Harpers Ferry. The newly adopted US Model 1855 Rifle would subsequently replace the M1841 Rifle and although the M1841 Rifle would remain in at least limited use for the next decade, it was the end of an era. The adoption of the M1855 rifle ended the era of procurement of fixed-sight, round ball firing US military rifles that would not accept a bayonet.
As noted, this is one of the rare 600 Whitney Long Range Rifles from the final deliveries of US Model 1841 Mississippi Rifles, and it remains in FINE, untouched condition. 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 / 1855. The lock markings are very clear and sharp, and much stronger than those encountered on many Whitney rifles, which tend to have weakly stamped locks. The lock much of its original color casehardened finish, which has faded and dulled to a rich bluish-gray color with some lightly scattered patches of mottled color, hinting at the original vivid case coloring. 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 1855. The barrel is marked at the breech with the US proof and inspector marks: US / ADK / V P. The initials “ADK” are those of US Ordnance Department sub-inspector Andrew D King. The left flat of the breech is also deeply stamped STEEL. The barrel retains about 10%+ of its original lacquered brown finish overall, primarily in protected areas. The brown has thinned and worn and mixed with a moderately oxidized brown patina that blends almost seamlessly from browned finish to patina making the gun appear to retain much more finish than it really does. There is about 50%+ of the original brown present under the barrel where it has been protected by the stock, with some stronger traces under the barrel bands. The barrel is primarily smooth with some lightly freckled patches of oxidized roughness 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 blend of brown patina and finish. The largest amount crud and oxidation is present near the muzzle area and in the breech area, where some scattered pinpricking is present 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 rifling. The bore is mostly bright, with some lightly scattered oxidation and discoloration along its length and showing some scattered pinpricking and small patches of very light pitting as well. A good scrubbing might improve the bore and bring up to fine or better overall. A pair of inspector’s cartouches are present on the stock flat, opposite the lock. The forward cartouche appears to be a script ADK for Armory Sub Inspector Andrew D King. The rear cartouche is a clearer script R.H.K.W. in an oval, the mark for US Ordnance Department receiving officer Robert H.K. Whitely who accepted the rifles when they were delivered by Whitney. 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 at least some traces of their color, ranging between oxidized brown traces to as much as about 25% 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 original Harpers Ferry supplied “Type IIB” adjustable long-range ladder rear sight, and its original brass blade front sight. The specified saber bayonet lug with 1” guide key extension is present on the right side of the barrel, near the muzzle. The gun also retains both of its original sling swivels as well. The correct, original production steel tipped ramrod for use with elongated ball ammunition 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 VERY GOOD+ condition and were it not for an old apparent cleaning and some very light possible sanding would rate fine as well. 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 fairly crisp throughout, although there is some minor rounding and softening of the edges, suggesting at least an old cleaning and possibly a very light and careful sanding long ago. The result of this is most noticeable in that the two cartouches on the counterpane are a little soft. The wood to metal fit of the rifle is very good throughout and the fit and finish is much better on this government ordered Whitney than would be standard on the later “Good & Serviceable” Whitney arms. The stock does show some scattered bumps, dings, and mars from handling and use during the period of issue but shows no abuse, significant wear, or damage.
Overall, this is simply a very nice example of the always desirable and extremely attractive US M1841 Mississippi Rifleas produced on contract by Eli Whitney Jr. This is one of the last 600 rifles delivered by Whitney and is a wonderfully complete and correct example of the scarce Whitney manufactured “long range” rifles. 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”, this scarce long range sighted variant for saber bayonet is one of the least often encountered versions of the M1841 Rifle. These very rare guns are missing from many advanced collections of US military long arms and even collectors who specialize in Mississippi Rifles rarely have the opportunity to purchase one of these rare rifles; some never even get the chance to see one for sale. If you are collector of rare variant US military rifles or a collector that specializes in Mississippi Rifles, don’t miss your opportunity to acquire one of the least often encountered M1841 Rifle variants, a gun that is rarely seen on the market. This is simply a fine, complete, and correct rifle that is absolutely righteous, and you will be very proud to add to your collection and to display.
Provenance: Ex-Trevor Bovee Collection