US 1855 Pattern Saber Bayonet for Harpers Ferry Altered M1841 "Mississippi" Rifles
- Product Code: EWB-2514
- Availability: In Stock
The genesis of what would become the US Model 1855 Saber Bayonet began sometime in 1854, when the US Ordnance Department started to think about ways to improve and modernize their current inventory of long arms, as well as looking to develop a new generation of modern small arms to replace the designs of the previous decade. The introduction of the British Pattern 1853 Enfield for general issue to all troops, with its rifled bore and long-range rear sight, had changed the overall world opinion about the use of rifled arms. Previously “rifles” were specialized weapons for use by elite troops, while smoothbore muskets were for use by the rank and file. The utilization of expanding hollow base bullets based upon the design of Claude Minié had revolutionized the design of muzzle loading small arms. The US Ordnance Department started to develop a rifle musket design based upon the features found in the British P1853 Enfield Rifle Musket, and also started to look at upgrading their stock of older smoothbore muskets and M1841 “Mississippi” Rifles. In the case of the M1841 the French “Carbine à Tige” played an influential role, as it accepted a saber bayonet, and to this point US rifles had rarely had the ability to mount a bayonet. The design influence of the Enfield rifle musket’s rear sight and the French rifle’s saber bayonet caused the Ordnance Department to start a program of experimental improvements to the M1841 Mississippi Rifles in store at the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Between fiscal years 1855 (which began July 1, 1854) and 1861 (which began July 1, 1860) the arsenal at Harpers Ferry altered more than 5,000 Model 1841 rifles in storage there, as well as additional rifles from the Washington Arsenal, to a variety of long range rear sight configurations, adapted the guns to accept a saber bayonet, and in some cases re-bred the guns to the new standard of .58 caliber that was adopted by the Ordnance Department in 1855 for use in the new M1855 series of arms.
The first type of saber bayonet adapted for use with the Mississippi Rifles was known officially as the Ring Bayonet but is better known to collectors as the “Snell” bayonet. This brass handled bayonet had a semi-yataghan blade and was secured to the altered rifles with a pivoting iron ring at the rear of the hilt and a muzzle ring that was incorporated into the upper portion of the bayonet’s guard. The muzzle ring had a wingnut that operated a locking mechanism in the ring, which secured the bayonet to the muzzle of the rifle. During fiscal year 1855, some 1,628 M1841 rifles were altered for use with the “ring bayonet”. However, the locking and attachment mechanism was not found to be satisfactory, and the “ring bayonet” attachment method was officially discontinued on April 27, 1855. Even though the production of “Snell” bayonets ended at this time, that bayonet design would become the basis for the M1855 saber bayonet. The general specifications for the bayonet, including the blade, guard and hilt were all found satisfactory, but the attachment method was not. After the discontinuation of the “ring bayonet” attachment method, a more conventional saber bayonet stud was adopted to mount the bayonet. The stud, however, had a short lead or guide key forward of the actual mounting stud. This guide key required a small extension to be machined into the hilt of the saber bayonet. Between May of 1855 and May of 1857, approximately 2,700 M-1841 rifles were altered to accept this bayonet mounting system, with the guide key forward of the stud. As of 3 May 1857, the guide key was officially eliminated, and the conventional saber bayonet stud that is found on the M1855 Rifle was adopted to mount the saber bayonet, with no extension or guide. All subsequent M1841 Rifle alterations performed at Harpers Ferry used this bayonet lug system, and all US M1855 Rifles (with the exception of two US Model Rifles assembled in 1856) used this lug system as well. As such, the M1855 Saber Bayonet was actually adopted as a result of the testing on the altered M1841 Mississippi Rifles.
The bayonets are in all ways identical, with the only notable difference being that those bayonets that were officially manufactured for use with the M1855 Rifle were marked “US” on the ricasso of the blade, while those that were manufactured for use with the altered M1841 Rifles are not so marked. In all other respects as to dimensions, configuration and scabbard, the bayonets are identical and often interchangeable. Between the official adoption of the M1855 Saber Bayonet pattern in 1857 and the end of production in April of 1861, some 9,721 saber bayonets were fabricated at Harpers Ferry. As only 7,317 US M-1855 Rifles were fabricated during this same time, it can be concluded reasonably that the balance of 2,404 M1855 Saber Bayonets were intended for use with altered M1841 Mississippi Rifles. The M1855 Saber Bayonet had an overall length of 26 ½” inches, with a 21 ¾” semi-yataghan blade and a 4 ¾” brass hilt with 17 grooves cast into it to create a ribbed grasping surface. The bayonet had a 3 11/16” long cross guard, with slightly forward swept round final on the bottom of the guard and a similarly slightly forward swept round finial on top of the muzzle ring that dominated the upper portion of the guard. A grooved mortise at the upper rear of the pommel cap accepted the mounting lug from the rifle, and a spring catch machined into the right side of the secured the bayonet to the gun. A small round button that protruded from the left side of the grip allowed the catch to be disengaged from the stud and allowed the bayonet to be removed from the rifle. The bayonet was issued with two variations of scabbards. Both scabbard bodies were of bridle leather, finished black, and seamed up the back. The scabbard body was mounted with a sheet brass scabbard tip that terminated in a small ball and a similar sheet brass throat. Both the throat and tip were attached with small copper brads. The only difference between the two scabbards was that the earliest scabbard had a round stud on the throat to accommodate a similar cut out in a bayonet scabbard frog. The later scabbard had a raised brass bar that allowed a strap to pass through it. This strap was incorporated into the permanently attached scabbard frog of the M1855 Rifleman’s Belt.
This particular example of a US Model 1855 Saber Bayonet & Scabbard is in about VERY GOOD condition. The bayonet is technically one intended for use on an altered Harpers Ferry Model 1841 Rifle, as it has no “US” on the ricasso, but it equally correct and at home mounted on an M1855 Rifle. The bayonet blade is full length, measuring 21 ¾” and has a medium pewter patina with evenly distributed salt and pepper age discoloration over the entire surface. The metal is mostly smooth, with some evenly scattered pinpricking and some small areas of light pitting and more significant surface oxidation. The blade is free of any significant nicks or chips and does not appear to have been sharpened. The brass hilt has a very attractive, untouched butterscotch patina, with some areas of darker oxidation. The muzzle ring has a .878” bore diameter and the stud mortise is .195” wide in the narrow channel and .345” in wider portion of the channel cut. The hilt has a handful of marks on it. These include a trio of 1 inspector markings. A pair appear on top, behind the muzzle ring and one appears in the mortise slot. The top of the hilt also bears alphanumeric mating marks. These were applied when a bayonet was fit to a gun, as the brass handled bayonets did not interchange on the rifles. This bayonet was fit to at least three different guns. The mating marks C/74 and C/34 are deeply stamped into the top of the hilt, with the “4” in “34” stamped over a “6” underneath, suggesting that the bayonet was initially fit to gun C/36, then to C/34. The hilt shows some minor bumps and dings, but has a lovely, untouched look to it. The original spring catch and locking mechanism are in place near the pommel and still function smoothly and correctly.
Overall this is a nice example of a fairly rare US saber bayonet that would be equally at home on your Harpers Ferry arsenal altered M1841 Mississippi Rifle or on a US M1855 Rifle. With less than 10,000 of these bayonets made, they can be hard to find in any condition, and this is fairly nice one that I’m sure you will be glad to add to your collection.