Whitney Type III Short Enfield Rifle - Scarce
- Product Code: FLA-3696-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The Short Enfield Rifles produced by the Whitney Arms Company represent a unique series of rifles often classified with Whitney’s other “Good & Serviceable Arms”; arms loosely based upon current military patterns, but essentially handmade without interchangeable parts and not intended to pass a stringent Federal Government inspection. The guns were produced in small batches, in a variety of configurations and utilized a combination of obsolete, condemned, surplus and newly made parts.
The Whitney Enfield Rifles were produced in at least four variants, with features such as the presence or absence of a patchbox, the type of rear sight and the type of bayonet lug being the primary differences. In general, all of the rifles were loosely based upon the iron mounted British Pattern 1856 Enfield “Short Rifle”, with some influences from the US Model 1855 Rifle. Collectors have referred to the guns as “Enfields” due to Whitney’s use of Pattern 1853 Type II Enfield style barrel bands on all of the guns. Unlike the P1853 Type III Enfield barrel bands (aka Palmer Patent Clamping Bands) found on most Civil War era Enfields, the Type II bands were solid and were retained by band springs set into the stock. It appears that the Whitney Enfields used left over barrel bands from a Crimean War era American contract to produce P1853 Enfield rifle muskets. Whitney had purchased a huge number of finished and unfinished Enfield parts at auction when Robbins & Lawrence went out of business. Period documents suggest that as many as 5,000 sets of Enfield pattern barrel bands were acquired by Whitney in various states of finishing at this time. The P1853 Type II upper band was quite wide and early Whitney Enfields have this type of band. Later Whitney Enfields used a narrower upper band that was either newly made or was repurposed from left over middle bands from the three-band sets that he acquired. All of the Whitney Enfield pattern rifles had .58 caliber barrels that were between 32” and 33” in length. The gun had flat, flush-fit locks that were similar in appearance to Enfield pattern locks but were a truly unique design. Like the Whitney M1855 type rifle muskets, the barrels were often marked with an assembly number. These alphanumeric “serial numbers” appear under the barrel on earlier and middle production guns and near the muzzle on the final production guns. The Type I and Type II rifles included an oval patch box in the obverse buttstock, while the Type III and Type IV rifles did not. The Type I did not accept a bayonet, while the Type II and Type III guns had a saber bayonet lug and the Type IV rifle had a front sight/lug for an angular socket bayonet. Type I rifles typically had fixed rear sights, Type II rifles typically had “long range”, long base ladder rear sights, while Type III rifles had either the “long range” or the Whitey “mid-range” rear sight and most Type IV rifles had the “mid-range” rear sight as well. The typology of the rifles varies from source to source, but I am relying on George Moller’s American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume III as the most current and correct source of information. His categorization is slightly different from that found in Flayderman’s or Howard Madaus’ groundbreaking research published in ARMAX, the journal of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming (now the Cody Firearms Museum). All of the Whitney “Short Enfield Rifles” were produced between 1860 and 1861 and it is estimated that between 775 and 2,000 of all types of Whitney Enfield rifles were manufactured. Many of the earlier production guns were sold to southern states, prior to the outbreaks of the American Civil War. In 1860, the state of Georgia acquired two hundred fifty “Whitney Short Enfield Rifles with Saber Bayonets”. Mississippi also ordered “Whitney Short Enfield Rifles with Saber Bayonets” in late 1860, one hundred forty of which were delivered prior to the outbreak of hostilities. In January of 1861, South Carolina purchased one hundred Whitney Short Enfields with oval brass patchboxes. As many as four hundred ninety-six “Whitney’s Short Enfield Rifles with Saber Bayonets” were purchased by the US government in the fall of 1861. These arms were acquired from New York based arms and militaria dealer Schuyler, Hartley & Graham. According to a number of sources, it appears that at least two companies of the 10thRhode Island Infantry were armed with what Moller classifies as Type III Whitney Enfield Rifles.
This is a VERY GOOD+ condition example of the very scarce Whitney Type III Short Enfield Rifle. It is estimated that no more than six hundred of these Type III rifles were produced, and probably less than that. The gun is in nice, solid condition and appears to be mostly complete and correct with the ramrod and rear sight being the most obvious incorrect parts in place. The rifle is equipped with a US M1861 pattern leaf rear sight that is similar to the Whitney mid-range rear sight, but which appears to be a very old and possibly period of use replacement. The rifle also has the expected saber bayonet lug on the right side of the barrel. Interestingly, the lug is not numbered with a mating number for the bayonet that had been fit to the rifle. The rifle is a later production Type III with the short base rear sight and a Whitney alphanumeric mark near the muzzle. The mark C59 is present on top of the barrel, near the muzzle, forward of the front sight. Theoretically, this would translate to mean rifle #359 with C=3, followed by “59”. This mark starts to appear on the later Type III rifles with mid-range rear sights and remains present through Type IV production. The flush-fit, flat lock plate is deeply stamped in a single horizontal line: E. WHITNEY along the lower edge, forward of the hammer. This mark is often quite weak on these rifles, but this one is boldly struck, so deeply in fact that it is almost difficult to read! Like most Whitney “Enfields”, the lock is secured by a pair of screws that pass through a pair of Enfield-style winged brass screw escutcheons, however the tapered round wings are distinctly Whitney in appearance. The lock operates crisply on all positions and is mechanically excellent. The metal of the gun has mottled and moderately oxidized brownish gray color, with a thicker and more darkly oxidized area at the breech. The metal has not been cleaned recently and this is a buildup of old grease and dirt on some of the metal areas. There are some moderate vise marks on the breech plug tang, and the tang screw shows moderate slot wear. Most sources, and my own experience has indicated that the majority of these rifles were originally finished “arsenal bright”, however some of these rifles may have been browned and I have owned at least one that appeared to have had a period browned barrel. The metal is mostly smooth, with some thinly scattered, lightly oxidized pinpricking and peppering present on the barrel and lock. The peppering is slightly heavier in the breech and bolster area and on the lock plate, the result of percussion cap flash. The .58 caliber bore of the 33” rifle barrel is in about VERY GOOD overall condition and retains very good 7-groove Whitney rifling. The bore is partly bright but shows some scattered darker patches of oxidation and would probably benefit from a good scrubbing. The bore shows light pitting scattered along its entire length, with a few tiny areas of more moderate pitting from about middle to barrel and continuing to the muzzle. As noted, the rear sight is not the expected Whitney “Mid-Range” sight but a US M1861 type rear sight. The leaves do not have the expected “3” and “5” markings on the middle and long leaf, so I do not believe the sight is the usual M1861 contract style but might be something obtained as surplus from a contractor or even a Whitney product. I am calling it a replacement because it is not technically correct, but it has clearly been in place for a very long time, quite possibly since the period of use. The sight is complete and fully functional. The rifle has a US M1855 rifle type front sight and as previously noted a saber bayonet lug near the muzzle. The rifle retains its correct two-piece Whitney Enfield triggerguard is in place, with a brass bow mounted to an iron trigger plate. This unique triggerguard and trigger plate assembly is another of the defining characteristics found on these Whitney “Enfield” rifles. Both of the original sling swivels are in place on the rifle and remain in very good usable condition. The original Whitney pewter forend cap is present at the end of the stock as well. The original Whitney-style, brass tipped ramrod is missing and has been replaced with a shortened straight-shank tulip ramrod of the US M1863 pattern. The rod is cut to nominally 33 ½” and does not have threads at the end. The rod has a thick patina that matches the balance of the gun very well and may have been with the rifle since the period of use. The iron buttplate is thickly oxidized with a deep, dark brown patina as well. The stock of the rifle rates about VERY GOOD overall. It is untouched and is fairly crisp throughout. The stock retains strong edges and has reasonably good wood to metal fit. The stock is solid and full-length, and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The stock shows the usual array of scattered bumps, dings, handling marks and minor mars. There is some minor wood loss due to slivering at the nose cap on the obverse and some minor chipping in the ramrod channel. There is also a small area of wood loss between the rear sight and rear barrel band that is apparently due to charring or burning. A small chip is also missing behind the breech plug tang, the result of improper barrel removal. The only strange condition issue in the stock is the presence of three small holes around the front tang of the triggerguard. These appear to be tack or nail holes and it is not clear why they are there. The wood has a rich, uncleaned, almost burnished patina from handling and use that is very attractive.
Overall this is a very nice example of a scarce and desirable Whitney Type III Short Enfield Rifle. These guns do not come on the market very often and usually show heavy wear and use. This rifle is one of those guns that could have as easily gone to northern or southern soldiers and would be equally at home in a collection that centers on the arms of either side. For a collector of US Civil War secondary military rifles, this is a must-have piece, in much better condition than is usually encountered. For a North-South Skirmish Association shooter and collector, this gun just might be the short rifle you have been looking for to use in competition, as the seven groove bores have a reputation for fine accuracy. No matter what your area of collecting interest or specialization, it is an uncommon and desirable Whitney “Enfield” short rifle that I am sure you will be very proud to add to your collection. This is a very attractive and interesting rifle at a very reasonable price.