Henry Leman was one of the most prolific of the mid-19th century Pennsylvania gunmakers, and today remains one of the best known to collectors. His percussion alterations of US flintlock muskets are widely known and regularly encountered, as are his alterations of Austrian Model 1838 and 1842 muskets that were acquired by the Ordnance Department during the early months of the Civil War. Henry Eicholtz Leman (1812-1887) learned his craft working for the Tryon gun manufacturing company in Philadelphia from 1831-1834 and established his own Conestoga Rifle Works in Lancaster, PA in 1834, remaining in business until his death in 1887. During that time, in addition to the military alterations mentioned above, he produced a wide array of “trade arms”, both for private sale and via government contracts for the Native American trade. He also manufactured large numbers of “Plains Rifles”, as well as large quantities of gun locks that bore his name. In fact, it is believed that many of the civilian arms attributed to Leman are in fact the work of other Pennsylvania gunsmiths who were utilizing locks that he had produced and marked. Like many traditional gunmakers in the Lancaster region, Leman relied on handmade and hand fit parts, which did not allow for interchangeability. This fact probably prevented Leman from receiving any contracts from the Ordnance Department to produce US Model 1861 Rifle Muskets when the Civil War erupted. However, Leman did active pursue such contracts. In October of 1861 Leman wrote to General James Ripley, the head of the US Ordnance Department, seeking just such a contract for military arms. Ripley rebuffed Leman, replying that enough contracts had already been let to fill the needs of the US military for the foreseeable future, but left a sliver of hope for Leman by suggesting that when (and if) he had sample arms available, that he should contact Major Hagner of the US arsenal in New York and forward such samples for his evaluation. During the next few months, Leman would be primarily consumed by the alteration of US Model 1816/22 muskets to percussion, as well as the alteration of Austrian muskets to percussion, and seems to have placed the thoughts of a government manufacturing contract on the back burner. However, in August of 1862, with the musket alteration project coming to a close, Leman again contacted Ripley about a potential manufacturing contract. Ripley replied about a week later, stating that: “The sample rifle left by you with your proposal to furnish some of them, has been examined. From the characteristics of the Arm, and times and condition of the deliveries as stated by you, it is not deemed advisable to accept your proposition.” The sample gun that Leman had provided was a .58 caliber, percussion ignition rifle that basically followed the pattern of the “Harper’s Ferry Rifle” (US Model 1855), although in a simplified form. The rifle was brass mounted, but eliminated the patchbox found on the US M-1855; although a couple of examples with “sporting style” cap boxes in the butt are known. Additionally, the adjustable rear sight of the M-1855 was eliminated, instead substituting a simple block rear sight, similar to that found on the original production US M-1841 “Mississippi” rifles. The front sight was similar to that found on the US M-1855 rifle. The rifle also had no provision to accept a bayonet of any type. The rifle had a 33” barrel with an octagonal breech section, but round for the majority of its length, which was secured by a single screw through the breech plug tang and two barrel bands. The bands were flat, spring retained, and similar to the pattern used on the US M-1842 musket. Examples are known with both iron and brass bands. The balance of the furniture, including the buttplate, triggerguard, side plate and forend cap, was of brass. As originally produced, it appears that most of the barrels were browned (as were the iron barrel bands), the locks were color case hardened, and the balance of the furniture left unfinished “in the bright”, whether of brass or iron. Failing to secure a Federal contract, it is generally believed that these Leman militia rifles were offered for sale to individuals, local and state militia companies, and possibly to other Pennsylvania gunmakers who were filling larger contracts. George Moller hypothesizes that Leman may have sold some of his rifles to P.S. Justice and J. Henry & Son. Moller further suggests that no more than three hundred of these rifles were produced circa 1861-1862. While this number seems quite low, it is worth remembering that Leman’s manufactory was not set up for assembly line, mass production with interchangeable parts, and this number probably represents a significant effort on his part to produce the guns. During the same period, Leman also produced a simplified variant of the US M-1861 Rifle Musket, and it is generally believed that less than one hundred of those arms were produced.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition example of one of the scarce and rarely encountered Leman Militia Rifles. This particular variant has iron barrel bands. The rifle is 100% complete and correct in every way and retains strong markings. The lock is marked in two lines, forward of the hammer: H.E. LEMAN / LANCASTER PA. While most examples are marked with the same die stamp on the nocksform on the top of the breech, this example is not. As with nearly all Leman rifles, this one is “serial numbered”, or rather assembly numbered throughout, a necessary practice with using non-interchangeable parts. The gun is marked 11 on nearly every part. The mark is found throughout the interior of the lock, including the lock components, lock plate and hammer neck. It is present on the underside of the brass triggerguard and in the wood of the triggerguard tang mortise cut out. It is present on the necks of both of the lock screws and the tang screw. It is present under the barrel, along with another number, 14. It is also on both barrel bands, inside the lower part of the rear band and on the swivel lug of the upper band, which is also marked E on its side. The gun has a mottle, medium brown patina and does not appear to retain any of the original browned finish on the barrel, with the barrel remaining bright both under the bands and on the bottom in the barrel channel, where the finish might have been protected. The oxidized patina is attractive and suggests the original brown finish. The metal is mostly smooth with some scattered pinpricking and light pitting, which is heavier around the breech and bolster area. The lock is mechanically fine and remains fully functional and quite crisp. The bore has been bored smooth, not an uncommon fate for Civil War era rifles and muskets after the war, when they were turned into inexpensive shotguns. The bore measures about .63 caliber and shows moderate oxidation and scattered pitting along its length. The brass furniture is uncleaned and has a mellow golden patina with some verdigris around the edges of the brass where it meets the wood, which is much heavier underneath the brass. The brass forend cap is retained by a single copper rivet. The original rear fixed sight is in place as is the original front sight. The original Leman tulip head ramrod is in place in the ramrod channel. The rod is full length and retains good threads at the end. Both of the sling swivels are missing from their mounts on the upper barrel band and the triggerguard bow. This is not uncommon on these rifles, as they rarely appear to have survived with the swivels in place. The stock of the rifle is in about VERY GOODcondition and remains full-length, solid and complete, with no breaks or major repairs. A repaired crack is evident around the reverse breech of the rifle, where a grain crack that ran from the rear lock mounting screw to the barrel channel apparently extended towards the wrist and was subsequently repaired with an old glue job. While the crack from the screw to the barrel channel is visible, the rear part of the repair is nearly invisible, requiring the removal of the barrel to find it. There are also a couple of old chips of wood missing from the stock, one behind the breech plug tang (from improper barrel removal) and the other behind the lower barrel band in the bottom of the forend. Otherwise, the stock shows only the usual scattered bumps, dings and mars expected to be found on a 19th century militia rifle. The stock retains good edges and lines and does not appear to have been sanded.
Overall this is a very attractive example of a rather scarce secondary US martial rifle from the Civil War era. While no official contracts were ever let for the delivery of these guns, it seems quite probable that a least a few were used by Pennsylvania and local militia units, particularly those that were called up for service around the time of the Gettysburg campaign and the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania. The gun has a lovely, uncleaned and unmolested look that is very attractive and remains all original and complete. With less than 300 of these rifles being produced, they rarely appear on the market today. This is a very nice example of a scarce militia rifle by the famous Lancaster gunmaker Henry Leman and it would be a fine addition to your collection of scarce and unique Civil War rifles.