By the spring of 1860, the shortcomings of the Maynard patent automated priming system had been discovered by troops in the field. The system had been incorporated into the US M-1855 series of long arms, but constant problems with the primer tapes had made the guns unreliable. As a result, many field commanders were utilizing conventional percussion caps to avoid the problems associated with the primer tapes. In May of 1860 the US Ordnance Board was convened to assess the problems with the Maynard system and to explore potential solutions. The findings recommended that all future US arms dispense with the Maynard system and revert to the simpler conventional percussion ignition lock, which was very reliable and much cheaper to produce. The Secretary of War officially approved the recommendations from the Board of Ordnance on February 20, 1861. This was fortuitous, as in just a few weeks, the United States would be plunged into the American Civil War, and the Union would need every rifle musket that could be produced, and as quickly as possible. The newly authorized and improved version of the US M-1855 Rifle Musket was officially adopted as the US M-1861 Rifle Musket. The gun not only eliminated the Maynard priming system, but also made some minor improvements to the hammer and mainspring, and reduced the diameter of the ramrod head slightly, to make it easier to ram a cartridge in a fouled barrel. The changes in the lock necessitated changes in the mortise that was cut in the stock, and these were adopted as well. As initially accepted, the new M-1861 was to include a circular iron patchbox in the buttstock at the recommendation of Springfield’s Master Armorer Erskine S. Allin. However, the patchbox was eliminated as a means of speeding production once the war broke out, and was probably never included in more than a few sample guns. The final change for the M-1861 Rifle Musket was a new, improved rear sight that was developed by Elisha K. Root, the driving force behind many of Colt’s designs. Root had approached Allin in June of 1861 with some design ideas for the rifle musket that Colt wanted to produce for the US government. The gun was a sort of hybrid of Springfield and Enfield design features, and together Allin and Root supervised the manufacture of the first US M-1861 “Special Model” Rifle Musket at Springfield, which would become the sample used by the Colt production team. Root’s improvements to the M-1858 rear sight that had been used on late production M-1855 rifles and rifle muskets appear to be minor and cosmetic, but improved the functionality and stability of the sight. First, Root designed the sight base walls to be higher, which protected the 100 & 300-yard sight blades when they were laying flat. He also recessed the head of the screw that that the sight blades pivoted on, which protected the screw from damage. Finally he squared off the tops of the sight leaves and deepened the notches. This made the sight leaves easier to move and adjust with a fingernail and made the sight picture clearer. Allin was sufficiently impressed with these improvements that the M-1861 rear sight was adopted in July of 1861 and replaced the M-1858 rear sight on the M-1861 Rifle Musket. In all other ways, the M-1861 was essentially identical to the previous M-1855, with a .58 caliber, 40” round barrel, iron mountings, spring retained bands and walnut stock. After all of the changes were implemented and new tooling was put in place, production of the new US M-1861 Rifle Musket began at the Springfield Arsenal in July of 1861. Because the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal was captured by Virginia state troops in April of 1861, and the machinery was subsequently removed to Richmond and Fayetteville, no M-1861 muskets were ever produced at that facility. Springfield produced some 11,102 M-1861s during the 3rd quarter of 1861 and doubled that output to 22,470 during the 4th quarter of the year. Pre-war production of rifle muskets at Springfield had averaged about 800 per month, but by the end of 1861 output had increased 10 fold to nearly 7,500 per month. By the end of 1862 production had nearly doubled to more than 14,000 muskets per month, and production of rifle muskets at Springfield would peak at around 25,000 per month during 1863-64. A total of 265,129 US M-1861 Rifle Muskets would be produced at Springfield over 24 months, from July of 1861 through June of 1863, when production of the new M-1863 rifle musket (based upon the M-1861 “Special Model” produced by Colt) superseded the previous model. Union military needs far exceeded the production capability of the Springfield Arsenal, and by the summer of 1861 contracts were being let to numerous suppliers to produce the M-1861 rifle musket. Due to delays in acquiring and setting up machinery, most of the contractors did not begin significant deliveries of the guns until sometime in 1863. During the course of the war some 448,314 US M-1861 Rifle Muskets would be delivered to the US Ordnance Department by various contractors, in addition to those produced at Springfield. This number does not include the “Special Model” muskets produced by Colt, LG&Y and Amoskeag (which represent another 177,026 muskets) or the M-1863/64 pattern guns produced at Springfield which total an additional 273,065. All together a total of 1,163,534 .58 US “Springfield Pattern” arms of all models were delivered during the Civil War for the use of Union forces, of which the Springfield produced US M-1861 model only represents 22%.The need for the .58 Springfield long arms cannot be overstated, especially during the first 18 months of the Civil War. An October 10, 1860 inventory of the US arsenals showed that only 22,649 of the approximately 70,000 US M-1855 Rifle Muskets that had been produced were actually in Federal arsenals. The balance of the guns were either in the field with troops or in various state arsenals. With the start of the war, and the rapid expansion of the US army to just under 600,000 men by the summer of 1861, the need for muskets cannot be understated. The production of M-1861s at Springfield was increased as much as possible, and all completed arms were shipped almost immediately for the use of the US army near Washington. ON August 22, 1861 Chief of Ordnance James Ripley wrote: “Circumstances have rendered it necessary to send all the rifle muskets from Springfield as fast as they are made to this place (Washington), for arming flank companies of General McClellan’s command.” Ripley further wrote in September of 1861, “I regret to state there are few, if any, Springfield made arms here of the latest pattern (M-1861). The entire product of the armory being consumed in supplying arms for the flank companies of the Regiments in the field.” It would not be until mid-1863, when supplies of contractor produced US M-1861 rifle muskets began to arrive in significant numbers, that the supply of arms would be sufficient to relieve the pressure on Springfield. Until that time, literally every musket produced was rushed to the troops in the field as quickly as possible.
Offered here is a very nice, untouched example of a very desirable US M-1861 Rifle Musket produced by the Springfield Arsenal. The gun is dated 1861 on both the lock and barrel and has the correct Springfield inspection marks on the stock opposite the lock. While Springfield produced 265,129 US M-1861 Rifle Muskets, only 33,572 were produced in 1861, representing a very small portion of the total M-1861 production at the arsenal and an even smaller percentage of overall rifle musket production in the United States during the American Civil War. The lock is clearly dated 1861 in a horizontal line to the rear of the hammer, and is stamped with the spread-winged American eagle forward of the hammer, and U.S. / SPRINGFIELD in two horizontal lines below the bolster. The top of the breech is also dated 1861, although the date is not a clear as on the lock due to some light flash pitting around the breech area. The left angled barrel flat bears the usual Springfield V / P / (EAGLE HEAD) inspection stamps as well. The stock flat opposite the lock bears a pair of crisp and clear cartouches. The upper one appears to read HTH in a flat sided “finish inspectors’ cartouche with rounded ends, and the lower one is that of Springfield Arsenal’s Master Armorer, Erskine S. Allin, a clear ESA in an oval final acceptance cartouche. The initials F D are carved in a period hand into the flat of the musket, opposite the lock. The gun is in VERY GOOD+ condition, and is 100% complete, correct and original, with the exception of a broken and missing blade on the rear sight. The gun has a somewhat mottled appearance, with a dulled pewter gray base color that has a splotchy thin dark brown to black oxidized patina scattered over all of the metal surfaces. The metal of the barrel under the barrel bands, where they have protected it from exposure to the air, is brighter and shiny, similar to the way it looked when it was first manufactured. There is some minor surface freckling and oxidized roughness on the metal, but it is in very small amounts and scattered around the gun, the most obvious place being a small area of surface roughness on the lower front edge of the lock plate. The buttplate has a thicker, more pronounced patina that is more heavily oxidized and shows some more moderate pinpricking and surface roughness. The buttplate matches the balance of the gun well, and is crisply marked US on the tang. The gun is mechanically excellent and the lock functions crisply and correctly on all positions. The original cone (nipple) is in the bolster, and it retains about 70%+ of its original blued finish, with some dulling and fading and remains extremely crisp. The original M-1861 rear sight is in place on the barrel and it retains about 30% of its original blued finish on the base, while the L-shaped 100 yard / 300 yard leaf retains about 50%+ of its original blue. The entire sight shows some freckled surface oxidation. The sight is functional, but the long distance, 400-yard sight blade is broken and missing. The gun retains its original front sight / bayonet lug, and both original sling swivels as well. The original swelled shank, tulip shaped ramrod is in the channel under the barrel and it is full length and retains excellent threads. The bore of the gun is in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition and remains mostly bright and crisp with fine rifling and showing some lightly scattered pinpricking and light pitting along its length. All of the metal remains fairly crisp and sharp with mostly clear markings and very good wood to metal fit. The stock rates VERY GOOD as well. The stock is solid and full length with no breaks, cracks or repairs. There are two chips of wood missing at the rear of the barrel, from either side of the breech plug tang. These are old, period of use chips that appear to be from improper barrel removal. The wood in these areas had worn smooth from use over time, indicating the chips are quite old. There is also an old sliver of wood missing from the ramrod channel, near the muzzle. The musket retains decent edges and lines, although the sharpness around the lock mortise and the stock flat has softened and rounded, from carry and use over the years. This stock does not appear to have been sanded, but has probably been cleaned a few times. This has resulted in the minor blurring of the stock cartouches. As would be expected, there are some bumps and dings in the stock from handling, use and storage over the last 150 years, but nothing significant, other than the chips mentioned above.
Overall this is a really a nice example of a scarce 1861 dated M-1861 Springfield Rifle Musket. These guns saw significant combat service, almost from the moment they were assembled and delivered into store, and for the most part fought for the full length of the war from 1861 to 1865. Considering the speed that these guns were produced at, how quickly they ended up in the field, and how long they spent there, it is really amazing that this gun has survived at all! If a collector were to have only one “M-1861” musket in their Civil War collection, then a Springfield is the one to have, and none is more desirable than an 1861 production gun. With less than “ of all the “Springfield” pattern arms actually being produced by Springfield, they can be hard to find, and since most of the guns produced in 1861 and 1862 saw such hard use, it is very difficult to find a nice one. This is a gun that any collector would be proud to display and would certainly be glad to add to their collection. I rarely have the opportunity to offer Springfield made M-1861s, and less rarely are they 1861 dated specimens. When I do have them, they usually sell very fast. Don’t miss your chance to get a really nice, original example of an 1861 dated M-1861 Springfield that certainly saw real service in the field, and is one of those guns that you really wish could tell its own story.SOLD