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US Model 1861 Bridesburg Musket -Possible CSA Capture from Sherman's 1864 March-

This is a US Model 1861 3-band musket that was manufactured in 1863 by Alfred Jenks & Son at the Bridesburg Machine Works in Bridesburg, Pennsylvania.  There is a bit of an interesting story with this gun as it was found right here in Georgia...most likely used after the war by a farmer as a shotgun. More on this below. According to Claude Miller's book, The Rifled Musket, this rifle was one of 48,000 delivered by Jenks to the US Government on December 15, 1863. This was just in time for the Union's spring offensive of 1864 which put two massive armies led by Grant and Sherman against Richmond and Atlanta, eventually ending the war. This coordinated attack designed by Grant was costly but prevented the South from shifting troops and its limited resources from its western and eastern armies like it had done in the past.

Overall condition is NRA Antique Good.  Not the prettiest 1861 but it has character with an interesting past. This gun was pretty rough when we got it several years ago.  Since then, the metal has been cleaned up from a heavy patina to a light gray with good markings on the lock.  Barrel proofs are a bit light but visible...like most, no date is visible. However, it does have  good sub-inspector initials "J.M." below the proofs.  "US" located on top toe of buttplate.  Original front sight...rear sight was missing so we found a modern replacement that's been aged to match the appearance of the rifle.  Original rear swivel...front swivel was broken off and has been replaced.  Ramrod is an original 1861 tulip-head rod which looks perfect but is missing a few inches off the tip.  Action works nicely with hammer functioning on both full and half cock.  Wood is solid with no cracks and good fit up to the metal-- not undersized.  Has been cleaned up a bit with some stain added but not sanded or smoothed out.  Both inspector cartouches are light but still visible on left side.  Large initials "PDL" are also visible on left side of forearm...traces of other initials on both sides of the stock (more on this later, see below).

From 1861-65, the Jenks & Son workshops in Bridesburg and Philadelphia, PA delivered 98,464 rifles to the gov't, making it the largest private contractor to manufacture the Model 1861. With over twenty contractors building Model 1861 muskets during the war, the only other private firm that got near Jenks in terms of production was the Providence Tool Co. which delivered 70,000. The lock is simply marked "US" <over> "BRIDESBURG" next to an American Eagle and "1863" manufacture date at the rear of the plate.    Some years ago, I can recall a Civil War guru telling me that Bridesburg muskets were among the only private contract guns the Union generals would issue to their front-line troops as they were considered equal to the Springfield Armory guns.  That seems a bit far-fetched but given the size of their deliveries and the number of weapons that passed strict gov't inspections, they must have been doing something right.

Several years ago before we had even started this website, we got a call from a local gun shop in a neighboring town.  The dealer wanted to know if we would be willing to appraise a small collection of antique guns for a church.  I remember at the time thinking how odd it seemed that a church would have a bunch of old guns but then again, the Lord works in mysterious ways.  After a phone call, we set up a meeting and there I was one day, going to church to appraise guns.  I'll never forget walking into a conference room, old flintlocks and percussion rifles laying across this long table.  You could tell right away this group was from old Georgia and collected back when antique guns didn't have breeches that opened. Two church leaders rose from their seats, shook my hand and asked, "Well Mr. Wilburn, tell us what we've got here." As it turned out the collection belonged to an elderly couple who were both in poor health and could no longer care for one another...or themselves.  With no children or surviving next of kin to look after them, their church had stepped in to oversee their needs.  The pastor explained that at some point down the road, the day might arrive when it became necessary to liquidate some of their assets to help pay for their care.  Knowing that, I sure didn't want to let them down, but before we could begin, I had a worry brewing from past experiences and it was really tugging on me.

Unlike breechloaders, muzzle loaders are great at concealing unwanted surprises so one of my first questions to them was whether or not anyone had checked to see if the guns before us were loaded or not.  No, they hadn't.  We quickly began removing ramrods...holding them next to the barrels to gauge their lengths...and then gently sliding them down the muzzles.  All the guns turned out to be empty.......until we got to this Model 1861 Bridesburg...which at the time looked a bit rough around the edges. The rod we used was sticking out of the barrel by a couple of inches too many...not to mention the dull thud we heard instead of the more assuring metallic ring when the tip of an iron rod hits a breech plug.  Sure enough, this one still had a charge in it.   We made a note that the rifle was loaded and went on with the appraisal and all went fine.  I went back to the office, cracked open my books, and pecked out an appraisal on the word processor. That was the last I thought I'd ever hear of it.  Then, a few months later, the phone rang and to my surprise, it was the church wanting to know if we'd be interested in purchasing the collection.  Medical costs were mounting and it was time to raise more money.  That is how we came across this Bridesburg.  We sold off the majority of the collection in short order...many of them among the first to go up on our website.  However, this one stayed loaded tucked in the corner of the shop. As you may have noticed, the inventory number for this rifle is 0112 while most of our items are numbered in the 1100-1200 range.  After six years, we finally we got this gun out of the corner and into the right pair of hands of a man who could unload it and fix her up...albeit, he did a little too well cleaning her up.

As mentioned in the above paragraph, I basically had six years to think about this gun before writing the description.  I know, so much for efficiency, right?   This actually worked out because during that time, we had the good fortune to handle several ID'd Civil War weapons including a couple of muskets used in Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in 1864.  For starters, we knew this gun had been in the South for a very long time.  Although it's been cleaned up since we found it to remove the rust, when found, the metal had acquired a very heavy dark brown patina from the warm humid climate here in the South.  The rear sight had been removed and the original ramrod had long since gone missing.   However, in spite of the problems, the barrel and the wood had never been cut for use as a shotgun (unlike so many CW guns found in the South). As already mentioned, you could still see the original Union inspector cartouches on the left side of the stock opposite the lockplate...a good indication that the wood had never been overly cleaned or sanded.  Furthermore, there was something else that was pretty neat.  The sling swivels had been altered in such a way that the rear swivel on the trigger guard had been reversed to face the buttplate.  Several years ago, I saw the same thing done to a cut-down Springfield Model 1842....somewhat mimicking a US Model 1855 carbine. That gun was also from a very old collection that had been passed through two generations of a Georgia family.   The front swivel had been broken off...but not by accident...it appeared to have been deliberately torqued back and forth until it snapped off.   Finally, there was a set of large initials carved into the left side of the forestock, "PDL".  Further back on the stock, there was also slight evidence that there had been at least one, possibly two sets of initials that had been removed.

My personal theory is that knowing this gun has been here in Georgia for most of its life, the date of manufacture, maker, the re-arranged swivels, and initials...all point towards a weapon that was used in Sherman's March through Georgia and captured by the Confederacy...most likely sometime in mid-late 1864.  The sling swivels suggest use by rebel cavalry.  While this may come as a surprise, next to the British Pattern 1853 Enfield Musket which was widely imported by the South, the US Model 1861 rifle was the 2nd most common weapon used by the Confederacy.  This was followed by the 1842 Springfield.  That's pretty amazing considering nearly all of these 1861's would have been captured from the Union or removed from battlefields.  BTW, the Confederate Ordnance department was highly skilled at the art of battlefield scrounging...even going so far as to place ads in local newspapers following battles offering rewards to citizens who turned in any recovered small arms.  Even damaged guns were repaired at arsenals like Richmond and Macon to be put back into service.

Obviously, the 1863 date of manufacture is spot on for the Union's spring offensive of 1864.  Another little tidbit of info that I can't prove but heard from a fairly well-read Civil War collector is that Bridesburg contract guns were issued to the Union's front line troops alongside the Springfield 1861.  I was not aware of this practice but thought it was interesting and worth exploring a bit further. Why would rifles used by private contractors be held as secondary weapons?   My guess is this argument...Springfield vs. private contractors may center on quality, experience, and interchangeable parts.  Not every manufacturer was equal to Jenks nor could every gun maker build a gun with parts that were guaranteed to interchange with same gun from another makers. Both factories under Jenks were capable of producing their 1861's with almost completely interchangeable parts...so good in fact, they also supplied other contractors with parts.  The following is an excerpt from The Rifled Musket by Claude E. Fuller on page 166:

"On March 31, 1862, Mr. Barton H. Jenks, of Jenks & Son, Bridesburg, Pennsylvania, appeared before the commission, and states: 'In five months, we will furnish all the guns now overdue on our contract.  .....Our establishment can make 240 guns per day of ten hours.  We have a contract with John Rice to furnish stocks and tips for him.  We have finished 20 guns interchangeable in all respects except barrels....'"

Clearly, Bridesburg must have been doing something right to have delivered nearly 100,000 rifles and passed inspection.  If any of this holds water, and maybe it doesn't, then we can see how this Bridesburg would have ended up in on of Sherman's Corps that advanced through Goergia back in 1864.

Moving on, another aspect of this rifle is the soldier's initials in the wood.  Initials in the stock or metal of a gun was a huge fad in Confederate regiments as regiments were armed with all types of weapons from old flintlock converted smoothbores to brand new rifled Enfields.  More than likely, when a Confederate soldier obtained a good rifle with a rifled bore of recent manufacture...he had great cause to mark that rifle as a deterrent to theft.  A good rifle was a matter of life and death and over years we've seen plenty of guns that had their owners' initials removed and new ones applied (like this gun)...other times they're altered to fit another soldier's name.  That's not to say that the owner wasn't wounded or killed and the gun passed on to someone new...or perhaps a comrade who applied his initials next to those of his lost friend.  This certainly happened.  Furthermore,  there were Union soldiers who marked their weapons too; just not to the extent of soldiers in the Confederate Army. Given that most Union regiments were more uniformly well-armed by the second half of the war, it would have been unnecessary to worry about someone absconding with your rifle.  Within the Union, my personal opinion is this practice was generally viewed as destruction of gov't property and could even be deducted from a soldier's pay.  The following link is a copy of muster roll sheet of a 17 year old soldier from Indiana who personalized his 1863 dated Enfield and then some. While it's impossible to say whether he wanted to keep his rifle and purchased it after the war, I can't help but think his graffiti was a bit too much for the US gov't to take it back. Here is the sheet from when he mustered out in 1865:


Finally, there is the mysterious reversed sling swivel on the trigger guard. As mentioned earlier, there was some purpose to this practice as we've seen it on a cut-down 1842. The reversed rear swivel suggests mounting on a horse for cavalry use.  However, a 3-band rifled musket does not sound very appealing to any cavalryman trained and accustomed to fighting on horseback.  That said, it's my understanding that cavalry was used in a different way during the Georgia campaign.  At the time, Confederate General Wheeler was given the unenviable task of harassing Sherman's army.  Wheeler had already done his best to menace Sherman's supply lines running North via the captured tracks of the Western Atlantic Railroad.  Following the capture of Atlanta and heavy losses at Jonesboro, General Hood's battered army moved slowly North back to Tennessee leaving Wheeler's small force to hound Sherman.  Sherman split his army into two wings that cut roughly a forty mile swath of destruction through the state all the way to Savannah.  While I'm by no means an expert on the subject, I've read that many of the Confederate Cavalry units in Georgia fought mostly dismounted or what I've heard the British term as  "mounted infantry".  The tactics were simple...1. Find the enemy. 2. Dismount. 3. Put up hasty fortifications. 4. Attack or ambush firing a few shots. 5. Get the Hell out of there before the Yankees closed in.  In case I'm incorrect on this, please let me know and I'll amend this.  Generally two band Enfield carbines were used although I've seen at least one ID'd 2-band Sergeant's rifle used for the same purpose. The tactics centered around the weaponry and perhaps even that a good number of Confederate infantrymen were pressed into cavalry units...among them a unit from Kentucky known as the "Orphan's Brigade". One slight advantage Confederate cavalry units had over Union cavalry who were armed with breechloaders possessing vastly superior firepower was the range of their guns.  Even a short Enfield 2-band cavalry carbine was good for several hundred yards...long past the point where most cartridges in Union breechloaders fizzled out.  However, a 3-band rifle, while cumbersome and awkward in the saddle would have had a clear advantage from a dismounted position that was barricaded and several hundred yards from a larger enemy force.  The extended range would have also bought the soldier a bit of extra time to re-mount and escape the enemy.

While she's not the cutest girl at the dance, she certainly has lived an interesting past and has given us an interesting six years trying to figure out a past that I'm nearly certain saw use in both Union and Confederate hands. It's time for a new chapter and we hope this will go to a good home.

Item# 0112




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