This is a Pattern 1856 2 band Enfield Sergeant's Rifle in Caliber .577. This rifle has been in one family for the past 60 years and came from right here in Georgia along with a Confederate 1842 Springfield. Both guns belonged to Confederate soldiers, this one to a Private named RR Jenkins who served with the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry during the latter part of the Georgia and Carolina Campaigns in late 1864/65. The 2nd Kentucky Cavalry was a pretty interesting Regiment. Following Hood's disastrous loss of Atlanta to Union Forces in September 1864, the Confederate Army was split up with the main bulk of the Army of Tennessee moving Northward to cut off Sherman's supply lines. A smaller force was assembled under Confederate Cavalry General Joseph Wheeler to shadow and harass both wings of the Union Army under Sherman during his March to the Sea (Savannah, GA). The 2nd Kentucky Cavalry was part of this smaller group assigned to Wheeler's Army. At the very end of the War following the surrender of Johnston's Army, it also formed a major component of the escort for Jefferson Davis as he fled from Greensboro, NC and down through Georgia. From a few feet away, this looks just like any old Enfield rifle that was imported into the Confederacy and Union during the Civil War. However, once you begin to study it, this rifle is rather unique and complex. It could be a chapter almost by itself in a book on Confederate Arms and still another on British Weapons. For me personally, this is a bit of a nightmare to write a description for because there are a lot of layers to this gun that need to be pealed back so please bear with me.
For starters, this rifle was originally purchased by the British Government...probably for the Crimean War against Russia (1853-1856). At the time, there was an acute need for weapons by the British Government. Unfortunately, her arsenal at Enfield simply couldn't keep up with production numbers high enough to arm all the men entering military service. When commercial manufactures in Birmingham and London couldn't meet demands too, it turned to gun makers abroad for additional weapons. For example, firms like Robbins and Lawrence in America spent huge sums of money tooling up to produce the Pattern 1853 Enfield musket for the British (these are marked "Windsor" on the lockplate). Apparently, they also turned to Belgian makers on the European Continent to help out as well.
That is what this gun appears to be to us....a P56 Enfield made by a Belgian contractor. If you look closely, the "Tower" mark is more in Eurpoean style script form than the traditional English block type used in England by Birmingham makers. Crown has "V*R" underneath on the lock...the Royal Cypher "Victoria Regina" indicating this was made for the British Government. The lock looks to be dated "1856'..."6 is partially visible but says enough. Also, the walnut is definitely Continental type walnut...lighter in color with almost white growth rings....just like you see sometimes on old Austrian Muskets and some German Mausers. Then, there are small differences in the contours of the stock and brass furniture. The Crimean War camed to an end during in 1856 and suddenly, the British Government must have had more guns than it knew what to do with. If you don't believe me, just read up on what happened to Robbins and Lawrence who went out of business when the British canceled their order of 25,000 Enfields in mid-production during 1856. One can surmise that with all the available weaponry following the War, the least desirable Enfields were the ones from foreign and commercial makers.
This is where the story gets interesting and even more mysterious. At this point, late 1850's to early 1860's, we're assuming this Continental-made Enfield Pattern 1856 Rifle must have looked like a red-headed step child to the British Ordnance Department. Here it sat...probably with heaps of other guns in less than ideal storage conditions. A few years later, the Civil War broke out in America and Union and Confederate scurried across the pond to England to buy up all available weapons. Of course, England was officially neutral which meant that its Armory at Enfield did not supply these buyers from the Union or Confederate Armies. Instead, Union and Confederate buyers turned to Commercial manufacturers centered in Birmingham and London areas....like Barnett, EP Bond, London Armoury, Parker Field, Potts & Hunt, and/or groups of sub-contractors who pooled their resources together like the BSAT...Birmingham Small Arms Trade (usually marked Tower). Yet, we know that in 1863 Confederate purchasing agent, Major Caleb Huse reported to Josiah Gorgas, Commander of the Confederate Ordnance and Mining Bureau, that he had purchased 21,040 "Obsolete British Muskets" along with "2,020" Model 1837 British Brunswick rifles. How did he get these from the British Government if they were officially neutral? The most likely scenario is that a private British maker, i.e. Barnett of London, approached the British Government to buy up surplus weapons it no longer needed or regarded as worthy of use. Its my guess that the ones at the bottom of their list in terms of serviceability were made available....hence "Obsolete British Muskets" and "Brunswick Rifles". Since these private buyers were getting the bottom of the barrel...surplus Crimean war guns, they probably had rebuild most of them so they'd pass inspection by the Confederate-employed viewers. This gun seems to fit that scenario. It was definitely rebuilt as it has a very desirable P58 Naval rifle barrel with 5 groove rifling....something that didn't exist back in 1856 when this rifle was originally manufactured. Also, the rear sight has Birmingham military proofs as do the front and rear barrel bands....not something you'd find on a Belgian-made Enfield. Finally, all of the official British military markings on the barrel appear to have been intentionally filed off...so as not to violate neutrality? That's my guess but if you've ever seen a Brunswick rifle that ended up here in the US as part of a Confederate purchase, you'll notice they've usually been restocked and even re-locked with P39 lockplates. Case in point: There's a Confederate ID'D Brunswick pictured in Flayderman's Eighth Edition on P. 542. It has either a P39 or P42 lockplate, a P53 rear sight, and no patchbox indicating a re-stock.
Of course, this is the reason that most Civil War collectors can tell you, "ALL" Enfields imported during the Civil War were purchased from privately-owned commercial manufacturers. These have no British Government proofs, broad arrow marks, and usually, no "V.R" underneath the Crown on the lockplate. Lockplates will be marked with the name of the Private Maker or Tower...never "Enfield". The barrels are usually marked with gauge marks "24" or "25" with London or Birmingham proofs instead of the small lines of inspector numbers, broad arrows, and cyphers you find on British military guns. Staying with Commercial manufactured Enfields is usually a good and safe rule of thumb to follow when trying to acquire a true Civil War Enfield...BUT as with just about everything in life, there are exceptions to every rule.
Side Note: When considering the purchase of an Enfield with British Government markings, its good to be skeptical. This is especially true today as over the past 7 years, we've witnessed a flood of old P53, P56, P58, and P61 British Military Enfields hit the US market as soldiers bring them back as souvenirs from Afghanistan. While historical in their own right, over the years, more than a few British Military Enfields have turned up advertised as Civil War imports by less-than-forth-coming individuals. Generally, the give-away to these guns are 150 years of sand-worn metal that exhibits almost complete lack of patina. The other is yellow colored wood that's been bleached out by the sun and lack of humidity.
That said, there are a few British Military Enfields here in the United States truly participated in the Civil War. We have both documented and photographic proof that surplus British Weapons did make it across the bond and into the fight. Most appear to have been procured indirectly from the British Government during the Civil War by the Confederacy. This rifle is one of those rule-breakers. We've long known that Confederate documentation exists proving the purchase of at least 20,000 older British surplus rifles, but to date, the break-down of types has never been established. The only variant I recall gets mentioned specifically in Confederate Ordnance reports were 2,020 Model 1837 Brunswick pattern rifles. Others are referred to as smoothbores. Over the years, I've seen two Model 1842 British marked Enfields surface from 2 different families that supposedly belonged to Confederate soldiers...one in Georgia and the other in Florida.
There aren't too many weapons out there that could match the history, travel, and complexity of this rifle. There are still a few pieces of the puzzle missing from its timeline but over the past few years since I first saw it, several have fallen into place. I have to admit, the first time I saw this rifle, I just wrote it off as an ex-British military Enfield short rifle. About 4 years ago, I received a call from a woman in Covington, GA who wanted to sell three rifles given to her by her father back in 1971. Her father had raised the family in Savannah, Georgia and was an avid gun collector. He traveled quite extensively all over the state of Georgia for work over the years had acquired quite a sizable collection. Most of these were sold off to a dealer in Savannah back in the late 60's to early 70's but he gave a few to each of his children. That's where the phone call came in 4 years ago. The man's daughter had these kept the three rifles he gave her since she was a 20 year old college student. No longer married, having no children, and approaching retirement, she reluctantly decided to sell them.