This is a really special Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine. Made in 1864, it was one of the last Enfields purchased by the Confederacy to make it through the Union blockade. It has the Confederate Anchor "S" mark on the top of the stock which we usually find on 1863s, and once in a while an 1864 dated Enfield P53 or P56. Aside from a few hundred Enfield carbines purchased by the Union towards the beginning of the war, the South purchased almost all the Enfield Pattern 1856 Cavalry and Pattern 1861 Artillery carbines used during the Civil War. While the Union purchased hundreds of thousands of Enfield muskets until the early fall of 1863, carbines were not something it needed. With all of the breech-loading carbines available in the North, the Union simply had no reason to purchase an obsolete muzzle-loading carbine for cavalry use. True, it lacked rapidity but what the Union Army probably underestimated was its range. In spite of its short 19" barrel, the P56 was deadly up to several hundred yards, pushing it well past the range of most early breech loading carbines. This was not a gun a Union cavalryman would have wanted to square off against past a couple hundred yards.
What makes this carbine Confederate are the following:
1. It is commercial manufacture which was what was imported to both sides during the Civil War.
2. It is not marked for the British, Canadian, Australian, or Indian militaries.
3. It's a P56 Enfield Cavalry carbine, which were almost exclusively purchased by the Confederacy. While the Union purchased hundreds of thousands of three band Enfield muskets, it relied on breech-loaders for cavalry use.
4. It was made in 1864. The only buyer for Enfields that year was the Confederacy. The Union had stopped purchasing commercially manufactured Enfields by the early fall of 1863.
5. It has the Confederate Anchor S viewer's mark on the top of the stock.
Before it ever made it onto a horse or saw a battlefield in the hands of a Confederate cavalryman, this carbine had already experienced more peril and excitement than most humans would ever see in thier lifetimes. Its components fabricated by various subcontractors...a collaboration known as the Birmingham Small Arms Trade...scattered throughout the city of Birmingham, England, this gun came together under its main contractor "WJ KING" sometime in 1864. Its parts bear the names of long-forgotten workmen. Its barrel was made by Ezra Millward. A. Talbot made the stock. "T.W." is stamped on the lock and bottom of the barrel along with Roman numerals for fitting the sub-components together after finishing. Once complete, a viewer working for Major Caleb Huse of the Confederate Ordnance department inspected this carbine and marked it with the anchor over "s" symbol just ahead of the buttplate. Passing inspection, it was purchased and taken to a warehouse with other Confederate purchases to await shipment where it was packed into crates. Eventually, it was placed upon a steamship bound for either Nassau, Bahamas or the island of Bermuda where it was off-loaded into another warehouse rented by Confederate agents. From there, it awaited the last and most dangerous leg of its journey to the port of Wilmington, NC.
With Confederate ports like Norfolk, Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans, et al. sealed off by the Union naval blockade, the last major Confederate port still open in 1864 used to supply the Confederate armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee was Wilmington, NC. Wilmington was 28 miles up the Cape Fear River from the coast. What made it so difficult for Union ships to seal off was that the river splits into two inlets when it hits the Atlantic called the "old inlet" and the "new inlet". Heavy artillery emplacements at Fort Fisher kept Union ships a safe distance away. The majority of Enfields shipped to the Confederacy in 1864 would have come through Wilmington with perhaps a lesser number run into smaller ports like Galveston, TX.
When the time and weather were right, it was loaded onto a smaller ship called a blockade runner. Blockade runners were usually English built and came in all shapes and sizes. To be successful, a blockade runner had to be fast, light, have a shallow draft, and most importantly have a good crew plus a little bit of luck. By 1864, the success ratio of blockade runners was only 50%. Most of the crews were made up of British citizens including some with military backgrounds. The journey from Bermuda to the North Carolina coast took only a few days but no matter how long the journey, the MOST important thing was that you entered the outer rings of the blockade at night under a moonless sky. From there, you had until daylight to, at the very least, get your boat under the guns at Fort Fisher. The Union blockade was a mixture of standing ships on lookout and others cruising under speed as interceptors. If spotted, flares were often fired to alert the interceptors to converge on a blockade runner. Many of the best interceptors were captured blockade runners now manned by the US Navy.
There were a number of different strategies for getting through the blockade but one tactic often employed was to steam down the coast in the shallows to avoid the bulk of the Navy ships. Not every Navy ship could run in the shallows but the danger was that those that were able to could cut off the route and force the blockade runner aground. Provided it worked and the ship could get to the New Inlet or Old Inlet, a set of beacons were kept lit. When the two lights aligned with one another, the ship's pilot and captain knew to steer into the inlet. From there, the ship would rest in the Cape Fear River until daylight when it could steam up the Cape Fear to Wilmington. Once at Wilmington, both military and commercial cargo was unloaded.
One of the officers in charge of handling the military cargo at Wilmington was Captain John M. Payne of the Confederate States Ordnance Corps. "Payne recorded a complete account of all military stores imported by the CS Ordnance Department and Nitre and Mining Bureau through the blockade at the Fort of Wilmington, NC, from July 17th 1863 to January 12 1865 (when Fort Fisher was finally captured by the Union sealing off the Cape Fear River)." -- pg. 140, Firearms From Europe, 2nd Ed. Given Payne's thorough accounting of what was received at the last major open port in the Confederacy, we know that the following ships delivered X number of crates (assumed to be twenty guns per crate) of Enfield carbines or "Carbines" to Wilmington in 1864:
March 7, 1864 on SS Index brought two cases of "carbines"
April 1864 on SS Will O' The Wisp brought in one case of "Enfield carbines"
April 1864 on SS Index brought fifty cases of "Enfield Carbines"
May 1864 on SS Helen brought seventy-six cases of "carbines"
May 13, 1864 SS Index brought fifty cases of "Enfield Carbines"
June 6, 1864 SS Lillian brought thirty-five cases of "Enfield Carbines" (this run was commanded by John Newland Maffitt of the CS Navy. See link: http://www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com/article.asp?aid=478&iid=63&sud=27
June 20, 1864 SS Helen brought thirty cases of "Enfield cavalry carbines"
July 30, 1864 SS Little Hattie brought two "boxes carbines"
November 8, 1864 SS Talisman brought thirty cases of "carbines"
December 3, 1864 SS Vulture brought fifteen cases of "Enfield Carbines" & eight cases of "Carbines"
I think the chances of this particular carbine being in one of the above ten shipments from 1864 are almost certain. Of course, if I had to choose one, I would prefer it to have been on the SS Lillian commanded by John Maffitt...the first commander of the CSS Florida. That run is written about in great detail in the book Blockade Runners of the Confederacy and I believe was well documented by a journalist from the London Times who was aboard the Lillian.
So yes, by the time this little carbine was delivered to the battlefield by the little-known but hard-working Confederate Ordnance bureau, it had seen plenty of excitement. It would have been probably towards the latter half of 1864 so this carbine would have seen anywhere from a few months to no more than a year of combat during the last stages of the Civil War. It is a true "last ditch" carbine and because of its limited use, in terms of condition it's a cut above most Enfield carbines we usually see. For example, how many P56's have you ever seen with their original chained nipple protectors intact? I've seen plenty that have been added but this is one of just a few that I can say with confidence appears to be original. Note the impressions from the chain in the wood just ahead of the trigger guard. The markings are all quite nice and there is only mild burnout on the wood forward and behind the bolster. The markings are sharp with clear lock stamps and "25" gauge stamps on the left side of the barrel indicating ".577" caliber. It also retains its original large saddle ring and ramrod assembly...two items which were often discarded by the Confederates. The Birmingham Small Arms Trade cartouche is strong and legible on the left side of the stock (see photo). The European walnut is still a light honey color and remarkably solid with the exception of the typical age crack that forms at the shoulder of the breech down to the lock screw escutcheon. There is a light initial "B", most likely from the Confederate soldier who carried this gun, on the left side of the stock. The mechanics are excellent as is the bore which has its three groove rifling intact. Best of all, the carbine rear sight is intact with both leafs intact. The anchor "S" symbol is a bit flat from compression but still mostly visible. (See photos). This is a nice example of a late-war Confederate Cavalry Carbine that made it over the pond through the blockade, saw action for the last few months of the war, but didn't get used up!