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Windsor British Enfield Type Rifle-Musket

This is a rare example of a Robbins and Lawrence Model 1853 Musket known as the "Windsor Enfield", as the firm was located in Windsor, VT. Unlike the Enfields we encounter here in America, this one is a 2nd Pattern with inset springs for the barrel bands. Standard 39" barrel secured by three bands in .577 caliber. The lockplate is marked "1856" over "Windsor" with the royal crown behind the hammer. The various parts are marked with Crown Cyphers with the letter "A"...which I'm told stands for "America". Usually, the parts are marked in such a way to designate its manufacturer, e.g. "E" for Enfield, "B" for Birmingham Arms Makers, etc. The top of the barrel and inside the lockplate are stamped with an eagle symbol. It even has its original early ramrod with swelled neck. Even the sights and sling swivels are original and intact. The Windsor is a fascinating gun! These Windsors have known histories in both the British and Confederate armies...which is both interesting and complex. Did you know that it's theoretically possible this rifle saw action with two different armies fighting wars on opposite ends of the globe during the mid-19th century...three if you count the various Enfields that went back to Europe following the Civil War to arm the French during the Franco-Prussian War. Today, Windsors are incredibly difficult to locate. Even here in the South where a number were used during the Civil War by the Confederacy, it can be years from one to the next sighting of a Windsor. I just missed one that popped up in a gun shop in Atlanta five years ago and the last one we were able to acquire was nine years ago.

The story behind these Windsor rifles is worthy of its own book...there are so many angles not just with the rifle itself but with the Robbins and Lawrence Company, who was manufacturing these rifles, as well. In a nutshell, it all started with what else but a WAR! The British military found itself in a jam in year 1855 when it went to war with Russia in what became known as the Crimean War. Great Britain simply didn't have the resources (between the gov't owned Enfield Manufactory, and private makers in the cities of London, and Birmingham) to produce its newest rifle, the Pattern 1853 Enfield in quantities sufficient enough to arm its military. No doubt, many British soldiers went into that conflict carrying obsolete Pattern 1842 smoothbore muskets and the P1851 Minie rifle...just as Americans on both the Union and Confederate sides began the Civil War armed with US Model 1816's, 1842's, and in a few cases during the early part of the war, even flintlocks. They (the Brits) needed many more Pattern 1853's than they could crank out at home so they did the next best thing; they turned to Belgian makers in Liege and to the American firm of Robbins and Lawrence to make their rifle for them.

Most people today don't realize that "PARTS" used to be a handmade affair that required hand-fitting. If something broke, you didn't just order a new part...it had to be made by hand and fit by hand to work properly. Nowadays, if a part on your car, lawnmower, washing machine, etc. breaks, a repairman simply orders a new part, bolts it on, and things work again. That was not the case during the first half of the 19th century...when technology had not advanced far enough to consistently reproduce "interchangeable parts". The main emphasis for this type of manufacture was driven by the military...who had an acute need for rifles that could be easily repaired and put back onto the battlefield quickly. When the industrial revolution began in the 1840's, machining finally reached a point where a completely "gauged" rifle could be built. Many of these advances took place in New England. During the 1850's, Robbins and Lawrence was one of only a few private arms makers in the world who could produce a military rifle with interchangeable parts. The British were so impressed with R&L's production of the US Model 1841 Mississippi Rifle for the US government that they hired them to set up the tooling at their own national arsenal at Enfield for production of the new Pattern 1853. When war broke out in the Crimea shortly afterwards, R&L was an ideal choice for such as a military contractor. Back here in America, the thought of an initial 25,000 unit order with more orders to come must have been too big of a carrot dangling over their nose for Robbins and Lawrence to pass up. Since hindsight has 20/20 vision, we can look back and know it did so without weighing the risks. For starters, building a gun with interchangeable parts wasn't an inexpensive proposition. R&L had to borrow and invest a great deal of money in tooling capable of producing the Enfield Rifle with interchangeable parts. This meant it would have to make A LOT of guns to pay off its notes before it ever saw a profit. Manufacturing 101, right? But this was the British government and the gains must have outweighed the perceived risks. At first, everything went great. Some of their new "Windsor" P53's had already been completed and shipped across the pond to Great Britain. With 1/3 to 1/2 of the production completed, things changed dramatically in 1856 when the Crimean War came to an abrupt end. The British government, no longer needing more rifles...especially from a foreign contractor, canceled the Robbins and Lawrence contract right in the middle of the production. This spelled disaster for the American firm...a lesson which would repeat itself sixty years later when the British War department nearly ruined Winchester and Remington Arms during WW1 by abruptly canceling two large contracts for the P-17 Enfield rifle. Fortunately for them, the US gov't entered the war and used those two incredibly expensive production lines to build the US M1917 Rifle. By the end of the war in 1918, Winchester was just able to pay off their loans and break even...and I imagine Remington was able to do the same. Unfortunately for Robbins and Lawrence back in 1856, there was no other buyer for their no-longer-needed British Enfields. Unable to pay its creditors for the tooling costs and with no new buyers for its weapons in sight, Robbins and Lawrence was forced out of business. It's believed that about 16,000 of the 25,000 rifle contract were completed between 1855 and 1858...with portions going to the British military while others stayed here in the United States and ended up being sold to domestic retailers as surplus during the liquidation of the company's assets. Eli Whitney Jr. bought up the parts to make what he called "Good and Serviceable Arms"...many of which were purchased by Southern states just prior to the Civil War. And that leaves the fantastic Robbins and Lawrence tooling for the P1853 Enfield which is quite a story by itself. The tooling sold for pennies on the dollar to LG&Y and to an enterprising businessman named Sam Colt in Hartford, CT. Sam Colt must have been one hell of a poker player because he tucked away the tooling just as if it were an ace up his sleeve waiting for the right hand of cards in a poker game. That right moment would soon arrive a couple years later when the war American Civil War broke out in 1861. This time, it was the US government faced with an almost identical situation to the one Great Britain had six years earlier with its war in the Crimea. There weren't enough arms, new or in surplus, to supply the US army. To augment their woes, the destruction of the National Armory at Harpers Ferry by the Confederate army in April, 1861, left the US government with one remaining armory, the Springfield Armory located in Massachusetts...effectively cutting their production in half. The government was forced to turn to overseas imports from Britain and continental Europe and the help from private contractors scattered throughout the Northeast to build its newest model, the US Model 1861 Rifled Musket. Sam Colt, finally pulled the ace from his sleeve and inserted into the hand he was now ready to play. Colt quickly offered his services to build the new rifle and the US Ordnance Department awarded him a substantial contract for the US Model 1861 Rifled-Musket...or so they thought! What the gov't didn't know was that they would be receiving something quite different from Colt and LG&Y! Instead of manufacturing the US Model 1861 as agreed upon, Sam Colt had different plans. He simply took the old tooling he had purchased from the Robbins and Lawrence bankruptcy sale and began producing Enfield rifles with a few aesthetic changes to make the gun appear like it was the US Model 1861. Oh, they looked like the Model 1861 on the outside, but on the inside, they were P53 Enfields! When the army figured out the switch, they were furious with Colt but they were simply in no position to turn away the impostors...they needed the weapons! Perhaps, Colt was emboldened by the realization that he did not have long to live; the legendary inventor and businessman passed away in 1862. The Windsor tooling outlived the Crimean War, Robbins & Lawrence, and now Sam Colt who used it to infuriate the US Ordnance officers. It became known as the Special Model 1861 Contract Rifle-Musket and was produced on the old R&L Windsor Enfield tooling by Colt, Amoskeag Manufacturing, LG&Y, and EG Lamson from 1861-65. In fact, I'm told that many of the parts on Windsor or even the British-mf'd Enfield P53 are interchangeable with the 1861 Special Contract...after all, the tooling came from the same folks...Robbins and Lawrence.

Following the Crimean War, the bankruptcy of Robbins and Lawrence, and the sale of its assets to various parties, there were basically two groups of Windsor Enfields. The first group were obviously the ones that made it across the Atlantic and entered service with the British military. The second group were ones that never shipped and remained here in the United States. Many of the ones that stayed here in America are believed to have ended up in the hands of the Confederacy...as there were known contracts for these rifles to AT LEAST the state of Georgia. Eli Whitney Jr. also purchased Windsor parts and assembled them as "Good and Serviceable" grade weapons. Many of those too, ended up shipping South...and some were also purchased by the state of Georgia. In fact, if you ever get a chance to read a copy of the Dec. 1860 session of the Georgia Legislature, there is specific mention of these arms from "Whitney".

This particular musket is one that actually made it into British service for the Crimean War. It has an 1856-dated lockplate with regimental markings across the top of the buttplate which read "RSDM" with the quartermaster's inventory number "225". The right side of the buttstock has two opposing broad arrows which means this rifle was officially decommissioned from British military service...which is basically the last mark that goes on the rifle before its sold as surplus. My search for the meaning of RSDM did not turn up much but I did find mention of a similar rifle in an online forum that suggested this could have stood for the "Royal South Down Militia" which was based in Ireland. Following the Crimean War, the British government who had once had an acute need for weapons NOW found itself with far TOO MANY. There wasn't even enough arsenal space to store them and I'm told that many ended up under tarps stored outside. Of course, what the British military was first to cast off were probably its older weapons and those made by contractors, especially foreign ones. For example, a Belgian made P53 Enfield didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting picked over a English P53 mf'd at Enfield. Thus, in spite of their quality, its most likely that these Windsors were spun off to militia units, British colonies, or sold off as surplus. And yes, it's believed that some of these "used" rifles were purchased by Confederate purchasing agents during the Civil War. Over the years, I've come across British Model 1842's with Confederate provenance, a Pattern 1851 Minie Rifle, and even a Crimean War era two Band Model 1856 Sergeants rifle (the shorter version of the P53) that was made in Belgium. That particular rifle was ID'd to a soldier who served in a Confederate unit from Kentucky in late 1864 during the Atlanta campaign. Here is the link to it:


While I can't say with certainty that this rifle ever served in the Confederacy, one thing it does have in common with the aforementioned ex-British military weapons that did serve in the Confederacy is that its British inspector proofs which are usually located on the side of the barrel have been rubbed off. The reason for this: the British government declared itself a neutral nation between the Union and the Confederacy and while it did look the other way in terms of private makers selling both sides goods and weapons during the war, the government did not want to be seen as a supplier of goods to the Confederacy. True, they allowed private contractors to purchase some of their extra Crimean War guns as surplus (the obsolete, and foreign makers). Of those guns we find here in America today, what we consistently find is that someone (be it the purchasing agent or the British gov't) made a conscious effort to remove military markings that could trace the rifle back to the British military. Furthermore, in this case, there is also no "VR" (Queen Victoria Regina") initials under the crown on the lockplate...which should be present on a British military weapon. So removal of some of the markings was both necessary and required for a country that was trying to remain "neutral" in the conflict. However, it did turn a blind eye to the great volume of commerce the Civil War created.

This particular P53 is in NRA Antique Good Condition. The metal has very good edges and markings throughout but is a bit frosty in places with some scattered pits here and there. The mechanics are excellent shape and the bore is still .577 with its original three groove rifling intact. The stock is in very good condition with its tiny "A" inspector markings and rounded lockplate screw escutcheons indicating original Windsor (Robbins and Lawrence) manufacture. Screws are nice...not buggered at all. As previously mentioned, the most commonly missing parts on these Enfields, the ramrod, sights, sling swivels are all intact and original to the gun. A very scarce and historical rifle with ties to both the British military, Crimean War, and Confederacy.

Item# 1379




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