Springfield Model 1855

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Model 1855 Rifle-Musket
Springfield Model 1855 - AM.030363.jpg
Right and left side of a Springfield Armory Model 1855 Musket
TypeRifled musket
Place of originUnited States of America
Service history
In service?
Used byUnited States
Confederate States of America
WarsIndian Wars
Yakima War
Utah War
Navajo Wars
First and Second Cortina War
Paiute War
Yavapai Wars
Dakota War of 1862
American Civil War
Production history
Designer?
Designed1856
ManufacturerUnited States Armory and Arsenal at Springfield, United States Armory and Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Providence Tool Company
Unit cost$20[1]
Produced1856–1860
No. built60,000
Specifications
Weight9 lb (4.1 kg)
Length56.0 in (1,420 mm)
Barrel length40.0 in (1,020 mm)

CartridgePaper cartridge, Minié ball undersized to reduce the effects of powder fouling and for the skirt to grip the grooves when firing
Caliber.58 (14.7320 mm)
Barrels3 grooves
ActionMaynard tape primer
Rate of fireUser dependent; usually 2 to 3 rounds every 1 minute
Muzzle velocity1,000 to 1,200 ft/s (300 to 370 m/s)
Effective firing range200 to 300 yd (180 to 270 m)
Maximum firing range800 to 1,000 yd (730 to 910 m)
Feed systemMuzzle-loaded
SightsOpen sights/flip-up leaf sights
A Springfield 1855 2nd model
"Springfield Model 1855 Musket, from "RULES FOR THE MANAGEMENT AND CLEANING OF THE Rifle Musket, Model 1855" Washington Government Printing Office, 1862."
"Diagram of a Model 1855 Musket's lock mechanism. The small plate with the eagle on it is the cover for the Maynard tape system."

The Springfield Model 1855 was a rifle musket widely used in the American Civil War. It exploited the advantages of the new conical Minié ball, which could be deadly at over 1,000 yards. About 60,000 of these rifles were made, and it was a standard infantry weapon for Union and Confederates alike, until the Model 1861 supplanted it, obviating the use of the insufficiently waterproof Maynard tape primer.

Origins[edit]

The Model 1855 Springfield was a rifled musket used in the mid 19th century. It was manufactured by the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and at the Harper's Ferry in Virginia.

Earlier muskets had mostly been smoothbore flintlocks. In the 1840s, the unreliable flintlocks had been replaced by much more reliable and weather resistant percussion cap systems. The smoothbore barrel and inaccurate round ball were also being replaced by rifled barrels and the newly invented Minié ball. This increased the typical effective range of a musket from about fifty yards (46 m) to several hundred yards. The Model 1855 had an effective range of 500 yards (460 m) and was deadly to over 1,000 yards (910 m).[2]

The barrel on the Model 1855 was .58 caliber, which was smaller than previous muskets. The Model 1816 Musket and all of its derivatives up through the Model 1842 Musket had been .69 caliber, but tests conducted by the U.S. Army showed that the smaller .58 caliber was more accurate when used with a Minié ball.

The Model 1855 also used the Maynard tape primer, which was an attempt at improving the percussion cap system that had been previously developed. Instead of using individual caps which had to be placed for every shot, the Maynard system used a tape which was automatically fed every time the hammer was cocked, similar to the way a modern child's cap gun works. While the powder and Minié ball still had to be loaded conventionally, the tape system was designed to automate the placing of the percussion cap and therefore speed up the overall rate of fire of the weapon.[3] The Maynard tape system gave the Model 1855 a unique hump under the musket's hammer. The weapon could also be primed in the usual way with standard percussion caps if the tape was unavailable.

In the field, the Maynard tape primer proved to be unreliable. Tests conducted between 1859 and 1861 found that half of the primers misfired, and also reported that the tape primer springs did not feed well.[4] The greatest problem was the actual tape itself. Despite being advertised as waterproof, the paper strips proved to be susceptible to moisture. An attempt was made to remedy this problem by making the tape primers out of foil, but despite the improvement this brought, the Ordnance Department abandoned the Maynard system and went back to the standard percussion lock in later muskets like the Model 1861.[5] Most 1855s were used throughout the War with standard percussion caps.

Approximately 75,000 Model 1855 muskets were produced.[6] The machinery to make the Model 1855s, at Harpers Ferry was captured by the Confederate Army in early 1861. The captured machinery to produce rifle muskets was taken to Richmond, where it formed the "backbone" of Confederate weapon manufacturing capability. The Rifle machinery was taken to Fayetteville, North Carolina where it too was put to use for significant arms production throughout the War. As a result of using the original arsenal machinery, the Richmond rifle muskets and the Fayetteville rifles were two of the finest weapons produced by the Confederacy.

The Model 1855 was in production until 1860 and was the standard-issue firearm of the regular army in the pre-Civil War years. The need for large numbers of weapons at the start of the American Civil War saw the Model 1855 simplified by the removal of the Maynard tape primer and a few other minor alterations to make it cheaper and easier to manufacture, thus creating the ubiquitous Model 1861 Springfield. The Model 1855 was the best arm available at the beginning of the conflict as it took some time for the Model 1861s to be manufactured and actually reach the field. However, less than 80,000 Model 1855s had been manufactured by the start of the war. Some of them were destroyed when the Confederates captured the Harper's Ferry Arsenal in April 1861, and several thousand more were in Southern hands. Approximately 10,000 rifles had also been shipped to California, and therefore were useless for the Union war effort.[7]

First Use[edit]

The Model 1855 got its first test in September 1858 in the Pacific Northwest at the Battle of Four Lakes (Spokane Plains) where the Northern tribes greatly outnumbered U.S. troops. The attacking Native Americans were dispatched by U.S. troops armed with the Model 1855 rifle-musket before they could get in range with their smoothbores. Lt. Lawrence Kip noted: "Strange to say, not one of our men was injured...This was owing to the long range rifles now first used by our troops... Had these men been armed with those formerly used, the result of the fight, as to the loss on our side, would have been far different, for the enemy outnumbered us, and had all of the courage that we are accustomed to ascribe to Indian savages. But they were panic-struck by the effect of our fire at such great distances."[8]

Variants[edit]

The Model 1855 is generally referred to as rifle-musket, since it was the same length as the muskets that it replaced. It had a 40 inch (102 cm) long barrel, and an overall length of 56 inches (142 cm). Three rifle bands held the barrel to the stock. A shorter two band version, generally referred to as the Harpers Ferry Model 1855 rifle, was also produced. This shorter rifle had a 33-inch (84 cm) barrel and an overall length of 49 inches (124 cm).[9]

The Model 1855 musket was modified in 1858 to include a simpler rear sight (the typical flip-up leaf type), a patchbox on the side of the buttstock, and an iron nosecap to replace the brass one.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Purchase of arms, House Documents, 1861, P. 167.
  2. ^ "Civil War Weapons and Equipment" by Russ A. Pritchard, Jr., Russ A. Pritchard Jr. Published by Globe Pequot, 2003
  3. ^ "Arms and Equipment of the Civil War" by Jack Coggins, Published by Courier Dover Publications, 2004
  4. ^ "Gunsmoke and saddle leather: firearms in the nineteenth-century American West" By Charles G. Worman, published by the University of New Mexico Press, 2005
  5. ^ "Firearms: The Life Story of a Technology" by Roger Pauly, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004
  6. ^ "Civil War Weapons and Equipment" by Russ A. Pritchard, Jr., Russ A. Pritchard Jr. Published by Globe Pequot, 2003
  7. ^ "Arms and Equipment of the Civil War" by Jack Coggins, Published by Courier Dover Publications, 2004
  8. ^ "Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather: Firearms in the Nineteenth-century American West" by Charles G. Worman, Published by UNM Press, 2005
  9. ^ "The Guns That Won the West: Firearms on the American Frontier, 1848-1898", by John Walter, Published by MBI Publishing Company, 2006
  10. ^ "2008 Standard Catalog of Firearms: The Collector's Price and Reference Guide" by Dan Shideler, Published by Krause Publications, 2008