The Springfield Armory and U. S. Guns of the Civil War
The Springfield Model 1861
The Springfield 1861 rifle was not to widely distributed during the first couple of years of the Civil War. Most U. S. Army soldiers were still using the model 1842 smooth bore .69 caliber muskets. However the soon to become number one respected rifle of it’s time, the Model 1861 rifled musket became the standard issue, shoulder fired, rifle of the of U. S. Army during the war. By late 1863 it was common in the field. It was a .58 caliber single shot, muzzle loaded rifle that was fired by a percussion cap and hammer. The rifle was manufactured at the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts and was to become the first mass produced weapon in United States history. Before production ceased it is estimated that over one million of these guns were made. It weighed in at just over nine pounds, was fifty six inches long, including a forty inch long barrel. The rifle was issued with a triangular socket type bayonet and was often referred to as simply “The Springfield”.
The model 1861 fired a .58 caliber Minie ball, which was well known for it’s disabling effect on its victims. The minie ball was actually cylindrical and had four grooves with a hollow base. A ramrod was used to insert the bullet into the rifle’s barrel and force the pre-poured powder into the base of the bullet. The powder was ignited using a percussion cap and upon firing the gas of the exploding powder would force the bullet to expand and conform to the barrels rifling. This minie ball not only insured greater accuracy and range for the rifle but cleaned the rifled barrel when fired, as well. These bullets made for quick loading and a seasoned soldier could get off an average of three shots a minute and still be fairly accurate at up to three or even four hundred yards. The rifle had a maximum range of nine hundred to a thousand yards and was a very reliable weapon.
This gun gave the Union Army a tremendous advantage in that they could accurately fire at approaching Confederate soldiers, load and fire again and possibly even yet again before the need for any close fighting. All of this and the Model 1861 was considered to be a sniper quality weapon as well. The rebel soldiers often used their personal hunting rifles, smooth bore and even flintlock muskets. When the south started their run on northern armories they also acquired a number of Springfields in addition to what was captured on the field. There was still so few of this caliber of rifle in the south they were mostly issued as sniper rifles. Many of the Confederates were notoriously good shots and the Springfield Model 1861 made them a deadly force indeed to be reckoned with.
These rifles are some of the most sought after reproduction Civil War guns by today’s Civil War reenactment units. And there are several respectful manufactures that make this possible at affordable prices. An authentic original Springfield 1861 is also a highly prized addition to any serious Civil War relics collector or reseller’s arsenal.