.... June  2009 ~~~~ Editor:  Cliff Hanger ~~~~
Springfield Model 1855 from Wikipedia

The Model 1855 Springfield was a rifled musket used in the mid 19th century. It was produced by the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts.

Earlier muskets had mostly been smooth bore flintlocks. In the 1840's, the unreliable flintlocks had been replaced by much more reliable and weather resistant percussion cap systems. The smooth barrel and inaccurate round ball were also being replaced by rifled barrels and the newly invented minie ball. This increased the typical effective range of a musket from about 50 yards to several hundred yards. The Model 1855 had an effective range of 300 yards and was deadly to 800 yards.

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 minie 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 minie 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. The Maynard tape system gave the Model 1855 a unique hump under the musket's hammer.

The Maynard tape worked well under controlled conditions, but proved to be unreliable in the field. The mechanism proved to be delicate and fouled easily with mud and debris. The tape had been advertised as waterproof, and ironically, moisture tended to be its worst problem. The paper strips were susceptible to adverse weather and even humidity. For later muskets like the Model 1861, the Ordinance Department abandoned the Maynard system and went back to the earlier percussion lock.

Approximately 60,000 Model 1855 muskets were produced.

The Model 1855 had been condemned as unreliable and had mostly been retired by 1860. The need for weapons in the American Civil War quickly brought the Model 1855 out of retirement.

First Use

The Model 1855 got its first test in September of 1858 in the Pacific Northwest at the Battle of Four Lakes (Spokane Plains) where the Northern tribes greatly outnumbered US troops. The attacking savages were dispatched by US 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."


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 long barrel, and an overall length of 56 inches. Three rifle bands held the barrel to the stock. A shorter two band version, generally referred to as the Model 1855 rifle, was also produced. This shorter rifle had a 33 inch barrel and an overall length of 49 inches.

The Model 1855 musket was modified in 1858 to include a long range rear sight, a patchbox on the side of the buttstock, and a brass nosecap.

Springfield Model 1861 from Wikipedia

The Springfield Model 1861 was a rifled musket shoulder arm used by the United States Army and Marine Corps during the American Civil War. Commonly referred to as the "Springfield" (after its original place of production, Springfield, Massachusetts), it was the most widely used U.S. Army weapon during the Civil War, favored for its range, accuracy, and reliability.

The barrel was 40 inches long, firing a .58 caliber Minié ball, and the total weight was approximately 9 pounds. The Springfield had an effective range of 200 to 300 yards, and used percussion caps to fire (rather than the flintlocks of the 1700s, the last U.S. flintlock musket was the Model 1840). Trained troops were able to fire at a rate of three rounds per minute while maintaining accuracy up to 500 yards, though firing distances in the war were often much shorter.

The most notable difference between the Model 1861 and the earlier Model 1855 was the elimination of the Maynard tape primer for the Model 1861. (The Maynard primer, a self-feeding primer system, was unreliable in damp weather, and the priming mechanism was expensive and time-consuming to produce.) Further, unlike the Model 1855, the Model 1861 was never produced in a two-banded "rifle" configuration.

The Springfield was aimed using flip-up leaf sights, which were set to 300 and 500 yards. By contrast, the British Pattern 1853 Enfield, favored by the Confederates, utilized a ladder-sight system. The Springfield Rifle cost $20 each at the Springfield Armory where they were officially made. Overwhelmed by the demand, the armory opened its weapons patterns up to twenty private contractors. The most notable producer of contract Model 1861 Springfields was Colt, who made several minor design changes in their version, the "Colt Special" rifled musket. These changes included redesigned barrel bands, a new hammer, and a redesigned bolster. Several of these changes were eventually adopted by the Ordnance Department and incorporated into the model 1863 rifled musket.

The Springfield Model 1861 was equipped with a triangular socket bayonet.


The Model 1861 was relatively scarce in the early years of the Civil War (many troops were still using Model 1842 smoothbored muskets and Model 1816/1822 muskets converted to percussion cap primers, both in .69 caliber). It is unlikely that any of these were available for use in the First Battle of Bull Run. However, over time, more and more regiments began receiving Model 1861 rifled muskets, though this upgrade appeared somewhat quicker in the Eastern Theater of Operations. Over 700,000 Model 1861 rifles were produced, with the Springfield Armory increasing its production during the way by contracting out to twenty other firms in the Union.

The Model 1861 was certainly a step forward in U.S. small arms design, being the first rifled shoulder weapon to be produced on such a large scale (relatively few Model 1855 rifled muskets were produced before the Civil War began, 1841 "Mississippi" rifles were produced in some numbers, and the 1803 Harper's Ferry rifle was, and is, genuinely rare). However, some argue that its impact on the Civil war has been overstated. While more accurate in the hands of an experienced marksman, the rifled musket's accuracy was often lost in the hands of recruits who received only limited marksmanship training (the emphasis was on rate of fire). Further, most Civil War firefights were waged at a relatively close range using massed-fire tactics, minimizing the effect of the new rifle's long-range accuracy. Lastly, the .58 caliber bullet, when fired, followed a rainbow-like trajectory. As a result, many inexperienced soldiers who did not adjust their sights would shoot over their enemies' heads in combat. There are numerous accounts of this happening in the war's earlier battles. With this in mind, soldiers were often instructed to aim low.

Modern Usage

The Springfield Model 1861 is very popular today among Civil War reenactors and collectors alike for its accuracy, reliability and historical background. Actual antique Springfields are extremely rare and expensive so companies such as Pedersoli, Armi Sport and Euro Arms make modern reproductions at a much more affordable price.

Springfield Model 1865 from Wikipedia

The Springfield Model 1865 was an early breech-loading modification of the Springfield rifle musket design.

During the U.S. Civil War, the advantage of breech loading rifles became obvious. The rifled muskets used during the war had a rate of fire of 3 or 4 rounds per minute. Breech loading rifles increased the rate of fire to 8 to 10 rounds per minute. As the Civil War drew to a close, the U.S. Ordinance Department requested prototypes of breech loading weapons from arms manufacturers all over the world.

After considerable testing, the prototype developed by Erskine S. Allin of the government-operated Springfield Armory was chosen for its simplicity, and the fact that it could be produced by the modification of existing Springfield Model 1863 muskets. These modifications cost about $5 per rifle, which was a significant savings at a time when new rifles cost about $20 each. Patent No. 49,959 was issued to Erskine S. Allin on September 19, 1865, describing the design.

The conversion from musket to breechloader was done by milling open the breech section of the barrel and inserting a hinged bolt fastened to the top of the barrel. A thumb-operated cam latch at the rear of the breechblock held it shut when in closed position. The rack-type system extractor was withdrawn automatically as the breechblock was opened and snapped back at the end of its stroke. The firing pin was housed within the breechblock. The hammer nose was flattened to accommodate the firing pin.

The breech mechanism employed a hinged breechblock that rotated up and forward, resembling the movement of a trapdoor, to open the breech of the rifle and permit insertion of a cartridge. The hinged breech block caused these rifles to be named "Trapdoor Springfields".

Approximately five thousand civil war Model 1861 rifled muskets were converted at the Springfield Armory in 1866. It soon became apparent that many of the small working parts in the breech system were not going to have a long service life, and the action was too complicated for normal service use. Therefore, before the Model 1865 production order was completed, a less complex rifle was already being tested. This caused the Model 1865 to be called the "First Allin", and the following revised model, the Springfield Model 1866, to be called the "Second Allin".

The Springfield model 1865 fired a rimfire .58-60-500 cartridge (.58 inch 500-grain (32 g) bullet, 60 grains (3.9 g) of black powder), the caliber matching that of the civil war minie ball, which was originally used in these rifles.

The Model 1865 quickly became obsolete, and most of them were sold in the 1870s to several American arms dealers. At the time, there was a large demand in the US, for shorter cadet style rifles. To satisfy this need, these dealers cut the barrels and stocks to make short rifles with 33" and 36" barrel lengths. Likewise, the stock wrists were often thinned for cadet use.

Springfield Model 1866 from Wikipedia

The Springfield Model 1866 was the second iteration of the Allin-designed trapdoor breech-loading mechanism. Originally developed as a means of converting rifled muskets to breechloaders, the Allin modification ultimately became the basis for the definitive Model 1873, the first breech-loading rifle adopted by the United States War Department for manufacture and widespread issue to U.S. troops.

The Model 1866 corrected problems encountered with the prototypical Model 1865, in particular a simplified and improved extractor and a superior .50 caliber centerfire cartridge (the Model 1865 used a .58 caliber rimfire cartridge with mediocre ballistics), among many other less significant changes. It employed a robust version of the "trapdoor" breechblock design originated by Erskine S. Allin, Master Armorer of the Springfield Armory.

Approximately 25,000 .58 caliber Springfield Model 1863 rifled muskets were converted by Springfield Armory for use by U.S. troops, the barrels being relined and rifled to .50 caliber and the trapdoor breech system affixed. The rifle was chambered for the powerful centerfire .50-70 Government cartridge (.50 caliber 450-grain (29 g) bullet; 70 grains (4.5 g) of black powder). Though a significant improvement over the extractor of the Model 1865 Springfield Rifle, the Model 1866 extractor was still excessively complicated and the extractor spring somewhat prone to breakage. However, it is a misconception that a broken extractor disabled the weapon. In the official 1867 government user booklet “Description and Rules for the Management of the Springfield Breech-Loading Rifle Musket, Model 1866”, the following is stated regarding a broken extractor and/or ejector: “It should be understood that the ejector and friction springs are convenient rather than necessary, and that the piece is not necessarily disabled if one or both of them should break, for the shell can be easily removed by the fingers after being loosened by the extractor hook.” Furthermore, the “ramrod” of the rifle can be used quite effectively to remove a stuck case in an emergency. Thus it is clear that this weapon is not as easily disabled as is sometimes believed.

The Model 1866 was issued to U.S. troops in 1867, and was a major factor in the Wagon Box Fight and the Hayfield Fight, along the Bozeman Trail in 1867. The rapid rate of fire which could be achieved disrupted the tactics of attacking Sioux and Cheyenne forces, who had faced muzzle-loading rifles during the Fetterman massacre only a few months before. The new rifles contributed decisively to the survival and success of severely outnumbered U.S. troops in these engagements.

 Springfield Model 1873 from Wikipedia

The Model 1873 Trapdoor Springfield was the first standard-issued breech-loading rifle adopted by the United States Army (although the Model 1866 trapdoor had seen limited issue to troops along the Bozeman Trail in 1867). The gun, in both full-length and carbine versions, was widely used in the Black Hills War and in subsequent battles against the American Indians.

The Model 1873 was the fifth variation of the Allin trapdoor design, and was named for its hinged breechblock, which opened like a trapdoor. The infantry rifle model featured a 32?-inch (829 mm) barrel, while the cavalry carbine used a 22-inch (560 mm) barrel.

The rifle cartridge was designated as ".45-70-405", indicating a .45 caliber, 405-grain (26.2 g) bullet propelled by 70 grains (4.5 g) of black powder. It had a muzzle velocity of 1,350 feet per second (410 m/s), making it a powerful and effective load for the skirmish tactics of the era. A reduced-power load of 55 grains (3.6 g) of powder (.45-55-405) was manufactured for use in the carbine to lighten recoil for mounted cavalry soldiers. This cartridge had a correspondingly reduced muzzle velocity of 1,100 feet per second (340 m/s) and a somewhat reduced effective range.

The rifle was originally issued with a copper cartridge and used in the American West during the second half of the 1800s, but the soldiers soon discovered that the copper expanded excessively in the breech when heated after firing. This sometimes jammed the rifle by preventing extraction of the fired cartridge case. A jam required manual extraction with a knife blade or similar tool, and could render the carbine version of the weapon, which had no ramrod to remove stuck cases, useless in combat except as a club.

After the annihilation of General George Armstrong Custer's battalion (armed with the carbine and .45-55 ammunition) at the Battle of Little Big Horn in June 1876, investigations revealed that jamming of their carbines may have played a factor. The cartridge was subsequently redesigned with a brass case, since that material did not expand as much as copper. This proved to be a major improvement, and brass became the primary material used in United States military cartridges from then to the present.

After the Little Big Horn disaster, troops were required to perform target practice twice a week; some became so proficient that they began winning the Army's newly created marksmanship awards.

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