A Different Vista on the Civil War: An "Ohio" Marked Lorenz Rifle


          While the focus of this blog has been almost exclusively on chronicling the services of Ohioans during the Civil War through their own words, once in a while it is worthwhile to look into object-based history to help further illuminate the times. Object-based history provides a different vista through which to view past events, by studying the manufacture, use, and history of the objects themselves. Today's post marks my first entry into studying the Civil War through its relics and objects.
Unidentified Yankee private holding a Lorenz rifle and Colt revolver
(Library of Congress)

           I recently acquired an Ohio-marked M1854 Austrian-made .54 caliber Lorenz rifle from a longtime Civil War collector. When I decided to purchase the rifle, I knew little beyond the fact that I had come across dozens of references to this usually well-regarded longarm in my research over the years and it was one of the more attractive weapons from the era. Its European origins added to the allure. The Lorenz rifle entered service with the Austrian Army in 1854 and more than 300,000 made their way into the American Civil War, the Union purchasing 226,000 of them and the Confederacy more 100,000. The supply came initially from stocks of the Austrian army, but contractors also produced thousands of rifles specifically for export. The quality of these rifles varied, with the former Austrian army examples generally being the better while some of the contractor-made Lorenz’s were awful. The basic Austrian Lorenz had a .54 caliber bore, but some examples shipped to the U.S. were bored out to .58 caliber to accept the standard U.S. .577 caliber bullet. These larger caliber weapons generally are thought to have been utilized by Union forces.

Upon further examination of the various markings and features, it appears that this particular rifle was made in 1859 and accepted for use in the Austrian army as is indicated by the double-headed eagle stamp on the lock plate. The top of the barrel is marked LF and there are various number 7s and 8s on the butt plate, trigger, and lock plate. It is a .54 caliber weapon (I measured it and was able to drop in a .54 caliber bullet but not a .577) with a type I rear sight. The key difference between type I and type II Lorenz rifles is the rear sight- my rifle has the simple single-block dovetail rear sight which meant that it was issued to average troops of the line, not sharpshooters, making it a type I Lorenz. It was exported to the U.S. government in either 1861 or 1862 and subsequently issued to an Ohio infantry regiment.

The “Ohio” marking stamped on the stock was applied after the Lorenz was turned back in to the Ohio state arsenal in either 1863 or 1864. The story is this: in 1863, the state of Ohio embarked on a plan to ensure that its infantry regiments were equipped with Springfield or Enfield rifles, and communications were sent to those regiments with class 2 and lower weapons (the Lorenz being considered a class 2 firearm) that they could trade in their older weapons for new Springfields or Enfields. Regiments provided a list of how many of these “off-grade” weapons they possessed, and then received a shipment of Enfield or Springfield replacements. As the Lorenz rifles returned to Ohio, they were put into the state arsenal in Columbus and “Ohio” stamped on the stock. I have seen examples with two “Ohio” stamps or one, this particular rifle has just the one stamp. That said, the rifles did not see service in the field with “Ohio” stamped on the stock- the stamp came after active field service was over. It is worth noting also that the state produced millions of rounds of ammunition, 3,928,000 .54 caliber bullets in 1862 which were then transferred to the U.S. Army and were destined for use in Lorenz rifles.

A wartime image of Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. Three Ohio regiments received issues of .54 caliber Lorenz rifles while at Camp Chase: the 58th Ohio received 551, the 61st Ohio received 771, and the 69th Ohio received 980. 

The big question is, which Ohio regiment or which Ohio soldier used this gun during the Civil War? Unfortunately, there is no way to say for certain and even narrowing it down to a regiment is entirely an exercise in mathematics, probabilities, and speculation. There are no markings on the rifle indicating a U.S. regimental assignment (the barrel may have markings indicating the Austrian regiment and company), no importer’s markings that might give a clue as to a date when it was imported, no clues from the provenance of the piece that would give any firm clues. But what we do have is the 1862 report of the Quartermaster General of Ohio which spells out in detail which weapons were assigned to Ohio units as they mustered into Federal service. A total of 24 Ohio regiments received .54 caliber Lorenz rifles in 1862, the earliest issue being made in February 1862. Combining this with some basic history from each regiment as to when they were mustered in allows us to start to construct a decent picture of how these Lorenz rifles got into the hands of Ohio troops. The list below shows each infantry regiment issued .54 caliber Lorenz rifles (.58 caliber Lorenz rifles were issued as well and this is clearly called out in the report), the number of rifles issued, when the regiments were issued the rifles, and where:

25th Ohio Infantry- second issue 900 Austrian muskets in February 1862 (western Va)
46th Ohio Infantry- second issue 888 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in summer of 1862 (Tennessee)
48th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 816 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in February 1862 (Paducah)
53rd Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 888 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in February 1862 (Paducah)
57th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 840 .54 caliber Austrian muskets with 200 Enfield rifles in February 1862 (Paducah)
58th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 551 .54 caliber Austrian muskets with 429 Enfield rifles in early February 1862 (Camp Chase)
61st Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 771 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in April 1862 (Camp Chase)
63rd Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 864 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in February 1862 (Paducah)
69th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 980 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in March 1862 (Camp Chase)
70th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 264 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in February 1862 (Paducah), remainder issued in field
80th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 900 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in February 1862 (Paducah)
91st Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets on August 26, 1862 (Camp Ironton)
92nd Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Camp Marietta)
100th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in August 1862 (Camp Toledo), replaced by Enfields in ‘62
103rd Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 940 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Cincinnati), replaced by Enfields in ‘62
107th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 959 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in August 1862 (Camp Cleveland)
114th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Camp Marietta)
115th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Camp Massillon)
116th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Gallipolis)
118th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 875 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Cincinnati)
120th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 950 .54 caliber Austrian muskets on October 17, 1862 (Camp Mansfield)
121st Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 900 .54 caliber Austrian muskets on September 10, 1862 (Cincinnati) [This issue is not entirely certain- Whitelaw Reid discusses the 121st being issued ‘worthless’ Prussian muskets at Cincinnati which the regiment carried into battle at Perryville with disastrous results. The QM reports these as Lorenz rifles, not Prussian rifles.]
123rd Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 980 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in October 1862 (Camp Monroeville)
126th Ohio Infantry- initial issue of 900 .54 caliber Austrian muskets in September 1862 (Camp Steubenville)
           
A couple of notes from the list. It is clear that the Lorenz rifles went out in two major waves which coincided with the waves in which Ohio regiments were recruited. The first big group dates from the late winter and spring of 1862, and then the second (and larger) group dates from August-October 1862 when the last of the three years’ service regiments mustered in. I’d offer that the fact that the 100th and 103rd rather quickly replaced their Lorenz rifles with Enfields in the fall of 1862 may indicate that they received poor quality lots, either worn-out Austrian army pieces or shoddily-made contractor guns. An account from a soldier in the 100th mentions that when they received replacement Enfield rifles, they did not get new rifles; they received war-weary cast-offs that had been used by the three months' 84th Ohio which had mustered out in September 1862!
“Our new guns came this morning; they were brought out to camp and opened this afternoon and proved to be long range Enfield rifles which had been in service and were none the better for the wear. I think they were the same as the 84th Ohio had. The colonel fairly jumped up and down he was so mad and swore, the best I ever heard. He never swears except on great occasions and then he fairly makes the air turn blue. He ordered the guns to be boxed up and shipped back to Columbus, but I hope when he gets cooled down he will change his mind and keep them as they are ten times better than the Austrian rifles which we now have,” he wrote.

    Likewise the 121st Ohio whose issues with having crummy firearms prior to Perryville is well documented. It is worth noting that two of these three regiments were armed (and in a hurry) at Cincinnati in early September 1862 when the enemy (General Edmund Kirby Smith and his army) was literally at the gates of the city. I could see a situation where these hastily raised troops were given whatever arms were on hand.

Unidentified soldier from the 12th Michigan Infantry proudly stands with his Lorenz rifle
(Library of Congress)

            With this data in mind, I did some number crunching. The state issued 20,866 .54 caliber Lorenz rifles to 24 regiments in 1862, 7,360 which were issued to eight regiments that went into Virginia, the remaining 13,506 were issued to 16 regiments that went into the western theater. As a percentage, 64% of the Lorenz’s went to Western theater regiments, the remaining 36% to Eastern theater regiments. Breaking this down further, 2,630 of these rifles went to regiments that served in eastern Virginia (Shenandoah Valley and Army of the Potomac) while 4,730 went to regiments that served in western Virginia. In the western theater, 7,047 of the rifles went to regiments that served in the Army of the Tennessee (33% of the total issues), 5,595 went to regiments that served in the Army of Ohio/Cumberland (26% of the total issues), while the remaining 864 went with the 63rd Ohio to Pope’s army which later joined the Army of the Tennessee.

            Now to look at date the rifles were issued to the regiments. The first issue of Lorenz rifles occurred in February 1862 when 5,207 (nearly 25% of the total) were issued, primarily (but not exclusively) to Ohio regiments at Paducah, Kentucky that formed part of General William T. Sherman’s division. One regiment received Lorenz’s in March and one in April, one more over the summer, then in August 1862 with recruitment on the increase for new regiments, 2,859 were issued to three new regiments. In September, 7,415 rifles (35% of the total) were issued to seven new regiments; three regiments received Lorenz rifles at Cincinnati as they were rushed to the border to halt Kirby Smith’s threat to the state, while the remainder were distributed in camps around the state to newly formed regiments. In October, two more regiments received Lorenz’s totaling 1,930 or 9.2% of the total.

            The next way to look at this is where the arms were issued. The leading candidate was Paducah, Kentucky in February 1862 with 4,572 rifles issued to six regiments, followed by Cincinnati in September 1862 where 2,715 rifles were issued to three regiments, then Camp Chase in Columbus where 2,302 rifles were issued to three regiments over the course of the year. The remainder were issued at individual camps scattered throughout the state.

            To summarize, the most likely issues occurred in the western theater (64%) in September 1862 (35%). With those two parameters in mind, which western theater regiments from Ohio received Lorenz rifles in September 1862? Five regiments in total: the 103rd, 114th, 115th, 118th, and 121st. Three of those regiments received their rifles at Cincinnati which ranks as the second most likely issuing location overall, so (and this is entirely theoretical) the Lorenz rifle that I purchased most likely was originally issued to the 103rd, 118th, or 121st Ohio Infantry. Whatever the odds, this is once again entirely speculation; a little fun with numbers. Who really knows?

            If only our objects could speak, what stories could they tell? This particular rifle was produced in Austria, likely in Vienna, and was accepted for use with the Austrian army. It was produced in 1859 and might have seen action in the Second Italian War of Independence, or at the Battles of Valese or Magenta. When was it imported into the United States? How was it shipped from Austria to port? Which vessel carried it across the Atlantic, and what port did it arrive in when it reached the United States? How did it then come to be shipped to the state of Ohio? Did it travel along the Erie Canal and go across Lake Erie, or was it shipped via rail from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Boston?
New recruits engaged in squad drill under the watchful eye of a veteran sergeant. 

           Was this particular rifle with the 25th Ohio when they helped hold Chinn Ridge at Second Bull Run? Did it see action with Sherman’s Division at Shiloh with the 46th, 48th, 53rd, 57th, or 70th Ohio regiments? Was it at Freeman’s Ford with the 61st Ohio, and did it see General Charles Bohlen being shot down as the Ohioans retreated across the ford? Perhaps the battlefields of Iuka and Corinth once resounded with the crack of this rifle in the hands of a stalwart Buckeye with the 63rd or 80th Ohio? Or maybe it saw months of quiet guard duty at Nashville, Tennessee with the 69th Ohio interrupted by the awful fight in the Cedars at Stones River? Maybe it saw countless nights of picket duty in the mountains of west Virginia with the 91st and 92nd Ohio, or barked at Kentucky bushwhackers while with the 100th Ohio, or was carried by a German-speaking Buckeye of the 107th Ohio through the flotsam of the Union right wing when they were flanked by Jackson at Chancellorsville? It’s possible to see this gun in action at Chickasaw Bayou with the 114th, or at Perryville with the 121st, or maybe it was one of the few from the 123rd Ohio who escaped capture at Second Winchester? Or maybe this rifle never left the state, and sat in the arsenal at Columbus during the whole war (I doubt it- it looks like its seen plenty of service). Wherever this weapon has been, and in whoever’s hands it was used, it is a privilege to own such a piece of Civil War history.

Comments

  1. As a Texas reenactor whose group's primary impression is the 6th Texas Infantry, which also carried Lorenz rifles in the western theatre, I really enjoyed this one. Several members of our reenacting group own reproduction Lorenz's. One unusual feature is the four-sided, cross shaped, bayonet, and the curved slot on the base of the bayonet, both features quite different from the three-sided English and American bayonets and straight base slots. At one local event a friend who collects original weapons brought his three Lorenz's to compare to my reproduction. Each of his originals were a bit different, much more than when comparing three Enfields or Springfields. Again, I am enjoying your Ohio-focused Civil War blog posts. Glad I found you.

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  2. I have the documents from the Kriegsarchiv in Vienna about the shipping of the Lorenz rifles to the US. The deal was managed by Moritz Lasky, a trader in Pest, Hungary. The first batch of 50000 pieces were sold in August 1862, the second batch of another 50000 was sold in July 1863. All these rifles were supplied from the Arsenal, all have the Austrian military acceptance mark. Lasky receive 1% commission for the deals.

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