Classifying Long Arms During the Civil War

During the Civil War, the Ordnance Department of the U.S. Army employed a classification system that placed long arms into three distinct categories. First class arms were those weapons considered of modern manufacture, basically state of the art or consistent with current best practice. Second class weapons were ones considered serviceable but a step below first class in quality or design. Third class arms were those deemed obsolete or subpar in quality; a lot of smoothbores and older model foreign muskets fell into this category.

Army regulations required that each company commander file a quarterly ordnance report with the War Department that provided specific information as to how many weapons of which types belonged to various organizations within the army. The actual form filled out was rather lengthy but each type of firearm was given a classification so that commanders could report on not only the quantity of their weaponry, but its relative quality. The forms also had boxes to report the number of bayonets, cartridge boxes, cap pouches, slings, etc.; basically if the government issued something to a soldier (or more specifically to the company commander), it wanted an accounting of those items each quarter. And the commanding officer was considered the responsible party for not only providing this information but for explaining any losses incurred. 

These reports commenced with regularity for the fourth quarter of 1862 and continued through the rest of the war. In reviewing existing copies of these reports, the record keeping in some cases was inconsistent; multiple companies within a regiment may faithfully report their weapons on hands while in other periods an entire regiment is missing a report. That said, they can be an extremely valuable resource for pinpointing exactly what a regiment was carrying during the given time period. For example, I've used some of these reports before to help explore what General Jefferson Davis's and General Phil Sheridan's divisions were armed with during the Stones River campaign. (See here.) 

Below is a list of firearms direct from the quarterly ordnance reports by class. This list is by no means all inclusive; I’ve deliberately left off cavalry weapons (carbines, pistols, etc.) as those did not fall into the same classification system as rifles and smoothbore muskets. Note also that not every type of longarm used by the Federal army is listed; blank lines were used to write in weapons not spelled out in the form.

 

The Model 1861 Springfield Rifle Musket was considered a top of the line firearm per the Ordnance Department's classification system employed during the Civil War. Its robust construction and reliability made it a preferred arm throughout the Federal army. 

First Class Arms (10 weapons)

Springfield Rifled Muskets, Model 1855 & 1861, N.A., and contract, .58 caliber

U.S. Rifles, sword bayonet, Model 1840, 1845. Caliber .58 (Mississippi Rifle)

U.S. Rifle Model 1840. Caliber .54 (Mississippi Rifle)

Merrill’s Breech-loading Rifles, Caliber .52

Sharp’s Breech-loading Rifles, triangular bayonet. Caliber .52

Dresden and Suhl Rifled Muskets. Caliber .58

French Rifled Muskets, triangular bayonet. Caliber .58

Enfield Rifled Muskets, triangular bayonet. Caliber .577

Enfield Rifles, saber bayonets. Caliber .58 and .577

Light French Rifles or Leige, saber bayonet. Caliber .577

 

.69 caliber Model 1842 Springfields, whether smoothbores or rifled muskets, were considered second class firearms and were among those phased out of use by the Union army in 1863-1864. 

Second Class Arms (10 weapons)

Rifled muskets “altered to percussion,” N.A. or contract. Caliber .69

Rifled Muskets, Model 1842 N.A. or contract. Caliber .69

Belgian or French Rifled muskets. Caliber .71

Belgian or Vincennes Rifles, saber bayonet. Caliber .69 to .71

Austrian, Belgian, or French Rifled Muskets. Caliber .70 or .701

Belgian or French Rifled Muskets, brass or bright mounted. Caliber .69

Austrian Rifled Muskets, lead and block sight, quadrangular bayonet, caliber .58 (Lorenz)

Austrian Rifled Muskets, lead and block sight, quadrangular bayonet, caliber .577 (Lorenz)

Austrian Rifled Muskets, lead and block sight, quadrangular bayonet, caliber .54 and .55 (Lorenz)

Jager Rifles, sword bayonet. Caliber .54

 

The large caliber Saxony Rifled Musket was one of those foreign firearms acquired by the Federal government in 1861 and 1862 to fill the immediate needs of the Union army for weaponry while waiting for domestic production of the Model 1861 Springfields to kick into high gear. By the end of the 1862, the Saxony was on the way out and eventually would be relegated to militia use then retired altogether. 

Third Class Arms (7 weapons)

Smooth-bored Musket, altered to percussion. Caliber .69

Smooth-bored Muskets, Model 1842. Caliber .69

Austrian, Prussian, and Saxony Rifled Musket. Caliber .71 and .72

Austrian and Prussian Rifled Muskets. Caliber .69 to .70

Austrian and Prussian Smooth-bored Muskets. Caliber .71 and .72

Austrian, Prussian, and French Smooth-bored Muskets. Caliber .69 and .70

English Smooth-bored Musket. Caliber .69 and .70

These three unidentified Federal soldiers (perhaps from the 57th New York) show off the sword bayonets atop their Enfield rifles. The soldier at center has brass letters for 57 on his McDowell cap; the 57th New York was issued Enfield rifles by the state of New York when they left the state in 1861. 


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