Original Rare U.S. Civil War Harpers Ferry Model 1855 Short Rifled Musket with Tape Primer System & Tape - dated 1859 & 1862

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. The Springfield Model 1855 was a rifle musket widely used in the American Civil War. It was manufactured by the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and at the Harpers Ferry Armory in Virginia (modern-day West Virginia) along with independent contractors. The design 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 Springfield Model 1861 supplanted it, obviating the use of the insufficiently waterproof Maynard tape primer.

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 In the 1840s, the unreliable flintlocks had been replaced by much more reliable and weather resistant percussion cap systems.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).

The barrel on the Model 1855 was .58 caliber, which was smaller than previous muskets. The Springfield Model 1816 and all of its derivatives up through the Springfield Model 1842 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. 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. The Secretary of War at the time Jefferson Davis authorized the adoption of the Maynard system for the Model 1855.

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. 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. Most Model 1855s were used throughout the Civil War with standard percussion caps.

Approximately 75,000 Model 1855 muskets were produced. 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 Armory, where it formed the backbone of Confederate weapon manufacturing capability. The rifle machinery was taken to Fayetteville Arsenal, 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 rifles 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. 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 Harpers 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.

The Model 1855 is generally referred to as a rifled musket, since it was the same length as the muskets that it replaced. It had a 40-inch (100 cm) long barrel, and an overall length of 56 inches (140 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 (120 cm).

The Model 1855 rifled musket was modified in 1858 to include a simpler rear sight (the typical flip-up leaf type), a patch box on the side of the buttstock, and an iron nosecap to replace the brass one. This variant is sometimes referred to as the Type II with the earlier model designated the Type I. A pistol-carbine of the Model 1855 was produced as well.

After the war, most model 1855s were taken home, or parts used for other projects. The primer system lock was unsuitable for conversion to a Trapdoor style rifle, and given the small number produced and how many were captured by the CSA, they are very hard to find. While we have had two intact examples of the full length rifle, and several of the "Pistol Carbine", this is the first example we have had of the "Harpers Ferry" Model 1855 Short rifle, and it has some VERY interesting aspects to it!

This example is still in the original configuration, though it shows only light wear from service. As it was made after 1858, it is in the Type II configuration, with the patch box / spare nipple compartment on the stock, and the simplified three leaf flip sight. It is in the correct "short rifle" configuration with two bands, and has a bayonet lug on the right side of the barrel, as often seen on the type II examples. It does however feature a brass nose cap, instead of the steel usually used on the type II.

We would assume this was just a left over, being made in 1859, however it has a very interesting marking on the top of the barrel nocks form: the date 1862. Harpers Ferry Army was abandoned by U.S. troops and burned on April 18, 1861 in the face of an advancing Virginia Militia, right at the beginning of the Civil War. The local population, most of which were involved in the business of the Armory, managed to put out the fire and save most of the machinery. The Confederates repaid them for this deed by taking all of the machinery, and shipping it to Richmond to re-open the Richmond Armory. They then left, confiscating anything left in the armory, and setting fire to the rest of the buildings. Two weeks later they would return to destroy the Rifle Works and a bridge that crossed the Shenandoah river.

So the question is how this rifle would have an 1862 dated barrel on it. Was it serviced at the Springfield Armory at some point at the barrel replaced? Was the barrel mismarked? Was it captured from the arsenal and later completed by Confederate forces? There are no arsenal inspector markings on the left side of the stock, but it is worn, and we do not see any Confederate markings either. Definitely worthy of further research!

Aside from this conundrum, this really is a great example of the Model 1855 "Harpers Ferry" short rifle. The lock is correctly marked U.S. / HARPERS.FERRY with a Spread Eagle stamped into the Maynard tape primer's steel cover. It is dated 1859 on the lock plate tail, the year of production at the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, in what was then the State of Virginia. The markings on the lock are crisp and overall the lock plate is in good condition, showing only light wear.

The spring catch that keeps the tape primer door closed is present, and the primer system itself looks to be fully functional. There is even a roll of ORIGINAL PRIMER TAPE still inside the compartment! It is oxidized and somewhat delicate, no longer really capable of feeding, but it is VERY rare that we see the original tape! The lock still functions correctly, holding at half cock, and firing at full, which also cycles the primer advance pawl. It's very rare to find one of these rifled muskets that still has a complete and functional tape primer system.

The V / P / Eagle Head proofs on the barrel nocks form are present, which are worn due to cleaning and powder burn. There is a mostly clear date on the top, which reads 1862, though the last two digits are slightly faint. The cap nipple cone looks to be original, and shows fouling and oxidation, and is also currently clogged. The clean out screw is intact and unscrews correctly, with the passage to the barrel open. The rear sight is fully intact and functional, though it does look to have been refinished at some point.

The metalwork overall has a polished bright matte patina from long term careful cleaning. We checked the bore, and the rifling is still present, and in very good condition considering it is a muzzle loader from the black powder days. There are some areas of light oxidation and fouling, but the three grooves are still clearly visible, and have some machining marks still visible. Both sling loops are present, without any issues, and the correct tulip headed cleaning rod is still present. Both  barrel bands still show the correct U stamps on the right side, with a U.S. stamped on the butt plate.

The one piece walnut stock has a beautiful red brown color, with the expected wear of age. There are no major cracks or damage that we can see, and it just has a lovely worn look. The patch box on the right butt stock still opens easily, and still has an intact replacement cap nipple cone!

This is a great chance to pick up a very good intact example of a rare Civil War Short Rifled musket with some great research potential! The first example that we have ever had! Ready to display!


Year of Manufacture: 1859 & 1862
Caliber: .58"
Cartridge Type: Minie Ball and Powder with Tape Primer
Barrel Length: 33 Inches

Overall Length: 49 Inches
Action type: Side Action Lock
Feed System: Muzzle Loaded

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