Original U.S. Civil War Springfield M1861 Rifled-Musket Converted to Needham Breechloader - dated 1862
Original Item: Only One Available. This is a U.S. Springfield Model 1861 rifled-musket, which was later fitted with a Needham Breech-loading conversion system, in nice original condition. This type of alternation was designed by two brothers, Joseph and George Henry Needham of London, England. Before its alteration from cap and ball to a .58 caliber breech-loading centerfire system in 1869, this long arm was produced at Springfield Armory in Springfield, Mass..
This Needham-altered, single-shot long arm is one of an unknown small quantity that were modified and retains a nice service used appearance. The barrel has a nice gray patina over most of the surface, with a bit of rust peppering in areas. This musket retains its original stock, "S"-shaped beveled hammer, straight-shank ramrod, all barrel bands and sling swivels. Mechanics are strong and crisp, with the lock holding correctly at half-cock. The bore still shows strong three groove rifling, though there is oxidation, particularly near the muzzle end of the barrel. The walnut stock is in good condition overall, showing some damage and repairs from years of service.
The lockplate is stamped with a clear 1862 stamp behind the modified hammer. The upper right area of the plate in front of the hammer was cut to accommodate the unique Needham swing-out door for the side-loading breech. The U.S. Eagle proof mark is visible on the lock plate near the hammer, and the original manufacturer mark for Springfield Armory is still seen:
All three barrel bands still have their correct U proofs, however the "U.S." on the butt plate tang has worn away. The side action breech opens well, and still has the internal ejector. Unfortunately the breech latch and most of the firing pin were removed at some point. There is still the forward portion of the firing pin as well as a spring present inside the block, but it does not stay closed unless the hammer is in the forward position.
Overall this is a nice example of a rare breech loading conversion, with loads of patina!
Needham conversion long arms were involved with an interesting history involving an Irish-American secret society. Immediately after the Civil War, the Fenian Brotherhood plotted to invade Canada to pressure England to grant independence to Ireland.
Years of Manufacture: 1862 - converted c.1865
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 37 inches
Overall Length: 56 inches
Action: Side Action Conversion
Feed System: Single Shot
Bridesburg Needham conversions and the Fenian invasions of Canada
The Fenians were an Irish-American group who wanted to put pressure on Great Britain to free Ireland. They conspired to mount an invasion of Canada and occupy some territory in order to force concessions. The Fenians purchased surplus Bridesburg rifle-muskets and sent 600 armed men across the Canadian border from New York in June 1866. The small force briefly captured Fort Erie, but was readily overcome, and the men were sent back to the U.S. Surprisingly, the Fenians were sufficiently well connected politically that they were able to recover their guns along with their freedom to try again.
However, by the time the Fenians were considering a second foray across the border in 1867, the British troops in Canada were equipped with Snider conversions of the P1853 Enfield rifle, and the Fenians knew they would be seriously outmatched with their original muzzle-loading Bridesburg muskets. Reportedly, supporters of the Fenians rented space in a Trenton, New Jersey shop, where hired English gunsmiths performed the Needham conversions on about 5,000 rifle-muskets. The Fenians launched a second invasion in May of 1870 across the Vermont border. The Canadians were forewarned and the Fenians soundly defeated. This time, the guns used in the attack were confiscated by the U.S. Army, along with additional guns that had been stored in Trenton. The army subsequently auctioned off the guns, a large number of which were purchased by the surplus dealer Schuyler, Hartley & Graham. These guns account for the majority of the Needham conversion rifles which occasionally show up for sale.
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