Original U.S. Civil War Springfield Model 1855 Rifled Musket by Harpers Ferry with Taper Primer System - dated 1858

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 In the 1840s, the unreliable flintlocks had been replaced by much more reliable and weather resistant percussion cap systems.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

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. This may be the first intact example we had had of the rifle, while we have had several of the Pistol Carbine.

This example is still in the original configuration, though it definitely shows wear and damage from long service, possibly after the war. As many of these were used by the South, they often saw a lot more service than those in the north.

The Lock is on this example marked U.S. / HARPERS FERRY with a Spread Eagle stamped into the Maynard tape primer's steel cover. It is dated 1858 on the lock plate tail, the year of production at the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in what was then Virginia, today in the state of West Virginia. The markings on the lock are mostly clear and overall the lock plate is in good condition, with wear commensurate to age. The spring catch that normally keeps the tape primer door closed is missing, and the primer system itself is no longer linked to the lock. The lock does however still function correctly, holding at half cock, and firing at full.

The V / P / Eagle Head proofs on the barrel nocks form are present and crisp, with almost no degradation, however there is powder burn on the other facets. The cap nipple is broken, and the head of the cleanout screw has sheared off, probably long ago. The rear sight base is still present, but only the short range leaf is still intact.

The metalwork overall has mostly aged to a lovely brown / plum oxidized color, without much major oxidation, except around the lock. We checked the bore, and it is clear, but the rifling is completely gone, showing a lot of wear. Both sling loops are present, without any issues, and the correct tulip headed cleaning rod is still present. The barrel bands are a bit worn, so the U markings can only be seen on the lower two, with a U.S. stamped on the butt plate.

The one piece walnut stock has a beautiful dark brown color, with the expected wear of age, as well as some repairs. There is some wood filler around the cleaning rod channel between the lower and middle barrel bands. There is a repaired crack on the left side of the stock near the lock screws, and there are also glue repairs on both sides of the barrel tang. This is definitely a rifle that saw lots of use, and has the scars to prove it!

This is a great chance to pick up a nice Civil War Rifled musket with loads of patina!


Year of Manufacture: 1858
Caliber: .58" - worn to about .61"
Cartridge Type: Minie Ball and Powder with Tape Primer
Barrel Length: 40 Inches

Overall Length: 56 Inches
Action type: Side Action Lock
Feed System: Muzzle Loaded

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