WEAPONS USED IN THE BATTLE OF MILL SPRINGS
Compiled by Geoffrey R. Walden
This article is divided into four parts: Part 1 will detail the different types of infantry weapons known to have been used at Mill Springs; Part 2 covers the different types of ammunition used in these weapons; Part 3 is a listing of the units showing the weapons known to have been used by each; and Part 4 is an introduction to the artillery pieces and ammunition used in the battle. (References for the notes in all parts are found at the end of Part 4.)
Part 1. Infantry Weapons
US Military Flintlock Muskets, 1795 1835
(Note: The use of Model year designations for early flintlock muskets is a modern practice by collectors, to differentiate various types of these muskets. These Model designations were not used at the time, until 1822. Until that date (when the armories attempted to standardize production), mixture of parts resulted in many muskets that shared characteristics of the various "Models.")
When two National Armories were established, one at Springfield, Massachusetts, and the other at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, an attempt was made to standardize production of infantry muskets. This attempt was not completely successful, and muskets made from 1795-1822 generally had small differences between the two armories. Because of this, study of these early U.S. muskets is rather involved, and only the major characteristics and types will be covered here (see the references for sources for further information).
The U.S. military flintlock muskets were based on the 1768-1777 French "Charleville" musket, because this was the type most widely imported during the American Revolution. The earliest U.S. muskets had barrels measuring 44-45 inches in length, which was reduced to a standard 42 inches by 1812. All were .69 caliber smoothbores (not rifled). Some had iron pans integral to the lockplate, while others had detachable brass pans. Barrel bands and stock comb configurations differed.
Most of the early muskets used at Mill Springs would have been of the type standardized from 1816 to 1822, judging from period photos of soldiers. The 1816 musket differed from earlier types mainly in the buttstock, with a low comb that flowed smoothly into the wrist. This musket featured a detachable brass pan, and was also distinguished by a frizzen with a forward angled tip. The front sight was a simple brass blade brazed onto the upper barrel band; there was no rear sight. Small changes were made in 1822 to some of the furniture pieces, but the overall configuration remained the same. The earlier muskets were finished "National Armory Bright" (with the metal polished), while from about 1820-1831 the barrel and furniture pieces were finished browned. Some 600,000 muskets of this type were produced by both Springfield and Harpers Ferry, and various contractors, until superseded by the Model of 1840.
In addition to use in its original flintlock configuration, particularly by Tennessee Confederate units at Mill Springs, the Model 1816-35 musket was also used in a type altered to percussion ignition. When the U.S. Army adopted the percussion system in 1841, it was determined to alter as many of the serviceable older muskets as possible, to save on production of new arms. A system of classification of arms in store resulted in conversion of most flintlocks made after 1830, while earlier muskets and those which had seen service were generally held in store as flintlocks (many thousands of the latter were later issued to state arsenals, for militia service, and these were the flintlocks that ended up in Confederate hands at the beginning of the war).
Some 380,000 flintlock muskets were altered to percussion at the national arsenals between 1848-1857, and some states also pursued their own conversion programs. The conversion method used at the arsenals (and by far the most common type) was a Belgian improvement on the French method, commonly called the "cone-in-barrel" method. This method placed a percussion nipple into the upper surface of the barrel, with a hammer modified to reach this nipple. The pan was cut down and filled up with brass, and the flash hole was plugged. The flint cock, frizzen, and spring were removed.
1816/1822 US Musket
These percussion conversions were commonly found in state arsenals at the beginning of the war, particularly in the North, and shortage of arms caused them to be issued from the National armories to several Federal regiments, even into 1862. They were a major arm in the Confederate armies at least into 1863.
For more information on the 1816 musket, see Tom Pallas M1816 Musket Homepage.
Model 1841 Percussion Rifle, the "Mississippi" Rifle
The U.S. adopted the percussion system in 1841 and produced an infantry rifle that same year. This was a .54 caliber, 33-inch barrel percussion rifle. The new arm was very popular, since it was accurate and easy to handle, and its browned barrel finish contrasting with the bright brass furniture gave it a pleasing appearance. It won fame in the Mexican War with Jefferson Davis regiment of Mississippi riflemen at the battle of Buena Vista, and its continuing popularity was such that most Confederate rifle manufacturers later copied its overall style. Some were later converted to .58 caliber and fitted with long range rear sights, but those used at Mill Springs seem to have been the original .54 caliber variety, which had simple notch rear sights.
Model 1842 Percussion Musket
When the U.S. adopted the percussion system in 1841, an infantry musket was produced in 1842. This musket was similar to preceding flintlocks, with a .69 caliber 42-inch smoothbore barrel, but a percussion bolster was brazed to the barrel. A hammer similar to the flintlock conversion hammer was fitted, and the iron parts were finished bright. 278,585 M1842 muskets were made at Springfield and Harpers Ferry, and several were later altered by rifling the barrel and adding a long range rear sight. The Model 1842 musket was a common issue weapon to Federal infantry into 1863.
Model 1855-1861 Rifle-Muskets
In 1855 the U.S. adopted a reduced bore musket with a rifled barrel, resulting in a rifle-musket. These had .58 caliber, 40-inch rifled barrels, sighted for 100 through 300 yards (in the M1861), and the iron pieces were finished bright. This type was produced with various slight changes through 1864. The most common of these was the Model 1861, characterized by a hammer with a pronounced hump. As soon as production could keep up with demand, these were issued to Federal units to replace percussion conversion muskets and the Model 1842 muskets. However, the M1861 was not produced in significant numbers until 1862, and production of the M1855 totaled only some 66,000; most of these were issued to units in the east. Therefore, while some Federals at Mill Springs likely had .58 caliber US rifle-muskets, they would probably have been in the minority.
British Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle-Musket
Neither side in the conflict was able to arm the mass of volunteers in 1861-62, so both turned to importation of foreign arms. By far the most numerous and most popular of these was the British Enfield. In its P1853 rifle-musket configuration, the Enfield was very similar to the U.S. M1855-61 models, with a .577 caliber, 39-inch rifled barrel. Although both sides manufactured ammunition especially for the Enfield, they could generally fire the .58 caliber U.S. cartridge. The Enfields imported to this country were made by commercial contractors in Birmingham and London (not in the British Government arsenals), and they featured blued barrels and bands, brass furniture, and a long range rear sight graduated to 900 yards. In total, almost one million Enfields were imported by both sides from 1861-1865. They were common issue to regiments both North and South (but probably not at Mill Springs, although some were present on the Federal side, and possibly on the Confederate side as well; see entries for the 10th Indiana Infantry, 2nd Minnesota Infantry, and 28th and 29th Tennessee Infantry in Part 3).
M1859 Sharps New Model "Army" Rifle
The Sharps Rifle Company manufactured one of the most popular single-shot breech loading rifles of the period. In 1859 they put out a New Model rifle, with a 30-inch barrel, and varying in caliber from .52 to .56. These were bought by both the U.S. Navy and the Army, some with sword bayonets and others with triangular bayonets. The "Army" style saw action at Mill Springs with the 1st Kentucky Cavalry (US).
Sharps 1859 "New Model" Rifle
Knives and Bayonets
In this early period of the war, large side knives were very popular with Confederate soldiers. Later, when they realized that these huge knives were an unnecessary weight to carry around, many soldiers discarded them. Several images of Confederates who fought at Mill Springs show these large knives, which were usually of a bowie style, often with a D-guard. Battle narratives refer to the Mississippians charging through the corn field, swinging their "long cane knives."
A bowie knife inscribed to G.W. Simpson, 15th Mississippi Infantry, was picked up as a souvenir following the battle by a member of the 2nd Minnesota Infantry, and is in a private collection in Minnesota today. The knife is in a tin sheath, and was presented to Simpson by his father. Simpson was mortally wounded during the battle, and presumably lost his knife at that time. (Osman)
Bowie Knife Carried by G. W. Simpson, 15th
Some side knives were apparently also made from swords or rifle sword bayonets. Another knife identified to the 15th Mississippi, made from a European style sword, was also picked up by a 2nd Minnesota soldier, and was offered for sale in Pennsylvania in 1992 (Horse Soldier Catalog).
Bayonets used in the battle included socket bayonets for the Springfield and Enfield rifle-muskets (an Enfield bayonet picked up from the field is in a private collection in Somerset, Kentucky), sword bayonets for the M1841 "Mississippi" rifles, and sword or socket bayonets for the New Model Sharps rifles. Several participant memoirs mention the use of bayonets on both sides during the action at the rail fence, and the 9th Ohio's bayonet charge is well documented. Samuel Parker of the 2nd Minnesota Infantry was killed by a bayonet wound inflicted during the battle (Carley, p. 265).
The main references used for this part are: Coates & Thomas, Fuller, Gluckman, Hicks, Madaus, McCaulay, Moller. Weapons drawings from Hicks and others.
Copyright © 1998, Geoffrey R. Walden; all rights reserved. No part of this article may
be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author (permission is granted to
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