American Rifleman - July 2011 - 47

U.S. Model 1841
"Mississippi" Rifle

were .69-cal.
smoothbore muskets.
Some of these were late
Model 1842 muskets in percussion ignition. More, however, were
the 1816 or even earlier pattern
guns, originally manufactured as
flintlocks. Many had been modernized by conversion to percussion
during the 1850s, but a substantial
number remained in their original
configuration.
Percussion or flintlock, the
smoothbores fired the same ammunition: a paper cartridge containing
a 110-gr. charge of musket powder
and a .65-cal. round ball or, more
commonly, the round ball and three
approximately .31-cal. buckshot,
commonly referred to as "buck and
ball." A soldier loaded his smoothbore by biting off the end of a
paper cartridge, depositing a small
priming charge in the pan if his gun
was a flintlock, and then inserting the whole cartridge, open end
first, into the muzzle and ramming
it down. The paper prevented the
undersized ball and buckshot from
rolling out, reducing powder gas
blow-by on firing and somewhat
stabilizing the projectiles in the
bore to provide better accuracy.
Some late-model flintlock arms
were not only converted to percussion ignition but were, along
with some Model 1842s, rifled and
mounted with long-range sights to
fire a .69-cal. conical MiniƩ/Burton
bullet. Some conversions were also
fitted with the Maynard priming
device. Although the words have
been used interchangeably since
the 1850s, these guns are properly
called "rifled muskets" to differentiate them from the purpose-built
"rifle-musket."
A third type of small arm was
the rifle. The Model 1855 rifle was
intended to fire the same projectile as the rifle-musket, and was
simply a shorter, heavier-barreled
version. For many years, however,

the U.S. Army had been issuing .54-cal. rifles with deep-cut
rifling designed to fire a round
ball encased in a greased cloth or
leather patch. These rifles were
intended for special-unit use, and
many were stored in federal and
state arsenals. While some were
older flintlocks converted to percussion, the most popular rifle was
the good-looking, brass-mounted
Model 1841, or "Mississippi," which
had gained fame in the hands
of Col. Jefferson Davis' regiment
of Mississippi volunteers at the
Mexican War battle of Buena Vista.
Like its predecessors, the 1841 was
initially produced in .54 caliber
with fixed front and rear sights and
no provision for a bayonet.
By 1861, many Model 1841s
had been modified with barrel
side lugs to attach sword bayonets, or had their muzzles turned
down to take Model 1842 musket
socket bayonets. Some were rebored to .58 caliber with shallow
groove progressive rifling and

fitted with long range-sights, but
those remaining in .54 retained
the older-style rifling. Conical
hollow-base bullets were issued in
.54 caliber, but often gave lessthan-satisfactory results because
of the MiniƩ ball's failure to expand
enough to fill the old-style deeper
grooves, allowing gas blow-by. In
the mid-1850s, regular army troops
in the Northwest reported that rifled
.69-cal. Model 1842 muskets were
more accurate than the .54-cal.
Model 1841 fired with conical
projectiles. No matter-the reputation the Model 1841 gained in the
Mexican War made it an iconic and
desirable firearm, especially in the
eyes of Southerners.
The Union had an extensive
industrial base that would produce
a vast number of arms in subsequent years, and both sides would
import many thousands of arms
from Europe, but in the spring of
1861 the belligerents only had to
make do with what they had on
hand. In the case of the Confederacy, that included arms in state
arsenals and those appropriated from federal arsenals in the
South. The vast majority of these
guns were smoothbore muskets.
The seizure of the Mount Vernon
Arsenal in Alabama resulted in the
capture of 22,000 small arms, 2,000
of them Model 1841 rifles and the
remainder smoothbores, including
converted flintlocks and Model
1842s. Of more than 10,000 arms
confiscated by Arkansas militiamen from the federal arsenal at
Little Rock in February 1861, more
than half were flintlock smoothbore
muskets, with the rest a grab-bag
of varied out-of-date arms along
with a handful Model 1841 rifles.
Subsequent imports would not
make the situation simpler.
On May 7, 1861, Confederate
Ordnance Chief Maj. Josiah Gorgas
reported that the Confederacy
continued on p. 63

U.S. Model 1842 Musket

July 2011 American Rifleman

45



American Rifleman - July 2011

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