Time Machine

The Rifled Musket

a technological advance

Rifle, Model 1855

     The military flintlock died hard. In terms of overall use, it reigned for almost 300 years and well after the invention of a revolutionary new ignition concept: the percussion system; developed by Alexander J. Forsyth in 1807.

     The practice of cutting spiral grooves into a barrel (rifling) to spin a projectile, giving it stability in flight, was not new in the mid-19th century. However this method, which greatly increased accuracy, was not introduced in Springfield Armory weaponry until the production of the Model 1855. When used by a marksman familiar with the weapon, a rifle could be deadly at the unheard of range of 300 yards - three times the effective range of a musket.

1855 Photo

     The rifle found limited military use at first, and remained primarily a civilian arm. It should be noted that their accuracy also led to a whole new sport: target shooting.

     On June 26, 1855 the Ordnance Board recommended to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis that a caliber .58 rifled musket be adopted with a 40-inch barrel and an unusual percussion lock mechanism - the Maynard tape priming system. Springfield Armory produced the .58 Model 1855 caliber rifle musket specifically for use with the "Minie' bullet." In all, about 47,115 were manufactured with the Maynard tape lock from 1857 to 1861. A caliber .58 "Minie' Bullet" fired by 60 grains of black powder would produce a muzzle velocity of 950 feet per second in these rifled muskets. Reasonable accuracy could be achieved at distances up to 600 yards and the 500 grain bullet would penetrate 4 inches of soft pine at 1,000 yards! Of course, these new arms had sights installed for proper aiming.

Schematic, Rifle, Model 1855

1855 Schematic
Schematic drawing by John S.A. Kwiatkowski

     In addition to the production of new arms, Springfield Armory altered several thousand smoothbore muskets, to use the "Minie' Bullet", by rifling their barrels. Many of the Model 1842 muskets were rifled and had sights installed once the rifled musket was adopted.

Rifle, Model 1861

     The demands of the Civil War saw great increases in the production of weapons. The Model 1861 rifle-musket was introduced early in 1861 and was essentially a Model 1855 without the Maynard priming mechanism.

     The next model produced was the Model 1863 which was produced from 1863 through 1865. These were the last percussion arms crafted by the Armory.

1861 Photo