The Model 1841 was the first U. S. Government infantry rifle with percussion lock. It was also the first which, in recognition of the fearful kick of our former military rifles, used a reduced powder charge for the old style half-ounce ball, thereby raising the trajectory. The Model 1841 also marked the end of all our flint lock military arms. The last of such flint locks — smooth bores — made in the government shops were finished in 1842, and the percussion lock was officially adopted then. From 1842 on, the stock of all varieties of flint lock arms on hand was gradually altered to cap lock; those altered up) to 1851 were mostly for experimental purposes; later, and especially during the Civil War, great quantities were altered for use.
The Model 1841 rifle was noteworthy also for being the best made and most accurate spherical bullet military rifle in the world; all nations so acknowledged it, and it so remained until the spherical bullet was superseded by the conical one; then the boring and grooving of the barrel had to be revised to meet the new conditions and the model was superseded by a new one. Its supremacy lasted for 14 years. During that time the government works at Springfield and Harpers Ferry produced several thousand, and several thousand more were made by contractors Whitney, Tryon, Remington, and Rob-bins & Lawrence. These contract arms were mostly turned over to the states for militia use.
By civilians the Model 1841 was considerably used for big game and Indian shooting in the Far West. Its accuracy and shocking power so strongly recommended it that it was nicknamed " Yerger," dialect for Jäger, hunter. By military men it was variously called " Harpers Ferry Rifle," " Mississippi Rifle," and, later and erroneously, " Model 1842 Rifle." This last was from the year the percussion system became official.
The specimen illustrated is well designed and the workmanship both inside and out wras admirably executed. It is marked " Harpers Ferry Model 1841," and each separate piece is stamped " U. S. M.," for United States Model. The total length is 4 feet and \ inch; the barrel length is 33 inches. The bore without grooves is .52, the grooves at the muzzle are 5 thousandths of an inch deep and they increase regularly in depth to 13 thousandths at the breech; there are 7 of them, almost semi-circular at the breech, segmental at the muzzle, about two-thirds the width of the lands, and having a pitch of one turn in 6 feet. The weight of the rifle is 9| pounds. When new it wras not provided with a bayonet.
The charge was a half ounce spherical bullet, patched, and 75 grains of rifle powder. The muzzle velocity was about 1850 foot seconds. At that period in making up fixed ammunition in the government shops for the Model 1841 and its flint lock predecessors still in use the bullet was enveloped in a square piece of cloth, or soft, thin wash leather, or bladder, and all the puckers were gathered and tied and trimmed; then the entire surface of the patch was saturated with tallow. The bulled with its pucker to the front, was then put into the open end of a cylinder of paper containing a charge of powder; the end of the cylinder was choked over it and the whole was fastened with three turns and a double hitch of linen thread. Until nitrated (combustible) cartridge paper came into use this sort of cartridge was torn open before loading, the powder and bullet loaded separately, and the paper thrown away.
Between 1849 and 1855 conical, hollow base bullets were issued for trial with these rifles. The bullet grooves were filled with a mixture of beeswax and tallow. The powder charge was 50 grains. Besides the 390 grain bullets, 417 grain ones were also tried, like the 390 grain ones outside, but having the base cavity conical. •
The finish of the Model 1841 rifle illustrated seems to be the original finish wwtSEBi**
- . . , , . , 11,111 Ul tWi-HMrtftTim and is — acid browned barrel; heat blued ims-jsss
trigger, screw heads and band springs; exterior lock parts case hardened gray with faint mottled colors; bright polished ramrod and sling swivels; polished brass furniture; dull, oil finished wood.
In spite of the increased trajectory the sights are rigid and set for 50 yards. The front sight is not on the band, as with the preceding model muzzle loader, but set into the barrel one inch from the
muzzle; it is of brass, and thin, so that when seen through the fine slot of the rear sight there is a space of light each side of it.
This rifle, at 100 yards, in the hands of a good shot, and not using service ammunition but using bullets with loose patches, was probably capable of making an occasional 10 shot string in a 4-inch circle. The penetration with service ammunition at 100 yards was through 8 inches of soft pine.
No. P, Variant Model 1841 Rifle. Regulation. The front band is considerably lighter, slightly lessening the muzzle heaviness that is to a considerable degree noticeable in all Model 1841 arms. As first issued no bayonet was provided. The specimen rifle shown was made by Tryon of Philadelphia, contractor.
No. 10, 2d Variant Model 18%41 Rifle. Regulation.
The contractor for this specimen was Eli Whitney, of Whitneyville, Conn. Although dated in the forties it has a lock and a butt of shape not issued by government shops until Civil War time.
During the forties the accoutrements issued for all Model 1841 rifles consisted of —
Cartridge box of leather, size outside about 7 inches wide, 5 inches high, 1| inches thick, lined with tin, having 5 compartments above and 2 below; Leather sling strap for the rifle;
Leather pouch weighing 13 ounces in which to carry a ball screw, cone picker of steel shaped like a large needle, tip for the ramrod, pieces of cloth to go on the tip for cleaning the bore, a box of grease, and presumably also a box for caps, although the latter was not mentioned; A copper powder flask size 7 by 4 by 2 inches holding half a pound of coarse powder and provided with two carrying rings.
Model 1841 rifles had military use against Indians and Mexicans; and a few, still of .54 calibre, were used in the Civil War; but by that time nearly all had been altered to .58 calibre and provided with lugs for attaching sword bayonets. Both the Tryon and the Whitney rifles illustrated had been so altered. During the Civil War and for a few years after many Model 1841 rifles were sent to the shops of various contractors to be altered to breech loaders by the Merrill, Miller, Lindner and other systems.
A surprising number of duels was fought by civilians with Model 1841 rifles in the period from 1850 to 1865. They wrere matters of record in the newspapers of the time. Even more surprising were the few casualties.
In 1842 a number of muskets made in the government shops used the same kind of lock, cone and cone scat which were used for the Model 1841 rifle. They were otherwise just like the Model 1840 smooth bore flint lock muskets. A few of these arms were rifled for experimental use; they were calibre .69, and fired a 730 grain spherical bullet and 70 grains of powder. No specimen was available for illustration.
No. 1, 1842 Conversion of Model 1822 Musket to Rifle Musket. Regulation.
The change from flint lock to percussion arms bccame official in the United States in 1842. During this year, and later, several hundred Model 1822 smooth bore .69 calibre muskets were altered to percussion rifle muskets by converting the locks, grooving the barrels, and adding rear sights. As the barrels of Model 1822 muskets were thick enough to be grooved lightly without unduly weakening them, this easy method of converting obsolete muskets was considerably practised during the early part of the Civil War to help overcome the shortage of arms, even though the spherical bullet which they used had become out of date. The date of conversion was stamped upon the breech of the barrel.
As a flint lock musket the charge had been a ball of 18 to the pound and 130 grains of powder; as a rifle musket the charge became a ball of 17 to the pound and 110 grains of powder. There were 7 grooves.
Before these data were determined a good deal of experimenting had been done. Various pitches to
Was this article helpful?