Reference Items
Firearms
5th Michigan Spencer Rifles

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Charles Spencer had trouble convincing the Army of the merits of his revolutionary seven shot repeating rifle. Brigadier General James Ripley, the army’s Chief of Ordinance wanted to standardize the myriad array of guns and calibers being used in the Civil War and thought that the rapid firing .52 caliber rifle with its copper rimfire cartridges would lead to a waste of ammunition. Only the mid-war endorsement of President Lincoln brought the Spencers to widespread use by Union armies on the battlefields.

The Spencer rifle has a 30 inch barrel of 6 grooves, with an overall length of 47 inches and a weight of 10 pounds. It has a spring cartridge injection system located in the buttstock and utilizes a blade type extractor to remove spent cartridges from the magazine. An estimated 11,471 were sold to the Army and another 2,000 to the Navy. Contract costs ranged from $35-$40 for each arm. The rifles were being replaced by carbines during the latter part of 1863.

The first batch of twelve hundred Spencer rifles were privately ordered by Lt. Colonel Joseph T. Copeland who spared no expense while organizing his 5th Michigan Cavalry. The first five hundred were received about January 5, 1863, followed by an additional five hundred in mid to late January. The remaining two hundred arrived around February 10, 1863. The first thousand Spencers bore serial numbers ranging from #1000 to #2050; the final two hundred were numbered between #2051-#3250. Nine hundred of these new rifles went to the 5th Michigan Cav, with the final three hundred being delivered to the 6th Michigan Cav.

Identified 5th Michigan Cavalry Spencer rifles are extremely rare. Shown here are two such rifles bearing serial numbers #1253 and #1853. Both would have seen use on the East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 when newly minted Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s dismounted 5th Michigan Cavalry clashed with a brigade of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry commanded by Colonel John R. Chambliss.

The Spencers turned out to be the most effective small arm of the Civil War. Their fire power transformed the Michigan Brigade under the leadership of their intrepid Boy General into the most effective cavalry brigade in the Union army.

Also shown are two tintypes (likely made by William Frank Browne) of 5th or 6th Michigan Cavalry troopers proudly displaying their "seven-shooters”.

For further information on Spencer rifles, see Wiley Sword’s excellent article, Those Damned Michigan Spencers – Colonel Copeland’s 5th Michigan Cavalry and their Spencer Rifles, Men at Arms Magazine, October, 1997.

Member - John Beckendorf
Item #: CIV-226

M1855 Colt Revolving Rifle

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Made from 1856 - 1864 in a quantity of 9310, this is the renowned Colt revolving rifled-musket. This specimen is the .56 caliber five-shot version, although these arms were also made in a six-shot .44 caliber variety. Its barrel is 36¼” in length and is round with semi-octagonal breech, fitted with a front sight machined for a socket bayonet and sling swivels in both the stock and rear barrel band.

It has the characteristic one-line address "COL. COLT HARTFORD CT. U.S.A.” with a fluted unmarked cylinder. All matching serial numbers #5306 with exception of the brass trigger guard #7575. Full-length oil finished stock in fine condition with minor usage marks, no cartouche. Metal is clean with minor pitting on cylinder and topstrap, fixed rear sight.

This unique rifle was originally produced as an enlarged version of the well liked Colt revolvers, but was soon considered too complicated for military use. Its tendency to flash fire multiple cylinders was disconcerting to the user, to say the least. The best known use of the Colt Rifle was with the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, but its most noteworthy action was likely at the fearful defense of Snodgrass Hill, at the Battle of Chickamauga, where the 21st Ohio along with a few other regiments took part in holding off an entire Confederate Corps, expending 43,000 rounds of ammunition in an afternoon before retiring.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-176

Model 1861 Rifle-Musket

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This arm is termed the Model 1861 Springfield Rifle-Musket, and was made in a quantity of 265,129 between 1861 and 1863 at Springfield armory. Thousands of near-duplicates were manufactured by private contractors across the North during the war years.

Identifying features of the Model 1861 are its arch shaped hammer, a 40” round barrel which was loaded through the muzzle with a .58 caliber minie-ball, three barrel bands, a clean-out screw in the bolster, and iron mountings, with all parts showing a bright arsenal finish. The rear sight and nipple are a quenched blue. The M1861 was the standard infantry longarm of the Civil War.

On this example, the lock markings are an eagle motif with "U.S./SPRINGFIELD” and "1863” marked vertically at the rear of the lock and also at the breech tang. The breech shows clear markings "V/P” with eaglehead proof and "US” on the tang of the buttplate. There are New Jersey markings on the barrel breech and the stock opposite the lock, indicating it was a state or militia purchase.

This piece is in excellent original condition, the stock is crisp with only tiny bruises and handling marks. It has an excellent ramrod and bore. The Model 1861 saw hard use throughout the Civil War and is a difficult piece to find in better than good condition.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-175

H & P Conversion Musket

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In the years prior to, and during early portions of the Civil War, U.S. armories were gradually converting flintlock arms in their inventories to the more efficient and dependable percussion ignition. Federal stockpiles of flintlock muskets were inspected and graded, with the better condition arms then set apart for conversion.

Various methods were employed to accomplish the change-over, with some of the work being performed by private contractors. One of the more common methods was the bolster alteration seen here, on what is known as an H & P Conversion.

The flintlock flashpan was removed and a bolster installed near the breech of the barrel, along with a percussion nipple and new hammer. "H & P” for Hewes & Phillips is seen on the face of the bolster. Two thousand such alterations were completed to Model 1816 and Model 1835 flintlocks.

This .69 caliber musket is in fine plus condition showing much arsenal bright finish and original raised grain on the stock, with only tiny storage dents and minor losses opposite lock. It bears its original blued two leaf rear sight. The 1862 date on the smoothbore barrel indicates its conversion during the war. The lock is dated 1832. There is a very sharp eagle over "US” with "Springfield 1832” marked vertically on the lock. Two faint cartouches remain on the stock. Its bayonet and scabbard remain with the musket.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-174

Model 1855 Pistol-Carbine

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The Model 1855 Pistol-Carbine is a single shot, muzzleloading percussion pistol equipped with a separate shoulder stock that effectively converts it to a carbine. By this means, the carbine becomes useable as a longarm fired from the shoulder, increasing its stability and accuracy. Like its 1855 musket counterpart, the pistol-carbine fires a .58 caliber mini-ball and achieves ignition by means of the Maynard tape primer.

Although it was a well-made weapon, the pistol-carbine had one serious flaw; it was obsolete from the time of its first production. The rising popularity of the 6 shot revolvers being produced by the likes of Samuel Colt spelled the doom of the single-shot pistol. However, with the onset of the Civil War and the early shortage of available arms nearly all of the 4,021 carbines already in Federal armories were issued to early volunteers.

This carbine is in very good original condition. Its lock markings are sharp with fine condition metal showing light peppering. VP is marked on the left breech with an eagle head and RR markings on the barrel where it meets stock, good [JT] cartouche; the buttstock is an excellent match to the carbine stock. Two-leaf rear sight is graduated to 500 yds. This gun is complete and original throughout, considered by some collectors one of the more unique and picturesque of all Civil War U.S. martial arms.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-172

Personal items - Willis G. Babcock, KIA Gettysburg

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"…..Willis has laid himself on the altar of his country….” Thus the words of Samuel Babcock as he wrote to his two surviving sons, also serving in the Union army. As he informed them of the death of their younger brother at Gettysburg, Samuel had little notion that his two remaining sons would also give their lives for the cause, a year later and one day apart from each other.

Lt. Babcock’s personal effects include a Manhattan Navy Series II revolver, produced in a quantity of just over 10,000 by Manhattan Arms in Newark, New Jersey beginning in 1859. It has a five shot cylinder roll engraved in five decorative oval panels, its frame and hammer once casehardened. It’s barrel is 6½” in length, with address MANHATTAN FIRE ARMS MFG. CO. NEW YORK. The gripstraps are brass and bear the original period inscription "W. G. Babcock 64th N.Y.S.V." for Lt. William G. Babcock, of Company G, 64th New York Infantry. The revolver is in good condition with even patina and light pitting. All metal is uncleaned and all serial numbers match. The pistol is accompanied by a .36 cal bullet mold and by Lt. Babcock's brass pattern 1851 eagle belt plate which bears script initials on reverse WGB, bench number 215 with number 81 on keeper.

Young Babcock enlisted in the Union Army from Owego, New York at the age of 20, on November 4, 1861 as a Sergeant. He was promoted Lieutenant on July 26, 1862. His regiment fought at Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, was heavily engaged at Antietam, and again at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The carnage he witnessed at Chancellorsville prompted Willis to write his father for advice, as he was considering leaving the army. Samuel Babcock recommended that Willis stick it out for the final months of his enlistment period, when he could then leave the service with honor for himself and his family.

A few weeks later, the 64th endured their most severe fight of the war, in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg where Lt. Babcock was killed in action on the far edge of the field. His body was recovered on July 5th, stripped of his weapons and accouterments, but with a small note pinned to his coat. Written in a strange hand on the paper was "W. G. Babcock, 64th New York Infantry,” the exact notation shown on the gripstrap of his now missing revolver. Thankfully, the scavenger who stripped Willis of his possessions had conscience enough to leave such a note, or Babcock would have been lost to the ages, added to the numerous unidentified casualties of the battle.

The identity of the forager, the role played by Babcock’s revolver and belt rig for the duration of the war, and the paths they followed in subsequent years leading them to this collection, all remain a mystery.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-159

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