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What’s In a name?

Posted on Thursday, January 1, 2015 at 6:52 am

A Tower marked P53 Enfield Rifle-Musket dated 1862 (image public domain).

The question comes up from time to time about the proper naming convention for the English Pattern 1853 long rifle which is often simply called the “Enfield.” Sometimes they are alternately referenced in period accounts as “Tower” rifle-muskets. Dan Sickles commanding the Excelsior Brigade, combined the two terms after the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia in 1862 noting that “the battlefield was strewn with Enfield Rifles marked Tower.” [1] The most correct answer would be that the commercially made Pattern 1853 Enfield long rifle and Pattern 1856 Enfield short rifle were often marked “Tower” to suggest that they passed an inspection with gauges in England at the “Tower.” The “Tower” was the War Department inspection facility for contract arms, specifically those intended for the British Army. There was one inspection facility in London, and another in Birmingham. Each location employed more than eighty full time inspectors.

However, virtually all of the “Tower” marked P53 Enfields came nowhere near any government inspection with gauges before being sold, crated and shipped to both sides during the U.S. Civil War. And being handmade, these “Tower” marked arms used in the U.S. Civil War were not parts interchangeable, except by accident.

Were they “Enfields”? Well technically, “Enfield” is a city near London where the government owned Royal Small Arms Factory was located, and that is where they made the English Pattern 1853 long and short rifle(s) for the British Army. “Enfield” was mostly a nickname for the P53 and P56, like “Springfield” was for the US model rifle-muskets. The majorities of U.S. model 1861 rifle-muskets were not made at the government facility known as Springfield Armory, but by up to twenty private contractors. It didn’t matter and Civil War soldiers called them all “Springfields.” [2]

When Union soldiers captured Confederate made Richmond rifle-muskets, they were sometimes erroneously called “Richmond Springfields.” The Union believed they were U.S. 1861s captured, refurbished and re-stamped at the CS Richmond Armory. For example, at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, Major Bodine of the 26th Pennsylvania Infantry sent his men out with a specific purpose in mind. He wrote, “We were armed with the Austrian rifle of an inferior quality and we desired to change them for Springfield rifles without the red tape processes. The Florida brigade we opposed were all armed with the Springfield rifles. Many of them had gone through the renovating process, and bore the Richmond C.S. stamp.” [3]

The fact that Union soldiers sometimes captured Confederate arms confirms that there were periods of time when the Southern soldier was better armed than his Northern counterpart. There are other examples of this happening, such as after the surrender of Vicksburg in July 1863 when Grant’s troops traded their smoothbore muskets for captured Confederate P53 Enfields, some still in the shipping cartons. [4]

Another noteworthy fact about the “Enfield” is that it was an evolving design. For example, beginning in 1859, two versions of the P53 Enfield (now in its third configuration) were concurrently manufactured at RSAF. One with the original length of 14 inches from the trigger to the butt stock, and another termed the “short butt” with the distance being 13 inches, like the U.S. rifle musket design. It appears this was done to accommodate the British soldier of slightly shorter stature. It did involve the creation of a new sealed pattern, but it was still called the Pattern 1853 long rifle, and the two types were issued side by side to British soldiers. At Royal Small Arms Factory, approximately two short butt Enfields were manufactured for every one long version. What is not known, or rather not documented, is how the commercial gun-makers in London and Birmingham who supplied both sides in the U.S. Civil War may have modified their manufacturing practices to fill the American contracts. [5] What is known from surviving specimens is it does not appear to have been in the same 2:1 ratio as used by the British Government at RSAF. However, some “short butt” P53 Enfields with U.S. Civil War provenance, particularly an early P53 made by Barnett, have been identified as among the first arms running the blockade and arriving in the Confederacy during September 1861. [6]

Further, the Enfield long and short rifles machine made by Royal Small Arms Factory continued to evolve along slightly different lines than the handmade copies of the earlier version produced by the commercial gun trade, not only in England but in Belgium, France, America and Germany. Since these handmade arms were no longer part of the British military service pattern, were these still actually P53 Enfields or were they now something else? The short is answer is that despite the slight differences in design and cosmetic details there was no change in the name used, P53 Enfield. In the final analysis, people of the time period were much less interested in all of the various naming conventions for each slightly different model, distinctions which are largely driven by museums and modern gun collectors today.

So what’s in a name? Not much it seems. “Enfield” in particular seems to have been a name applied to a variety of different arms. The Austrian model 1854 rifle, or “Lorenz” was sometimes called the Austrian Enfield. Eli Whitney of New Haven, Connecticut produced an amalgamated infantry arm they called an “Enfield.” It was part of their “good and serviceable arms not subject to government inspection with gauges.” They were made up of condemned locks and barrels from an earlier U.S. 1855 contract, some left over assemblies from rejected US 1841 rifles with other odds and ends. The result was absolutely nothing like the English Pattern 1853 long rifle in appearance and used almost none of the same parts. However, they shot well and many were sold to the Southern states before (and for a few months after) the Civil War broke out. [7]

NOTES

1. Peter Smithhust, The Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle, (London, UK) Osprey Publishing, 2011 p.51.

2. The Springfield Armory produced about 1/3 of the US 1861s in service by 1863 while twenty or so different private contractors including Savage, Trenton, Bridesburg, Union Arms, Parkers’-Snow, SN & WTC (Norris & Clement), Providence Tool, Casper Schubarth, Wm Mason, Remington, etc produced about 2/3 of total numbers manufactured.

3. See National Park Service Gettysburg Seminar Papers, Journal of Robert Bodine, 26th Pennsylvania Infantry (1864).

4. Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs and Selected Letters of General US Grant, Part One, (New York, NY), Library of America, 1882, p. 118. He recalls in his memoirs that about 1/3 of his army at Vicksburg was still armed with old Belgian smoothbore muskets which were “almost as dangerous to the man firing it as the one he was aiming at.” He ordered them swapped out for the superior arms of the captured CS troops, mostly P53 Enfield rifle muskets.

5. Ibid, Smithhurst, p. 48

6. The first shipments of English made P53 Enfield rifle muskets were aboard the Steamship Bermuda which docked in Savanah, Georgia in August 1861. One surviving specimen used by a Georgia soldier was a “short butt” P53 made by JE Barnett & Sons. Pedersoli current offers a reproduction of the Enfield “short butt” version, marked Tower 1861.

7. Whitney Arms of New Haven was frustrated by the number of rejections which were returned by US Government inspectors on their pre-war contract work. Determined to recoup something out of this obsolete inventory, the firm created their “good and serviceable arms not subject to government inspection with gauges.” The Whitney Enfield in particular is part US 1841 percussion rifle, part condemned US 1855 parts but mostly who knows what?

-By Craig L. Barry