Smoothbore Breakthrough

I am happy to report, finally, that a major manufacturer of replica Civil War Ordnance is producing a faithful copy of the Model 1842 Musket. My file of unanswered questions was loaded with requests from readers on where they could get a custom-built smoothbore. Now, Armi Sport comes to the rescue with their newly released smoothbore three-band musket.

The Model 1842 U.S. Percussion Musket was produced in great numbers by both the Harpers Ferry and Springfield Armories from 1844 to 1855. The Armi Sport edition is true to the original measurements, with a 42 inch barrel and a total length of 58 inches. The Model 1842 was notable in several respects, chiefly, that it was the last .69 caliber musket. Additionally, it was the first weapon made at both Harpers Ferry and Springfield with completely interchangeable parts. Harpers Ferry produced 103,000, while Springfield produced 172,000, for a total production surpassing a quarter of a million arms. Many of these arms had been delivered to militias in the late 1850's, and saw service in the early years of the Great Conflict.

The Armi Sport repro is nicely marked. The lockplate (Photo A) is stamped with the federal eagle in front of the hammer and vertically marked "SPRING-FIELD" in two lines behind the hammer. The lock also carries an 1847 date. Photo B shows the excellent workmanship used in creating this lock. The lock parts appear so close to the originals that I wonder if they will be interchangeable. As you can see, the lock does not have a fly, but is not noticeably slower than more modern lock designs (at least, not to an ol' dullard like me).

Photo C is a comparison between the Model 1842 Percussion Musket (top) and the Model 1855 Percussion Rifle-Musket (bottom). The absence of a rear sight on the Model 1842 is the most noticeable visual difference, but the large top band of the Model 1842 also stands out. The top band is typical of the 1840's designed arms, and the close-up (Photo D) shows the unusual but correct arrangement of the bayonet lug on the bottom of the barrel and the front sight cast into the barrel band. This is the same design as the Model 1841 Percussion Rifle, better known as the "Mississippi" Rifle.

If the wood to metal fit of my sample is an example, the production arms will be of great quality, and this Armi Sport Model 1842 is going to be a popular arm with reenactors and skirmishers alike. I added the .69 smoothbore to my gun cabinet to be able to compete in the smoothbore classes at the NMLRA shoots as well as to compete in the smoothbore N-SSA class, but it's first duty was at Warren County Middle School, in Front Royal, Virginia, for a living history demonstration on May 1. The musket is huge - totally massive - yet well balanced. It makes a big impression, up close or through paper, and will be great for early war demonstrations.

The most remarkable thing about this wonderful new product was the price. I got mine for less then $500 from The Rebel Trading Post in Ellicott City, MD (410-465-9595). By the time you read this, most Armi Sport dealers should have the Model 1842 smoothbore in stock.

Another smoothbore is also now available on the market. Dixie Gun Works has a conversion of it's Model 1816 Flintlock available. The conversion is similar to the Colt conversion of original Model 1816 Muskets. Dixie's is manufactured by Pedersoli, who also makes the Model 1816 Flintlock Musket for DGW. This conversion is also .69 caliber smoothbore, and bears lockmarkings of "Harpers Ferry" and "1816" like an original conversion would. Although I have not seen the DGW yet, it is another over-the-counter option for so many of us who have been waiting for a smoothbore to reenact or shoot with but didn't want to part with the green required for an original or custom-made smoothbore. The Dixie U.S. Model 1816 Percussion Conversion Musket (Stock No. PR0257) was selling for $785.00 plus S & H this Spring. Contact Dixie for availability at (901)-885-0700.

The Ordnance Manual published in 1860 calls for a load of 110 grains behind a .65 round ball, which was the standard military load for .69 smoothbore throughout the lifetime of that caliber in military service. Some of the powder was needed for priming the flintlock versions, but no change was made in the cartridge when the percussion model was introduced. The .65 roundball was wrapped with paper when loaded, so it could not be as large as the .680 ball that today's shooters use in the smoothbore. A more modest load to be tried is a .680 round ball over top of 80 grains of FFg. Patch the ball with a .010 or .015 patch for starters.

Regardless of which smoothbore you opt to acquire, it appears that we will now have two good choices to carry afield. I am looking forward to shooting and competing with mine, and I hope to see many more smoothbores at reenactments now that they are available and reasonably priced.

Enjoy your Spring reenacting, shooting and skirmishing schedule, and, until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.

(C) 1996 Tom Kelley
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