The Federal Enfield

When federal and state purchasing agents descended on merry old England, they found an arms industry quite different from that in the U.S.

The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield had been established for only about 50 years at the outbreak of the War Between the States. For most of the 19th century, the armory was mainly a center for ordinance research and a depot for parts made by a wide array of contractors. Although barrels had been manufactured for many years, the first complete Enfield made weapon was the P-53 so much sought after by Americans. There were two centers of arms production that supported the Royal Armory. The largest was the "Birmingham Small Arms Trade" of that city, which grew into BSA. The second was centered around London and was more or less led by the London Armoury Company and Barnett's. Just about all of these contractors made guns for the civilian empire trade and foreign governments all over the world, as well as the crown. Of all the makers of muskets in England, only London Armoury Company and Enfield RSAF itself built guns on the "American Plan" of machine manufacture with interchangeable parts. Enfield's myriad other contractors still operated on the old guild system. While they would produce parts and even whole guns to Royal government gauges, their products were all hand made. Fabricating identical parts this way was very expensive. Therefore, guns for customers other than the Crown were almost never gauged, and thus not interchangeable.

When the Civil War broke out, buyers from the Federal government and several states, as well as the Confederacy, descended on Europe with the singular intention of obtaining modern weapons. The most sought after of these was the Enfield P-53. The U.S. was not the only customer though. There was a war brewing in China, The Turks were rearming and much of South America was fighting on a scale as large as the US Civil War in the war of the Triple Alliance. It was a boom time for the English contractors.

Several arms brokers in the U.S. were very well connected with the English trade. Naylor and Co. of N.Y., Boston and Philadelphia was actually part of Naylor Vickers and Co. of London and Sheffield. Both Samuel Colt and Schuyler, Hartley & Graham had English operations. Many other brokers employed British agents. When the market for Enfields suddenly appeared, these operatives scoured the Empire for P-53 muskets. Interchangeable Number 1 Enfields were almost completely unavailable, but " Number 2 Medium Quality, Hand Made" Enfields could be contracted and delivered very quickly.

With the gun shortage in America, the Ordnance Department quickly bought up these second class muskets from just about anyone offering them for sale, some at premium prices too.

A wide variety of small lots were bought up by the Ordinance Department. Samuel Haskell sold Uncle Sam 420 "long Enfield rifles" for $27.50 each. Phillip Justice, of Justice musket scandal fame, made several deliveries of Enfield muskets, and a few rifles too, almost all for more than $20 each. The New York based Union Defense Committee got into the act, providing 428 Enfield rifles in August of 1861 for $22.50. Somehow the U.S. District Court, eastern district of Pennsylvania scrounged up 1319 Enfield muskets, which it generously turned over to the army in the fall of 1862. Even Tiffany & Company of New York delivered Enfields, and a wide variety at that, including 4500 P-53 muskets and 480 rifles.

Samuel Colt was well connected with the firm of Potts & Hunt, from whom he obtained a variety of muskets, rifles and parts. A lot of 2680 P-53 muskets were bought by the government for $22.50 ea., while 1940 rifles with sword bayonets fetched $25. Interestingly, the muskets were suppose to be 58 caliber with bright 40 inch barrels.

One of the most unusual purchasing arrangements united the firm of Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, of New York, directly with the War Department in Washington. Marcellius Hartley himself was employed as a U.S. government agent. This was a closely held secret at the time. He was to use his company as a front for direct government purchases of Enfields and other European weapons. To cover expenses, deposits were made directly from the U.S. Treasury to a company account at Barings' Bank in London. One of his paramount instructions was to attempt to engage the entire production of London Armoury No. 1 Enfields. In this way, the U.S. would simultaneously assure the best foreign muskets for its troops, and deprive the Confederacy of the only source. The southern agent, Caleb Huse, beat him at that game, Hartley got only 2000 L.A.Co. muskets, probably overruns on other contracts. His other goal was to contract with the Birmingham trade for all the hand made P-53s he could get. In this, he was again foiled, this time by one of his New York competitors and a lack of communication back at the War Department.

Naylor & Company was well connected in both Birmingham and Washington. At the same time Hartley was attempting to contract for 100,000 No.2 (hand made) Enfields, so was Naylor & Vickers, the English arm of Naylor & Company. Naylor had a back door to the War Department in the form of P. H. Watson, Assistant Secretary of War. Watson should surely have known of Hartley's efforts but supported the Naylor company anyway. On the eve of Hartley's closing the deal, he was outbid by Naylor. The U.S. eventually got 110,140 Enfields from the deal, but the extra cost amounted to about a dollar each. Hartley did buy prodigious quantities of surplus European arms, but that's another story.

By mid 1863, American contractors were beginning to deliver large quantities of M-1861 muskets. These were of much higher quality than the foreign Enfields, so in the fall of 1863, all the English contracts were abruptly canceled. Pandemonium and economic depression reigned in Birmingham. The Confederacy took advantage of the situation and placed substantial orders at bargain prices.

The typical Federal Enfield is the "medium quality, hand made" musket. Actually quality varies a lot. Some are as nicely put up as any Springfield, others are poor, at best. As many who have tried to fix them today can attest, these are not parts interchangeable. (Just ask Bill Osborne, of Lodgewood, about the travails of Federal Enfields.) Most locks are marked with a royal crown to the rear. Ahead of the hammer, TOWER and the year of manufacture appears, usually 1862 or '63. This is entirely bogus as none of these ever passed through the royal Tower Armory. It is merely an imitation of the genuine No. 1 Enfield. Some of the higher quality guns have the makers name instead of TOWER, particularly Barnetts and Potts & Hunt. Stocks are usually of beach or other light wood, stained dark. In place of the Enfield acceptance stamp on the left of the butt, the makers name or BSAT appears. The finish on these guns is usually very good. Barrels and bands are blued while hammers and lockplates are color case hardened. The buttplates, nose caps and trigger assemblies are polished brass. The result is a fine looking musket that is an excellent addition to any American Civil War collection.

2000 by Tony Beck, Coastal Rifles

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index