Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Head Scratcher

Sometimes in my line of work folks will ask me to look at an artifact, usually a military artifact of some sort, to help them determine what it is they have. I am not a collector or curator of military artifacts so sometimes I can help them, and other times I am as much at a loss as they are. I got an interesting one today....

Someone asked me to look at a Civil War musket and tell them what it was. When I arrived and they handed it to me, I was immediately thrown off by the appearance of it. It was clearly an Enfield rifled musket, but something wasn't quite right. Then I realized that the thing had been modified and had Springfield-style barrel bands and retention springs on it. Everything else about it was Enfield, except for that detail. Also, the weapon had been rebored at some point and is now a smoothbore weapon of a much larger caliber than it was originally. Well, I've never seen anything like this before and I was stumped so I started making phone calls. Here are two theories I've gotten from other military history professionals:

1. It was sent to the Richmond Arsenal for repair and modified at that point.

2. It could be one of a number of Enfields rescued from a sunken blockade runner off the coast, that were then sent to the Fayetteville Arsenal for repair.

Since both arsenals (Richmond and Fayetteville) were using equipment formerly found at the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, the Springfield-style hardware would fit the explanation. I tend to like the Fayetteville option, for the simple reason that its a better story. However, I may never be able to prove any theory about this weapon unless it starts talking. It would be very helpful if the family had some kind of story about this gun, like which one of their ancestors carried it, what unit he was in, etc. That would go a long way toward verifying some of the facts about this piece. But, I don't know that they even know the story behind it except that its been passed down through the family. This is the frustrating thing about history sometimes, the artifacts usually don't talk!

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