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Trapdoor organ donor reborn as Whitney musket

Posted by John (S) on Monday, 14 April 2014, at 1:32 a.m.

At the local show today there was ain interesting example of what happened to some of the many .58 caliber muskets that were broken down for parts to be used in making .45-70 trapdoors.

The salvaged parts for the trapdoor program included the buttplates, trigger guard assemblies, and internal lock parts like the bridles, mainsprings, sear springs and sometimes the sears.

This left musket barrels, stocks, bands, lock plates and hammers as material which was sold off as surplus.

The musket seen today was originally an excellent condition M1863 Type 1 with clamping bands but no band springs. The barrel and stock were almost unaltered, except the barrel was blued (by a process similar to that used on trapdoors) and there was a slight bit of adjustment to the inletting for the sear spring. The barrel was standard 3 groove rifling, with eagle/V/P inspection marks and 1863 date. Nice unsanded wood with crisp ESA in an oval and a rectangle with rounded ends and initials I could not make out or remember (M?H maybe?). There were three small initials by the trigger guard tang (R.D.H if I remember correctly). The lockplate was Springfield dated 1863. The mainspring looked correct, but the sear spring was a folded sheet metal style similar (but not identical) to the cheap repros which have been around for decades. The bridle workmanship looked substandard with no visible markings. The buttplate was cast iron with no US on the tang. The trigger guard plate and bow were mediocre quality cast iron parts, but with a sling swivel actually installed. Both buttplate and trigger guard assembly were blued. Not sure if the trigger was original or not.

The most interesting part was that on the right side of the butt stock, there was a neatly stamped eagle with wings out, over WHITNEY ARMS CO.

Robert Reilly's superb U.S. Military Arms 1816-1865 mentions (p. 92) that "In a very few known instances, stocks for [the M1863 Type 1 musket] have been noted with a large spread eagle over 'WHITNEY ARMS Co.' indicating that on occasion Springfield turned to outside contractors to supply parts for the completion of its arms."

Thus, Reilly (and others) have seen M1863 Type 1 muskets or their stocks with the Whitney eagle markings on the butt, and Springfield inspector cartouches. However, can we be sure that these were muskets that were untouched and all original, or were they looking at muskets which had been "reborn" by Whitney and had the eagle stamp added long after initially manufactured? It would have been very tempting for collectors or dealers to "restore" these by replacing the ersatz Whitney parts with suitable condition original military parts, and to polish off any blue finish on the barrel to make it bright again. Reilly does not mention finding this stock marking on any of the numerous contract or "good and sufficient" arms made by Whitney during the Civil War. It is doubtful he would make up a stamp just to mark stocks sent to Springfield, and not use it on his own complete arms.

I submit that the Whitney marks were applied at time of their rebirth as muskets in the post Civil War era.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting gun, and a very seldom seen link in the evolutionary chain of trapdoor rifles.


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