What is this? ‘Miserable Old Rusty’ Altered Smooth-bore, Bell Barreled Muskets..

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
This is from my "Michigan" data base. Soon after arriving at Harrisburg the 4th Michigan Infantry Regiment were issued ‘miserable old rusty’ altered smooth-bore, bell barreled muskets.https://civilwartalk.com/#_edn1 U.S. Model 1830 flintlock muskets altered to percussion locks, these were originally intended for the Pennsylvania militia.

This information came from several sources but something seems wrong here. Could "miserable old rusty" altered smooth-bore, bell barreled muskets be U.S. Model 1830 flint lock muskets?
https://civilwartalk.com/#_ednref1 “ Letter form Camp Wilcox Alexandria Jun 23 signed by Brent Kennedy”, Jonesville Weekly Independent, July 11 1861, p., 2. col. 3. THIS DOES NOT MATCH THE PARA
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Western states (meaning over the Appalachin Mountains) such as Michigan (and my state, Ohio) tended to get the lower quality old arms at the start of the War. The men (and state governments) protested vigorously, and lost no time in whining about the poor quality of those older arms in hopes they would get rifled Springfields or Enfields in the modern .58 or .577 calibers in place of the the old smoothbores in large .69 caliber.

Sometimes their complaints were exaggerated. I don't know of any "bell barreled" muskets ever issued to any infantry troops. These may have been old, but I am confident they were NOT bell barreled!

My favorite story about quality complaints about "older" arms made in an attempt to get an issuance of newer and better replacement arms for older but still serviceable arms relates to the later trapdoor model 1873s in service in Montana in the late 1870s.

General Miles established Ft. Keogh in Montana in August 1876 to block the Souix fleeing north to Canada from their victory at the Little Big Horn. A couple years later, General Miles started to lobby for new arms to replace the supposedly worn and defective Model 1873 trapdoor rifles used by his troops. He wanted them replaced the bolt action Lee rifles then being tested; I suspect all commanders coveted these new arms. Miles complained so strongly that his trapdoors were defective that his superior General Terry ordered that every rifle in the 5th​ infantry should be inspected to see if they were defective. They were all shipped back to the Springfield Armory in Massachussets and taken apart, and records of every rifle kept which listed any defects in each individual rifle. Most were fine and Miles had to keep using trapdoors, no new Lee bolt-action small bore rifles for his unit!

In other words, this is a fine (and true) story of some superior getting tired of this complaining and decided to have each rifle examined by the experts at the Armory - sort of a Put Up or Shut Up situation.

I owned one of these guns at one time, and the only thing listed on the records for this particular rifle was that a small metal piece inset into the ramrod channel was missing - this was intended to put friction pressure on the cleaning rod and prevent the wood from wearing down, make the channel oversized (bell-shaped, if you will), so that the ramrod might get loose. No such problem had happened to my rifle (and that piece was still missing!) but the report was so thorough that it noted that this small, signifigant part was missing. It was as if I examined my sneakers and found that one shoe was laced so that one end of the lace was a little longer than the other - no big deal, but it showed that I made a careful examination!

My point is that there were some well-exaggerated descriptions of these old arms.

Consider those similar to what you see when you look at YELP review of some business - you'll find complaints that have to be over the top!

Same long ago, eh?
 
Last edited:

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I wondered if the militia of Pennsylvania had any bell barreled muskets in storage in 1861.

Nope.

You do see bell shaped barrel blunderbusses in Three Stooges Movies where they are playing Pilgrims, or old pirate movies. Short barreled blunderbusses were used on ships sometimes, and maybe somewhere, sometime, an American sailor used such an arm, but there were never any bell barreled muskets used by our infantry forces, regular or militia.

I would read that as the writer exaggerating the quaintness, age and worthlessness of the arm.
 
Last edited:

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
I guess that if I use the passage in any article, I will add a statement saying it is an exaggeration.
 

Peter Stines

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Location
Gulf Coast of Texas
Nope.

You do see bell shaped barrel blunderbusses in Three Stooges Movies where they are playing Pilgrims, or old pirate movies. Short barreled blunderbusses were used on ships sometimes, and maybe somewhere, sometime, an American sailor used such an arm, but there were never any bell barreled muskets used by our infantry forces, regular or militia.

I would read that as the writer exaggerating the quaintness, age and worthlessness of the arm.
How many old illustrations and cartoons have we seen depicting the pilgrims carrying elephantine blunderbusses ? Tons of 'em. And it was the artist at fault. Likewise so many reporters who were not familer with guns wrote anything that popped into their heads.
Still some navy vessells carried belled muzzle pistols, musketoons and such well into the 19th Century. Robt. Reilly shows several from the 1812 era in his book on U.S. Martial Flintlocks. His drawings indicate these "deck sweepers" were obviously made of mixed parts. Imported and salvaged. Anything that could shoot and save money. If privateers were needed they could be outfitted by GUNS R US 😁
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Could "bell barreled" reference coned muzzles on shot out barrels?
That's an interesting thought.
I think a target shooter might use such a term, or a gunsmith inspecting a barrel.
But remember that the altered flintlock had very thin .69 caliber barrels, and there would be little metal thickness to be worn out at the muzzle.
Most important, consider the reason for the statement - this person says these are "miserable" "old" guns, and those aren't technical terms.
 

Ranchero50

Private
Joined
Feb 2, 2021
Location
Hagerstown MD
That's an interesting thought.
I think a target shooter might use such a term, or a gunsmith inspecting a barrel.
But remember that the altered flintlock had very thin .69 caliber barrels, and there would be little metal thickness to be worn out at the muzzle.
Most important, consider the reason for the statement - this person says these are "miserable" "old" guns, and those aren't technical terms.
Well the idea behind it being that since they are muzzle loading, if the bullet drops down the barrel a bit easier than it should and the rifle is in poor shape overall wouldn't you be dismayed to be carrying it up onto the line and into mortal combat? I would.
 

Peter Stines

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Location
Gulf Coast of Texas
You really can't tell if the muzzle is coned by looking at the outside. But a lot of the earlier Kentuckies had a swamped barrel.
The muzzle is thick at the breech, thins or tapers mid way down and flares out thicker again. Not like a blunderbuss. Now I have NEVER SEEN a military or trade musket done that way; tapered round, yes. I'm thinking the reporter had a few to many sips of "the creature". I read a quote from some "actor" screaming about "semi-automatic machine guns"
But as soon as we say 'they ain't no such critter' one will turn up😣
 

Ranchero50

Private
Joined
Feb 2, 2021
Location
Hagerstown MD
You really can't tell if the muzzle is coned by looking at the outside. But a lot of the earlier Kentuckies had a swamped barrel.
The muzzle is thick at the breech, thins or tapers mid way down and flares out thicker again. Not like a blunderbuss. Now I have NEVER SEEN a military or trade musket done that way; tapered round, yes. I'm thinking the reporter had a few to many sips of "the creature". I read a quote from some "actor" screaming about "semi-automatic machine guns"
But as soon as we say 'they ain't no such critter' one will turn up😣
Have you read excerpts of the George W Wray collection book? https://www.amazon.com/dp/0820346853/?tag=civilwartalkc-20

I just got it and indeed there were some very interesting animals running around the early war years. Kind of like the post WWII Bannon's that were a hodgepodge of parts pieced together to make rifles. Really can't recommend the book enough. Found it on eBay for $35.
 

Peter Stines

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Location
Gulf Coast of Texas
I'll take a look. I've seen some bizarre conversions to breechloaders as well as "new" weapons made in Europe that boggle the mind. A gunsmith's nightmare to make and a mechanical jabberwoky to use. And the stuff made here makes me wonder; WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ?
 

Ranchero50

Private
Joined
Feb 2, 2021
Location
Hagerstown MD
I'll take a look. I've seen some bizarre conversions to breechloaders as well as "new" weapons made in Europe that boggle the mind. A gunsmith's nightmare to make and a mechanical jabberwoky to use. And the stuff made here makes me wonder; WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ?
Here's the preview section that I found looking for info on my cavalry carbine. It was interesting enough that I bought the paper version.

https://books.google.com/books?id=812jBQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
 
Top