Muzzleldrs Converting flint locks during the Civil War?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 25, 2012
Early in the Civil War both sides needed long arms, so were flint locks being coverted during the War? Once better arms became available it would seem like this practice would have ended.
 

James Brenner

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Nov 10, 2016
Location
North Canton, Ohio
Short answer: yes. Ordnance officers in St. Louis contracted with Miles Greenwood of Cincinnati and E.K. Tryon of Philadelphia to convert 20,000 Austrian tubelock muskets for General Fremont in September 1861. (Congressional Serial Set #1136, p.109, Joint Committee Report, pp 46-7).On October 15, 1861, Brigadier General Sherman contracted with Greenwood "for rifling and percussioning U.S. muskets"; most likely flintlocks seized from rebels in Kentucky. (RG 156, E5, Vol. 13, p.457, Letters to Sec'y of War).

Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Don Dixon
 
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
Texas
Absolutely. The Federal Government had no less than 45,023 musket altered between 1861 and 1863 with the last delivery of altered muskets being made by Henry Leman on May 29, 1863. Northern States also contracted for the alteration of flintlock muskets and rifles during the same time frame and in excess of 50,000 longarms were percussioned for the States; mainly New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
The alteration figures are a bit squirrely since some numbers of cone-in-barrel altered muskets were re-altered with chambered breech pieces between 1861 and 1863, and records don't usually differentiate between guns altered from flintlock or guns realtered from cone-in-barrel alterations.

The Confederacy and the States that composed it also altered flintlock arms to percussion during the war. There isn't a readily available figure of the number of arms percussion altered in the South, but if I was pressed to give a quick ballpark estimation I would put it in the 200,000 gun range. Limited domestic manufacturing capabilities made the use of percussion altered muskets even more necessary in the South, and Confederate ordnance officers did not hesitate to percussion altered anything they could get their hands on including some leftover arms from the Revolutionary War.
 
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rob63

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 13, 2012
Location
Indiana
This is an example of just how far back they went when doing conversions. I wish I owned this, but it is just a photo from an auction. A Springfield musket conversion that was originally made before they even started putting dates on the lockplate, with the very earliest style of markings. The buttplate tang is dated 1800, meaning it was about 62 years old when it was converted!
589_7.jpg

589_3.jpg
 

drezac

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Many had been converted before the war. When the Ohio National Guard was formed in 1864, The Ohio Arsenal was practically empty ( the guns the state did have were sent into federal service and not returned). They were able to obtain obsolete arms from the US Government for the ONG, many of these were converted flintlocks.
 

Rhea Cole

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Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
At Stones River, 60% of Confederate Infantry was armed with smoothbores. Union smoothbores were about 40%. I am not aware of any flintlocks, so it is likely that the majority of the smoothbores were conversions. With the exception of the Mexican War, th U.S. hadn't fought a hot war since the War of 1812. Militias in most states had been stood down soon after. A Florida regiment at Stones River made an attack armed with muskets so decrepit that many carried the hammer in their pocket. Rear ranks carried sticks. They suffered over 80% KIA attacking the Round Forrest on Dec. 31, 1862. Goes to show, there was something worse than being armed with a .69 cal. Tower of London Brown Bess.
 

Pheaur

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Feb 4, 2018
In answering the original question the answer is yes; highly probable but not conclusive (Kentucky). It has been mentioned in early documentation that Ohio contracted with Miles Greenwood to alter and rifle flintlock muskets. As of today I haven't found any clear or conclusive documentation / evidence to this assertion. It's true that Greenwood contracted, likely under an agreement with Ohio, to rifle and sight a number of US altered muskets; muskets that had already been converted from flintlock to percussion - including the M1842. It's questionable, however, knowing the number actually sighted but that's another story.

Miles Greenwood had several contracts in 1861 with states like Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky but only provided parts (musket) to the latter and cannon to the other. As some of you may know Greenwood had several contracts for cannon. As for altering and rifling muskets in the latter part of 1861; when speaking of those in Kentucky - my own assumption - is that the arms altered and rifled by Greenwood were those sent by the general government to Louisville to arm an Indiana regiment. Much to the surprise of those who opened the boxes saw flintlocks instead of altered muskets. These were purportedly never issued and were retained. Eventually, so it appears, the Indiana regiment received Enfields. Prior to this they had originally received Belgian arms. Complaining to the governor of Indiana they ended up with the Enfield muskets. There are records found in period newspapers describing how some arsenals were altering arms in early 1861. It can only be assumed that these arms were those flintlocks left in storage that had never been altered. The term altering is also elusive because in some cases it may only refer to an arm that was rifled rather than altered from flintlock to percussion. My two cents of course and other opinions will very.
 
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Peter Stines

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Apr 10, 2007
Location
Gulf Coast of Texas
One of the many reasons for the switch from flint to cap was the availability and quality of flints. There was no large scale production of flints in America. We depended ob overseas sources like England, France, etc. If they had a major conflict needing tons of flints they will take care of their needs and their allies first. Because of the handmade nature of gun flints there is going to be inconsistency in shape and even quality. Getting rid of the lower end product by dumping them on other countries of questionable loyalty was common. You wouldn't sell your best stuff to someone who could potentially use it against you.
With caps these were made by machine using skilled and semi skilled labor. You could train someone off the street to operate the machinery for making caps in a short period of time whereas it took a LOT more training to produce flints. Caps were more consistant in size and quality than flints and were probably cheaper to make. The rate of output was much higher with caps. And for raw recruits with little experience with firearms the cap lock was the better choice. More reliable in bad weather too. I've been shooting black powder for over 40 years
and flintlocks work well but you need to coddle them more.
 

Peter Stines

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I forgot to add this. I don't know for sure when we started making percussion caps in America. Certainly before the time of the Mexican War. We also imported caps from England and France to meet the demand. I read in Fuller's history of Springfield military arms that 160, 000 caps could be made in a few days. That included punching out the cap from sheet copper, forming into a winged cup, adding the primer (dangerous and tricky!) and securing and waterproofing the primer with a drop of shellac and finally drying and packing. In a short time a million caps were made and that number could be increased! There is a very good description of the process (minus some good pics of the machines) in Peter Scmidt's book on the 1853 Enfield. You can bet that cap and powder factories were working overtime
It made us more independant both N & S
Flint manufacturing continued well into the 20th century but on a smaller scale.
 

CowCavalry

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Aug 17, 2017
I forgot to add this. I don't know for sure when we started making percussion caps in America. Certainly before the time of the Mexican War. We also imported caps from England and France to meet the demand. I read in Fuller's history of Springfield military arms that 160, 000 caps could be made in a few days. That included punching out the cap from sheet copper, forming into a winged cup, adding the primer (dangerous and tricky!) and securing and waterproofing the primer with a drop of shellac and finally drying and packing. In a short time a million caps were made and that number could be increased! There is a very good description of the process (minus some good pics of the machines) in Peter Scmidt's book on the 1853 Enfield. You can bet that cap and powder factories were working overtime
It made us more independant both N & S
Flint manufacturing continued well into the 20th century but on a smaller scale.
I recall reading that the scarcity of sheet copper in the South in the latter stages of the war was one of the biggest concerns some had for continuing the war.
 

Craig L Barry

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Murfreesboro, TN
If I am remembering this right, in the Suppliers to the Confederacy books, there is a chapter on the Eley Bros who supplied quite a few percussion caps to the CS war effort. Dave Burt of Congleton, UK did the chapter and he found a fair amount of research on the Eley Bros firm and their production of percussion caps as well as the tins in which they were shipped.
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
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Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
In reference to the posts above, the only source of copper in the CSA was near Chattanooga. The only mill capable of rolling the sheets of copper caps were punched from was at Cleveland TN. When the Army of the Cumberland occupied Chattanooga, one of highest priorities was to take out that singular asset.
 

DaveBrt

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Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
From Barclay, Ducktown, Back in Raht's Time, 1946 -- All copper produced there was shipped to the north as ingots. In an effort to capture the greater profits from selling finished products, the Ducktown mines companies began a rolling mill at Cleveland. This was NOT completed before the war, and was, in fact, completed in the early summer of 1863. When Cleveland was captured in the fall of 1863, the mines went out of production and the just-completed mill was destroyed.

Copper produced before the mill was completed was shipped to Richmond for finishing. Example of those shipments:
2/17/63 from QM Capt J. L. Sehon to Col. Gorgas: I have this day shipped in charge of Messenger Mr J. W. Manning 1003 Ingots Copper 30,000 lbs {2 car loads} turned over to me for transportation by Capt Jno N Austuy M. S. K. in this City (Atlanta).

After the loss of Cleveland, the South began a desperate search for copper and ended up using crushed stills from, primarily, North Carolina to make percussion caps. The supply was barely able to meet demand and copper was purchased abroad to supplement it.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
From Barclay, Ducktown, Back in Raht's Time, 1946 -- All copper produced there was shipped to the north as ingots. In an effort to capture the greater profits from selling finished products, the Ducktown mines companies began a rolling mill at Cleveland. This was NOT completed before the war, and was, in fact, completed in the early summer of 1863. When Cleveland was captured in the fall of 1863, the mines went out of production and the just-completed mill was destroyed.

Copper produced before the mill was completed was shipped to Richmond for finishing. Example of those shipments:
2/17/63 from QM Capt J. L. Sehon to Col. Gorgas: I have this day shipped in charge of Messenger Mr J. W. Manning 1003 Ingots Copper 30,000 lbs {2 car loads} turned over to me for transportation by Capt Jno N Austuy M. S. K. in this City (Atlanta).

After the loss of Cleveland, the South began a desperate search for copper and ended up using crushed sills from, primarily, North Carolina to make percussion caps. The supply was barely able to meet demand and copper was purchased abroad to supplement it.
What is a sill?
 

Peter Stines

Sergeant
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Apr 10, 2007
Location
Gulf Coast of Texas
From Barclay, Ducktown, Back in Raht's Time, 1946 -- All copper produced there was shipped to the north as ingots. In an effort to capture the greater profits from selling finished products, the Ducktown mines companies began a rolling mill at Cleveland. This was NOT completed before the war, and was, in fact, completed in the early summer of 1863. When Cleveland was captured in the fall of 1863, the mines went out of production and the just-completed mill was destroyed.

Copper produced before the mill was completed was shipped to Richmond for finishing. Example of those shipments:
2/17/63 from QM Capt J. L. Sehon to Col. Gorgas: I have this day shipped in charge of Messenger Mr J. W. Manning 1003 Ingots Copper 30,000 lbs {2 car loads} turned over to me for transportation by Capt Jno N Austuy M. S. K. in this City (Atlanta).

After the loss of Cleveland, the South began a desperate search for copper and ended up using crushed stills from, primarily, North Carolina to make percussion caps. The supply was barely able to meet demand and copper was purchased abroad to supplement it.
The copper situation was one of the reasons the south was unable to produce cartridges for the Spencer and Henry repeating rifles. Since the majority of their weapons were percussion, caps were a priority. Even if they had captured or otherwise "acquired" enough Spencers and Henry repeaters I doubt it would have changed the outcome of the war. But maybe not ? Maybe some speculation on a new thread ?
 

Peter Stines

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Gulf Coast of Texas
If I am remembering this right, in the Suppliers to the Confederacy books, there is a chapter on the Eley Bros who supplied quite a few percussion caps to the CS war effort. Dave Burt of Congleton, UK did the chapter and he found a fair amount of research on the Eley Bros firm and their production of percussion caps as well as the tins in which they were shipped.
Eley Brothers got started in 1837 and are still (not making caps) in business. I had a tin of original French musket caps but don't recall if they were 4 or 6 wing. Then there was the cheap French caps sold under the GD Brand. From what I read about the rate of misfires from these cheap caps many shooters claimed GD was from the well known profanity
 

thomas aagaard

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Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
The copper situation was one of the reasons the south was unable to produce cartridges for the Spencer and Henry repeating rifles. Since the majority of their weapons were percussion, caps were a priority. Even if they had captured or otherwise "acquired" enough Spencers and Henry repeaters I doubt it would have changed the outcome of the war. But maybe not ? Maybe some speculation on a new thread ?
The union didn't have the capacity to produce brass cartridges in any large number... so there where always a lack of them for the few units that did have Spencers.
 

Rhea Cole

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Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The union didn't have the capacity to produce brass cartridges in any large number... so there where always a lack of them for the few units that did have Spencers.
I am curious, where did you get that citation? The 95,000 Spencer carbines were the most popular (or second most depending on the source) & widely issued cavalry shoulder arm of the war. The .56-56 Spencer cartridge was also used in Ballard & Joslyn carbines. A slightly different cartridge was used in the Spencer rifle. General Wilder had his men carry their ammunition in their horses's feed bag. He stated that at no time did they suffer from a lack of ammunition. I am unaware of any shortage of cartridges manufactured by Spencer & the Springfield Armory. Spencer ammunition was manufactured until the 1920's.
 
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