Muzzleldrs How fast would have flint lock muskets became unusable in state armories?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
We read of state militia being issued unconverted flint lock muskets and obsolete flint locks converted percussion. This made me wonder how long a musket could site in an armory before they became unusable. I assume that in optimal conditions muskets would remain servable for decades with little to no maintenance. But how many states had armories that provided optimal conditions and how many state armories were damp or overly dry? Damp or overly dry armories would have decreased the time muskets could sit in an armory. Some states may have cleaned and maintained their stored muskets while other state put muskets in a damp basement and never cleaned or maintained them. Belts, pouches and other leather items would become inseverable in either damp or wet stowage areas. The same could be said for artillery carriages and harness.

"Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back." Who doesn't want to die with harness on their backs? Perhaps no one wants to die with moldy, rotten harness on their backs.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
We read of state militia being issued unconverted flint lock muskets and obsolete flint locks converted percussion. This made me wonder how long a musket could site in an armory before they became unusable. I assume that in optimal conditions muskets would remain servable for decades with little to no maintenance. But how many states had armories that provided optimal conditions and how many state armories were damp or overly dry? Damp or overly dry armories would have decreased the time muskets could sit in an armory. Some states may have cleaned and maintained their stored muskets while other state put muskets in a damp basement and never cleaned or maintained them.

In the 1862 edition of his textbook on ordnance and gunnery for U.S. Military Academy cadets Captain Benton wrote that French Army testing had indicated that small arms barrels could withstand 25,000 discharges without becoming unserviceable. With good care the life expectancy of a military firearm should be approximately 50 years. Between 1809 and 31 December 1860 the Ordnance Office had made distributions under the Militia Act of 1808 of at least 318,158 shoulder arms to the states and territories that remained in the Union in 1861, and 136,951 shoulder arms to the states that seceded. When you look at the numbers of arms that remaind on hand on 1 January 1861 it is easy to recognize exactly how little time and attention the states paid to the militia and its equipage. In most of the states, the Adjutants General, Quartermasters General, and Masters of Ordnance, were political hacks who had lost control of large portions of the arms their states had received under the Militia Act, had permitted the arms to deteriorate through abject neglect, had traded the arms for political advantage, or had converted the arms to other purposes. The states had literally pis*ed away the resources that they had been given by Congress and that they needed to fight the Civil War.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
Last edited:
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
We read of state militia being issued unconverted flint lock muskets and obsolete flint locks converted percussion. This made me wonder how long a musket could site in an armory before they became unusable. I assume that in optimal conditions muskets would remain servable for decades with little to no maintenance. But how many states had armories that provided optimal conditions and how many state armories were damp or overly dry? Damp or overly dry armories would have decreased the time muskets could sit in an armory. Some states may have cleaned and maintained their stored muskets while other state put muskets in a damp basement and never cleaned or maintained them. Belts, pouches and other leather items would become inseverable in either damp or wet stowage areas. The same could be said for artillery carriages and harness.

"Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back." Who doesn't want to die with harness on their backs? Perhaps no one wants to die with moldy, rotten harness on their backs.
Found this reading about the state of New Jersey during the civil war, maybe it will interest you.

"
ARMS AND EQUIPMENT​

"The arms and accoutrements in possession of the State in the beginning of the year 1861 were limited in quantity and of inferior pattern. Rifled, percussion and flint-lock muskets aggregating about six thousand stands with less than one thousand rifles of more modern pattern were in the hands of the uniformed companies of the militia. Many of these arms were of obsolete pattern and were at once called in, and those in store at the Arsenal 4 were put in condition for active service. Under contracts for these repairs about seven thousand five hundred flint-lock muskets, caliber 58, were changed to percussion and rifled to suit the required service."

https://www.trentonhistory.org/His/Wars.html
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Prior to the Civil War, the federal government gave states muskets based on their population. This was really a dollar amount based on the value of a musket. I know my home state of Michigan was taking Colt revolvers to arm the state artillery milita companies as well as taking cannons. This cost the states a large number of forfeited muskets. The six pound cannons were used early in the war by artillery companies sent off to war, but soon replaced. The Colt revolvers were of limited use and probably not much more useful than the Hall musketoons that were issued before the switch to Colt revolvers.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I know of an interesting example of what could have happened. At a National Park at a fort near the ocean site that I will not name, reproduction muskets had been on display in the climate controlled museum for years. A new interpretive person wanted to create the authentic look of the barracks. That included moving the smoothbore muskets to a rack in the un-conditioned barracks.

A few months later, the NPS black powder supervisor made the annual check. The muskets had not been touched since they had been put on display in the barracks. The sea air had settled salt inside the barrels. The inspector was astonished to discover that resulting rust had all but eaten through the barrels. None of the muskets could ever be used in a firing demo. Regular maintenance could have prevented the damage.

That is, of course, an extraordinary event. However, as an answer to the question posed, it is the only contemporary example I know of.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
In the 1862 edition of his textbook on ordnance and gunnery for U.S. Military Academy cadets Captain Benton wrote that French Army testing had indicated that small arms barrels could withstand 25,000 discharges without becoming unserviceable. With good care the life expectancy of a military firearm should be approximately 50 years. Between 1809 and 31 December 1860 the Ordnance Office had made distributions under the Militia Act of 1808 of at least 318,158 shoulder arms to the states and territories that remained in the Union in 1861, and 136,951 shoulder arms to the states that seceded. When you look at the numbers of arms that remaind on hand on 1 January 1861 it is easy to recognize exactly how little time and attention the states paid to the militia and its equipage. In most of the states, the Adjutants General, Quartermasters General, and Masters of Ordnance, were political hacks who had lost control of large portions of the arms their states had received under the Militia Act, had permitted the arms to deteriorate through abject neglect, had traded the arms for political advantage, or had converted the arms to other purposes. The states had literally pis*ed away the resources that they had been given by Congress and that they needed to fight the Civil War.

Regards,
Don Dixon

Here's an excerpt from an article in the November 1968 issue of The American Rifleman about why OHIO started marking arms in the Civil War period.


1630897033906.png


1630896983487.png

1630897111601.png
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
In the 1970s when I was in the National Guard, I was sent to Germany for two week training mission. My first night there in Germany there was an alert when the Soviet Union made some moves. I was put in some forest, where this forest was I had no clue, and had no idea which way the Soviet Army might come from. I was given an M16, the receiver group, and some bullets. The M16 which came from an armory was rusted shut I used a tree to beat the M16 open to enable me to put in the the receiver group. I somehow pounded in the full magazine so was prepared to do my patriotic duty. I think I may have remembered my windage and elevation settings for my M16, but having been in Germany only 12 hours when they cleared me out of the NCO Club, and sent me to my assigned "war" position in some strange woods, I did had my doubts. I was not sure which way the "Russian" might advance from and without oil, had some concerns that M16 would jam after a round or two. I was uncertain where my lieutenant was (still at the O Club?) and had no idea where the squad members of my squad were in the dark and rainy woods. I was concerned my squad members might sound like advancing "Russians" and I might shoot them. The good news was I had my assigned 45 pistol which was well maintain, but sadly I had no 45 ammunition. Without 45 ammunition I could not shoot any of my own soldiers. My bayonet have never been sharpened but I guess I could have shoved it through a thin Russian if the situation became desperate. In the end I got put in for a medal.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
I assume that in optimal conditions muskets would remain servable for decades with little to no maintenance.
170+ years?
In 1849 the "German rebels" in slesvig-Holstein ordered a lot of smoothbore muskets from Suhl,(what in a american context is call the "potsdam") but most was not delivered until 1850/51... so basically after the rebellion had failed.
So the manufacture just delivered it to the "danish" government army instead.

The government army moved all the newly made firearms to Copenhagen and put them into storage.
Until like French 1822 that the government had purchased in 1848, the "Potsdam" was not found to be easily converted into a rifle.
So they where never used... and when the main storage facility in Copenhagen was turned into a museum in the early 20th century, they where still there.

About 15 years ago my reenactment group started using them, when we did a yearly event at the museum.
We simply got access to like 150-200 of them.
And some also found their way to the main 1864 museum at Dybbøl, where I also used them.

They where like brand new weapons... despite being produced in 1850/51... and having been in storage ever since.
Sure they needed some serious cleaning to remove a lot of oil, but all most all of them where in prefect working condition.

Others have been sold of and I got hold of one last October.
It had rust in two places since the last owner had not stored it well. But it is in perfect working order.


So if smoothbore muskets where still a relevant military firearm, then I would have been happy being issued on as a soldier today.
(I been issued rifles in much worse condition as a soldier)
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
170+ years?
In 1849 the "German rebels" in slesvig-Holstein ordered a lot of smoothbore muskets from Suhl,(what in a american context is call the "potsdam") but most was not delivered until 1850/51... so basically after the rebellion had failed.
So the manufacture just delivered it to the "danish" government army instead.

The government army moved all the newly made firearms to Copenhagen and put them into storage.
Until like French 1822 that the government had purchased in 1848, the "Potsdam" was not found to be easily converted into a rifle.
So they where never used... and when the main storage facility in Copenhagen was turned into a museum in the early 20th century, they where still there.

About 15 years ago my reenactment group started using them, when we did a yearly event at the museum.
We simply got access to like 150-200 of them.
And some also found their way to the main 1864 museum at Dybbøl, where I also used them.

They where like brand new weapons... despite being produced in 1850/51... and having been in storage ever since.
Sure they needed some serious cleaning to remove a lot of oil, but all most all of them where in prefect working condition.

Others have been sold of and I got hold of one last October.
It had rust in two places since the last owner had not stored it well. But it is in perfect working order.


So if smoothbore muskets where still a relevant military firearm, then I would have been happy being issued on as a soldier today.
(I been issued rifles in much worse condition as a soldier)
Old collectors can tell you true stories of Bannerman and other surplus dealers selling new and mint conditioned Spencer Carbines still in the packing grease, displayed by the barrels full in their stores in the 1960s. I remember reading a memoir by a collector who, when serving in Vietnam, was with group who took possession of a cache of stored weapons, which included a box of 20 never used, still in the grease, Barnett percussion carbines - each man was allowed to take only one arm, and the other 19 Barnett carbines were destroyed in place.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Old collectors can tell you true stories of Bannerman and other surplus dealers selling new and mint conditioned Spencer Carbines still in the packing grease, displayed by the barrels full in their stores in the 1960s. I remember reading a memoir by a collector who, when serving in Vietnam, was with group who took possession of a cache of stored weapons, which included a box of 20 never used, still in the grease, Barnett percussion carbines - each man was allowed to take only one arm, and the other 19 Barnett carbines were destroyed in place.
As a Cub Scout I remember lusting after the grease covered WWI & WWII rifles that were sticking out of wooden barrels at the hardware store. I seem to recall they were an impossibility high $10.00. If I had, by some improbable means, have somehow come up with that lofty sum, the clerk would have sold me a Mauser; a kid in my Pack bought one.

As the kid in my Pack discovered, smuggling the thing into the house was the easy part. Cleaning the grease off without your mother discovering the mess was another thing entirely. Even in those heroic days, the clerk received a tongue lashing & gave back the ten bucks. Our Packmate, of course, achieved the status of exalted hero in our eyes.
 
Last edited:

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Had an interesting chat on this subject with a member of our local blacksmithing forge. He is also a professional gunsmith. You might have noticed that decorative iron fences made with wrought iron are often in excellent shape. A replica fence made with modern steel can rust out in a very short time.

The wrought iron would oxidize on the surface & it became a protective coating that prevented further rusting. The same effect can be seen in historic weapons. Absent the enemies of all ferrous metals, salt & acid, a musket barrel can be coated with rust without destroying it. Removing the layer of surface rust can do more damage than good.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Rhea Cole:
Yes, you have pointed out an important point. Rust is a type of oxidation. The traditional types of "blueing" or "browning" are also types of oxidation. A good layer of oxidation will give SOME protection the underlying metal.
Now, if you sprinkle salt onto the oxidized layer, sprinkle it with water, and keep it moist, you'll have some additional oxidation "also known as" pitting.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Rhea Cole:
Yes, you have pointed out an important point. Rust is a type of oxidation. The traditional types of "blueing" or "browning" are also types of oxidation. A good layer of oxidation will give SOME protection the underlying metal.
Now, if you sprinkle salt onto the oxidized layer, sprinkle it with water, and keep it moist, you'll have some additional oxidation "also known as" pitting.
Some of the tools in my blacksmith tote will get a layer of rust every summer from the humidity here in Middle TN. It wipes right off. The nasty cruddy stuff that came when they got soaked from a burst pipe was an entirely different matter.
 

mrockwell

Private
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Location
12021 Birch Dr., Corning, NY
I would think that a musket might be classified obsolete if they were no longer needed and easily and quickly replaced by improved designs. Take our War Between the States, muskets that might have been considered obsolete were converted from flint to percussion only to be replaced (Northern manufacturers) as newer models such as the Model 1861s, 63s and 64s along with the Enfields were introduced. The converted muskets for the most part moved West and were finally retired altogether. The Europeans were selling off their obsolete weapons, but both North and South didn't regard them as to old.
I've seen Southern soldiers with converted Model 1812 muskets and they weren't the "cone conversions", they were the simple drum and sporting hammer. Even during WWII the Model 1903 and Model 1917s were brought out of storage. So my thought on the subject is that a weapon maybe classified as obsolete only if it is not needed. If it is needed then the argument becomes "obsolete".
 
Top