Loaded muskets picked up after the battle of Gettysburg.

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
After the battle of Gettysburg 25.000+ muskets was picked up by the union.
Most of them was found loaded and many with more than one round.

This is a fact that is mentioned in some of my books, but they all just use another book as a source.

Do anyone happen to know what the original source for this is. I would guess some official army lists of what was found.

And if so, where to find it?
 

Craig L Barry

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jan 5, 2010
Location
Murfreesboro, TN
The statistics on discarded, loaded musket picked up by the Union after Gettysburg are widely quoted and they are usually stated in suspiciously round numbers. The fantastical claim that one recovered musket had 23 rounds loaded in it is also just accepted as a matter of fact. Try that sometime and you will find it would require a barrel five or six feet long. The most you will find for backing of these claims is an oblique reference to "Records" or "Reports" or if the passage is cited, another book which references "records or reports" and no original citation. Good reason for it, too... I know of no official record or report that that supports this number and as a result I have always been very suspicious of it. Paddy Griffith in the excellent Battle Tactics of the Civil War (p. 86) is dismissive of those figures as greatly exaggerated as well.

Frankly, this is how a great deal of nonsense that becomes accepted as "historical fact" gets started. It reminds me of the claims about the important role of the P53 Enfield at First Manassas in a book of dubious scholarship called It Seemed Like a Good Idea: A Compendium of Great Historical Fiascoes by William Forstchen and Bill Fawcett. The authors credit the accuracy of the P53 Enfield as instrumental in "Stonewall" Jackson's success at First Manassas in July 1861. Problem is that the first Enfield rifles did not arrive in the Confederacy until a couple months after the battle, if the records are to be trusted. Such claims as this or the loaded muskets at Gettysburg fall into a category I call "historical entertainment." They may contain some actual facts but also a good deal of complete fiction.
 
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Michael W.

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 19, 2015
Location
The Hoosier State
My understanding is that at least one young boy was killed after the battle when he picked up a musket off the field that was still loaded and accidently shot himself. Anyone else here of this?
 

rob63

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 13, 2012
Location
Indiana
I have found this report in the official records which lists the muskets recovered at Gettysburg. It does not list whether they were loaded or not, but it does indicate that they were shipped to the Washington Arsenal. This is just a guess, but I assume they would have done a detailed inspection of the arms at that arsenal and that if there is an original source for this story it may be in the records of that arsenal. Obviously, this is assuming that they weren't unloaded before being shipped. If they were unloaded before shipment, perhaps there is a more detailed report by Lieut. Edie somewhere? FWIW, I would place my money on them just being picked up, counted, and shipped from the battlefield with the first detailed inspection taking place at the arsenal.


Muskets collected at Gettysburg.jpg
 
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TinCan

Captain
Joined
Aug 20, 2011
Location
Transplanted Texan
Someone, and I think it was on this site, posted a very interesting thread about Union troops after the battle searching Gettysburg residents homes to retrieve muskets and arms that the citizens had picked up and in many cases were hiding in their homes. Anyone remember this?
 

Old Hickory

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 4, 2010
Location
Enders, Pa.
Someone, and I think it was on this site, posted a very interesting thread about Union troops after the battle searching Gettysburg residents homes to retrieve muskets and arms that the citizens had picked up and in many cases were hiding in their homes. Anyone remember this?

I remember that thread, or post vaguely. From my readings, not only U.S. arms were collected from the citizens, but such gov't property as blankets, knap sacks, bayonets, cartridge boxes, what ever could be reused. They would ask, but not enter unless they had a good idea the citizen had gathered and was holding gov't property.

In her book, Tilly Pierce, a 12 year old Gettysburg resident tells of a soldier giving her a keep-sake musket just after the battle. When word reached the provost she had a musket, it was taken. She and her parents protested, giving the soldier's name and unit who gave it to her. As I recall, it was returned to her later the same day after the story was verified. No such leniency was shown to gawkers and onlookers who flocked to Gettysburg after the battle who picked up muskets and other property to take as they pleased. I recall the story of a judge who tried to sneak a musket away as a souvenir from his trip to the battlefield, he was made to bury horses for a day as punishment.

Some soldiers, or whole units took the opportunity to up-grade their arms on the field. A N.J. regiment issued faulty Enfields did just that, stacking their Enfields neatly on the field and reissuing themselves Springfields found among the dead. One of the top enlisted men in the regiment picked up a Richmond musket, declaring it was every bit as good as any Springfield and would be happy to use it against it's former owners. Detachments were usually sent to the field with wagons to gather muskets and other gov't property for reuse. As far as I know it was their responsibility to make the weapons safe for transport to Washington Arsenal which meant unloading them in the field.

There was a lot to do after the battle, bury the dead, care for the wounded, send P.O.W.'s off to interment camps, and glean the field for useable weapons and supplies for re-issue. To the misfortune of several Gettysburg citizens, fired artillery shells were not something the gov't gathered after the battle. They would buy any (lead?) balls contained in them, but didn't want the entire shell costing the lives and limb of several, (usually boys) Gettysburg citizens who were scrapping the shells for extra money. On a more positive note, a pair of enterprising Gettysburg lads borrowed money to set themselves up in a temporary suttler business selling tobacco to the troops. As I recall, they paid back the loan to their parents and gained a tidy sum for themselves.

This from Greg Coco's and Tilly Pierce's books.
 

Craig L Barry

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jan 5, 2010
Location
Murfreesboro, TN
The earliest mention I can locate for these 24,000 loaded muskets gleaned from the fields of Gettysburg is a West Point text book called A Course of Instruction on Ordnance and Gunnery for Cadets of the United States Military Academy (1867) by Brevet Colonel JG Benton, p 341, where he mentions that:

"...of 27,574 muskets picket up on the battlefield of Gettysburg and turned into the Washington Arsenal, at least 24,000 were loaded. About half of this number contained two charges each, about a fourth contained from three to ten charges each and the balance one charge. The largest number of cartridges found in any one piece was twenty three. In some cases the paper of the cartridges was unbroken and in others the powder was uppermost."

As to where the nice round, tidy figure of 24,000 loaded muskets actually came from, who knows? It appears to be anecdotal and Colonel Benton is primarily interested in providing these figures to make a broader point about the dangers of overloading the barrel of a musket (it may burst). The passage is contained in the sub-chapter on the Durability and Strength of the Musket Barrel. Benton does not provide a citation for the figures from the Arsenal. I can't find any official report or record from the Washington Arsenal that addresses where these figures came from or broke it down further. The soldiers picking the muskets up on the field would not attempt to unload them or keep any such records. It would be within the area of responsibility of the armorers at the Washington Arsenal to receive these arms as they were returned from the battlefield, inspect them, clean them (including unloading) and perform any necessary repairs to return them to active service.

I'm afraid it's a dead-end beyond that. These are the figures provided, but if you want primary source backing beyond this level it probably doesn't exist.
 
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Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
How does one go about unloading a muzzle loading rifle?

I inherited a Perkins double barreled percussion cap shotgun that was rumored to be loaded. I used to drop firecrackers down the barrel when I was a kid. I never discharged any shot.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
How does one go about unloading a muzzle loading rifle?

I inherited a Perkins double barreled percussion cap shotgun that was rumored to be loaded. I used to drop firecrackers down the barrel when I was a kid. I never discharged any shot.
There are a couple of different screws designed to fit the end of a ram rod. One was designed to screw into a bullet so that it could be pulled out of the muzzle. The other tool was designed to snag remnants of patching and pull them clear.

On another note, I would think that a second or third load would constitute a MAJOR obstruction of the barrel. I wonder how many muskets were found with burst breeches. I have never seen a picture of one.
 

hrobalabama

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 12, 2014
Location
Andalusia, AL
Years ago, I remember visiting the museum at Gettysburg and there was a musket on display that was loaded with many rounds...was it 15????
 

raydog9379

Private
Joined
Feb 28, 2011
Location
Chicago, IL
I have found this report in the official records which lists the muskets recovered at Gettysburg. It does not list whether they were loaded or not, but it does indicate that they were shipped to the Washington Arsenal. This is just a guess, but I assume they would have done a detailed inspection of the arms at that arsenal and that if there is an original source for this story it may be in the records of that arsenal. Obviously, this is assuming that they weren't unloaded before being shipped. If they were unloaded before shipment, perhaps there is a more detailed report by Lieut. Edie somewhere? FWIW, I would place my money on them just being picked up, counted, and shipped from the battlefield with the first detailed inspection taking place at the arsenal.


View attachment 92099

Lt. Schaff must have been a baller... look at those #s. He scored 19k+ muskets and 14k+ rounds but no revolvers? hmm... guessing dudes just keeping them for their own use.
 

Package4

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
I read somewhere in the distant past that the Gettysburg numbers were used to expedite the advancement of more breech loading longarms, thus the numbers may have been skewed to fit the purpose.
 

Powelltc1

Private
Joined
Feb 17, 2016
Location
Ohio
Someone, and I think it was on this site, posted a very interesting thread about Union troops after the battle searching Gettysburg residents homes to retrieve muskets and arms that the citizens had picked up and in many cases were hiding in their homes. Anyone remember this?
Didn't the Rosensteel family live near one of the round tops and pick up items after the Battle of Gettysburg? I thought that many of their battlefield pickups and dug relics, while still legal, became the foundation for their collection.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Hi again.

sorry for not replying sooner. Was busy the following days and then forgot about it.

The replies pretty much confirm what I expected.
The evidence is anecdotal but it is accepted without question.
(the number of loaded weapons and not the number of weapons)

It is used in some books about the psychological questions about soldiers in war. (like "On killing)
And it is used as evidence that the soldiers did actually not try to kill each others... since so many weapons was found loaded.

To me that is rather problematic.
If we define "loaded" as a bullet somewhere in the barrel and a soldier is shooting as fast as possible, then if he get shot there is something like 75+% change of him leaving a loaded gun behind. Since the only time his gun would not be "loaded" is after he fired and until he charge the cartridge... something that... what 5-6 seconds? And any issued with loading would not be getting the bullet into the barrel. (but ramming it or with the caps)

So I had hoped for the used definition on the word "loaded".

Lt. Schaff must have been a baller... look at those #s. He scored 19k+ muskets and 14k+ rounds but no revolvers? hmm... guessing dudes just keeping them for their own use.
Just a guess. Only artillery and cavalry used revolvers that was issued by the government.
So any revolver found that belonged to an infantry officer would legally belong to his family.

The list only have 5 revolvers. I would guess that they could be clearly identified as belonging to the US Government.
(markings or simply found on dead union cavalry men)

Also they where registret by the cavalry... so maybe the others simply didn't care.

Also when the wounded and dead was removed. removing the saber from an officer is properly needed for practical reasons, so it don't get in the way. (so they get registret)
Removing a revolver is not (And don't get register)

But Iam just guessing.
 

rapco

Cadet
Joined
Mar 3, 2016
On the topic of loaded longarms, I just read an article from a March 56' Guns magazine about the Military Inn in Dearborn MI back in the 50's, had the largest private/public firearms collection in the country & its ceiling was covered with Civil War carbines. After they had a fire, many of these carbines were refurbished to repair damage from the high heat, smoke & that is when they discovered that many were still loaded, one was loaded with square shot cut with a knife. Non went off during the fire.
 

kevikens

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 7, 2013
Location
New Jersey
I remember that thread, or post vaguely. From my readings, not only U.S. arms were collected from the citizens, but such gov't property as blankets, knap sacks, bayonets, cartridge boxes, what ever could be reused. They would ask, but not enter unless they had a good idea the citizen had gathered and was holding gov't property.

In her book, Tilly Pierce, a 12 year old Gettysburg resident tells of a soldier giving her a keep-sake musket just after the battle. When word reached the provost she had a musket, it was taken. She and her parents protested, giving the soldier's name and unit who gave it to her. As I recall, it was returned to her later the same day after the story was verified. No such leniency was shown to gawkers and onlookers who flocked to Gettysburg after the battle who picked up muskets and other property to take as they pleased. I recall the story of a judge who tried to sneak a musket away as a souvenir from his trip to the battlefield, he was made to bury horses for a day as punishment.

Some soldiers, or whole units took the opportunity to up-grade their arms on the field. A N.J. regiment issued faulty Enfields did just that, stacking their Enfields neatly on the field and reissuing themselves Springfields found among the dead. One of the top enlisted men in the regiment picked up a Richmond musket, declaring it was every bit as good as any Springfield and would be happy to use it against it's former owners. Detachments were usually sent to the field with wagons to gather muskets and other gov't property for reuse. As far as I know it was their responsibility to make the weapons safe for transport to Washington Arsenal which meant unloading them in the field.

There was a lot to do after the battle, bury the dead, care for the wounded, send P.O.W.'s off to interment camps, and glean the field for useable weapons and supplies for re-issue. To the misfortune of several Gettysburg citizens, fired artillery shells were not something the gov't gathered after the battle. They would buy any (lead?) balls contained in them, but didn't want the entire shell costing the lives and limb of several, (usually boys) Gettysburg citizens who were scrapping the shells for extra money. On a more positive note, a pair of enterprising Gettysburg lads borrowed money to set themselves up in a temporary suttler business selling tobacco to the troops. As I recall, they paid back the loan to their parents and gained a tidy sum for themselves.

This from Greg Coco's and Tilly Pierce's books.
A defective Enfield? What would make a whole regiment's Enfields defective?
 
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