Muzzleldrs The Model 1855 Springfield rifle musket.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 25, 2012
Was this weapon unreliable due to the Maynard tape primer system? It is said that about one half of the primers misfired.
 

Craig L Barry

Sergeant Major
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Jan 5, 2010
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Murfreesboro, TN
Here is a reprint of my (favorable) review of the above referenced book from the May 2019 edition of Civil War News:



US Model 1855 Series of Small Arms by John Willyard. Photos, endnotes, index, 224 pp. Mowbray Publishing, www.gunandswordcollector.com, $45.95

The US Model 1855 was so named because it was developed and approved in 1855 when Jefferson Davis was the US Secretary of War. It holds an odd place in the history of American made military arms. It was created during a transitional period of the mid-19th century when new technologies and innovations were becoming feasible for military application, however the United States was not itself engaged in any major conflict. While all that was about to change dramatically in a few years, this lull in activity enabled the US Model 1855 to evolve somewhat and experiment with a number of changes over its four years of production between 1857 to 1861.

The most immediately noticeable characteristic of the US Model 1855 small arms is a feature called the Maynard Tape Primer which resulted in a lock plate with a hinged door, a high hump and an arched hammer to fit around it. Maynard was a former West Point cadet and dentist by trade. In the mid-1840s he came up with the idea of “making primers of fulminating mixture to ignite by percussion…and secondly the mode of moving and measuring out the primers by the movement of the lock.” His notion was based the premise that the act of priming the cone with a separate percussion cap was a major impediment under combat conditions. The original idea was used in the conversion of big bore flintlock muskets to the new percussion system beginning in the late 1840s. However, the Maynard Tape Primer was not a feature of the parts interchangeable .69 caliber US Model 1842 smoothbore musket, although there was a proto-type with a European type back lock. It was also not a feature of the US 1841 Percussion Rifle, which was originally .54 caliber. The odd lock primer design was instead re-introduced for the first generation of .58 caliber rifled arms, the so-called US Model 1855 series of small arms and the subject of this book.

The US Model 1855 has kind of a cult following today for several reasons. It looks different and yet because it was the direct predecessor of the US Model 1861, at the same time much of it looks familiar. The barrel bands are held on with band springs, the bright finish on most of the iron parts (except the sight), the swelled ramrod with its tulip shaped head, the arched hammer, the bolster with a clean-out screw.

The US 1855 rifle-muskets broadly fall into three (3) basic types.

1 – Lock plate marked Springfield or Harpers Ferry 1857/8, with a walled (long range) ladder rear sight, and a brass nose cap.
2 – Lock plate marked Springfield or Harpers Ferry 1858/9, with a solid base rear sight with three sighting leaves marked 1,3, 5 for yardage, and a brass (early/transitional) or iron nose cap.
3 - The same as #2, dated 1860/1 but with an iron nose cap only, and an iron patch box.
However, it is not unusual to encounter specimens that fall outside of these three broad categories or “types.” The author correctly points out that to fully understand these arms it is necessary to know how many were produced, as well as when, where and why they were made. It turns out there were quite a few more than the three broad variations listed above.

The author, John Willyard has made a careful study of original correspondence (much of it unpublished) which sheds considerable insight into how and why various changes in the design were made. While it is fun to debate the idiosyncrasies found in original firearms, we must be mindful that we are looking back from a modern perspective. The armorers at Springfield and Harpers Ferry were not privy to sub categories and distinctions that we assign to their production now. The author uses the patience of a forensic detective to reconstruct production variations as well as the numbers stored at and shipped from the (Springfield and Harpers Ferry) Armories at different times. For example, as many have suspected, the quantity of arms traditionally reported as Harpers Ferry 1861 production were somewhat inaccurate. Additionally, arms considered by collectors today as “transitional models” because of their lock and barrel dates were in fact partially finished production altered later when the supplies of the more current versions became exhausted. For the valuable information contained, the many charts included in the appendices of this book are worth the very reasonable cover price all by themselves.

In addition to the more commonly encountered rifle-muskets, the author covers the rifles made at Harpers Ferry as well as Pistols, Carbines, bayonets and Cadet Models. While virtually all of the US Model 1855 series of small arms utilize the Maynard Tape Primer, the book includes the Springfield Armory Model 1855 Rifle Carbine which does not. The 224 pages of text are supplemented with an extraordinary number (580) of high quality color photos. The book that this most compares to is Claud E. Fullers classic “The Rifled Musket” (1958). While the author does not state this specifically, I imagine that was his intent for the book, to create something along the lines of “The Rifled Musket” for the US Model 1855 series of small arms. The author points out his initial area of interest was with the US Model 1861 and when he first encountered the earlier US Model 1855 it piqued his interest and he began a life time of research which would culminate with the publication of this book. The US Model 1855 Series of Small Arms ends (logically) with the destruction of the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1861, which is right about where “The Rifled Musket” continues the story.

The only criticism to offer here is the decision to use endnotes after the appendices instead of the much-preferred footnotes at the end of each chapter. This was ill-advised. Perhaps this reviewer is in the minority, but I read the footnotes and have often found that they contain important information that support and clarify the point made by the text. The endnotes here are crammed onto two pages and treated as an afterthought to what is otherwise an excellent piece of research. Further, the endnotes are printed in such a tiny font as to almost require magnification to read. The publisher did however, find enough room for three pages of color advertising for their other books and magazines at the end.


A Former editor of The Watchdog Civil War Quarterly, Craig L Barry currently writes the column The Unfinished Fight which is published monthly in Civil War News. He has written four books in the Suppliers to the Confederacy series as well two volumes of essays on material culture of the Civil War and two editions of The Civil War Musket: A Handbook for Historical Accuracy (2006/2011).
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
Yes it was as if the Maynard primer got the least little bit of moisture the would not fire.
Iv'e always thought that was pathetic, they seriously couldn't find a way to keep the the tape from a little bit of moisture?

It blows my mind that something as small as a little bit of moisture scrapped such a great idea.
 

johan_steele

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Feb 20, 2005
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South of the North 40
Iv'e always thought that was pathetic, they seriously couldn't find a way to keep the the tape from a little bit of moisture?

It blows my mind that something as small as a little bit of moisture scrapped such a great idea.
Actually, they did fix the issue by switching from paper to a kind of tin foil. But by the time they found a resolution the Army had soured on the idea and additional cost over the standard percussion system then add in the requirements of a war.
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
Actually, they did fix the issue by switching from paper to a kind of tin foil. But by the time they found a resolution the Army had soured on the idea and additional cost over the standard percussion system then add in the requirements of a war.
I guess it just wasn't meant to be =/
 
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