Discussion Weapons Used By The Virginia Milita Rifle Companies

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33rdVaCoB

Private
Joined
Dec 10, 2014
Hello everyone, I recently have started researching a milita company from my area called the middleway or Smithfield blues. They where in the 55th virginia militia , 2nd battalion, 1st company . I would like to know what type of rifle they would have had or what the virginia milita rifle companies would have had in the 1840s to the outbreak of the war . And info is helpful. Thank you
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
Hello everyone, I recently have started researching a milita company from my area called the middleway or Smithfield blues. They where in the 55th virginia militia , 2nd battalion, 1st company . I would like to know what type of rifle they would have had or what the virginia milita rifle companies would have had in the 1840s to the outbreak of the war . And info is helpful. Thank you
The usual weapons during that time were some of the variations of the 1816 .69 caliber musket. Many but not all of the older muskets had been converted to cap lock. These muskets were smoothbore and saw a lot of service during the CW. It was not until a few years before the CW that rifles began to be standardized and issued in any number.
Some milita companies may have had civilian rifles. And, over 2 decades, militia units may well have drilled with several different weapons. Basically the .69 caliber smooth bore was the principle weapon of the US military, including militia, until the CW.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
The usual weapons during that time were some of the variations of the 1816 .69 caliber musket. Many but not all of the older muskets had been converted to cap lock. These muskets were smoothbore and saw a lot of service during the CW. It was not until a few years before the CW that rifles began to be standardized and issued in any number.
Some milita companies may have had civilian rifles. And, over 2 decades, militia units may well have drilled with several different weapons. Basically the .69 caliber smooth bore was the principle weapon of the US military, including militia, until the CW.
 
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Frederick14Va

Sergeant Major
Joined
Oct 14, 2013
Location
Virginia
The Middleway / Smithfield Blues Company, (Jefferson Co) has its origins dating back to the 1790's. The Virginia Militia organizations were reorganized and expanded during the latter 1850's. The 55th Virginia Militia Regt. then assigned to the 16th Brigade. In the summer of 1860 it listed six companies affiliated, none of which still bearing the Middleway/Smithfield Blues local designation. The existing companies of the 55th Va Militia became part of the core of companies entering into State/Confederate service in April 1861, reorganized and designated as the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment.

Pre-war militia organization records tend to be quite sparse in many states. If records survive they usually are only to be found in local county and/or state archives. Even then most times its only a simple muster roster. Not all of the militia units were fancy highly embellished and attired socialite organizations. Some of these werent much more than "paper regiments" whereas they were established locally and mustered on paper, but may not have actually had uniforms, weapons or even met up to drill any. Those that did so the weapons were usually kept and retained at the local armory, and only saw daylight during monthly musters/drills. These of course could change and evolved over time what weapons they might have had available.

Virginia was far behind the curve of converting the old flintlocks to percussion. In those early months of 1861, Virginia issued out nearly 55K long arms they had to their state units. 65% of those then issued were still in their original flintlock configuration. Majority of these were the M1816 and their variations. They also had a wide variety of other arms handed out that also included US M1795, M1812, Virginia Manufactory arms (M1812 pattern), Harpers Ferry Rifles, and even several hundred of "English Flint Muskets" suspected to possibly be old Brown Bess arms, amongst others.
 

Don Dixon

Corporal
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
Between 1 April and 13 June 1861 the following issues of rifles and rifled arms to Virginia and Confederate units were made from the Commonwealth of Virginia's Richmond Armory. The notes made by the officials making the issues are completely inconsistent regarding the nomenclature of the arms being issued. While one may attempt to parse out what the models of the weapons were from the notes, this illustrates the lack of a functional logistics system in Virginia’s ordnance operations.
183 rifle muskets
43 rifled muskets
159 Colt’s rifles
76 Colt’s carbines
1 rifle
628 Harper’s Ferry rifles
33 U.S. rifles
8 original percussion rifles
127 rifles altered from flintlock to percussion
127 flintlock rifles
70 U.S. flintlock rifles
109 Virginia rifles
270 Virginia altered rifles
93 Sharp’s rifles

Between 22 April and 25 May 1861 the Lexington Arsenal at Virginia Military Institute issued 860 flintlock rifles.

The Commonwealth Adjutant General had previously reported on 30 September 1860 that he had on issue to the volunteers 400 rifled muskets, 500 percussioned rifles, 1,096 flintlock rifles, and 160 rifles with sword bayonets. He had in “depot, in charge of commandants of [militia] regiments, for service in emergency” 455 percussioned rifles.

From the above, one may see what was available from the Commonwealth's arms inventory to arm Virginia's rifle companies in the years immediately prior to the Civil War. I note that at the time Virginia had the largest state owned inventory of militia weapons. Clearly the "fire eaters" had no clue regarding the logistical resources which would be required to achieve an independent Confederacy.

"Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics." General of the Armies Omar Bradley

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
Between 1 April and 13 June 1861 the following issues of rifles and rifled arms to Virginia and Confederate units were made from the Commonwealth of Virginia's Richmond Armory. The notes made by the officials making the issues are completely inconsistent regarding the nomenclature of the arms being issued. While one may attempt to parse out what the models of the weapons were from the notes, this illustrates the lack of a functional logistics system in Virginia’s ordnance operations.
183 rifle muskets
43 rifled muskets
159 Colt’s rifles
76 Colt’s carbines
1 rifle
628 Harper’s Ferry rifles
33 U.S. rifles
8 original percussion rifles
127 rifles altered from flintlock to percussion
127 flintlock rifles
70 U.S. flintlock rifles
109 Virginia rifles
270 Virginia altered rifles
93 Sharp’s rifles

Between 22 April and 25 May 1861 the Lexington Arsenal at Virginia Military Institute issued 860 flintlock rifles.

The Commonwealth Adjutant General had previously reported on 30 September 1860 that he had on issue to the volunteers 400 rifled muskets, 500 percussioned rifles, 1,096 flintlock rifles, and 160 rifles with sword bayonets. He had in “depot, in charge of commandants of [militia] regiments, for service in emergency” 455 percussioned rifles.

From the above, one may see what was available from the Commonwealth's arms inventory to arm Virginia's rifle companies in the years immediately prior to the Civil War. I note that at the time Virginia had the largest state owned inventory of militia weapons. Clearly the "fire eaters" had no clue regarding the logistical resources which would be required to achieve an independent Confederacy.

"Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics." General of the Armies Omar Bradley

Regards,
Don Dixon
That is a very interesting inventory that suggests most of Virginia's longarms were smoothbores. And, the rifles VA had might not have been in the best condition for war.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
The Middleway / Smithfield Blues Company, (Jefferson Co) has its origins dating back to the 1790's. The Virginia Militia organizations were reorganized and expanded during the latter 1850's. The 55th Virginia Militia Regt. then assigned to the 16th Brigade. In the summer of 1860 it listed six companies affiliated, none of which still bearing the Middleway/Smithfield Blues local designation. The existing companies of the 55th Va Militia became part of the core of companies entering into State/Confederate service in April 1861, reorganized and designated as the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment.

Pre-war militia organization records tend to be quite sparse in many states. If records survive they usually are only to be found in local county and/or state archives. Even then most times its only a simple muster roster. Not all of the militia units were fancy highly embellished and attired socialite organizations. Some of these werent much more than "paper regiments" whereas they were established locally and mustered on paper, but may not have actually had uniforms, weapons or even met up to drill any. Those that did so the weapons were usually kept and retained at the local armory, and only saw daylight during monthly musters/drills. These of course could change and evolved over time what weapons they might have had available.

Virginia was far behind the curve of converting the old flintlocks to percussion. In those early months of 1861, Virginia issued out nearly 55K long arms they had to their state units. 65% of those then issued were still in their original flintlock configuration. Majority of these were the M1816 and their variations. They also had a wide variety of other arms handed out that also included US M1795, M1812, Virginia Manufactory arms (M1812 pattern), Harpers Ferry Rifles, and even several hundred of "English Flint Muskets" suspected to possibly be old Brown Bess arms, amongst others.
That there were still so many flintlocks might possibly be because US percussion caps were at times thought unreliable. My understanding is that military oversight on production improved them greatly before the CW.
 

Stone in the wall

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
The Middleway / Smithfield Blues Company, (Jefferson Co) has its origins dating back to the 1790's. The Virginia Militia organizations were reorganized and expanded during the latter 1850's. The 55th Virginia Militia Regt. then assigned to the 16th Brigade. In the summer of 1860 it listed six companies affiliated, none of which still bearing the Middleway/Smithfield Blues local designation. The existing companies of the 55th Va Militia became part of the core of companies entering into State/Confederate service in April 1861, reorganized and designated as the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment.

Pre-war militia organization records tend to be quite sparse in many states. If records survive they usually are only to be found in local county and/or state archives. Even then most times its only a simple muster roster. Not all of the militia units were fancy highly embellished and attired socialite organizations. Some of these werent much more than "paper regiments" whereas they were established locally and mustered on paper, but may not have actually had uniforms, weapons or even met up to drill any. Those that did so the weapons were usually kept and retained at the local armory, and only saw daylight during monthly musters/drills. These of course could change and evolved over time what weapons they might have had available.

Virginia was far behind the curve of converting the old flintlocks to percussion. In those early months of 1861, Virginia issued out nearly 55K long arms they had to their state units. 65% of those then issued were still in their original flintlock configuration. Majority of these were the M1816 and their variations. They also had a wide variety of other arms handed out that also included US M1795, M1812, Virginia Manufactory arms (M1812 pattern), Harpers Ferry Rifles, and even several hundred of "English Flint Muskets" suspected to possibly be old Brown Bess arms, amongst others.
Stonewall brigade, that clears up a lot, as I had thought they would have probably served with the other troops from Jefferson county. The brigade got 1500 some VMI cadet muskets. Most others got the M1816, and some lucky ones the M1855. Unlucky ompany K 33rd Va got flintlocks. Easy to see why when asked to return the VMI muskets he said he couldn't until they could be replace with percusion muskets. We had a thread on this in 2014 search "Stonewall Brigade Weapons"
 
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Smokin' Joe

Cadet
Joined
Sep 18, 2018
Frederick14Va is correct.

The muskets used by Virginias state troops were (by far) Virginia Manufactory muskets. Produced between 1802 and 1821, nearly 60 thousand of the muskets were made. Virginia militia often stored thier regimental arms nearby at the courthouse, sheriff's office, etc. Virginia was slow in replacing and altering these arms to percussion, which is why so many are still found in flint. Simply, the legislature did not want to spend the money... Late in 1861 the Confederate government took control of these arms and sent thousands abroad in flint and contracted to have others altered to flintlock. Later Virginia demanded that their arms to be returned, admitting that arms not marked as Virginia Manufactory (on the lock) could not be returned. The Confederate govenment complied for the most part. At that point Virginia began her contracts for percussion alterations. I have included photos of a short infantry musket (39" barrel) that was altered by S.C. Robinson in Richmond and later the front band replaced with an M1822 (1816) musket and fitted for a M1842 bayonet and ramrod by the (at this time) Confederate arsenal in Richmond. Yes Virginia had US M1816s, but nowhere near as many at Manufactory muskets. They also had a handful of early post RevWar muskets and contract muskets, but also this numbered maybe two thousand in 1861. Virginia was very well armed as a state!!! Possessing roughly 60k stands of arms, and 300 cannon! Not counting various swords and pistols.

These arms were be replaced as soon as possible for federalized (Confederate) state troops (1st VA Vol. Inf.) vs 98th Virginia Militia (designations changed multiple times but generally retained thier pre-war nomencature) which largely kept, or reissued "old state arms." This persisted until the end of the war due to the want of firearms. Even veteran units were haphazardly armed near the end, esp. in the valley. Even unionist western Virginia maintained "old state arms" until well after the end hostilities.

Ok, the post is about Virginia militia rifle companies. The reason I went through that detail is that depending on what period of the war you are covering, the company designation was in name only. If they did not, essentially grab, or lucky enough to have rifles at the beginning of the war, they were issued muskets. When Virginia federalized her troops, those arms were now in Confederate service and no longer the stayes. There are two types of Virginia Manufactory rifles and several contracts. These were along the lines of a long rifle and relatively few were made, fewer altered to petcussion or even for a bayonet. Virginia had Halls rifles and M1817 Common rifles as well. Again, few were altered 8th to percussion... I included my excellent condition William B. & Cyrus Fisher altered Common Rifle, a true Army of the Valley gun. After the vast majority of statd troops became Confederate regiments, they were armed in a variety of ways usually with federal captures. The militia in state service were generally armed with old smoothbores which were generally still in flintlock until mid-war. Like most military companies, you were issued what you were issued... state troops often had to let go of thier newer arms for federalized troop use.

VMI guarded the state arsenal at Lexington. VMI never had 1500 cadet muskets, a few hundred (cant remember the number offhand) M1851 Cadet musket, the first batch from Springfield, and 100-150 Harpers Ferry Model 1817 Artillery/Cadet musket as a stop gap after the cadet musket craze begining with the 1841 Cadet muskets were made for West Point. They did at times use the states' Halls rifles located at the arsenal. I have included my example of an M1817 Artillery/Cadet musket. So far it's the only one in existance with Virginia provenance, altered by Union Mfg Co. in Richmond. Many if not most of these muskets went further south. Sorry the lock is upside down... but you can clearly see the bolster conversion.

Hope this helps, there is much much more that can be discussed. At some point I will complete my book on this subject.

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Smokin' Joe

Cadet
Joined
Sep 18, 2018
55th? That should be Jefferson Co. VA now West Virginia; if so, we are almost neighbors. PM me, I am in the Winchester area. I have a variety of records and books, etc.
 
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