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British Pattern 1853 Enfield Percussion Rifle-Musket


British Pattern 1853 Enfield Percussion Rifle-Musket with New Jersey Surcharge @Dated 1862

The 39 1/2 inch barrel in .60 caliber. Breech with British proofs and stamped 24. Steel and brass furniture, the buttplate stamped 24. Full walnut stock stamped between counterscrews 24 and N.J. for New Jersey.

Early US Civil War infantrymen on both sides were armed with P/53 Enfield rifled muskets, made by Enfield from 1855 to 1858 in Britain. Southern forces traded their flintlocks for the Enfield just before the Battle of Shiloh. This British Enfield rifle saw extensive services during the Civil War. This weapon has the distinction of being the second most common infantry weapon of the Civil War. It was made in England and was imported by ordinance officers of both the North and South to meet the sudden increase in demand for small arms caused by the outbreak of hostilities. Originally produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England, it was the standard arm of the British Army at the time. Several contractors later provided arms for export. Its .577 caliber bore made it compatible with .58 caliber ammunition that was very common in the American armies. An estimated 900,000 of these Enfield rifles were procured for use in the United States.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, neither the North nor the South was prepared to engage in a major war. Decades of relative peace had left limited stockpiles of small arms--the rifles and handguns carried by individual soldiers. As tens of thousands of men volunteered to fight alongside their friends and neighbors, those arms stockpiles were quickly exhausted.

Purchasing agents for the Union and Confederacy began buying up every European rifle they could find and shipping them back to American ports. As a result, many volunteers during the first two years of the Civil War found themselves using a wide variety of rifles, including antiquated weapons dating back to the War of 1812. Meanwhile, American rifle and gun manufacturers--Sharps, Colt, Remington, and the United States armory at Springfield--quickly expanded rifle production. The 1855 invention of the rifled barrel--which had grooves running down the barrel that caused the bullet to spin as it fired out of the end--quickly made all smoothbore rifles obsolete.

Enfield Rifle Musket
The second most widely used weapon of the Civil War was the British Enfield three-band, single-shot, muzzle-loading musket (above). It was also the standard weapon for the British army between 1853-1867. American soldiers liked it because its .577 cal. barrel allowed the use of .58 cal. ammunition used by both Union and Confederate armies. Originally produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England, approximately 900,000 of these muskets were imported during 1861-1865. Many officers, however, preferred the Springfield muskets over the Enfield muskets--largely due to the interchangeability of parts that the machine-made Springfields offered.

Loading a Musket
A muzzle-loading rifle required 10 specific movements to prepare it to fire: (1) lower musket to ground, (2) handle cartridge, (3) tear cartridge, (4) charge cartridge, (5) draw rammer, (6) ram cartridge twice, (7) return rammer, (8) cast-about [return gun to firing position], (9) prime [insert primer cap], (10) cock the hammer and point the rifle. Trained soldiers were expected to complete these steps in 20 seconds and be able to fire three aimed bullets per minute.


The Enfield Rifle Musket

The Southern Contract
English Enfield pattern muskets were both the most widely issued and well liked of all the imported arms used by both sides in the War for Southern Independence. Greener and Pritchett developed the expanding ball rifle musket to an unheard-of performance level while working at Enfield Lock, England in the early 1850's. This work led directly to the P-53 Rifle Musket and its later variants. Introduced in 1853, it was arguably the best infantry weapon of the time.

Success begets imitation and this was true for the P-53. U.S. ordinance experts studied the English gun when developing the models of 1855. Many features of the Enfield are to be found in our Springfields. Others took a more direct approach, they simply copied the P-53. The Liege gun making complex in Belgium thrived on meeting the considerable international demand for Enfield knockoffs.

With the outbreak of Civil War in America, the new southern Confederacy realized that it could not meet its Army's requirement for modern weapons. Even after the capture of Harpers Ferry, Southern arms manufacturing capacity was woefully inadequate. The new Confederate government lost no time in dispatching an agent to Europe. The person selected was West Point educated, Massachusetts born, Caleb Huse. The choice could not have been better. His instructions were to quickly obtain serviceable weapons wherever he could find them and secure a supply of the most modern small arms, i.e. Enfields. In order to facilitate this work, he was provided with a tremendously favorable letter of credit from Fraser, Trenholm & Company of Liverpool, part of the Trenholm banking empire. (This institution's rather colorful president, John Trenholm, of Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the inspirations for Margaret Mitchell's Rhett Butler.)

Huse reached Europe before most Federal arms purchasing agents had even left American shores. There he bought up a huge supply of reasonably modern weapons from several countries. By far his greatest coup though was a Confederate contract with the London Armoury Company. As much as the South wanted to get weapons from Enfield Lock, the English equivalent of Springfield Armory, this was not to be. In order for the British government to supply arms, they would have to give up their neutrality and recognize the Confederate government, which was not about to happen, at least not so early in the war. The Brits could however assist in obtaining a contract with one of their leading suppliers. This contract stipulated the delivery of machine made, parts interchangeable, three band Enfield Rifle Muskets. The parts interchangeable clause was the key. It required the highest quality work. It also allowed for easy repair in the field, especially given that the Confederate Quartermaster's Department would not be returning weapons to England for repairs.

For several years U.S. armories had been making guns so alike that parts from Springfield would fit Harpers Ferry guns. However, Enfield pattern arms that were not specifically required to meet the British government gauges were usually not parts interchangeable. They just looked like the Tower Enfields made for the Crown. These were much the same as Whitney's "good and serviceable arms", many of which appeared to be regulation Springfields, but weren't. The locks of these "Enfields" were often marked just like English Government gauged guns with "TOWER" and the Crown, and often even bogus inspection gauge stamps. This was done to dupe gullible foreign buyers into thinking they were getting high quality gauged guns. As long as the fraudulently marked guns were being exported, the London government didn't care. Huse however was anything but gullible. While he would purchase them, if the price was right, his aim was the Number 1 Enfield in quantity.

The London Armoury Company was not only a manufactory but also controlled a consortium of small shops. With the Confederate order, almost all of the better quality contractors in London were committed to the southern cause. The Armory had to finish up a British contract and a small order from the State of Massachusetts before starting on the Southern order. By late 1861, London Armoury guns were being shipped to the Confederacy. It is often reported that all L.A.Co. muskets produced after the Huse contract were sent to the Confederacy. This isn't true. The company continued to supply the Crown, but shipped all their excess production to the southern states. Most of their 1863 output was destined to run the blockade. Almost all of the 1864 production went to the South, and even a portion of 1865's.

Late in 1863, the US government suddenly canceled all their contracts with English makers, most of which were in Birmingham. The South took advantage of this. They quickly contracted with the "Birmingham Small Arms Trade" association for large quantities of "Number 2, Hand Made" Enfields. These were nowhere near the quality of London Armoury's muskets, but their addition to the Southern arms supply was most fortuitous.

The guns produced on Huse's London Armoury contract were of the highest quality. Interestingly, just before the outbreak of the war, the company had taken delivery of the latest stock making equipment from the Ames Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts. The rest of their equipment was equally up to date. Parts were gauged with English government gauges and fit up to the best military standards. Once inspected, probably by British government inspectors on Confederate contract, they were loaded on fast blockade runners, many of which were also made in England, for the trip across "the pond". Surprisingly, most arrived in southern ports. The life expectancy of the average blockade runner was about six trips before being captured or sunk.

The war was not kind to the London Armoury Company. Most of the pay on their Confederate contracts was in cotton bonds, deliverable at some future date. These bonds were widely traded on European commodities markets, and were generally as good as gold, up until early 1865. With the downfall of the Confederacy, they became worthless. London Armoury held millions of dollars of them. It was more than the company could absorb, and the doors closed on the first private contractor in England to build parts interchangeable products.

The southern L.A.Co. Enfield is not only well made, but one of the best finished arms to see service in the Civil War. Stocks were either a light colored walnut or beech, stained reddish brown and oil finished, or first quality Italian Walnut. Buttplates, trigger assemblies and nose caps were polished brass. Locks and hammers were color casehardened while barrels and barrel bands were "blackened" to a beautiful deep blue. Unfortunately, it was very common for soldiers polish the barrels bright. Unlike many Enfield contractors, London Armoury plainly marked their locks "L. A. Co.", not the bogus "TOWER".

Of the tens of thousands of muskets imported, not too many London Armoury Enfields have survived. Being first quality, most could easily be sold back to Europe. After the fall of the South, over 100,000 Enfields were repaired and refinished at Springfield, then sold off to help pay the crushing war debt of the federal government. Today they are a prized addition to any Civil War collection. In addition, a good example will shoot as well as any Springfield.
© 2000 by Tony Beck, Coastal Rifles

Q. How were Civil War musket cartridges constructed? How were they used?
A. Civil War cartridges for the U.S. .58 caliber Springfield rifle musket, and American made cartridges for the .577 caliber British Enfield rifle musket, contained a paper wrapped powder charge with a grooved, lubricated minie ball sitting on top of it pointing up. The whole was then wrapped in another piece of paper to make a completed cartridge. In loading, the soldier bit off the end of the cartridge, then dumped the powder charge, 60 grains of musket powder, down the muzzle of his gun, discarded the remaining paper, inserted the bullet, rammed it down the barrel and then placed a percussion cap on the gun's nipple, or "cone."

British (and some Confederate) made Enfield cartridges, although paper, were constructed differently, with an ungrooved bullet, more undersized than the Springfield style projectile, wrapped in lubricated paper and pointing downward. After biting the end off the Enfield cartridge and dumping the powder down the muzzle of his gun, the soldier reversed the cartridge and seated the bullet, still wrapped in the lubricated paper, in the muzzle, discarded the excess paper, rammed it home and capped his weapon.


The 74th Pennsylvania began receiving more modern weapons beginning in September 1862 while it was camped near Fairfax Court House with the rest of the Eleventh Corps. The first new firearm issued to the regiment was the Enfield Model 1853 Rifle Musket, but it was quickly supplanted by the United States Model 1861 Rifle Musket which became the principal weapon of the Seventy-Fourth from late 1862 until the end of the war.

Enfield Rifle Musket, Model 1853 - The second most widely used weapon of the Civil War was the British Enfield three band, single shot, muzzle loading musket. It was also the standard weapon for the British army between 1853 1867. American soldiers liked it because its .577 caliber barrel allowed the use of .58 caliber ammunition used by both Union and Confederate armies. Many officers, however, preferred the Springfield muskets over the Enfield muskets - largely due to the interchangeability of parts that the machine made Springfield rifle muskets offered. Originally produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England, approximately 900,000 of these muskets were imported during 1861 1865. Most of these were made by firms in Birmingham (Tower) or London (London Arms Co.). The 74th Pennsylvania received about 80 of these weapons.


Officially, the rifle he carried is known as a British patent 1853 Enfield rifle-musket. Thousands of English-made rifles wound up in the hands of Confederate soldiers.

At the outbreak of the war in 1861, the Confederate government realized that it could not supply its troops with the amount and quality of arms Union soldiers had. Most all of the major gunsmiths and armories were in the North: Springfield, Sharps, Spencer, Colt, Winchester, Eli Whitney, Remington, and many others.

The South dispatched an arms buyer to Europe to make large purchases for the Confederacy. The North placed orders as well, because the 1853 Enfield rifle-musket, the standard arm of the British army, had a reputation for durability and accuracy.

During the Civil War, an estimated 900,000 Enfields were exported to America, with the Confederacy receiving about 400,000. Most were made by private contractors. The British government, wanting to maintain neutrality, referred Confederate orders to smaller companies, which made copies of the official military musket. The lock plates on these arms were generally marked "Tower" with a date and a crown. They became the war's second most common infantry weapon behind the Springfield carried by the Union army.

The South also acquired arms from France, Belgium, and Austria. It was no surprise then that Private Eli Peterson went to war carrying a foreign firearm, but getting it in his hands took some effort by the South. With arms and other goods by European makers setting sail for the South, the North placed ships in position along the East Coast to intercept European vessels laden with goods for the southern cause. Ports in Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, were popular destinations.

The need for faster ships for blockade running became apparent, and arms shipments were soon delivered to Bermuda to be transferred to the swift penetrators of the blockade.

The British musket Eli Peterson was issued, dated 1857 on the lock plate, likely was one that successfully ran the barrier.

When the South received these largest shipments from abroad, there was no time or need to stamp them with a "CSA" or other identifying symbol of the South. Thus, North and South muskets from Great Britain appeared identical and often changed sides after battles.



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