The Enfield in the Civil War

Geoff Walden


 


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"Authenticizing Your Reproduction Enfield" - Click here to visit the webpage with instructions on the changes needed to make your reproduction Enfield more like the period versions ("de-farbing").


 

"To Blue, or Not to Blue ..."

   One of the ongoing debates among Civil War reenactors is whether the barrel and iron parts of their reproduction Enfield rifle-muskets should be finished blued, or in the natural metal state (bright). This debate began in the early 1980s (when reproduction Enfields first became widely available), and has continued periodically. With the expansion of online forums on the internet, the debate rages on. This subject seems to inspire strong feelings on both sides, with fantastic claims based apparently entirely on personal opinion, with no basis in period research. I have heard some folks claim that ALL Enfields imported to America were struck bright; others have said they have never seen a period image of a Civil War soldier holding a blued Enfield; one "scholar" has claimed that Confederate purchasing agents had Enfields made without bluing, "to save money;" and some even claim that the ONLY "authentic" finish is to have one's Enfield struck bright. I have even read on the internet that the two numbers in the Birmingham barrel proof marks (25 or 24) indicated whether the barrel was finished blued or bright (of course, these numbers indicated the bore gauge (caliber) and had NOTHING to do with the barrel finish!). A common claim is that the period Enfield bluing was an inferior or fragile finish, and quickly wore off. Most of these claims are prefaced with something like "I once read somewhere," or "someone told me," or "I don't have the reference, but so-and-so says," &c.

Here is just one example of this kind of writing.  I quote this one here because it has seen publication; these same sorts of claims are common on internet forums.  (Note 1)

Enfields imported into this country during the war were privately manufactured. None that were made for the British Government were sent to America. The main areas of manufacture were Birmingham, Lancaster and Liverpool.

During a recent trip to England I went to the Tower Of London and viewed several hundred Enfields in the armory room. Every one was blued. It is to be noted, however, that these were muskets which had been made for the British Army.

This bluing was a lighter color than the dark blue of today and not as durable. It was easily rubbed off in service, just by the act of cleaning the gun, which explains why most original Enfields are found bright.

   Almost every "fact" stated here is incorrect (as was much else in the original article, which had no footnotes or references to period sources).  Enfields that were made under contract for the British Government were bought by agents both North and South, and shipped to America.  These guns were those that had been made for the British Army during and after the Crimean War, and later considered obsolete and sold out of store by the Government.  Examples of these weapons can clearly be seen in period images of soldiers from both sides, as well as in private collections.  These Enfields bear marks of British Government ownership.  (Note 2)  True, this type was not the norm, but they were imported in sizeable numbers.   The main areas of Enfield manufacture were Birmingham and London.  By the 1850s-60s (the Enfield era), only some 15 gun-related manufacturers were listed in the Liverpool directory, and only four in Lancaster, as compared to the hundreds in Birmingham and London.  Those firms in Liverpool and Lancaster apparently made mostly parts and guns for the sporting trade.  I have never seen an original Enfield made in either location.  I have seen those same Enfields at the Tower (which are not there now, but at Leeds), and also over 250 Enfields in public and private collections, in both Europe and America.  I can only say here that the period bluing was not a lighter color, and was not less durable.  The idea that cold rust bluing rubbed off in simple cleaning is ridiculous  ...  stop and think about it  ...  why would the British (or anyone else) go to all that trouble about a barrel finish that came right off in the field???  More on this subject, including the real reasons why most Enfields seen today are bright, is found below.

   A lot of this misinformation is based on what a pard of mine calls "gun show wisdom" – that is, folks pick up these ideas and opinions from dealers at gun and relic shows (who are, after all, out to make a buck), and pass them on, when they have no basis whatsoever in period research, and are usually quite wrong. Worse still, reenactors pick up things they hear on merchants’ row, or what someone in their unit tells them, and they accept it as gospel, without questioning it. I’ve even seen people quote such supposed experts as curators of national level museums, or nationally known firearms dealers. But if these "experts" produce opinions that show they know next to nothing about period Enfields, what value are their opinions on the subject? Just because someone is a museum curator, or a firearms dealer … even the best known ones … does NOT mean that person automatically knows anything about Enfields. I’ve experienced this firsthand, more than once. It's nice for all of us to have opinions, but if we can't back them up with documentable period research, they aren't worth the time spent in discussing them or the bandwidth used to post them on the internet.

   This article will examine all sides of the debate, based on over 25 years of research into period British and Civil War resources, as well as examination of over 250 original Enfields, in America, England, and Canada. In great contrast to many claims you can read on internet forums, the statements and opinions given here come from period writings and hands-on examination. (Note 3)   I know this is a long monograph, and I hope it is not too rambling, but I want to present all the pertinent evidence I have found. I do not hold any illusions that this article will end the debate. If those who cling to the all-or-none opinions continue to do so, even after contradicted by period evidence, then nothing I write here will convince them. There will still be lots of "gun show wisdom," "merchants’ row myths," and "reenactorisms" out there. This article is written for those who have open minds, who want to know what facts are revealed by original period sources and examination of original weapons.

   Much of the "proof" I will present here is "negative evidence."  That is, on several occasions I state that "I have never seen ..." in relation to period Enfields, because there are no period writings or physical evidence that specifically states that what I am trying to refute is wrong.  (For example, you will not find any period writing that says something like "the rammers are all bright, none are blued," because the period writers were not confronted with someone who claimed that the rammers were blued.) In these cases, I submit that the burden of proof is on the modern writer who makes these claims. That is, those that claim that all Enfields in American service were bright, or that period bluing was a fragile finish, or that Confederate purchasing agents purposely bought Enfields that were bright in order to save money, &c.  ...   these folks should come up with the positive period proof to back up their claims.


   I'll give you the bottom line right up front: there is no period evidence to support an all-or-none stand on either side. That is, there is no clear-cut period evidence to support an opinion that either a blued or bright finish is more authentic. Of course, this could be modified for specific units at specific times and locations, but as a general rule, both Federals and Confederates used Enfields that were both blued and bright, and in-depth research does not indicate that either finish was in enough of a majority to be the clear-cut more authentic choice for the finish on a repro Enfield today. So to those who put out the all-or-none rule … that all (or the vast majority) Enfields were exported to America with bright finishes or were struck bright once they got here, thus, all repro Enfields must be bright in order to be authentic … sorry, folks, it just isn't true, and you can’t back it up with period evidence.

   However, there IS a great deal of period evidence that deals with this debate, and this article will present some of the most pertinent research. That presented here will hopefully debunk some of the wilder and more persistent "myths" that reenactors have built up around this subject. And please feel free not to just take my word for it ... take a look at the references listed, then spend years going to gun shows and museums and examining original Enfields.

   Before we get to the heart of the debate, allow me to inject a general note here. The characteristics and facts stated here for the Enfield apply to the common P53 rifle-musket, made in the early 1860s by various contractors in Birmingham and London, for commercial sale; that is, not made for sale to the British Government (although the same characteristics generally apply there too). These are the vast majority of Enfields that ended up in the Civil War. But there were MANY variations on the basic theme, made for special purchase or uses. These special guns seem to break every "rule," and I have learned over the years that there is no "all-or-none" in Enfield research. However, these specialty guns do not concern us here, because even if any DID end up in America during the Civil War, they were in such minute numbers as to be entirely negligible. The characteristics given here were the "rule" for the common P53 Enfield in American service.


The debate seems to center around two questions:

1. What was the finish on original Enfields, as they were made in England and shipped to America?

2. Was this finish modified once the guns were in America, and if so, how and in what quantities?

   In a nutshell, the original finishes on the ferrous metal (iron and steel) parts of original Pattern 1853 Enfields were as follows. (Note 4)

The lockplate was color casehardened by the bone charcoal method. As far as color patterns goes, this was a rather fragile finish, and would readily rub bright under field service. (The purpose of the process was to harden the face of the lockplate, not to make it look pretty  ...  the color patterns were a by-product that did not stand up to rough use  ...  but this did not effect the quality of the hardened surface.)  The lockplate was not blued (or browned -- see below). Lockplate finish is not a part of this debate (or should not be, although I have seen folks claim on internet forums that the lockplate came finished bright).

The barrel bands were heat blued. That is, they were heated to a certain temperature range, then quenched, producing a glossy blue-black finish. Enfields made in England had iron bands ... not brass. In over 30 years of research, I have yet to find any concrete evidence that any English Enfield had brass barrel bands as issued.

The rammer was finished bright. I have never seen any period evidence that any issue P53 Enfield rammers were blued, as some have claimed on internet debates. Some original Enfields seen today do have blued rammers - I suggest that these were likely blued after the initial manufacture of the gun, at some point in the last 140-plus years.

The barrel was finished by rust bluing. This was a long process, often called cold rust bluing, that built up the finish in a series of steps. For a detailed explanation of the process, see the sources in Note 4. The final result was a deep blue-black finish, very similar to modern hot-tank chemical bluing.  To see how closely the period rust blue resembles a modern hot-tank blue, in appearance, one need only examine original P53 Enfields in the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) Pattern Room.  This superb collection houses the original "pattern" weapons: those made as representative models to govern further manufacture. They were not made with any special finishes, but were supposed to be an example of normal manufacture. These pattern guns were never issued, but were stored in as-new condition.  They appear today as they did when made, save for the unavoidable aging of 140-plus years of careful storage. These Enfields today display a shiny deep blue-black finish, essentially identical in look to a modern repro blue. They aren’t browned, and they haven’t turned plum (see below). The differences in appearance between the period and modern finishes are so negligible that I cannot recommend that anyone remove the modern bluing from his Enfield just because it is a hot-tank blue, in the belief that it somehow looks different. (But if you are refinishing your repro, by all means go for a cold rust blue.) (Note 5)

   A side show of this debate centers around whether barrels were browned instead of blued. The reason for this debate is that period references (and also modern British writers and arms authorities) almost invariably call the finish "browned." But the period formulas given for this finish are clearly for bluing! I cannot explain away this dichotomy, but it appears that the British used the term "browning" to refer to the period cold rust finish on the barrels, to differentiate this finish from the very different heat coloring process used on the barrel bands, which they DID call bluing. In any case, no matter what the final product was called, period Enfield barrels were finished with a process that produced a deep blue-black finish, very much like that on the barrel bands  ...  what we call bluing today. One of the leading experts on period British military firearms, De Witt Bailey, Jr., has specifically stated that British muskets were bright up to ca. 1815, at which time browning came into use, up until 1844-46. Bluing then came into general use, and the Enfield period arms had rust blued barrels. (Note 6)

   Those Enfields with barrels that appear brown today have aged that way. I am not a chemist, but I'm told that the iron oxide that forms the cold rust blue tends to lose an atom of oxygen over time, making it turn a purplish brown. This is what gunsmiths call "turning plum." I have seen this phenomenon in a tiny number of period Enfields, not more than a handful. Invariably, the bottom of the barrel will be blue, not brown, showing the original finish (I have such an Enfield, dated 1861, in my collection). In any case, guns that saw a lot of field use also likely saw a lot of red rust, which when rubbed over, tended to turn the surface finish to a dark brownish blue. Now that's an authentic appearance for your musket - a good field finish. But it should start from an actual blue (really, a cold rust blue, but a modern one will do).

   British military arms of the 1860s, of the types commonly exported to America, were made mainly by hand. That is, the manufacturing process depended on separate specialists making and finishing the parts: barrel makers, lock makers, stock finishers, etc. This process resulted in parts that were generally not interchangeable with other guns, and it also resulted in differences in quality and finish. I have examined period Enfields that are truly works of art as far as parts fit and finish go (particularly London Armoury Co. Ltd. (L.A.Co.) and Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF Enfield) examples), and I have seen others that are clearly in a second class in this regard, although they were still serviceable arms.

   Some have claimed that these commercial Enfields that were not of the highest quality had blued barrels that lost their finish quickly, or that American purchasers bought low quality guns on purpose, in a "quantity over quality" sort of desperation, or to save money, and that British makers catered to this by turning out special low quality guns for American purchase. Again, I have never found any period writing or evidence that supports any of this, and if anyone has found such documentable evidence, I would really like to see a copy of it. On the contrary, the American purchasers (particularly the Confederates) seem to have been concerned about the quality of the Enfields they bought. The British quality was there ... it was an integral part of the manufacturing process. It wasn’t the same for every maker, but they didn't compromise it, and the American buyers didn't want them to (read their period correspondence -- they wanted the best they could get). Although the British arms market did make somewhat inferior guns for sale/trade to natives in Africa and other places, there is no evidence that any of the Enfields sent to America were similarly inferior.

   So there is the answer to the first question above, "what was the original finish?" The barrels were blued. They were made that way in England and shipped that way to America. Again, regarding some folks’ claims that American purchasers commonly specified Enfields to be left bright, supposedly to save money or manufacture time, I have never seen any sort of period evidence that would support such an idea. The finish was the same whether the Enfield was being made by the British Government or by a contractor, for sale to Confederate or American purchasers, or British Volunteer companies, or New Zealand colonialists, or whomever. Indeed, some period Confederate reports actually refute this idea of preference for bright Enfields. (Note 7)

   In over 30 years of Enfield research, I have seen one … and one only … instance in which Enfields bought for American use were purposely ordered and delivered with bright barrels and other iron pieces -- a lot of muskets (perhaps 2500 total) made expressly for Colt in 1862, to match the Springfield standard in bore, barrel length, and bright finish. These guns (some of which can be identified today) have several characteristics that differentiate them from the normal P53 Enfield, and thus do not figure into this debate. (Note 8)


   OK, so the Enfields were sent over here in their original blued condition. Did they stay that way in Federal and Confederate service? That is the crux of the reenactors’ debate. Some folks believe, and state with utmost confidence, that ALL Enfields used in America were struck bright, and thus, the only authentic finish for a repro is a bright barrel. These folks say they have never seen an original Enfield with a blued barrel, nor have they ever seen a period image of a soldier holding a blued Enfield. The remainder of this monograph will present ample evidence to refute this idea and, in fact, to show that period evidence does not clearly favor either a bright or blued barrel as a more authentic finish.

   The statement that ALL Enfields were struck bright in America is easily refuted (so easily refuted that I find it difficult to understand why folks still make statements like this). Here is a list of original identified Enfields, used by Confederate and Federal soldiers, that still have a dark barrel finish (never struck bright):

Federal:  25th Michigan Infantry - Pvt. Thomas Starr, Co. F.  An 1862 London Armoury Co. Ltd. 3rd Model P53.  Upon his discharge in 1865, Starr bought his musket and accoutrements for $6.00.  The Enfield retains a deep dark patina on the iron parts. (private collection in Michigan)

7th Indiana Infantry - unknown soldier in Co. I.  1861 TOWER 3rd Model P53 by an unknown Birmingham maker.  The barrel and bands have a patina of rust, with some blue extant.  (private collection in Ohio)

Confederate:  3rd Model P53 made by Barnett of London - known to have been carried by a Confederate, but unidentified.  Barrel shows original blue in good shape.  (Museum of the Confederacy)

1861 TOWER 3rd Model P53 made by an unknown Birmingham maker - carried by a Confederate soldier named R.B. Green.  Barrel shows original blue in good shape.   (Museum of the Confederacy)

2nd/15th Kentucky Cavalry (Woodward's) - Pvt. G.W. Grasty.  1863 TOWER 3rd Model P53 by Thomas Turner of Birmingham.  Barrel is age brown on the top surface, still blued below.  (private collection in Kentucky)

38th Virginia Infantry - Pvt. George W. Newcon, Co. D.  1861 TOWER 3rd Model P53 by an unknown Birmingham maker.  Exposed portion of the barrel is age brown, but the bluing remains underneath.  (private collection in Virginia)

In addition to these, I have examined a couple of P56 Rifles with all the accepted Confederate markings (JS-anchor and engraved "lot numbers"), but with no specific soldier identification, that retained blued barrels and bands.

   Much better evidence can be found in period images.  Some reenactors and other "experts" have stated that they have never seen a period image of a Civil War soldier holding a blued Enfield. Well, here are two good examples, and the link below will take you to a listing of several more. Naturally, with period black-and-white photography, we cannot tell the exact color of this finish, but it is certainly NOT bright.

US19thIA.jpg (51087 bytes)

 

CS3dGA2dM.jpg (65890 bytes)

Corp. William Campbell
Co. D, 19th Iowa Infantry
Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park

 

Pvt. Benjamin G. Liddon
Co. D, 3rd Georgia Infantry
(2nd Model P53 Enfield)
Florida State Archives

To see a listing of other such images, showing soldiers with non-bright Enfields, click here.

   One must be very careful in interpreting the finish on guns in period images. Often, the finish will appear bright at first glance, but closer inspection shows this to be a reflection of light off the shiny dark finish. This is a common occurrence in images of Crimean War Enfields held by British soldiers, whose guns were never burnished bright. (Joe Bilby has told me that he has seen this same phenomenon on US weapons, for example, in 1870s-80s photos of soldiers and Indians with .45-70 Trapdoor Springfields, which we know to have had a blued finish, and the guns appeared to be "bright.")

   On Enfields, this is easy to check -- compare the finish on the nosecap to that on the barrel; barrels that have been struck bright will look similar to the brass nosecap, while those that were blued will be noticeably darker. In addition, look closely at the rammer and bayonet (if visible); the rammer and bayonet blade were always bright, and contrast well with dark blued barrels. There may be a bright streak down the barrel, where the light is reflecting off it, but a blued barrel will definitely contrast with the uniformly bright nosecap and/or rammer.

   There could, of course, be a similar listing of images showing soldiers with bright Enfields. These images are common, too, indicating that bright Enfields were not unusual. Obviously, someone was taking the bluing off Enfields. But where, when, and how was this done? Those reenactors who support the "bright" side of the debate seem to assume that the soldiers in the field removed this finish on their own. However, other researchers (including Joe Bilby and Bill Adams of the NSSA) and I have found written period evidence of this to be extremely scarce. In fact, I used to say that we had not found any evidence to show that there were any purposeful efforts in the field to remove Enfield bluing, on any sort of large scale. Or at least, that it was not, to our knowledge, official policy, nor was it, apparently, at all common. In fact, for what it’s worth, period regulations forbade the burnishing of blued/browned barrels, and soldiers were instructed to leave all weapons in the state in which they were originally finished.  (Note 9)

   But all old soldiers know that regulations are sometimes ignored, and Bill Christen of The Watchdog has sent me a quote that shows irrefutably that at least one Federal regiment did remove the bluing from their Enfields in the field.

Oct. 21st [1861], muskets were delivered to the men, and this furnished another excuse for a hearty growl from the 1st Mainers. "Had we not been promised a new blue uniform and Springfield muskets?" To be sure we had the blue uniform and a good outfit in every way, "but look at these Enfield muskets," said they, "with their blued barrels and wood that no man can name!" They were not a bad weapon, however, differing little from the Springfield, in actual efficiency, weight, length, and caliber, but far behind in point of workmanship. For a while we kept them blued, then orders were issued to rub them bright and we kept them so ever after.

via David Fournier, from "History of the First-Tenth-Twenty-ninth Maine Regiment," by Maj. John M. Gould; Portland, Stephen Berry, 1871, page 89. The 1st Maine had originally been issued M1855 Springfields; this reissue of Enfields occurred when it was reorganized into the 10th Maine. Gould's original journal entry covering this can be found in "The Civil War Journals of John Mead Gould, 1861-1866," edited by William B. Jordan, Jr.; Butternut and Blue, 1997, page71; the original entry does not mention rubbing the rifles bright, which apparently happened later.

 

   Note, however, that the many period mentions of "burnished arms" do not necessarily mean Enfields.  Some photos show Federal soldiers with a mixture of Springfields and Enfields, all bright, while others show a mixture of bright Springfields and darker Enfields. In any case, there does not seem to have been any "official" US Army policy governing this. Indeed, some regiments and soldiers preferred the dark barrel of the Enfield, for various reasons (see also Note 7):

Camp of the 10th Reg't Mass Volunteers,
Hampden Park, Springfield, July 10 [1861]

....Friday morning the regiment marched to the U.S. Armory and returned the muskets loaned them for the purpose of drill, and in the afternoon we
received our full supply of the Enfield rifled musket. For this the Regiment
may well thank our efficient Colonel, whose influence has procured for us so fine an arm; whilst other Regiments are obliged to take the guns we
returned, (smooth bore muskets of the old model.) The Enfield gun, purchased by the State in England, though differing in many respects from the Springfield rifled musket, is a handsome and no doubt serviceable weapon, and I think fully equal to the Springfield arm. It is browned, so that no burnishing is required to keep it from rusting, and a more correct aim can be obtained in a bright sun than with a polished barrel.

This was posted on an internet forum, and I regret I do not have a citation to the original source.  I would be greatly obliged if anyone who recognizes this would send me the citation.

 

  It seems more likely that most bright Enfields were issued to the soldiers in that condition. That is, the weapons were imported, taken into a state or national arsenal, struck bright there, then issued to the field.  Joe Bilby has found records to show that the 33rd, 34th, and 35th New Jersey regiments were apparently issued reconditioned Enfields with the bluing polished off, accomplished in the state arsenal. Period images of U.S.C.T. regiments often show all the men with bright Enfields. I believe this indicates that these units were issued Enfields that had been held in reserve in US arsenals, after the Federal government stopped buying Enfields in September 1863 (when domestic production could finally meet demand), and these Enfields were struck bright and then later issued to U.S.C.T. units (and possibly others). (Note 10)

   As noted above, some reenactors have stated that the period blued barrel finish was not durable (as opposed to today’s hot tank bluing), and that there didn’t really have to be any purposeful removing of this finish – it just wore off quickly in service. Frankly, I can’t imagine what the source of these statements is. I've seen a lot of original Enfields with this bluing still in good shape. The British process of bluing (or browning, as they called it) was a very complicated and exacting exercise. The period makers did not go to all that trouble just to produce a finish that wouldn't stand up to field use. Just because the modern chemical hot blue on your repro musket may not be a durable finish, does not apply to originals - it's like comparing apples and oranges. Of course, no finish would stand up to repeated abrasive polishing, but let’s credit our 1860s ancestors with some common sense … the bluing was put on there to protect the barrel from further rusting … American military leaders knew this, which is why regulations instructed soldiers not to remove the finish from blued/browned barrels. Obviously, some units and soldiers ignored these instructions, while others did not.


   Some folks have said that bright Enfields had to be much more common than blued Enfields during the war, because so many more originals seen today are bright. But this ignores the pitfalls of generalizing based on evidence that has had 140-plus years to be altered. One must be very careful in basing interpretation on the finish an original has now, whether in a museum or private collection. If it appears blued or age-browned, that is probably its original finish. But even then, the piece COULD have been refinished at some time (although this would be much more difficult, thus more unusual, than simply removing the finish, I have seen at least one honest example of such rebluing), or it COULD have been a bright gun that weathered brown on the exposed surfaces (which can be discovered by disassembly). However, if it appears bright now, that is certainly no definite indication that it was bright during the Civil War. We have to take several points into consideration to examine all the angles of this part of the debate.

   First, we have to keep in mind that some (even many) Enfields that are now in American museums and private collections were not even in this country before 1865, so what they look like now means nothing to us.  Anyone who studies Enfields and visits gun and relic shows has certainly seen post-1865 and/or British Government guns and bayonets labeled as "Civil War Enfields" (the most common being Indian Native Infantry Enfields and 1871 Martini-Henry bayonets).  Even reputable antique arms dealers have been known to sell such  ...  one gun in my collection that was bought from one of the top American antique arms dealers in the 1970s, sold as a "Civil War Enfield," turned out to be a Hay Pattern Rifle, an obscure type sold to New Zealand for their Maori Wars, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the War Between the States.

   And for those that were in our Civil War, remember that they have had 140-plus years to get the appearance that they have now. If they are bright now, there have been MANY chances for them to have been polished bright in those 140 years. Indeed, the US Government reconditioned many thousands of Enfields that were held in store after 1865, for eventual sale as surplus (many of these ended up in hands on both sides during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71). This reconditioning almost certainly included burnishing (for illustration, almost all of the Enfields in the Springfield Armory Museum have obviously been reconditioned, including burnishing). (Note 11) There is every chance that a nice shiny Enfield on display in a museum was given that nice shiny polish before it was put on display, because an "old rusty gun" might not look as nice. Just because an Enfield is bright now, does not at all mean it was bright in 1865. I've seen original Enfields that had dark finishes when they were purchased in the early 1970s, but are bright now, because reenactors polished them bright. I’ve also seen Enfields on display in museums that had dark finishes before they were reconditioned for display (at least one such example is in a National Park Service visitor center).

   All of this means simply that no clear judgment can be made, based on the finish seen today on original Enfields that are bright. For what it’s worth, I have seen more bona fide identified Confederate Enfields that are still blued now, than those that are bright. (Note 12) If you happen to find an Enfield that is bright on the outside, but blued or rusted on the bottom of the barrel, that (to me) might be a good candidate for having been struck bright by a soldier in the field (although of the hundreds of originals I have seen, only a very tiny handful were like this).

   And that is the whole crux of the matter -- there is plenty of period evidence to show that Enfields were carried by soldiers in the field in both original blued and struck bright conditions, and no real strong evidence to show that either way was a big majority (except, of course, in certain units).   Unless you are portraying one of those units, you can either leave your repro Enfield blued, or burnish it, BUT NEITHER CHOICE IS MORE AUTHENTIC THAN THE OTHER!


   I hope readers will take these comments as they are meant ... a plea to base your arguments on good solid research into period sources, and honest examination of lots of originals. I do not mean any of this as any sort of insult to anybody on the "other side" of this debate, and I will be happy to discuss this or other Enfield topics offline. No, I don't have all the answers ... but I have enough to convince me this myth of wholesale Enfield debluing is just that ... a myth that reenactors have made up.

   Anyone having found period evidence that bears on this debate, not mentioned here, is requested to send the same to the author at gwalden (at) windstream.net. I am especially looking for period evidence of units that were issued bright Enfields (or blued, for that matter), or writings showing that units or individual soldiers removed the finish from their Enfields during war service, either due to official guidance, or on their own. Although I have not run across such evidence myself, I'm still looking  ...

 


Notes

1.  David J. Murphy, "On the Line  --  Musket De-Farbing," The Civil War News, June 1998, p. 23; also published on the Civil War News webpage, www.civilwarnews.com. In addition to this article, other published writings on this subject, including claims that repro Enfields should be struck bright to be authentic, can be found in various privately-published reenactor booklets and guidelines for participation in some past "hardcore" events, such as a backwoods march in Georgia in March 1994 and a living history event at Harper's Ferry in September 1994. If you are interested in the debate as it has run in the pages of the Camp Chase Gazette, click here for a bibliography.

2.  There are several period images that show "2nd Model" P53 Enfields in the hands of soldiers on both sides.  The "2nd Model" was made from 1855-1858, and is characterized by solid barrel bands retained by band springs in the stock, the upper barrel band being noticeably wider.  All of these were made for British Government contracts or Volunteer purchase, and will bear various British military markings.  Many were sold out of store ca. 1860, and some of these were bought by American agents in 1861.  Click here to see a partial, but detailed, listing of published Civil War soldier images showing "2nd Model" P53s.  Of course, other earlier Enfields would also have had British Government markings, but these are difficult to identify in period images, looking very much like the common 3rd Model P53.  Curiously enough, there is at least one period image showing a soldier from the Confederate 1st Maryland Battalion, holding what is either a P1851 rifle-musket or a rifled P1842 musket  ...  either of which would have been a surplus British Government weapon (Time-Life Books, Voices of the Civil War: Gettysburg (Richmond, VA, 1995), p. 110).

3.  The main published sources for research on the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle-musket and its derivatives are:  C. H. Roads, The British Soldier's Firearm, 1850-1864 (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1964; reprinted 1994 by R&R Books, Livonia, NY); Army Equipments Part V: Equipment of Infantry (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1865; reprinted as part of Arms & Equipment of the British Army, 1866, edited by John Walter (London: Greenhill Books, 1986); and D. W. Bailey, British Military Longarms 1715-1865 (London: Arms & Armour Press, 1986; a combined reprint of Bailey's earlier two volumes covering the period).
Other recommended books on the Enfield include:  Ian D. Skennerton, compiler, List of Changes in British War Material, Vol. 1, 1860-1886 (Margate, Australia: the author, 1979); De Witt Bailey & Douglas A. Nie, English Gunmakers (NY: Arco, 1978); Capt. Jervis-White Jervis, The Rifle-Musket: A Practical Treatise on the Enfield-Pritchett Rifle (London: Chapman and Hall, 1854; reprinted in 1984 by W.S. Curtis, Newport Pagnell, England).
Roads' book is the definitive work on the development and manufacturing details of the Enfield, and the others listed above also cover these details; however, they do not discuss the use of the Enfield in the American Civil War.  The best published source for that history is the many letters and reports in the War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederacy (Washington: GPO).  The best recent book on the subject is Wiley Sword's, Firepower from Abroad (Lincoln, RI: Andrew Mowbray, 1986).  Also recommended is Joseph G. Bilby's Civil War Firearms (Conshohocken, PA: Combined Books, 1996).  Although books dealing specifically with the Enfield in the Civil War are in the works, none has been published to date, and most other recent books contain many errors when discussing the Enfield.
In addition to recently published works, I have used several period British sources that have not been reprinted.  The other main source for my research has been a database on original Enfield arms, an ongoing project of mine and my brother's since the 1970s.  This database details the markings, finish, and configuration of over 400 specimens in private and public collections across America.  In addition, I have personally examined over 250 original Enfields in public and private collections in America, Canada, and Great Britain, including the collections of the Springfield Armory Museum, Virginia Historical Society, HM Tower of London, and others.     

4.  Details on the manufacturing process, including finishing, can be found in Roads, Jervis, Equipment of Infantry 1865, and "The Enfield Rifle," an article from Chambers's Journal, 16 April 1859 (http://www.rrnotes.co.uk/firearms/enfield.htm).   Specific instructions for barrel "browning" are given in Equipment of Infantry (London, 1865), p. 34, but the directions given are clearly for a rust blue finish.

5.  Detailed descriptions and some photos of the pattern guns in the MOD Pattern Room are in British Rifles - Catalogue of the Enfield Pattern Room (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1981).

6.  De Witt Bailey, British Military Longarms, 1715-1865 (London: Arms & Armour Press, 1986), p. 87.

7.  "Transcript of a Diary Kept by J. Wm. Thomas, 1861-1865," May 1894, typescript copy   (undated), Maryland Historical Society.  Thomas served in the 2nd Maryland Battalion, CSA, and stated that the soldiers of his unit preferred captured Enfields when given a choice because the "brown, or bronzed," barrels did not require constant polishing. 

8.  Major R.T. Huntington, "Colt's Imported Enfield Rifles," The Gun Report, Dec. 1957, p. 19.

9.  Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States (Philadelphia: J.G.L. Brown, 1861), para. 105; Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States (Richmond: J.W. Randolph, 1863), para. 97; The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army, Third Ed. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1861), pp. 202-203; The Field Manual for the Use of the Officers on Ordnance Duty (Richmond: Ritchie & Dunnavant, 1862), pp. 61-62.

10.  Personal e-mail communications from Joe Bilby, August 1998, regarding Enfields returned to the New Jersey state armory in 1863. These guns were apparently burnished and re-issued to the 33rd, 34th, and 35th N.J. infantry regiments.  (Based on Joe Bilby's research into the records of the Quartermaster General of New Jersey, 1863)  For examples of period images of U.S.C.T. troops with burnished Enfields, see the Union volume of Echoes of Glory (Richmond, VA: Time-Life Books, 1991), p. 161, showing images of soldiers in the 4th and 108th U.S.C.T. (the 4th U.S.C.T. image has also been published in several other places).

11.  Details on post-war US Government sales of surplus Enfields can be found in "Report on Sale of Arms by Ordnance Department," Report 183, 42nd Congress, 2nd Session, Serial 1497, Vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1872).  This report lists over 58,000 Enfields sold to various purchasers in 1870-71, including such ex-Civil War agents as Schuyler, Hartley & Graham and Caleb Huse.  Most of these Enfields were noted as "C & R," that is "Cleaned and Reconditioned," which almost certainly included burnishing.   Some of the SH&G muskets were intended for France (p. 456).  This report also noted that General Orders 101 allowed Federal soldiers to retain their weapons after the war, and that 19,882 Enfields were taken home as a result of this policy (p. 169).   (I am indebted to my brother Greg Walden for this information)

12.  In a database of original Enfields maintained by my brother and me, there are six identified Confederate Enfields that are blued, three that are bright, and one that has an unclear finish.  As for identified Federal Enfields in the database, one is blued, four are bright, and six have unclear finishes (three of the bright ones are in the Springfield Armory collection, and appear to have been reconditioned, which probably included burnishing).

 

I am indebted to Joe Bilby, member of the North-South Skirmish Association and authority on Civil War firearms, for his advice and input.

A very much abbreviated form of this monograph first appeared in The Watchdog, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Autumn 1997), pp. 3-5.


 

"Authenticizing Your Reproduction Enfield" - Click here to visit the webpage with instructions on the changes needed to make your reproduction Enfield more like the period versions ("de-farbing").

    

 

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