The Springfield Model 1861, designed by the Springfield Armory, was a rifled musket designed to fire the Minie Ball, a relatively new ammunition at the time. The Model 1861 was heavily based upon its predecessor the Model 1855 Rifled-Musket.
The Model 1861 was heavily based upon the Model 1855, also produced by Springfield, using the same stock, barrel and ramrod. The major difference between the two however is the Model 1861's return to the use of percussion caps (last seen on the Model 1842 Musket), rather than the Maynard tape-primer of the Model 1855, greatly simplifying the loading procedure for the Model 1861.
The Model 1861 used the same 40in (1.01m) long barrel, with 1:72 twist rate and 3 twists inside it. Likewise the stock remained the same, as did the specifically shaped ramrod, designed to prevent deforming the soft-lead Minie ball, with a cut out that matched the Minie ball exactly (a feature of most ramrods for Minie Rifles since the Minie Rifle was released in 1851).
The Model 1861 featured leaf sights (iron sights). Using two leaves, the first for firing a distance of 300 yards and the second for distances over 500 yards. When both leaves were down the sight was set at 100 yards. This was a cost effective solution, with the British Pattern 1853 Enfield using ladder sights, which were more accurate (with more increments) at a greater cost.
The Model 1861 was fitted, as was the norm, with a bayonet, fitted to the underside of the barrel using a triangular socket.
The Model 1861, like its predecessor the Model 1855, fired a .58in (14.7mm) Minie ball. However the Model 1861 fired the Minie ball using percussion caps, rather than the Model 1855 which was designed to have the ability to use either Maynard tape-primers (similar to rolls of caps) or standard issue Percussion caps. The Maynard priming system was designed to remove the practice of manually adding the percussion cap by placing a primer over the nipple of the weapon automatically.
The rate of the fire for the Model 1861 was expected to reach 3 shots per minute, as the muzzle loading technique remained standard practice when the Model 1861 was released.
The Springfield Armory received a lot of demand for the Model 1861, its $20 value forcing Springfield to sub-contract Model 1861 production to other companies.
Colt Special Model 1861
One such company, Colt , took it upon themselves to improve and refine the Model 1861. These changes concerned barrel bands, new hammer and the bolster (all redesigned). This improved version, the Colt Special, was only avaliable from Colt, with Springfield developing the Model 1863.
The changes made by Colt, along with several other minor changes by Springfield themselves, resulted in the Springfield Model 1863 Rifled-Musket. This would be the last muzzle-loaded musket/rifle produced by Springfield.
The Model 1861 was the most widely produced firearm used during the American Civil War, with 1,000,000 examples thought to have been produced. It gained a reputation for being a reliable, accurate weapon particularly when an experienced marksman used the Model 1861. This reputation is, however, disputed by some. The concensus that anyone could be accurate with the Model 1861 is the main problem, as most infantry were not used to using sights, causing them to shoot over the head of their opponent.
Nevertheless, the Model 1861 remains a symbol of the American Civil War, used in the majority of war renactments. However original Springfields are expensive and hard to obtain, therefore manufacturers such as Pedersoli or Euroarms produce replica rifles for this purpose.
The Model 1861's main rival was the British Pattern 1853 Enfield, which was re-released in 1861 as the Pattern 1861 Enfield Musketoon. The two rifles made up the majority of arms used in the American Civil War and were very similar in several respects.