by Eric Mink, 4th Virginia
Manufacturers of reproduction firearms have expanded their offerings, allowing us a wider variety of choice in what we decide to carry. No longer are we limited to the M1853 Enfield or M1861(3) Springfield, we can now purchase reproduction smoothbores of the M1842 and M1816 conversion variety, as well as a reproduction Austrian Lorenz. For this reason, I thought some information on the weaponry carried by the Stonewall Brigade might be useful.
In the first months of the war, “modern” weaponry was considered a luxury for most Virginia companies, the 1st Virginia Brigade apparently being no exception. In May of 1861, the Rockbridge Grays, later Company H, 4th Virginia Infantry, left Lexington for Harper’s Ferry with the borrowed muskets of the Virginia Military Institute on their shoulders. These weapons, that could be carried through First Manassas, were M1851 Springfield Cadet muskets, basically a scaled down version of the M1842 with a .57 smoothbore barrel. By September 1861, the state of Virginia was asking for the return of VMI’s weapons, prompting General Jackson to write the Governor’s office stating that “I regret to say that Capt. Updike’s company (Rockbridge Grays)has not turned in the cadet muskets and I fear that I will be unable to forward them to the VMI until their place can be supplied with other percussion muskets.” By the end of the year, these weapons would be replaced. By the same time the following year (1862), it appears that the armament of some members of the 4th Virginia’s other companies had improved only slightly. On May 26, 1862, Ted Barclay of the Liberty Hall Volunteers, Co. I 4th Virginia, wrote home that he was carrying a “Belgium gun.” Struggling with upgrading from second-class weapons apparently was not isolated to the 4th Virginia, at least one other regiment in the Brigade started out with less than adequate firearms.
When the 33rd Virginia rushed the Union guns (Rickett’s Battery) at First Manassas, it is quite possible that close quarters fighting had more to due with their weapons than with their commanders’ idea of tactics. It has been stated that the Shenandoah Sharpshooters, Company K, 33rd Virginia, were initially issued outdated flintlock muskets. No doubt, the men in this company felt the Rockbridge Grays were lucky, for at least they had percussion muskets. By the following year, the old flintlocks were gone, but some members of the 33rd Virginia were still carrying the old reliable smoothbore M1842.
In June of 1865, the 7th New York Infantry were at Groveton, Virginia for the dedication of a monument when they stumbled across a M1842 Harper’s Ferry, dated 1847. In the stock of this battlefield “relic” was carved “A.A. Cameron.” As it turns out, this gun belonged to the Sergeant-Major of the 33rd Virginia, who was killed at 2nd Manassas.
By the following year (1863), the men of the Stonewall Brigade began to receive the newer British Enfields that were coming through the blockade. The George D. Rosensteel family spent their lives collecting Civil War relics and memorabilia, some of the members beginning shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. Today, the Rosensteel Collection is the nucleus of the Gettysburg National Park’s museum, many of its displays containing items picked up off of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Two of the Rosensteel’s “relics” are representative of the weapons carried by the Stonewall Brigade in July of 1863. In one of the display cases is the broken stock of a British Enfield, from the lockplate cavity to the buttstock, in which is carved “Wm F Beatty/Staunton Rifles.” The owner who left this broken stock on Culp’s Hill was a member of Company G, 5th Virginia. Another display contains a complete M1853 Enfield, marked 1862 – Tower, with “J.B.O./2nd VA Stonewall Brigade” carved in its stock. For the men of the Stonewall Brigade, and the rest of the Army, the Enfield was about the best weapon they could hope to receive from their government.
From existing examples, it appears that the Stonewall Brigade followed the same course that so many Confederate units did, upgrading the weapons whenever possible and/or available: from flintlocks and cadet muskets to the European imports, and from .57(7) caliber to .69, one can imagine what the Brigade’s ordinance officers must have gone through trying to supply the men. These few accounts and examples may not be representative of the entire Brigade, but it does give us some insight into the armament of these men at various periods curing the first half of the war.
. Keith Gibson and George E. Whiting. “The U.S. Model 1851 VMI Cadet Muskets.” North-South Trader’s Civil War. Vol. XXII No 5, Sept.-Oct. 1995, p.39.
. Guy Charleton Lee. The True History of the Civil War. Philadelphia: J.B.Lipincott Company. 1980, pp. 244-45.
. Charles W. Turner, ed. Ted Barclay, Liberty Hall Volunteers: Letters from the Stonewall Brigade. Natural Bridge Station: Rockbridge Publishing Company. 1992, p.71-72.
. William B. Edwards. Civil War Guns. Harrisburg: Stackpole Company. 1962, p.92.
. Stephen W. Sylvia and Michael J. O’Donnell. The Illustrated History of American Civil War Relics. Orange: Moss Publications. 1978, p.83.