FIRST ARMY CONTRACT SPENCER RIFLE: MICHIGAN CAVALRY BRIGADE AT GETTYSBURG

$12,500.00

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 959-48

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The story of Spencer rifle contracts, deliveries, and government payments for purchases is complicated, but laid out by Roy Marcot in his book on Spencers and in an 1997 article in “Man at Arms” by Wiley Sword, who has established the serial number range for Spencers delivered to the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. No serial numbers have turned up in regimental records in the National Archives, but the numbers are in a very limited range because they are the first rifles manufactured and delivered under the first army contract.

This contract picked up at the end of a small contract to the Navy and included 1,200 Spencer rifles for the 5th Michigan Cavalry under Colonel Joseph Copeland. Copeland had campaigned vigorously for the repeating rifle to arm his men and received the first rifles shipped. The first five hundred were shipped in early December 1862 and issued at the end of the month. Sword has placed their serial numbers within the range of 1,000 to 1,550, allowing for the navy contract and various promotional and privately purchased arms. (Flayderman mentions only this first batch and a misprint starts it at “100” instead of “1000.”) A second lot of 500, with numbers in the 1,551 to 2,050 range were shipped to Copeland from mid-December 1862 to mid-January 1863. The final 200 Copeland Spencers were drawn from a lot of 1,200 guns shipped starting in late January and starting at number 2,051.

Our rifle is serial #1938 and thus falls within the second purchase lot sent to Copeland, who by then had been promoted to brigadier general and was commanding a brigade of the 5th, 6th, and 7th Michigan cavalry. Copeland had intended all of his rifles for the 5th Michigan, but losses in the regiment left him with about 300 extra rifles that he issued to the 6th Michigan Cavalry.

All of these early Spencer rifles saw hard service, but this one was well cared for. There is a chip out on either side of the upper rear of the forestock at the receiver, a fairly common occurrence when a gun has been fired; a couple of short, deep scratches next to the upper band on the right; and some very small chips around the edges of the lockplate, but overall the wood has very good color and only minor handling dings. There is a very typical Spencer short hairline crack extending forward for a couple of inches from the buttplate along the line of the magazine tube in the buttstock. This was the weakest part of the rifle from removal of wood for the tube and hairlines like this are extremely common in Spencers that have seen use, but the wood is absolutely stable. The wood to metal fit is tight all-around and there is even a faint trace of a cartouche at the left wrist.

The barrel is smooth metal and a silver, steel gray in color overall with scattered gray spots, but no pitting and even a small bit of blue at the left breech near the receiver and a legible barrel inspector’s stamp. The receiver shows some stains and darker gray spots with some shallow salt and peppering, but has crisp Spencer Repeating Rifle Company markings on the top and the breechblock and loading assembly, when lowered, show significant case colors. Sights, barrel bands, springs, sling swivels, and the magazine tube are all in place. The mechanics are very good and the rifle has a nice bore as well.

This would be a very good Spencer even without the connection to the Michigan cavalry brigade, which adds to its history and rarity. Copeland was disappointed not to lead the brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign. Expanded by the addition of the 1st Michigan cavalry and an artillery battery, it was placed under the command of the recently promoted George Custer, who took it into action at Hanover, Hunterstown and Gettysburg, where on July 3 the brigade and its Spencers played a key role in halting Jeb Stuart’s attack behind the Union right. The rifles continued in service in the brigade during Lee’s retreat and subsequent campaigns until the Fall of 1864 when the last of them are recorded in the 5th and 6th Michigan, having been replaced by carbines and lost by attrition. In Sword’s estimate, “due to the almost constant mounted active service and fighting, few of the original 1,000 issued Spencer rifles survived the war.” This is a rare survivor in very good condition.  [sr]

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