ELI WHITNEY MODEL 1855 PERCUSSION RIFLE-MUSKET, DATED 1858; ID’D TO 6TH CONNECTICUT SOLDIER WHO LATER JOINED THE CONFEDERATE ARMY TO ESCAPE CAPTIVITY

$4,950.00 SOLD

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Item Code: 172-4209

This rare, Civil War muzzleloader is a .58 caliber Eli Whitney contract Model 1855 percussion rifle-musket in good overall condition. Weapon is identified by markings to Corporal Henry J. Bemis of Company A, 6th Connecticut Infantry.

All furniture is iron including the lockplate, hammer, bolster, buttplate, triggerguard, swivels and ramrod. The nose cap is pewter. All gunmetal has small areas of fine salt and pepper rust pitting and looks to have been cleaned and buffed.

Longarm has a 40” round barrel with seven land and groove rifling unique to Whitney on these types. Bore is dark and dirty. Barrel is secured to the stock with three-barrel bands and band springs. Pitting is heavy at the breech which is a sure sign of use. There are no inspection marks on left barrel flat and no barrel date. Musket has a two leaf rear sight and an iron blade front sight.

Beveled lockplate is fitted with a C-shaped hammer and the Maynard tape priming system. System employed a waterproof paper tape of percussion caps inserted into the primer magazine that set a cap unto the nipple when the hammer was pulled back and trigger pulled. Tape priming system mechanics do not work. Lockplate markings include the date “1858” strongly stamped behind the hammer and “E. WHITNEY” over “N. HAVEN.” A large, worn spreadwinged eagle rests on the front-hinged Maynard mechanism door. Bolster screw is badly buggered. Mechanics are sloppy. Hammer stops at half-cock but does not hold when trigger is squeezed. Hammer holds at full-cock and falls properly.

Black walnut stock is solid with no major cracks or splits. Wood surface has usual dings and dents from age, storage and use. It also has a dull sheen from having been handled and rubbed over the years. There are no cartouche marks. Left side of butt has the letter “J” carved into it twice approx. 2.00 inches apart. The right side has a carved letter “M.” Faintly stamped into the wood between the letter “M” and the edge of the buttplate is “6 CV / A CO” in two lines. After the letters “CO” there is scratch that looks to be a number “7.”

According to the descriptive roll of Company A of the 6th Connecticut soldier #7 is Henry J. Bemis. With the weapon is a copy of this roll from the National Archives.

Henry Bemis was born October 12, 1843 in New Orleans, Louisiana. At some point he and his family relocated to New England.

The records show that Henry’s first enlistment was on April 16, 1861 when he enlisted for three months service in Company G of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry. He was mustered out at Boston on August 2, 1861 after spending his enlistment doing guard duty in Baltimore, Maryland.

Bemis next enlisted as a Corporal in Company A, 6th Connecticut Infantry at Killingly, Connecticut on August 2, 1861 to serve three years. At the time of this enlistment Henry is described as being 5’ 6 ¼” tall with a light complexion, gray eyes, dark hair and by profession a mechanic. He gives his birth place as Brooklyn, Massachusetts but later on in his post-war pension documents he gives his birth place as New Orleans, Louisiana.

Bemis accompanied his regiment to South Carolina where it was involved in the siege of Charleston. He was present until January 10, 1862 when he reported sick to the hospital on Hilton Head. He was back with his Company by the end of February and was reduced to Private for disobedience on March 1st.

On November 3, 1862 Bemis was sent on detached duty to Company M, 1st US Artillery where he remained until December 21, 1863. He returned to the 6th Connecticut and became a re-enlisted veteran on the 23rd.

In May of 1864 Bemis was promoted to Corporal. He was present for the fighting on Bermuda Hundred and was wounded in the leg and captured at Deep Bottom on August 16, 1864. Bemis was confined at Libby Prison and Belle Isle before being sent to Salisbury, North Carolina.

While in the Confederate prison at Salisbury Bemis joined the Confederate army. In his pension records Bemis explains his situation and why he joined the Confederate army. He says he was captured by Georgia troops who “were hungry for clothes.” They took all of Bemis clothes down to his trousers and shoes. He says “One of the guards gave me (on his bayonet) a pair of pants that someone had thrown away, they were torn down the leg and very much alive. This was my condition while in prison. No hat, barefooted, a shirt with one sleeve- I had torn one sleeve off to make a bag to get my corn meal in.”

Bemis goes on to explain that the “Rebs” then informed the prisoners that there would be no exchange and that they would be confined for the rest of the war. Bemis then says “I did not like the prospect, and tried to think of some plan to escape but there seemed to be no chance but death, and that seemed to be not far off.” At that point Bemis heard that prisoners were being accepted for service in the Confederate army and that they were only required to do guard duty and not fight. Bemis joined the Confederate “1st Foreign Battalion” and after a while made an attempt to escape but was captured and threatened with being shot as a deserter until he convinced his officers that he just became lost in the woods. On his second attempt Bemis succeeded in escaping and reaching the Union lines.

At the end of his statement Bemis writes “It might appear on the face of the forgoing to have been morally wrong to have joined the Rebels, but life is sweet and I felt that if my life was to be sacrificed the proper place was in the Union ranks under the Stars and Stripes. My object therefore for doing so was that I might better my opportunities for escape.”

Henry J. Bemis returned to the 6th Connecticut in May of 1865 and was mustered out August 21, 1865.

After the war Bemis returned to New England and settled in Rhode Island where he married and had 6 children but the marriage ended in divorce.

Bemis died in 1926 and is buried in Locust Grove Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island.

Military and pension records accompany the weapon.  [ad]

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