$2,495.00 SOLD

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Item Code: 1117-197

This is a fine, near excellent example of a rifle that usually shows up in lesser condition from ship-board use and navy storage. It is complete and all original, with the correct ramrod and unique rear sight. The Whitney Model 1861 Navy Rifle was the brainchild of John A. Dahlgren, who began testing the idea of a .69 caliber rifle for the U.S. Navy on the 1858 voyage of the USS Plymouth, hence one of the several names applied to this rifle. Dahlgren wanted a large-caliber short rifle for shipboard use and used the French carabine-a-tige as a model. He wanted a heavy barrel to compensate for its recoil and originally had the idea of fitting it with a Bowie-knife style bayonet that would be useful has a hand-held weapon and for other shipboard tasks.

As produced by Whitney for the Navy on a July 1861 contract, the rifle was lighter than Dahlgren envisioned and utilized a saber bayonet supplied by Collins, but mounted a 34-inch .69 caliber rifled barrel secured by two bands, with a long French style rear sight graduated to 1,000 yards. Whitney’s contract called for 10,000 rifles with deliveries to start in February 1862, but difficulties in obtaining barrels delayed production and delivery for a year. Five sample rifles were delivered in October 1862 and regular deliveries started in February 1863, with 5,300 delivered that year and the remaining 4,695 in 1864.

This follows the standard configuration of the rifle, though, as with most Whitney products, there were variations. The barrel surface is smooth metal with the bayonet lug and both sights in place. The rear sight the unique French pattern original to the rifle and is complete. Barrel and bands show remnants of a thin brown, and while most show up in the bright, Reilly notes some with blued mounts. The ramrod is the correct pattern. Both swivels are in place- on the lower band and bottom of the buttstock near the buttplate. The nipple is not battered and the neighboring breech area shows some small staining but no pitting. As is correct, the bolster is made without clean-out screw. The triggerguard plate has the characteristic finger spur of the rifle. The buttplate shows rather brown, with some crustiness on the tang, but a good “U.S.” just a little light on the upper right.

The wood has good color, surface, and fit to the metal. The edges of the forestock are sharp to the lower band and then a bit rounded from handling and cleaning to the upper band. There is one small chip to the left edge just forward of the lower band, and some minor handling dings here and there. The ramrod channel shows dings and a couple of slivers out along its edge, indicating the gun has seen some use, which is confirmed by a little bit of burnout just behind the nipple. The action is very good and the bore is nice, semi-bright, and with good rifling.

The markings are very good throughout. The wood shows the correct “F.C.W.” inspection cartouche on the side flat, which is very distinct, though with a very small pressure dent at bottom between the first two letters. The barrel has a sharp V/P/eaglehead proof on left flat at breech, below which it has an F.C.W. barrel inspection stamp as well. The top flat has a very crisp 1864 date. The lockplate is dated 1863 at rear of the plate and bears the early, large Whitney stamp used on these rifles showing under the hammer a large spread-winged American eagle with a big U.S. flag that shows just a little rubbing along the bottom, and U.S. / WHITNEY-VILLE below the bolster.

Interestingly, the rifle bears the serial number 9383 on the breechplug tang. Technically, this is not a serial number, but a mating number for a brass-hilted sword bayonet that had to be hand-fitted and, to the consternation of Navy ordnance officers was not interchangeable until modified. Nevertheless, the guns do seem to have been completed, numbered, and delivered more or less in sequence, which would place this rifle among the final 695 delivered in May 1864, or perhaps mixed in with the previous lot of 1,000, delivered in April. All of this, in spite of the fact that the lock then had to be sitting around since the end of 1863 and perhaps somewhat earlier, since even some 1863 locks show up with the later small eagle and single line Whitneyville stamp and Moller thinks the change in lock markings took place around serial number 6,000. Indeed, we previously offered rifle #8098, with an 1864 dated barrel and 1864 dated lock with the smaller markings. This could mean that the serial numbering was not done in a chronological sequence, but more likely indicates lock production was ahead of the barrel finishing, as we know from some 1862 dated locks, and that toward the end of the run workmen may simply have been reaching to the bottom of the bin for locks to complete the contract. In any case, it is hardly an inconsistency surprising to anyone familiar with Whitney’s guns. (He did, after all, make great use of the expression, “good and serviceable arms.”)

These rifles were widely issued to navy vessels. McAulay lists the Nansemond, William Bacon, and Eutaw in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron as among the first recipients in 1863, and thirty more vessels in 1864, including the Pawnee and Mendota. These saw service in some boat actions, in heavier fighting such as the attack of the Albemarle on the USS Mattabesset, where some were reported damaged, and also in shore actions such as Tulifinny Crossroads in December 1864, where the color-bearer of the 5th Georgia was brought down by a Plymouth rifle in the hands of a sailor assigned to the howitzer section of a mixed force of sailors and marines attempting to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. Interestingly, some the Potomac Flotilla actually requested Plymouth rifles to replace their Spencers, which they regarded as dangerous because of the rimfire ammunition.

This is a nice example of a very interesting Civil War long arm. [sr] [ph:L]

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