VERY SCARCE U.S. GOVERNMENT PURCHASED MERRILL RIFLE

$6,950.00

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 1142-16

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James Merrill of Baltimore had been in the small arms business since the 1840s. He supplied carbines to the U.S. as part of Merrill, Latrobe and Thomas in the 1850s, and was involved in altering Jenks carbines, M1841 rifles, and M1842 muskets to his system. During the war he supplied roughly 14,000 carbines to the government, but only 769 rifles by direct purchase or contract. This encompasses 3 by purchase in June 1861, 566 by by a December 1861 contract delivered from April through December 1862, and an additional 200 on an October 1863 contract, delivered in November, the latter being second model rifles bearing the date 1863 and using knobs on the latch release of the loading assembly instead of the flat, serrated release catch.

Like Merrill’s carbines, the rifle is .54 caliber and single-shot, loaded at the breech by putting the hammer at half cock, unlatching and pulling back the lever on top of the breech to pull back a breech bolt and insert a paper cartridge fired by a conventional percussion cap. The rifle is brass mounted, including the nose cap, bands, triggerguard and side plate, buttplate and patch box in the right butt stock. The 33-inch barrel is fitted with lug for a saber bayonet on the right muzzle and a front and rear sight, the long base of the latter forming a catch for the lever latch.

The rifle is in very good condition, complete and all original, with tight fit of wood to metal and sharp markings. Rod, sights, bands, and swivels are all in place. The brass mounts have a nice, untouched aged patina. The barrel is smooth metal with some some fine pitting around the muzzle, back to the nose cap, some crustiness on the rear sight, but a pleasing overall plum color. The loading assembly shows as gray mixed with some faint, thin blue. The hammer and lock plate are mostly brown, with a little faint blue. The markings are sharp: the breech lever is marked J.H. MERRILL BALTO. / PAT. JULY 1858. The lockplate marked forward of the hammer, J.H. MERRILL BALTO. / PAT. JULY 1858 / APL. 9 MAY 21-28-61; and at rear of the plate serial number 8113, which matches the number on the loading assembly. The interior of the patchbox door is numbered “1/88,” an assembly batch number.

The wood has very good, warm brown color and good edges. There are a few handling dings or pressure dents: on the right between the bands and behind the wrist, and couple of small ones on the comb. The wood also bears crisp “ZB” US government inspector cartouche of Zadock Butt, a civilian employee of the Ordnance Department who had worked at the Harpers Ferry Armory and during the Civil War was retained as an inspector of contract arms. Given this is a first model, it certainly falls within the 566 delivered in 1862 and intended for the 21st Indiana, serving under Butler in Louisiana. Some men in the outfit had privately purchased Merrill Rifles and reports were favorable, leading to a request to so arm the entire unit.

Not all of the government purchased rifles seem to have gone to that unit, but it is difficult to separate them out from privately purchased weapons. Some may have made their way into the 10th Michigan and the 4th Arkansas, as well as some cavalry regiments such at the 6th Kansas, 3rd Wisconsin and 11th Ohio. The 6th Michigan Infantry seems one of the few regiments where one can say for certain, since their Merrills seem to have been borrowed from 21st Indiana after it was changed to heavy artillery service. Perhaps the best-known instance of the use of Merrill rifles was in the 1st Mass. Sharpshooters, who aided in the repulse of Pickett’s Charge here at Gettysburg.

This is a very good example of one of the more rare and sought-after Civil War breech loading percussion U.S. martial rifles and a pattern known to have seen field use.   [sr]  [ph:L]

DISCLAIMER: All firearms are sold as collector's items only - we do not accept responsibility as to the shooting safety or reliability of any antique firearm. All firearms are described as accurately as possible, given the restraints of a catalog listing length. We want satisfied customers & often "under" describe the weapons. Any city or state regulations regarding owning antique firearms are the responsibility of the purchaser. All firearms are "mechanically perfect" unless noted, but again, are NOT warranted as safe to fire.

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