The M1841 Mississippi Rifle
is a muzzle loading percussion rifle
The percussion rifle is a rifle that uses a percussion cap instead of older flintlock or matchlock variants. Faster reloading and fewer moving parts made this rifle more versatile and rugged compared to other single-shot rifles. The U.S. adopted the percussion system in 1841 and produced an...
used in the Mexican–American War
The Mexican–American War, also known as the First American Intervention, the Mexican War, or the U.S.–Mexican War, was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S...
& the American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...
When Eli Whitney Blake
Eli Whitney Blake, Sr. was an American inventor, best known for his mortise lock and stone-crushing machine, the latter of which earned him a place into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.-Biography:...
took over management of the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1842, he set about tooling up under his new contract from the U.S. government for making the model 1841 percussion rifle. Machinery and fixtures for making the 1822 contract flintlock musket had to be retooled or replaced in order to produce the lock and barrel of the new model. Whitney, Jr. had the good sense to hire Thomas Warner as foreman, who, as master armorer at Springfield Armory, had just been making the same kind of major changes there. Thomas Warner had spearheaded the drive to equip the Springfield Armory with a set of new, more precise machines and a system of gauging that made it possible for the first time to achieve, in the late 1840's, the long-desired goal of interchangeability of parts in military small arms. Under his tutelage, Eli Whitney, Jr. equipped the Whitney Armory to do likewise.
The nickname "Mississippi Rifle" originated in the Mexican War when future Confederate president Jefferson Davis was appointed colonel of a Mississippi volunteer regiment which was armed with Model 1841 rifles. At this time, smoothbore muskets were still the primary infantry weapon and any unit with rifles was considered special and designated as such. At the Battle of Buena Vista
The Battle of Buena Vista , also known as the Battle of Angostura, saw the United States Army use artillery to repulse the much larger Mexican army in the Mexican-American War...
, Davis' regiment helped provide the decisive push that drove the Mexicans from the field. In June 1846, the army offered him an appointment as a brigadier general of a militia unit but he declined. In traditional Southern style he believed the appointment was unconstitutional. The United States Constitution, he argued, gives the power of appointing militia officers to the states, not to the federal government.
The Model 1841 evolved into the Model 1855 US Rifle, which became the standard issue weapon for regular army infantry, and ultimately the Model 1861 Springfield.
By the time of the Civil War, the Mississippi Rifle was generally considered obsolete. It was rarely carried by Union troops (with a few exceptions; the 20th New York Infantry was armed with them up to Antietam), but Confederate NCOs, skirmishers, and sharpshooters often used them, and occasionally whole infantry regiments.
The Mississippi Rifle was sometimes referred to as a "yagger" rifle, due to its smaller size and its similarity to the German Jäger rifles.
Design and Features
The Mississippi Rifle was the first standard U.S. rifle to use a percussion lock system. Percussion lock systems were much more reliable and weatherproof than the flintlock systems that they replaced, and were such an improvement that many earlier flintlock rifles and muskets were later converted to percussion lock systems.
The Mississippi Rifle was originally produced in .54 caliber, using 1:66 rifling and no provision for fixing a bayonet.
In 1855, the Mississippi Rifle was changed to .58 caliber, so that it could use the .58 caliber Minie Ball
The Minié ball is a type of muzzle-loading spin-stabilising rifle bullet named after its co-developer, Claude-Étienne Minié, inventor of the Minié rifle...
that had recently become standard. Many older Mississippi Rifles were re-bored to .58 caliber. The rifle was also modified to accept a sword type bayonet.
The first Mississippi Rifles had a v-notch sight. This was later replaced with leaf sights with 100, 300, and 500 yard ranges. A ladder sight with ranges from 100 to 1100 yards in 100 yard increments was fitted on some later rifles.