This is a very nice example of a rarely encountered US Civil War ammunition crate. While literally millions of these wooden ammunition crates were assembled and used to ship ammunition to the Federal army during the course of the Civil War, their survival rate is very low. This is simply the result of most wooden shipping and packing crates ending up at fuel for cooking and heating fires for the soldiers in the field. When these crates are found available for sale, they are often found without their wooden lids, which were often destroyed in the process of prying them off of the crate. This particular crate was assembled and packed at the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts, and is so marked inside the lid. The Watertown Arsenal was established in 1816 on the Charles River in Watertown, MA. Its purpose was for the receipt, storage and issue of ordnance supplies to the US army and volunteer organizations, as needed. During the Civil War era, the arsenal was commanded by Captain Thomas Rodman, inventor of “Rodman Gun”, a family of large bore seacoast Columbiad style cannon, ranging in size from 8” to 20”. The crate was packed with 1,000 rounds of .54 caliber expanding ball (i.e. Minié type) projectiles for use with unaltered .54 M-1841 “Mississippi” Rifles in the hands of Union troops. The cartridges probably saw additional use with Austrian M-1854 Lorenz Rifle Muskets, whose original 13.9mm caliber was considered “.54” by the US Ordnance Department. However, the 13.9mm caliber is really about .5472” and the .535” projectiles did not work well in those rifles, leading to the complaints of Austrian guns being inaccurate in the field. The cartridges were packaged in paper wrappers of 10 each, with 12 percussion caps in an 11th paper tube.
The ammunition crate is stenciled in white paint on each end with its contents: 1000 CARTG, over the handle and EXPDG, CAL. 54 / PERCUSSION below the handle. The stencils are faint on both sides due to wear and age, with the bottom two lines being the clearest and the upper line (which is half on the crate and half on the lid) is barely legible. The inside of the lid is stenciled in black paint, in two lines: WATERTOWN ARSNL, / MAY 1862. There is also some light and illegible period pencil writing on the inside of the lid. The box retains only traces of its original olive drab paint on the sides and lid, with aged stained, worn wood clearly visible. The ends of the crate retains about 30%-40% of its original olive paint, with one end retaining slightly more than the other end. The box is solid and essentially complete, and retains both of its original handles and the original lid. The box measures 16” long by 11 ½” wide by 7” tall, not counting the 1” thick lid. The lid has been attached with a pair of hinges very long ago, and the hinges show significant age, oxidation and moderate surface rust. The box does show significant wear and age, as well as some dirt, cobwebs and other debris of the ages on the inside especially. There are a few minor chips and slivers of wood missing from the box, but nothing that significantly effecting the displayability of this scarce ammunition crate.
Overall this is a nice, complete and original example of a rather scare US Ordnance Department ammunition crate. The crates for .58 caliber and .69 caliber ammunition are more often encountered in collections, but .54 ammunition crates are much more rare. The date on the inside of the lid means that this crate was assembled, and likely shipped, in the middle of the Peninsula Campaign and the subsequent Seven Days Battles in may of 1862. The cartridges within the crate did not see service during that campaign, they were likely in cartridge boxes just a few months later when the two armies collided on the banks of Antietam Creek in the sleepy hamlet of Sharpsburg, MD. For any collector of Civil War small arms ammunition, an original ammunition crate is always a highly sought after item to add to their collection, and the rarer calibers and markings, like .54, are always desirable. The early production date makes it even more desirable, as it is rare that a crate manufactured in the first half of 1862 would survive the rest of the war, and still be in existence 150 years after it was assembled. This will be a great addition to any Civil War relic or war room, and will be a piece you will be very proud to display. SOLD