This is a truly outstanding example of a very scarce post-Civil War breech loading cartridge conversion of a Civil War musket. Even more interesting is the fact that the gun was also a Confederate imported and marked P-1853 “Enfield” Rifle Musket. The musket was converted to a breech loading cartridge rifle by the Roberts Conversion System. Union General B.S. Roberts invented the conversion system, which utilized his own .58 Roberts center fire cartridge, and submitted samples produced under his patents to the US Ordnance Board breech loading rifle trials. Those trials that eventually chose the Allin conversion system to modify the existing stock of US muzzle loading rifle muskets to breech loading cartridge rifles. While the US Ordnance Bureau did not adopt the Roberts system, the State of New York was suitably impressed during their own breech loading rifle trials and in 1867 placed and order with Roberts for 10,000 of the altered rifle muskets. New York provided the guns to be altered from those that they had in store in arsenals around the state. Roberts contracted with the Providence Tool Company of Rhode Island to fabricate the necessary parts and perform the alteration to the muskets. Unfortunately, in 1869 the New York legislature refused to fund the purchase, leaving Roberts on the hook for the work already performed by Providence Tool, which included 2,000 completed arms. Roberts quickly searched for a new buyer and managed to arrange a contract with the State of South Carolina to purchase 5,000 of the altered guns to arm their National Guard regiments. The Providence Tool Company also sold a number of the altered muskets to France in wake of the Franco Prussian War, and apparently many of these arms were P-1853 Enfields that had likely been in store in New York State Arsenals and had been intended to be part of the original New York conversion contract. The majority of the alterations were performed on Springfield (and contract maker) US M-1861 and M-1863/64 Rifle Muskets. At least one example is known on a US M-1855 rifle musket, and as previously mentioned, some alterations were also performed on P-1853 Enfields as well. The breech loading modification resulted in a significantly weakened wrist area, and many of the guns experienced severe damage during their period of use. As a result Roberts Conversion muskets are quite scarce today, especially in fine to excellent condition.
This Roberts Conversion Musket is truly unique and may well be a true “one of a kind” example. The alteration was performed on an 1861 dated Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket that also bears truly excellent SINCLAIR, HAMILTON & CO Confederate importation marks, as well as the Confederate inspection cartouche of Isaac Curtis on the flat opposite the lock. What is even more interesting is that the Curtis cartouche is clearly stamped OVER a US inspectors cartouche. This makes it very likely that this gun is in fact one of the famous arms referenced by Major Edward C Anderson of the Confederate Ordnance, who on August 14, 1861 wrote to Confederate Secretary of War L.P. Walker that the $100,000 received from Georgia Governor Brown would allow him to procure a number of English arms that had previously been offered to US buyers. He claimed that the guns had not been delivered to the US buyers due to a lack of funds and noted that “Some of these guns now in our possession have their viewer’s marks upon them, indicating that they had been inspected and accepted by their (U.S.) agents. Of course we subject them to the ordeal of our own standard of excellence.”. (See Firepower From Abroad The Confederate Enfield and The LeMat Revolver by Wiley Sword – the complete text of the letter is reprinted in the Official Records of the War of Rebellion Series 4, Volume 1, p559). The letter implies that not only do these guns have US inspection marks upon them, but that they would be further marked by the Confederate Viewer’s as well. This musket shows exactly that form of marking. The gun is marked with a vertical US inspectors cartouche, which may read JB, but only the B is particularly clear, as it is over stamped with the very crisp and clear I.C inspection cartouche of Sinclair, Hamilton & Company arms inspector Isaac Curtis. The gun is additionally marked with a very crisp Sinclair, Hamilton & Company mark on the comb of the stock, forward of the buttplate tang, which in this case is a (CROWN) / S / HC / (ARROW). Even this mark appears to have been stamped over a set of initials as well – possibly another US inspectors mark. The gun is in absolutely stunning condition, and retains about 95%+ of the original blued finish on the barrel and 20%+ of the original case hardened finish on the lock (mostly faded to a mottled silvery-gray). The Roberts Conversion breechblock retains about 90%+ of the original vividly mottled case hardened finish as well, and the Roberts pivoting loading block retains 90%+ of the original dull black oil quenched case hardened finish. The incredible condition of the musket indicates that it was likely captured from a Confederate Blockade Runner during its trip to the South. The majority of captured Confederate ships were taken to New York City, where their inventory was appraised and subsequently sold at auction. This musket was likely part of a lot of Enfield Rifle Muskets purchased at such an auction by the State of New York, and then it spent the rest of the Civil War sitting in a state armory – an unused and in near mint condition Confederate Enfield. After the war, the gun was most likely one of the many rifle muskets provided to the Providence Tool Company by the State of New York for alteration to the Roberts system. It is entirely possible that this gun eventually made it to the South as part of the 5,000 Roberts altered muskets that were purchased by that state for their National Guard use. The gun managed to remain in such excellent condition after its conversion due to a major flaw in the Roberts design – the breech block cannot fully open to load or unload the gun unless the ramrod is pulled about 2”-3” out of the stock. Otherwise, the falling breechblock strikes the end of the ramrod, and only allows the breech to open up about half of the necessary distance to use the musket. The US M-1861/63/64 muskets must have another ¼” or so of clearance between the ramrod and pivoting breech, allowing it to open completely on those conversions!
As previously noted, the gun is truly in EXCELLENT condition and might more appropriately be referred to as NEARLY MINT, as altered. The gun is 100% complete and original (as altered) and is simply a stunning example of a scarce Roberts alteration Enfield rifle musket. The Confederate and US marks present on the gun have already been noted. The lock bears the typical Birmingham contract rifle musket markings of a (CROWN) behind the hammer and the date 1861 over the word TOWER forward of the hammer. The original Birmingham proof and view marks were removed when that section of the breech was cut away to allow the installation of the Roberts breechblock. The left side of the breechblock is marked in two horizontal lines: ROBERT’S PATENT / JUNE 11, 1867. However the right side of the markings are faint, with only the first part of “Roberts” being clear and the year “1867” being struck into the metal very lightly. The stock flat is marked W. LAMMAS (likely the setter up or stocker) and a (CROWN) / B is stamped in the wood behind the triggerguard – likely the mark of the maker. Due to the Roberts conversion assembly system I could not remove the barrel to note any makers marks under it and the lock showed no discernable maker marks inside, just the usual Birmingham style assembly chisel marks on the edge of the lock. The ramrod channel is marked with the names CROOKS and possibly CHUBB, neither of which could be found in any of my London, Birmingham or the Regions gunmaking references. These marks are most likely the marks of the stock maker and the stocker of the gun when it was originally produced in Birmingham. The serial or rack number 7667 is stamped in the wood on the flat opposite the lock, and the assembly number 739 is stamped upside down in the wood on the tail of the lock mortise. This same number is stamped on the inside neck of the Roberts alteration hammer. The gun is 100% complete and correct in every respect and entirely original. The rifle retains both of the original sling swivels, as well as the original rear sight. The barrel bands all retain their “doughnut” screw retaining rings and the original full-length ramrod is in place under the barrel and retains excellent threads on the end. The action of the rifle functions crisply and flawlessly, although (as previously noted) the ramrod must be move 2”-3” out of the stock for the pivoting breech action to open completely. When opened, the extractor works as it should and the cocking of the hammer locks the action closed exactly as it should. The bore of the musket is bright and shiny and retains crisp, sharp rifling. The brass furniture has a lovely mellow mustard patina to it. The stock is in equally excellent condition and retains absolutely excellent, sharp edges. The stock shows only the most minor bumps and dings from light handling and a life of 150 years. The stock is absolutely solid and complete with no breaks, cracks or repairs. There are a few scattered flecks and pinpoints of white paint scattered over the gun and stock. This is not uncommon on 19th Century arms, which were considered to be nothing special during the opening years of the 20th Century and apparently were so lightly regarded as to be left propped in the corner or hung on the wall while the room they were in was painted! These minor flecks could be removed if the new owner so desires, but I chose to leave them in place, as part of the history and life experience of this truly unique weapon.
Overall this is simply a gorgeous, truly stunning example of a very scarce post-Civil War cartridge alteration of a Confederate marked and imported Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle musket. The amazing story that can be gleaned from the numerous markings on the gun indicate that it was originally a US inspected Enfield that was subsequently acquired by the Confederacy and imported via a Confederate Blockade Runner. The Blockade Runner was subsequently captured and the gun was apparently sold at auction and became the property of the State of New York. After the war the gun was delivered to the Providence Tool Company who altered it via the Roberts system, and it was then more than likely delivered to the state of South Carolina – end a circuitous route of travel that eventually allowed this Confederate musket to end up back in the south – around 3 years after the war was over! Rarely does a Civil War era Enfield appear with markings that identify it as either a US or CS purchase, but this one is both. While the gun likely never saw a Civil War battlefield, it did travel aboard a Blockade Runner and then almost certainly saw service in south during reconstruction. This is really a gun that you wish could talk! Additionally, it is almost impossible to locate a Roberts conversion in this state of preservation and even more rare to encounter one that is not built on a US rifle musket. This is one of those guns that I promise your collecting buddies will never claim to have in their collection. Whether your interest is in CS arms, US arms, imported arms or post-war cartridge alterations, I truly doubt you will ever find a finer example of a Civil War era long arm that fills so many specialty niches in a collection. SOLD