Number Two to The Union, But Number One to the Confederacy, The Enfield Rifle

Due to a Lack of Armament for Both Union and Confederate Forces, the British Enfield Rifle Became an Important Infantry Longarm in the War Between the States

Enfield Rifle Photograph

Written and Photographed by Eric Ortner
(Originally Published in the Civil War Courier)

The Civil War was the proving ground for breech loading small arms. However, during this struggle muzzle loading small arms reached their greatest heights. One of the two finest muzzle loading long arms used during the Civil War was the model 1853 Enfield rifle-musket. This weapon was used in large numbers by both the Blue and Gray armies, but it quickly became the standard Confederate arm.

The Confederate forces found themselves in a dilemma during the onset of the war. The South simply did not have enough ordnance to supply her armies; of course the North wasn't a whole lot better off. A call to Southerners for donations of arms by Governors of the states resulted with what would have been a good small arms museum. The weapons were for the most part outdated smoothbore flintlocks in desperate need of conversion to percussion.

The Southern states had four basic options for obtaining weapons. The first was from the less scrupulous northern manufacturers, but this door was quickly closed to the South by the United States government. Obviously the second way was for the Confederacy to produce them for herself. The third way the Southern armies armed themselves was by capturing weapons from the Union. Initially, though, the South managed to arm itself by importing weapons from abroad, and especially from England.

Originally an English weapon, and the standard issue for British infantry, the model 1853 Enfield was a commonly manufactured weapon in Great Britain. The long arm was originally produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield England, and this is where the rifle earned its name. The plant was situated along the banks of the River Lea. This location was chosen for the river's waterpower and as a means of transportation.

Due to the overwhelming demand for the Enfield rifle both in England and abroad, by 1861, the weapon was already being mass produced in several different locations. Unfortunately the smaller factories scattered throughout the Birmingham area were not, for the most part, creating completely interchangeable weapons. The vast production of these weapons has also made it somewhat difficult to determine models that actually were used in The War Between The States.

It is interesting to notice that most of the technology or machinery used to create the rifle was developed in the United States. In 1849, there was no national armory for small arms in England. As a result, none of the British ordnance used interchangeable parts. A committee was sent to the United States to study the American System in 1853. It consisted of Lt. Col. Robert Burn, Lt. Thomas Picton Warolow, of the Royal Artillery, and John Anderson, Inspector of Machinery. The committee visited the United States Armory at Springfield where they found every operation in the process of arms manufacture to be automated. The Committee on the Machinery of the United States of America wrote an 87 page report describing what they had observed to the House of Commons.

The three men requested that James T. Ames of the Ames Manufacturing Co. construct a set of gun stock machinery. The basic design of this stock making machinery was based on Thomas Blanchard's design of 1820. The machinery that was ordered had been further refined by Mr. Buckland who was the engineer and inventor of most all the machinery at the Ames Company. Mr. Buckland was paid $1,000 for his services in building the machinery. The Ames Company also supplied Jigs and Gauges which were used to ensure the uniformity of parts. This was a great aid in the creation of interchangeable parts.

Enfield Lock Action

The men from Great Britain also ordered machinery from the Sharpe rifle plant. From there they ordered 131 machines, some of which were milling machines along with sheet metal working machines and wood working machines. The committee spent in total $105,000 on the machinery, which would eventually produce the Enfield rifle-musket. This was more than twice the funding that they were authorized to spend.

In addition to procuring the all important American machinery, the Committee was also able to obtain the services of James Henry Burton, then an engineer at the Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry Armory. Burton's official title at Harper's Ferry was Master Armorer, which he earned by making improvements to the "minie ball". Burton's improvement basically eliminated the need for a separate plug in the base of the bullet. Yet, upon firing, the bullet still expanded into the grooves of the rifle barrel producing a more accurate and longer ranging projectile. Burton became the Superintendent-Assistant Engineer at the new Enfield factory.

Enfield Factory

The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield England situated on the Lee River, based on an etching published in the September 21, 1861 issue of "The Illustrated London News."

In 1856, the machinery was beginning to be of service to the Royal Arms Factory and by April of 1859 the factory had been written about in Chamber's Journal. The plant employed 1,250 people, and produced 1,200 rifles per week.

There were about 769 operations involved in producing the weapon. Over 220 of them were in the creation of the lock alone.

The model 1853 Enfield rifle had ample time to prove itself during the Crimean War. It was found exceptionally useful in the Siege of Sebastopol. The Enfield was soon considered to be the best small arm on the continent. However, it did reveal several problems with the ammunition. These were solved with the use of a boxwood plug.

The weapon that became so popular in the Civil War was actually further refined from the original 1853 models. It is more correctly titled the P53-3 model. The refinements to the long arm included the use of screw clamping barrel bands instead of the spring secured type which were fitted previously. There were also several ramrod alterations.

The design of the Enfield rifle was much the same as the Springfield, which was the favorite design of the Union Armies. This stems in part from the fact that the machinery, which produced the Enfield was originally intended to produce Springfield rifles. The Enfield caliber, at .577, was 3/100 of an inch smaller than that of the Springfield's .58. Yet, it was still compatible with the .58 caliber.

The entire length of the percussion rifle was about 54 inches with a barrel of 39 inches. The barrel alone weighed 4 pounds 2 ounces. It is difficult to make out the rifling upon inspection of an Enfield as it was cut at about .015 inches at the breech tapering to .005 inches at the muzzle. It had three grooves with a pitch of one turn per 6 feet and 6 inches. At 8 pounds, 14½ ounces the Enfield was slightly lighter than the Springfield. However, with the burden of an angular bayonet it weighed 9 pounds and 8 ounces. In its entirety, the Enfield rifle musket was made of 56 parts. It featured deeply blued barrels and clamping brass barrel bands. The blue color was usually buffed and left in the white by American forces. The locks and hammers were often the same color.

The ammunition used in an Enfield was similar to a "minie ball". The bullets were manufactured by packing together lead sections in a press. This eliminated the air bubbles and inconsistencies that were often encountered in a cast bullet. It had a diameter of .568 and a length of 1.0625 inches. It weighed about 530 grains. The service charge of the weapon was about 70 grains. A wooden plug was placed in the bullet instead of an iron cup and this reduced fouling. The bullet was generally cylindrical with a round front and a conical shaped cavity in the rear end. The weight of 65 rounds of ammunition with 75 caps was 5 pounds 8 ounces.

About 40 cartridges, which greatly aided a soldier by eliminating the time involved in fumbling for separate powder charges and bullets, were carried in a leather pouch. Cartridges wrapped the powder and slug in nitrate paper. The soldier would often rip them open with his teeth by biting off the end. He would then pour the powder into the barrel. The remaining paper was rammed down the barrel with the ram rod. The paper was completely consumed by the flash of burning powder.

The Enfield rifle musket was a highly accurate weapon. Its combat effectiveness was 3-5 times greater than the percussion smoothbore musket which was still being used during the Civil War. At 50 yards, under non-combat conditions, with a bench rest, the average 5 shot group size was 3.75 inches for the Enfield. This compares to 12 inches for the US Springfield musket. At 100 yards, the Enfield's group size was 7.5 inches. This placed 13 of the 15 shots fired in a 72 by 72 inch target. The Enfield was accurate at distances of up to 400 yards. It had a sight, which graduated to 900 yards and could still cause casualties at this distance. It is said that the weapon was still lethal at 1,100 yards, but anything struck at this distance would most likely have been by chance.

A Bullet fired from the rifle at a target distanced of 100 yards could pass through 12 half-inch planks. This testing held true on the battlefield as well. It often ravaged the human body. A bullet fired from an Enfield was often known to shatter bones, and could penetrate several limbs before its energy was exhausted.

Although bringing muzzle-loading technology to some of its greatest heights, the Enfield was not without a few problems. For instance, the bores sometimes became fouled in heated action. This would inhibit rapid loading and volley firing. A fresh regiment could at times fire two to three times faster than a regiment that had fired over 20 shots per man. The 21st Tennessee's Enfields at Stone's River rapidly became so fouled that, "The balls had to be hammered down, thereby causing slow firing."

With the United States markets closed to them, the Confederate officials looked to Europe for a solution to their ordnance dilemma. The European powers took full advantage of this opportunity, but many of them were very short sighted in doing so. Various European powers took the opportunity to unload obsolete arms. Many of the weapons were rusted and unusable. This left the War Department and the American population, in general, with the opinion that all foreign arms, with the exception of British, were of poor quality.

In April 1861, Major Caleb Huse was sent to England with an order to buy 10,000 Enfield rifles. The Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield was government owned, and the British government had decided to remain neutral in the conflict. This was one of the reasons that Huse went to the privately contracted London Armory Co., and the arms that were purchased were quickly sent to the South. However, because the London Arms company could only produce 1,300 of them a month, and was already in the midst of contracts with the British Government and the state of Massachusetts, it became clear that this order would not be completely filled for at least a year. This was a disappointment because, the arms from the London Arms Co. were also considered to be of superior quality to that of the smaller manufacturers. Weapons from London had more finely crafted stocks and the metal work did not have as many sharp edges and imperfections.

Enfield Lock Action Diagram

Diagram of the working mechanism of an Enfield Lock

The Northern Army also had at least one large setback in their purchase orders, and this one played out to the Confederacy's advantage. Colonel George L. Schyler from the North allowed a deal to fall through after the United States War Department was unable to deliver funding in a timely manner. Huse seized the opportunity and offered the contractor, Birmingham Small Arms Company, 50 cents more per gun which was, of course, accepted.

Huse was also lucky to meet the Englishman Archibald Anderson, who was well connected in many different levels of the British arms manufacturing industry. He was successful in his endeavors, beating the Northerners to many small manufacturers.

With the large acquisition of arms finally achieved, it was quickly realized by the Confederacy that the next formidable task would be to sneak the arms through the Federally enforced naval blockade. Federal agents were continually spying on Huse and his Confederate partner Edward C. Anderson's activities. In mid August, 3,500 Enfields along with some other small arms were loaded into the steamer Bermuda. The Bermuda successfully evaded the blockade and dropped anchor in Savanah, Georgia on Sept. 18, 1861. With this success, the Confederates raised the stakes and loaded about 10,000 Enfields aboard the steamer Colletis that same month. The all-important cargo was then transferred to the Fingal along with Anderson, who was there to make sure all went as planned. Northern agents made a note of the transfer in Scotland and sent a detailed sketch and description of the Fingal so the blockade could identify her. When the Fingal arrived in Bermuda, the contents were once again moved to a new ship, this time the Confederate Cruiser Nashville. The Nashville successfully ran the blockade and also docked in Savanna.

In spite of the Federal blockade, shipments of arms were extremely successful. During 1861 and 1862, Caleb Huse managed to purchase 81,049 Enfields. In November of 1862 Braxton Bragg said "For the first time in the war we have had to complain of want of men to handle our Arms." General Gorgas, who was chief of the Confederate States Ordnance, reported on February 3, 1863 that by this point in the war Major Huse had shipped to the confederacy 70,980 Long Enfield rifles, 9,715 short Enfield rifles, and 354 Enfield carbines. He also reported that there were still 23,000 rifles in London awaiting transport.

Although blockade running was an all-important part of ordnance acquisition for the Confederate forces, the Confederacy also manufactured some Enfields on her own. This was in part because of James H. Burton. After his stay in Enfield England, he returned to the states in 1860. He brought with him plans for the Enfield rifle along with some good connections to the English arms manufacturers.

One of the largest Confederate manufacturers who produced Enfields was the firm of Cook & Brother. The owners were Ferdinand W. C. Cook and Francis L. Cook, two Englishmen. The company was originally opened in June 1861 and located in New Orleans. It could be found at #1 Canal Street at the intersection of Common and Canal Streets, but was later moved to the Fulton Warehouse opposite St. Mary's Market. There were very limited numbers of firearms produced in New Orleans, probably no more than 2,200 manufactured at this location. This is because the factory predominantly produced edged weapons.

However, in April 1862, as Yankee troops began to threaten New Orleans, much of the machinery from this plant was loaded on steamers and moved up the mighty river to Vicksburg. From there the equipment moved overland to Selma, Alabama and then eventually to Athens, Georgia. Unfortunately, in their haste, they were forced to leave 130 tons of wrought iron, along with the tools and machinery of the machine shop. In Athens, Cook & Brother set up a new arms plant, which was made of brick and stone complete with ramparts and tower in 1863. In this plant they produced short rifles, musketoons and carbines in the Enfield pattern along with some edged weapons. Enfield musketoons weighed about 6½ pounds with a barrel of 23 inches and a total length of 39 inches. The carbines on the other hand had a total length of 37 inches with a weight of 7¼ pounds. It is important to note that in 1862 every Confederate cavalry regiment had at least some members holding Enfield muzzle-loading carbines.

In addition to the musketoon and carbine models, the model 1856 Enfield, or the short rifle were also being produced by various manufacturers in Great Britain as well as at the Cook & Brother firm in the Confederacy. The short Enfield had a barrel length of 33 inches, and a total length of 483/4, inches making it about the same size as a Mississippi rifle. The model 1856 had a weight of 8 pounds 7 ounces. Because of their reduced weight, they were perfect for light infantry. The Short Enfield usually carried a sword bayonet.

Not only were the Cook Brothers great producers of firearms, but they were extremely patriotic as well. They organized their employees into a defense battalion that was engaged in opposing Sherman. Major Ferdinand W. C. Cook was shot in the head leading his men in the engagement before Savannah in December, 1864.

Ferdinand, who was largely responsible for the success of the company, left behind a great legacy. A report from General Gorgas to Secretary of War Seddon on December 31, indicated that the armory could produce 10,000 rifles per year. After the war the factory was returned to the surviving Cook brother and was later turned into a cotton mill.

Although The Cook & Brother firm was the largest producer, it was by no means the only Confederate manufacturer of Enfield type rifles. Another manufacturer was the Confederate States Ordnance Works at Tyler, Texas. Between October of 1864 and March 31, 1865, there were approximately 508 short Enfield patterned rifles produced at this location. These models were rather peculiar though because the caliber was .54 instead of .577.

The reason the Confederate states not only purchased Enfield style rifles from abroad but also went so far as to manufacture the arm was because they proved their effectiveness on the battlefield many times over. One example of the Enfield proving its worth was on March 14, 1862 in New Bern, North Carolina. The 33rd North Carolina was armed with some of the earlier Enfield issues, and they saw their first action in this battle. Although the Confederate entrenchments were being stormed successfully elsewhere, Yankee casualties in front of the 33rd's position were at their highest. The regiment held its position until they exhausted their ammunition and the remainder of the Confederate forces retreated.

Recipients of the weapon were often the best drilled or disciplined men. The 62nd Regiment of Alabama Volunteers, finally traded in their Mississippi rifles for Enfields after about 9 months duty between November 3, 1863 and July 11, 1864. They were all the more pleased with the weapon too. Asa M. Piper from company C said, "We were ordered to Mobile and stopped in Slema for 5 days, then carried to Mobile on a boat, landing there July 20th when we were given Enfield rifles in place of our short rifles. Enfield rifles were 1000 yard guns and good ones too."

A good one or not, the Enfield, and muzzle loaders in general, were really no match for the advent of breech loading and repeating rifles. This stems from the fact that a good soldier could only fire off three rounds a minute with any accuracy. The final end of the Enfield model 1853 was in 1865 when they began to be converted to breech-loaders on the Snider System. This system, which was invented by an American, prolonged the life of the Enfield until 1871. It was then replaced by the Henry-Martini.


Firepower from Abroad: The Confederate Enfield and the Le Mat Revolver 1861-1863 by Wiley Sword. 1986 Andrew Mowbray Incorporated P.O. Box 460 , Lincoln , Rhode Island 02855

The Manufacture of Enfield Rifles, The Illustrated London News September 21, 1861, Courtesy of the State University of New York at Buffalo Libraries

Confederate Carbines and Musketoons by John M. Murphey, M.D. 1986 Published by John M. Murphey M.D. and printed by Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas , Texas

The Ames Recessing Machine: A survivor of the original Enfield Rifle Machinery By K.R. Gilbert 1963-4 Technology and Culture pg. 207-211

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Fire Arms of the Confederacy, by Claud E. Fuller and Richard D. Steuart 1944 Quarterman publications, INC. Lawrence, Massachsetts.

The Civil War Military Machine: Weapons and Tactics of the Union and Confederate Armed Forces by Ian Drury & Tony Gibbons 1993 Smithmark Publishers Inc., 16 east Street, New York, NY

Some Recollections Of An Old Soldier by Asa M. Piper, Company C, 62nd Regiment of Alabama Volunteers, C.S.A. Researched by Kaaren Linton, Alabama Department of Archives and History Montgomery, Alabama

Chambers's Journal, 16 April 1859 as found at

Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia by Francis A. Lord.1965 Castle Books, New York , NY

The Great Century of Guns Concept and general editing Nena Micunovic. 1986 Gallery Books, an imprint of W. H.. Smith Publishers Inc., New York.

The Complete Muzzle-loader by L. Gordon Stetser Jr.1992 Mountain Press Publishing Company Missoula Montana

American Gun Makers by Aradi Gluckman and L D. Satterlee 1953 Stackpole Books Harrisburg , PA

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