1858 Harpers Ferry Rifle – Musket


The newest weapon in my Civil War Arsenal is an 1858 Harpers Ferry Rifle-Musket. I’ve been looking for a good condition Harpers Ferry for some time now without any luck. Then recently Tim Prince from College Hill Arsenal listed this beauty. Within minutes I was on the phone with him negotiating a deal. The Springfield and Harpers Ferry Arsenals made 59,273 of these rifle-muskets, with the Harpers Ferry Arsenal making a total of 12,158. Because of the Confederates capturing of the Arsenal in April of 1861 many of the standing weapons were captured and or destroyed, leaving us with few good (Harpers Ferry) examples to examine and study.

What makes this a unique weapon is the Maynard Tape Primer designed by Edward Maynard for more rapid firing of the weapon. Dr. Edward Maynard, a dentist with an interest in firearms, embedded tiny pellets of priming material in thin strips of paper, then glued a second strip of paper on top of the first, creating a “tape” of primer. The tape could be manufactured quickly and cheaply, since paper was much less expensive than copper. Maynard also developed an automatic feeding system that would advance the tape when the musket’s hammer was cocked. The hammer not only detonated the primer, but would also automatically cut the paper, thus removing the spent portion of the primer tape. The system worked well under controlled circumstances but proved to be unreliable in the field. The tape was delicate and would tear but the biggest problem was the paper strips were susceptible to adverse weather and even humidity.

This model proved one of the staple arms of the Civil War, and was the first U.S. martial arm firing the Minie bullet in 58 caliber.

This example is an early model (Type 1) because of the long range rear sight, similar to the 1853 Enfield’s, brass front tip and the lack of a patch box.