Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about collecting Civil War weaponry is that while a weapon's authenticity is fairly easy to verify, the modern collector is usually left with no clue regarding a weapon's battle history. While a .58 caliber contract musket may have been built in 1863, whether or not that particular weapon actually saw any combat use is impossible to say. Sure, it could have been used at Little Round Top, but it also could have just as easily sat in a storage depot in its original shipping crate until it was sold as surplus in 1910. For this reason, we as collectors are relegated to picking up a Civil War weapon, looking it over and wondering "if this gun could talk, what kind of stories would it tell?"
But, every once in a great while, some guns do talk. Some gun's markings and numbers tell us their stories; and with a little research and historical context the pieces start to come together. Hold on to your hats, because this Burnside carbine has a lot to tell us.
This 4th/5th model Burnside carbine was made in early 1864. It's four digit, two thousand range serial number (#2887) tells us it was produced in the second quarter of that year. A serial number search in the data tables published by Springfield research service tells us that this carbine was issued in August of 1864 to Company D of the 2nd Illinois Volunteer Cavalry; as it is one digit away from another documented Company D Burnside (#2888) and fits squarely in the block of serial numbers that was issued to the Company in the month of August
By 1864 the 2nd Illinois Volunteer Cavalry had been through years of hard fighting. After it was mustered in 1861 it was sent directly South in an effort limit the Army of Northern Virginia's ability to receive aid from its Western States. August of 1864 would have placed the regiment in Baton Rouge; where it had been engaged in numerous skirmishes and small battles against Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi troops. Shortly after receiving their new Burnside carbines, the 2nd Illinois Cavalry accompanied an expedition led by General Francis J. Herron to take the Confederate-held town of Clinton, Louisiana on August 25th. This fairly large force marched until it reached the Comite River, a few miles outside of the town. There they discovered that the Rebels had destroyed the bridge over the river and set up three artillery pieces in its defense. Despite having to ford the river, the Union expeditionary force was able to overtake the Confederate forces along the river bank; forcing them to retreat into the town. However, despite this initial success, the slowness of having to move such a large force across the river gave the Confederates enough time to call for reinforcements; forcing the Union to retreat.
It was as a result of this failed attempt to take the town of Clinton that this carbine received more tell-tale markings. The Union's struggle to cross the Comite River resulted in several casualties and a lot of lost equipment. It appears that during the Clinton expedition, one of Company D's cavalrymen lost his carbine; either as a result of being killed, captured, or simply due to the chaos of battle. Whatever the case, it is clear that this carbine was recovered by Confederate forces after the fighting and subsequently shipped to the Richmond Arsenal for repair. We can deduce that it was this August 25th battle and not subsequent engagements that resulted in the weapon falling into Confederate hands, because all ensuing battles between the 2nd Illinois Cavalry and Confederate forces, including a successful attack on Clinton in October 1864, resulted in the Rebel Army's retreat; culminating in the eventual defeat of the Confederate Army in 1865. Obviously, the whole practice of capturing and re-issuing battlefield-collected weapons is reliant on an armies ability to maintain control of a battlefield after the fighting has stopped; that's hard to do when one is retreating.
The evidence of this carbine's Confederate ownership is indicated by the Confederate "Captured and Reissued" stamp found on the belly of the weapon's butt stock. The practice of collecting, repairing and re-issuing battlefield-collected weapons is described in thorough detail in Steven W. Knott's excellent book, "Captured & Collected" Confederate Reissued Firearms. The Confederate's desperation for modern weaponry lead to the creation of special ordnance teams to salvage usable arms from battlefields after the fighting had ended. By 1864, the Confederate government had also begun to pay civilians for weapons that were collected from battlefields. Special premiums were even paid for cavalry carbines; so it's no surprise that this Burnside was turned in. These captured arms were sent to one of four repair shops; Richmond being the largest. The weapons were repaired and approved for reissue with the application of single initial stamped on the stock. This inspector's stamp corresponded to the name of shop's head Ordnance officer. In the case of Richmond, the Ordnance Officer in charge of the repair and reissue of battlefield-captured guns was Louis Zimmer. Zimmer's inspection stamp can be found on the belly of this Carbine's butt stock in the form of a letter "Z".
Many Captured and Reissued Confederate weapons simply required a light cleaning in order to pass inspection. Others, like this Burnside, required more extensive repairs. This weapon's Confederate repair can be seen when examining the hammer - it is incorrect for a 4th/5th model Burnside. In fact, the hammer is actually from an earlier production Burnside; the Second Model. It appears that this carbine must have been dropped; likely from a high height (like off the back of a horse) and as result, suffered a broken hammer. After it was recovered and shipped to Richmond, it was repaired using an earlier hammer that must've been salvaged from a Second Model Burnside already on hand at the Richmond repair shop. The new hammer was fit up, tested for functionality and then approved for re-issue by Zimmer before it was shipped off for issuance in the Army of Northern Virginia for the defense of Richmond.
Functionally, this Burnside is in great condition. The Second Model hammer hits squarely on the nipple and the lock holds solid on both full and half cock.
The lock plate features good legible stamps and there is no rust or pitting anywhere.
The stocks are solid with no cracks or chips. The original Union Inspector's cartouches are still very legible; as is the inspector mark of Confederate Ordnance Officer Louis Zimmer.
The gun is all matching and the breech block locks up nice and tight. The bore is absolutely excellent with no rust or pitting and wonderfully crisp rifling.
Both front and rear sights are original and unmodified.
It would not be an overstatement to say that we have never had a weapon in the shop with this much documentable history. We've had I.D'd guns that could be traced to either the Union or the Confederacy, but we've never had one with so much history tied to both sides of the conflict. This carbine is sure to be the pride of anyone's collection.