The 1861 Springfield and the P53 Enfield were used during the American Civil War. They may not be the only weapons fired during that conflict, but they were the dominant rifled muskets of the four-year war.
But is one firearm better than the other? Let’s compare.
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1861 Springfield and P53 Enfield: The Civil War Rifled Muskets
Similarities between the 1861 Springfield and the P53 Enfield
Before we discuss the differences between these two vintage firearms, let’s first take a look at their commonalities:
- They have the same muzzle.
- They’re both easy to load and shoot.
- Both barrels measure around 40 inches.
- They weigh about 9 lbs.
At a glance, both rifled muskets even look alike!
But there’s more to these weapons than meets the eye. Let’s dig deeper into details as well as their distinction.
During the American Civil war, the US Model 1861 Springfield was widely used by the Union army or the North. So people think of this brightly polished iron firearm as “The Northern Rifle”. But surprisingly, the Confederate forces or the southern troops loved this weapon too!
Currently, this rifled musket is popular among firearm super-owners and Civil War role players alike. It’s favored for its reliability, accuracy, range, and historical background.
This rifled musket is essentially a modification of the Springfield Model 1855.
When President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers, the company Springfield Armory started to manufacture an improved rifle. This became the Model 1861 Springfield.
The Springfield Armory produced and supplied most of the rifled muskets used by the Union soldiers. However, the Union army was expanding, and the demand for firearms was overwhelming. So the manufacturing of the 1861 Springfield was opened to other contractors:
- Alfred Jenks & Son (Bridesburg)
- C. C. Schubarth & Co.
- Charles B. Hoard (Watertown)
- Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company
- Dinslow & Chase (Windsor Lock)
- E. Remington & Sons
- E. Robinson
- E. Whitney
- James D. Mowry
- J. T. Hodge & A. M. Burton (Trenton)
- Lamson, Goodnow & Yale
- Norwich Arms & Co.
- Parkers’ Snow & Co.
- Providence Tool Co.
- Sarson & Robers (New York)
- Savage Revolving Firearms Co.
- S. Norris & W.T. Clement
- Union Arms Co.
- Welch, Brown & Co. (Norfolk)
- William Mason
- William Muir & Co.
The 1861 Springfield then became the most produced long rifle during the 19th century.
Of these manufacturers, the Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company (now known as Colt’s Manufacturing Company) produced a special version of the 1861 Springfield and called it the “Colt Special”. They redesigned the bolster, the barrel bands, and the hammer.
These changes were then incorporated into the Springfield Model 1863.
The general effective range of 1861 Springfield is 200-400 yards. However, it can still be reliable when it comes to hitting human-sized targets that are 500 yards away, especially when used by individuals who are skilled in precision shooting.
According to the Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Army, with this weapon, well-trained soldiers could fire three aimed shots per minute.
The 1861 Springfield fires a 58 caliber Minié ball. The shot can be deadly if the target is 500 yards away. It can also inflict wounds around 1,000 yards.
This bullet weighs 505 grains, which is slightly lighter than the one used by P53 Enfield.
Here’s how to properly load an 1861 Springfield:
- Remove the cartridge from its box.
- Pour the powder charge into the barrel.
- Place the bullet into the muzzle.
- Firmly seat the bullet on top of the powder charge using the ramrod.
- Put the ramrod back, and pull the hammer to a half-cocked position.
- Place a musket cap on the nipple.
- Finally, put the hammer on full cock, and your weapon is ready to fire.
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The British Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket, or simply P53 Enfield, was the service rifle of the British Empire from 1853-1867. It had a wood stock, a blued steel ramrod, and a brass nose cap. It was also the most famous foreign weapon used by both sides in the American Civil War.
Next to 1861 Springfield, this firearm was the second most extensively used piece in the war. The Confederate army or the southern force imported more P53 Enfield weapons than any other firearms.
The Enfield Armory located in England provided P53 Enfield to both north and south. But most of these rifled muskets went to the Confederate States Army.
At first, the P53 Enfield was produced through the “cottage industry” methodology. In this process, each part was handmade and forged by an expert, designed to exact specifications. Then, the components were assembled by hand finishers.
This method was both slow-moving and costly.
When the demand for firearms suddenly broke out, the production strained its capacity to the maximum. So the manufacturing agreement was let to:
- Robbins & Lawrence Co. of Vermont
- Belgian makers
- French makers
Robbins & Lawrence (R&L) produced the P53 Enfield through the “American method”. The process was “tooled up”, and the firearms were manufactured in an assembly line production.
This method enabled R&L to make each component of P53 Enfield interchangeable. It also made manufacturing faster and cheaper.
In a way, this process made P53 Enfield better than 1861 Springfield because broken parts can be easily replaced by identical ones which were machine-made.
The P53 Enfield has sights with a ramped ladder design. This is considered to be an improved version of the sights of 1861 Springfield.
This enables the former rifled musket to accurately hit targets that are a thousand yards away. Additionally, this also makes the firearm practical for long-range shooting.
The P53 Enfield has a .577 caliber. And the bullet that was specially designed for this weapon is called the “Pritchett bullet”, which weighs 530 grains. It’s inverted in a paper casing, then lubricated.
Here’s how to load a P53 Enfield:
- Remove the cartridge from its box.
- Pour the powder charge into the barrel.
- Reverse the cartridge, and place it (with the bullet first) into the muzzle.
- Tear the remaining paper.
- Using the ramrod, tap the bullet. Ensure that it’s fully seated on the powder charge.
- Return the ramrod, and half-cock the hammer.
- Place a new cap on the rifle.
- Bring the firearm into full cock, and fire.
Which Is Better?
In all honesty, it’s hard to say which weapon is better. Essentially, the two are almost equal when it comes to weight, length, and usage on the battlefield.
However, they have a few differences that you may want to consider.
The P53 Enfield has a more advanced sight arrangement than 1861 Springfield. This makes the former more accurate when it comes to long-range shooting compared with the latter.
In addition, the P53 Enfield has a brass nose cap, which is less susceptible to rust than iron. Plus, the brightly-polished iron build of 1861 Springfield can make it hard for shooters to conceal their position.
Check out this video by Alexander Campbell as he loads and fires an 1861 Springfield:
The 1861 Springfield and the P53 Enfield were considered iconic and pinnacles of perfection. Both were widely used during the Civil War.
This may not give you a specific answer as to which is superior, but is there really a better rifle in the first place? Because at the end of the day, the person behind the firearm is the one that’ll make the biggest difference.
Do you know of any other differences between the 1861 Springfield and the P53 Enfield? Which firearm do you prefer? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
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