This is an historically identified Burnside Cavalry Carbine that was issued during the Civil War to the long-serving 2nd Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, which fought all throughout the Western Theater during the war.
The Burnside Cavalry Carbine was one of the most popular carbines during the war on the Union side. Only the Sharps and multi-shot Spencer Cavalry Carbines were issued in larger numbers. The Burnside Carbine was invented by Ambrose E. Burnside, who was the Treasurer of the Bristol Firearms Company before the Civil War. Burnside's pre-war financial difficulties caused him to sell his interest in the company in June 1859. Eventually the Bristol Firearms Company became the Burnside Rifle Company but Burnside had no financial interest in, or control over, this company when the Civil War began. As a result, Burnside never personally profited from the large number of weapons purchased during the war. Burnside did, however, see to that cavalry units under his command were armed with carbines of his design during the war. Ambrose Burnside became a major general during the Civil War and was the ineffectual commander of the Union Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg before being demoted to commander of the Union IX Corps, which he led for the remainder of the war without distinction.
The Burnside Carbine underwent several design modifications during its production life. The First Model, which was made by the Bristol Firearms Company in Bristol, Rhode Island, was a .54 caliber percussion, breech loading carbine with a tap primer system that was integrated into the frame. The First Model did not have a forend stock and only about 300 were manufactured before the Civil War began. The Second Model Burnside was also made by the Bristol Firearms Company and is principally different than the First Model by the elimination of the tape primer system and incorporation of the traditional cap primer system. Approximately 2,000 Second Models were produced from 1860-1862. The Third Model was manufactured by the Bristol Firearms Company and differs from the Second Model by the addition of a wooden forend and a different style hammer. Approximately 1,500 Third Model Carbines were manufactured, all in 1862.
The introduction of a new hinged breech action, which prevented the breech block from falling too low beneath the frame during reloading (it sometimes traveled so low that it became disengaged fro the frame entirely), created the Fourth Model. There has been much confusion about the Fourth Model Burnside Carbine with some sources in recent years stating that the Fourth Model should be broken down into a Fourth and Fifth Model. The Fourth Model had a double-jointed breech action and hinge bolt making it easier for troopers to load and extract cartridges. The final or "Fifth Model," was made by adding a screw-pin in the right side of the frame to improve the functioning of the carbine. The Ordnance Department during the Civil War referred to the Fourth and "Fifth" Models as the Model 1863 Burnside Carbine and would purchase over 50,000 by war's end.
This Model 1863 Burnside Carbine, also known variously as the Fourth Model or the Fifth Model, is serial number 33240 and is in NRA Antique Very Good Condition. The Stock is black walnut and is in great condition with what appears to be its original finish. There are numerous small dings and scratches from handling and field use (common in Cavalry mounted weapons) but no cracks are noted. The left side of the stock has both original cartouches present. The rear most cartouche is a rounded end box with script, “GC,” which are the initials of George Curtis, who was a civilian Ordnance Department inspector during the Civil War. The forward most cartouche is a rounded end box with script, “JLC,” which are the initials of Ordnance Department sub-inspector of contract arms Joseph L. Cottle.
The original butt plate is present and exhibits a dark plum and pewter patina with areas of old corrosion. The butt plate tang has a serif “H” assembly stamp. Both original butt plate screws are present and both have unmarred slots. The original sling swivel assembly is present on the bottom of the stock and the swivel moves easily. The sling swivel assembly now exhibits a plum patina with old corrosion and the plate has the matching “H” assembly stamp. Both plate screws retain considerable original blued finish and both slots are unmarred.
The right side lockplate to the rear of the Hammer is marked "BURNSIDE RIFLE Co./PROVIDENCE=R.I." To the far rear of the plate is a serif “H” inspection stamp. The Lockplate has a mottled pewter finish. The Receiver or Frame shows areas of considerable original case colors on both sides and the top. The top receiver Tang exhibits a mixed pewter and plum patina with old corrosion and pitting present. All three tang screws are present and all have unmarred slots.
The Forend, also of black walnut, has handling dings and scratches and matches the finish of the stock. The forend screw is the correct flat, single-slot screw. The barrel band retaining spring on the bottom of the forend is present. The Band itself is largely a pewter color with evidence of old pitting. The original band spring is present and it also exhibits pitting.
The Barrel exhibits a pewter and brown finish from age with areas of old pinprick pitting scattered around the exposed portion. The bore is in very good condition with generally a shiny bore with very strong and crisp rifling still present and frosting in the grooves. The rear of the barrel, just to the rear of the sight is marked with the assembler's serif “H” mark. On the right, rear, just forward of the receiver is a serif “P” proof stamp.
The original front sight is present and is correctly brazed to the barrel. The Adjustable Rear Sight exhibits a pewter and brown patina. The Leaf is the original one for this carbine has a 100 yard "V" notch when the leaf is down and in the up position there is a 300 yard large aperture with "V" notch and a "V" notch at the top for 500 yards. The original single-slot rear sight screw is present and the slot is unmarred. The left side of the rear sight base has the assembler's mark "H.” The top of the barrel has the correct "CAST STEEL 1864'" stamp.
The top front of the Receiver is marked "BURNSIDE PATENT/"MARCH 25TH, 1856," which was used by Burnside Rifle Company in 1864. Under this is the serial number “33240.” The Breech has the matching serial number “33240,” and is generally a plum color. The left side of the Receiver has the original Cavalry Sling Bar, which is slightly bent, and Sling Bar Ring. The rear arm of the sling bar has a “C” assembly stamp.
The original Hammer shows some original case colors and has the cross-hatched thumb piece. The Hammer now exhibits a mottled plum and pewter patina with evidence of old pitting in places. There is a serif assembler's mark "H" on the right side of the hammer. The Hammer Spring is still strong.
The Lever Mechanism, including the Lever Release, exhibits remnants of the original bright, heat tempered blue finish in the protected areas. The bottom of the lever guard has an “O” assembly stamp. The left side of the Lever Release has a serif “D” stamp. The Trigger itself exhibits some original blue finish with the balance turning brown and a pewter color. The Trigger Plate exhibits a mixed pewter and plum patina with evidence of old pitting in places. The rear of the plate has a serif “G” assembly stamp. The trigger plate screw is present and the slot is unmarred.
The interior portions of the breech assembly still show considerable original blue finish. The breech assembly, to include the locking bar, show original assembler's marks throughout, most of which are "G,” “H” and “C." The original nipple is present and it is very clean and is not obstructed with a clear passage all the way to the breech cavity. The Breech Cavity itself is very clean. The breech locking lug has a serif “H” assembly stamp on the right side and it retains considerable original bright blue finish. The entire mechanism still works perfectly and is tight in battery. The original Hinge Pin is present and has a serif “G” stamp on the right side.
This particular Burnside Carbine is identified in the Springfield Research Service's Serial Numbers of U.S. Martial Arms, by serial number, "33240," as having been issued to and on hand with Company D, 2nd Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Regiment in August 1864.
The 2nd Regiment, Illinois Cavalry was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois and mustered in on August 12, 1861 with twelve companies, A through L. Company M joined the regiment seven months later giving the regiment an initial strength of 47 officers and 1,040 enlisted men. As with most volunteer units during the Civil War, most companies were organized and mustered in geographically. This particular carbine was issued to Company D, 2nd Illinois Cavalry, which was comprised of men mostly from Jersey County and Madison County, Illinois.
After muster, the 2nd Illinois set off and arrived at Fort Massac on August 29, 1861, then on to Cairo, Illinois, arriving on October 3rd and then to Paducah, Kentucky, arriving on November 1st. Upon arrival in Kentucky, the regiment was attached to the Military District of Cairo, Depart of Missouri.
As with many Union cavalry regiments during periods of the war, the regiment was split up for a time with individual companies performing work for other units or headquarters in the army. Company D, along with Companies A, B, and C were then attached to District of Jackson, Tennessee until November 1862. During that time, Company D took part in the advance on and siege of Corinth, Mississippi from April 29 to May 30, 1862, along with Companies A, B, and C. Company D then took part in the expedition from Columbus, Kentucky to Covington, Durhamsville and Fort Randolph, Kentucky, from September 28, to October 5. Company D was engaged at Clarkson on October 28th, 1862.
Company D then took part in the Vicksburg Campaign and fought at Vicksburg while attached to Colonel David Moore’s 4th Brigade of Brigadier General James C> Veatch’s 5th Division, XVI Army Corps, District of Memphis and was commanded during the fighting by Captain Franklin Moore. Company D has a monument today at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
Company D then was in action in and around Fort Pillow in August and September 1863. Interestingly, several cavalrymen from Company D, 2nd Illinois Cavalry were at Fort Pillow during the infamous massacre that occurred on April 12, 1864. Company D and six other companies were then moved to the Department of the Gulf.
The regiment was not reunited again until July 1864. It was upon this consolidation that this particular carbine was assigned to D Company. Initially, the regiment consolidated at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Company D and this carbine then engaged in combat operations Baton Rouge from July 3 to 25 and near Barton’s Ferry on the Amite River in July 25th, 1864. Company D and the rest of the regiment next fought at Bayou Letsworth on August 11, and then took part in the expedition to Clinton from August 23-29. As part of this expedition, Company D and this carbine were engaged in action at Olive Branch, Comite River and at Clinton on August 25th. Company D then undertook another expedition to Clinton, Greensburg, Osyka and Camp Moore in early October 1864. Company D then took part in Lee’s Expedition from Baton Rouge to Brookhaven, Mississippi with numerous skirmishes from November 14-21. Next, Company D and this carbine took part in Davidson’s Expedition from Baton Rouge against the Mobile & Ohio Railroad from November 27, to December 13. After resting for a few months, Company D and this carbine took part in the campaign against Mobile and its defenses from March 17 to April 12, 1865. As part of this campaign, Company D and this carbine were part of the operations against Fort Blakeley from April 1-9, 1865, the expedition from Blakely to Claiborne from April 9-17, and the expedition from Blakely to Georgetown, Georgia from April 17-30. With Lee’s surrender, the regiment, along with Company D and this carbine, moved to Shreveport, where they bivouacked from June 14-21, 1865, and then to San Antonio, Texas, where the regiment stayed until the unit was mustered out on November 22, 1865.
The chronology of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry Regiment and Company D, to which this carbine was assigned, is only a brief overview of the operations of those units during the war. There were innumerable other skirmishes and raids undertaken by these units during their service in the west. During its wartime service, the 2nd Illinois had 8 officers and 50 enlisted men killed in action or mortally wounded and lost 3 officers and 173 enlisted men to disease.
This is one of those rare examples when a Civil War weapon can be definitively identified to a particular unit, in this case the very active Company D, 2nd Illinois Cavalry Regiment. This Carbine has seen its fair share of combat and field use but it was obviously well taken care of during the war and after. This will make an incredible addition to any Civil War or US Military Weapons collection.