The Colt Special Model 1861 Musket was nothing more than a retooled version of the Springfield Model 1861 Musket series. Colt Armaments Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut produced the type in an effort to fill the burgeoning US government need for capable firearms during the bloody American Civil War. Some time earlier in 1846, the Robbins & Lawrence Armory and Machine Shop was set up in Windsor, Vermont and undertook production of various products including firearms which were noted for their excellence in the 1851 London Crystal Palace Exhibition. In 1854, the display had netted the concern a British Army contract for 150 machine tools to stock a new Enfield military armory being built. The weapons constructed here became the Enfield Pattern 1853 Musket.
With growing acclaim, Robbins and Lawrence opened up another facility in Hartford, Connecticut in 1853 with still another facility following. However, quick expansion proved too much for the company and remaining orders soon fell, forcing Robbins & Lawrence to file for Bankruptcy. It was at this time that Samuel Colt moved in to procure some of the famous machinery utilized at Enfield and, with his usual persistence, he received government orders for new-build firearms. Production began in September of 1862 (the American Civil War was now in full swing, having officially begun on April 12th, 1861 with the Southern bombardment of Fort Sumter). The new Colt guns were musket type weapons, based on the Springfield Model 1861 but completed on the Enfield machinery used in the manufacture of the Enfield Pattern 1853 Musket. As such, Colt marketed the weapon as the "best" of both systems - giving the new-version musket the name of "Colt Special Model 1861".
The musket was of the standard percussion cap system utilized heavily during this time and featured a wooden body, integrated stock and long-running three-banded barrel. Percussion guns were a vast improvement over the preceding flintlock and matchlock forms for they did not expose primary firing functions to the elements and featured less in the way of moving parts. It was not until 1841 that the United States formally took on percussion-based firearms as something of a national standard, ushering in a new age of gun engineering across the country. In fact, many existing flintlock systems were simply modified to accept a percussion-based function, retaining their original "musket" feel. The barrel measured in at 40 inches in length and the gun was chambered for a single .58 caliber cartridge. As a musket-type weapon, the Special Model 1861 was loaded from the muzzle end of the barrel in a relatively laborious loading process that involved utilization of a ramrod to drive down the propellant and cartridge ball. The ramrod was held in place just under the barrel when not in use. All of the key working components were held in and on the sides of the receiver and included a right-handed hammer that was cocked rearwards before firing. The trigger was positioned under the receiver and featured a smooth curved contour. This unit was protected by an oblong trigger ring. Sights were noted above the muzzle and ahead of the receiver.
The American Civil War would last until April 9th, 1865 to which some 131,000 Special Model 1861 muskets were produced for the US government by Colt. The weapon then saw extensive use by both sides in the conflict for, facing a shortage of viable arms options due to the successful Union blockage of key ports against overseas arms shipments, the Confederate States became keen on reusing captured Union firearms to fill their inventories. Many long-barreled muskets that remained in the aftermath of battles were often damaged, usually at their muzzles most times caused by blocked barrels going unnoticed in the heat of action, and, thusly, had their barrels shortened and essentially made into carbine lengths. Such weapons had their applicable ramrods shortened as well to compensate for the lesser barrels.