MANUFACTURER(S): Harpers Ferry / Springfield Armory - USA
ACTION: Flintlock / Percussion Cap; Muzzle-Loading; Single-Shot
CALIBER(S)*: .69 Musket Ball
Detailing the development and operational history of the Harpers Ferry Model 1816 Flintlock Musket / Percussion Cap Rifle.
Entry last updated on 10/3/2017.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
Harpers Ferry became America's second national armory after the site was personally selected by George Washington (the Springfield Armory was its first). Harpers Ferry carried the name of immigrant Englishman Roger Harper who, in 1748, established a watermill at the river's edge, giving rise to this Virginian town. Following Washington's suggestion, the U.S. Congress formally authorized the building of the new national foundry in 1794. By the following year, the establishment was producing hundreds of arms for the national army, primarily flintlock-based muskets and pistols.
One product to emerge was the Harpers Ferry Model 1816 - largely inspired by the French Charleville Model 1777 musket. This long gun, too, became a flintlock-based, muzzle-loading, smoothbore firearm. In the flintlock system, a piece of flint rock was held in a vice-type grip atop the hinged hammer arm - or "cock" due to its resemblance to a chicken's head/beak and the pecking motion of the hammer when falling (in modern-speak, you still "cock" a weapon to charge it). Powder was added to both the flash pan and down the barrel - the latter from the muzzle - which was then followed by the ball bullet. The contents of the barrel were then rammed home with an included ramrod - usually made of wood or brass. The hammer could be set to "half-cock" during loading and "full-cock" when ready to fire. Due to the long reloading process, infantry of the period were arranged in organized lines so one line could reload while the other fired. The shock value of this approach was proven as a flintlock rifle, by itself, was generally inaccurate at medium-to-long ranges. Guns of the period also held another disadvantage: they typically used smoothbore barrels which offered little accuracy. This was improved through the wider acceptance of "rifling" but not until proper bullets and charge were developed to take advantage of the imparted spin of the rifling motion set upon the exiting bullet. The flintlock system of operation was in use for some 200 years before given up for good. It was replaced by the percussion cap method which contained the action to within the weapon (flintlock guns were prone to misfire, particularly in damp weather conditions). Rifling, conical bullets and percussion caps made for more accurate fire and could essentially utilize all of the existing elements of the flintlock action, save for the flash pan and flint.
The Model 1816 was all of the above - a smoothbore, muzzle-loading weapon which required separate charge and ammunition, the latter in the form of a .69 caliber musket ball. The action, which was of all metal to conform to the required tolerances of the forces involved, was set to the right side of the gun body. A trained shooter could fire between two and three rounds from the gun at ranges up to 200 yards depending on conditions. The rifle was some 58 inches long with 42 inch barrel and, weighing in at 10lbs, a bulky, cumbersome weapon when wielding for long periods. As a muzzle-loading weapon, the gun allowed only for single shot firing. The single-piece wooden stock made up the primary bulk of the weapon with inlaid metal components including the lock plate and barrel. The shoulder stock was integral to the body through the grip handle. The trigger unit was underslung in the usual way. The barrel and forend were bound together through two barrel bands. The ramrod was housed in a slot under the barrel and accessed when necessary.
The Model 1816 was in production from 1816 to 1844 and manufactured to the tune of some 675,000 units before her story was written (the Springfield Armory also assisted in its production). There proved three distinct - though subtle - variants of the base line type known as Type I, Type II and Type III.
Type I models were the original forms dating back to 1816. These were in production from 1817 into 1821 and were noted for their separate lugs used at the rear sling swivel. The Type II, in production from 1821 on, incorporated this assembly as part of the trigger ring. Both variants utilized the same barrel finishing process which intended to counter the effects of rust. However, this finishing process was abandoned in 1832 for expediency and cost. The Type III models, therefore, used the basic "bright steel" barrel finish and were produced until 1844.
During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the rifle saw combat service. Despite their appearance many decades prior, all manner of firearms were pressed into service at the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865). During the 1850s, many Model 1816s underwent a process of conversion to percussion-based firing for the inherent advantages over flintlock weapons. Additionally, rifled barrels were soon introduced as were improved graduated rear sights. These weapons were clearly noted for their lack of a flash pan at the lock plate and used a more traditional "hammer" (not requiring a flint rock). Percussion caps were simply set upon the awaiting nipple and the rifle loaded from the muzzle in the usual way.
Model 1816 muskets/rifles were in used until 1865. Her high production total of 675,000 units marked her as the most-produced flintlock firearm in American history.