Georgia Armory Rifle

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Description and Photograph

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   Foreseeing the crisis to come Georgia’s Government began the process of establishing an armory within her borders as early as 1860.  Even with this very early vision, it took until the summer of 1862 to get an armory up and running.  The first record of the Georgia Armory is in the Southern Recorder newspaper which detailed the Armory operating in the State Prison and pronounced the “Georgia Rifle” with sword bayonet attached a beautiful piece of workmanship, boasting that it was not surpassed by any arm manufactured in the United States or Europe.  The few examples of the “Georgia Rifle” that survive bear out the Recorder’s boast.  The article goes on to state that the Armory was producing muskets, rifles, bayonets and swords.  And that the first musket manufactured at the Penitentiary in Milledgeville, Georgia has “Presented to his Excellency J.E. Brown, Governor of Georgia” engraved on a plaque affixed to the musket.  And that 300 rifles and muskets would be turned out per month.  In reality the armory was turning out 125 per month by November of 1862.  Though the paper uses the term musket several times, the armory was producing rifles; no muskets produced at the armory are known to exist.  They were likely engaged in converting old muskets to percussion, which probably accounts for the mention.

     The rifle the Georgia Armory produced was based on the Model 1855 U.S. rifle.  Known surviving serial numbers are 22, 30, and 33 shown here; 224, 295 and 309.  Estimates of total production go as high as 400, but since 309 is the highest known number at this time, that figure seems a bit high.  Rifles are known to be dated both 1862 and 1863 and all were made in the last months of 1862 and the first quarter of 1863.  To date no one knows why the Armory produced no more rifles; speculation runs from lack of men and materials to fear of Sherman.  Regardless production stopped, though the armory did continue to alter flintlocks to percussion.

     Serial number 33, shown here, remained in the Wartime owner’s family until December of 2012.  It has a very well documented history of having belonged to Cornelius O’Connell during the War Between the States.  In 1862 Cornelius was working as a contractor to Georgia as virtually all gunsmiths were doing in the months leading up to the beginning of production at the Georgia Armory.

     A document survives that shows that forty-nine year old Cornelius was detailed from the Georgia Reserves for six months by James Burton, Superintendent of Armories, CSA as a helper at the Armory in Macon on the 12th of May, 1864.  At the time he was described as being five foot seven in height, having a dark complexion and hazel eyes and dark hair.  O‘Connell was actually thirty-nine at this time, but with conscript officer’s about, it was in self-interest that many men aged significantly during 1862.  To be fair to Cornelius he was not a Georgian, he was from County Limerick, Ireland.  He had married in Macon in 1851, so he had been there a good bit of time.

     On September 1, 1864 O’Connell was in the hospital at Macon.  James Burton, on August 31, 10864 had written Dr. G.M Green, Surgeon in Charge of Hospitals, Macon, Georgia that C. O’Connell had been unable to work since June 18th and that he did not expect him to be able to do so again for a long time.  As such he requests to turn him over to the hospital.  This was apparently denied, because three days later he was officially returned to his enrolling officer.  He survived his illness and the War, living until 1900.

     This history begs the question, were the Georgia Armory Rifles stored at Macon?  Certainly such a fine rifle would not have been issued to reserves?

     Serial number 33 has a very clear “GA. Armory” stamp over 1862 on the rear of the lock.  The date is bracketed by outgoing clarets.  33 is stamped on top of the butt plate tang.  The rifle was not disassembled to check for other marks because of its pristine, untouched condition.  It has an Enfield style ramrod which is obviously original.  The gun’s condition is very good.  It has no replacements or repairs of any kind and comes with a signed and notarized affidavit citing its provenance.  It also comes with O’Connell’s family tree.

     This is one of the very rarest Confederate rifles, and fortunately is in exceptionally good condition.

   

 

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