Merrill Breechloading Conversion of the 1841 Mississippi Rifle

Lot 1171 in the September 2020 RIA Premier auction.

James Merrill of Baltimore had his hands in several Civil War era firearms – rifles built from scratch, conversions of the Jenks carbines, and also conversions of 1841 Mississippi rifles done by the Harpers Ferry Arsenal. Merrill’s conversion involved a knee-joint type lever which could be opened to allow loading of a rifle from the breech. The system was relatively simple, and it was one of three (the others were the Lindner and Montstorm) made in small numbers for testing by Harpers Ferry. It appears that 300 Merrill conversions were done, 100 each of the 1841 Mississippi Rifle, 1842 musket, and 1847 musketoon.

10 Comments

  1. I do have a question regarding the gas sealing : do we have hot gas close to the face or is it better sealed than other conversion models?

  2. Every time I see one of these antebellum breechloaders, I laugh at those who complain that modern muzzleloaders are “too modern” for black powder hunting season.

  3. Do you ever feel compelled (or asked) to wear gloves when handling priceless firearms? I notice you handle guns with bare hands all the time, is this a factor to damaging the surfaces?

    • Depends on how well oiled and conserved the pieces are. On occassion he has handled pieces with gloves on. So I guess it depends on the owner/curator/whoever else is responsible for each individual piece.

  4. Having watched the video a second time for the details of the actionj, this really looks like a goodand practical breechloading conversion. Well If I owned one fo these I would probabaly try to fit a silicone ring into the groove behind the bolthead for beter obturation and less smoke in my face.

  5. There is the infamous photo of bewhiskered, bespectacled Capt. Samuel Richardson of the Texas Partisan rangers wearing his jaguar-skin trousers and matching jaguar-skin holsters in which he is armed with a Merill breechloading-converted carbine.

    The Mississippi riflemen used a patched .530/ .54 caliber round ball sewn into its patching and a heavy rammer to load it. The cartridges were carried in a unique cartridge box and accoutrements with white buff leather belts and carriage. The rifleman was issued an Ames-manufactured “rifleman’s knife” much like the Bowie knives that were so popular in the era before the revolver was perfected. The Model 1841 had seven deep rifling grooves. The confederacy issued out a .54 Minié/Burton ball for the unmodified rifle, which did not suit the rifling very well. The Federal conversions to .58 used the three-groove rifling tailored for use with ogival-conoidal lead bullet. These brass-fitted muzzle-loaders are really marvelous guns with very attractive lines.

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