Rare Prussian Percussion altered India Pattern Brown Bess
The musket offered here is a very unusual and quite rare example of the 1797 India Pattern Brown Bess Musket. The India Pattern musket served as the backbone of the British military throughout the Napoleonic Wars until the 1840s when it was finally replaced by the Pattern 1839 and Pattern 1842 percussion muskets. During that time nearly 3,000,000 of them are estimated to have been produced.
Historically England has opted to fight peripheral wars if possible, and the Napoleonic Wars were no exception to this rule. To that end it comes as no surprise that to do so the British were more than willing to help subsidize the military campaigns of their allies. Throughout the 12 years of the Napoleonic Wars millions of pounds were spent providing military aid to England’s continental allies. Among these beneficiaries was the Kingdom of Prussia, which starting in 1813 received a £666,666.00 annual subsidy. These monies were used to provide a wide array of military equipment including uniforms, accoutrements, munitions, and weaponry. In the four months following Prussia’s treaty with England some 68,000 muskets had been delivered to Prussian Baltic ports.
Little has been written about these Prussian used English muskets, but based on a handful of surviving examples it would appear that the majority of the arms were India Pattern Brown Bess Muskets. A single surviving Model 1805 New Land Pattern Light Infantry Musket with Prussian connections is known by me at this time as well. Apart from a brief mention in “European Arms in the Civil War” by Schwalm and Hofmann I do not believe any English language publications cover their history.
The little that we do know starts after the Prussian adoption of the percussion ignition system in 1839. In the following years the Prussians undertook a massive operation to modernize their stocks of arms which still included some stocks of British muskets. These muskets invariably are found with large Prussia style bolsters and hammers in the same manner as percussion altered Model 1809 “Potsdam” Muskets that are so common in the United States. In addition to percussioning them, the Prussians also added a block style rear sight to the barrel’s tang in the same manner as a Potsdam musket. As originally produced the India Pattern Brown Bess utilized the bayonet lug as a front sight, which is far too short to be effective with the new rear sight. To remedy this the Prussians also added a tall iron front sight just behind the forward edge of the stock nosecap.
How exactly these muskets arrived in the United States is up for speculation. It is quite possible that they may have been mixed into deliveries of other Prussian arms such as the Model 1809 and Model 1839 Muskets. Alternatively, it is possible that these are represented in the thousands of ambiguously named “Tower muskets” purchased by both Federal and Confederate agents.
At present I am aware of five examples of Prussian altered Brown Bess Muskets in the United States; four India Pattern Muskets and one Model 1805 New Land Light Infantry Pattern Musket. Two of the India Pattern Muskets reside in public collections; the Smithsonian Institution and the Illinois State Military Museum. The example that resides in the collections of the Illinois State Military Museum was sent back to Illinois by the 98th Illinois Mounted Infantry as part of a sampling of arms taken from the Confederate Arsenal at Macon, Georgia prior to its destruction.
This musket is a hard used example of these Prussian altered Brown Bess Muskets. The iron components have a deep, near black patina to them and are fairly pitted. Fortunately, a good amount of the lock and barrel’s markings are still visible. The lock is marked with a crown over GR forward of the hammer, and is engraved TOWER on its tail. The Tower mark is weak on both ends. The barrel retains the original British proof marks, though they are difficult to see clearly. More readily seen on the left side of the breech is a D over 1849 stamp that identifies the Danzig Arsenal as the source of the percussion alteration and 1849 as the year it was accomplished. The upper trigger guard screw is missing, and the lower screw has a broken head. Sometime after its military service was over the rear sight was filed down and the tall front sight essentially removed. The bayonet lug was modified slightly to work as a front sight. No doubt this sight adjustment was made to use the gun as a fowling piece. Fortunately, the gun was not modified further from its military configuration save the removal of the sling swivels. At some point the musket became separated from its ramrod and a substitute rod that is too short to be of use was added. The current ramrod is a trumpet head style with a cupped face and a hole that transects through its head in the same manner as the Austrian M1854 Rifle-Musket ramrod.
The brass components have been polished, but are taking back a mustard patina to them that is attractive. The forward extension of the trigger guard has been bent slightly and is proud of the wood. The buttplate is stamped with a Prussian inventory number of 4908. This is a typical marking found on Prussian Besses, though one example I have studied had the number stamped into the wood of the stock.
The stock is in generally good shape, though it has been heavily sanded. This unfortunately removed the Prussian crown over FW ownership stamps that are generally found on the left side of the stock and on the stock flat. There is however, the remnant of a large “D” stamp on the left side of the buttstock. This marking is believed to represent the Danzig Arsenal and has been observed on all of the Prussian Brown Bess muskets I have examined. Behind the rear trigger guard extension there are two cartouches; an indistinct crown stamp that I believe to be British, and a larger plain “S”.
Presently the lock is not functional. There is a good amount of tension on the hammer when pulled back, but it will not catch at either position. I have not removed the lock to determine if this is a sear spring or tumbler issue.
Though this musket has issues, it is an exceptionally rare example of a scarce European import. Though it is unclear exactly how many of these muskets were imported during the Civil War, or even which side purchased them it is certainly a worthy addition to a collection of European Arms used during the Civil War. Further, Brown Bess muskets with American Civil War connections are quite scarce today and generally command a large premium. This example is priced with its issues in mind and is quite a bargain in my opinion.