South Carolina altered Model 1819 Hall Rifle
The Model 1819 hall’s Rifle is without a doubt one of the most unique arms adopted by the United States Military in the 19th century. During that antebellum period American military weapons were heavily influenced by European designs, primarily French. However, the Ordnance Department showed a rare stroke of inspiration when in 1819 John H. Hall was contracted to establish a rifle works at Harpers Ferry for the production of his patent breechloaders.
Hall had spent 8 years at that point manufacturing and perfecting his design of tilting breechloading flintlock rifles. Though his design was revolutionary for American arms their greatest innovation was the manufacturing methods that Hall perfected that enabled him to manufacture completely interchangeable guns.
Hall’s first contract for 1,000 rifles was completed during the winter of 1824. After inspection by a military board in 1826 further contracts were quickly forthcoming. Through 1841 25,380 Model 1819 Hall’s Rifles were produced at Harpers Ferry, with a number of minor improvements incorporated during the production runs. An additional 5,700 rifles were produced on contract by Simeon North of Middletown, Connecticut.
Model 1819 Hall’s Rifles were quite popular with state militias through the 1850s and large numbers of them were issued to the states pursuant to the Militia Act of 1808. The State of South Carolina had managed to draw 101 Model 1819 flintlock Hall's Rifles prior to the Civil War. Some number of these rifles, which appear to have been North contract guns, were surcharged on the left side of their frames with a block letter stamped S.CAROLINA. Although the exact number of guns marked as such is unknown, most researchers cite John Murphy's figures of 75 to 166 guns. Following South Carolina’s secession in December of 1860 State troops began seizing Federal Arsenals within her boarders which netted an additional 556 Hall’s Rifles. Though many of these rifles were initially issued in their original flintlock configurations, soon South Carolinian and later Confederate Ordnance officials endeavored to have them altered to percussion to make more efficient arms of them.
Although the exact location of the arsenal or arsenals responsible for performing South Carolina's Hall's Rifle alterations, and the exact numbers altered is unclear, we do have a good idea of what South Carolina Hall's rifles look like based on the alteration methods exhibited on state surcharged examples.
The example offered here is very similar to several South Carolina attributed examples shown in "Confederate Rifles and Muskets" and "Confederate Carbines and Musketoons". The percussion alteration of this rifle, like those shown in the a fore mentioned texts, was accomplished by removing the frizzen and frizzen spring, and milling off the frizzen supporters. A new percussion cone was threaded into the existing vent of the unfilled pan. Lastly, a new percussion hammer installed. The primary variations exhibited in Dr. Murphy's text are based on the hammer profile and the presence or absence of fill in the former frizzen toe. Our example has the smaller variety percussion hammer with a slightly faceted striker, with no knurling on the thumb piece. The frizzen toe has been filled. The alteration, although not particularly neatly done, was certainly serviceable, and more importantly, time expedient.
The rifle its self is a standard 3rd production Harpers Ferry made Hall Rifle with an 1831 production date. The rifle is in very good overall condition, especially for a Confederate weapon. It exhibits typical pinprick pitting around the breech and muzzle that bare testament to its military usage. The stock shows some handling marks, but is free of cracks or breaks other than the commonly encountered “Hall crack” at the top of the wrist. A cartouche is present behind the rear trigger guard extension that reads “J.M. StJohn”. This marking was not applied at Harpers Ferry or any US Arsenal, and was identified by Howard Maddaus as belonging to South Carolina militia officer Isaac Monroe St. John. In my experience this stamp is found only on the “small hammer” variety of South Carolina altered Halls. This style of alteration is found on both North and Harpers Ferry rifles, which leads me to believe that the source of the alteration work may have been located in Charleston; which is where the majority of the captured Harpers Ferry rifles were stored.
Mechanically the rifle is in perfect condition, with the lock functioning crisply at both half and full cock. The breechblock rises and lowers properly and snaps firmly into position. The bore shows the unique 16 groove rifling to be in good, although dark, condition. The final 1.5 inches of the barrel is counterbored, as is correct with these rifles. The rifle is accompanied by an incorrect replacement cleaning rod.
All-in-all, this is an attractive example of a scarce and rarely encountered Confederate altered Hall's Rifle. Although this particular example does not bare a South Carolina surcharge it is a classic example of a textbook South Carolina attributed alteration. Confederate alterations of Hall's Rifles were seldom done on a large scale, and as such are very scarce today. It is very likely that there are no more than a handful of South Carolina altered Hall's that still survive. This is a super bargain on an exceedingly rare Confederate rifle priced well under half of what you would expect to pay for a Richmond or Palmetto!