Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Merrill Carbine

James H. Merrill of the Merrill Patent Fire Arms Company, Baltimore, Maryland, received his initial patent pertaining to this carbine on July 20, 1858, U.S. patent 20,954. This was supplemented in 1861 by several additional patents involving improvements and refinements to the original. The basis for these patents was the copper-faced breech bolt, or plunger, which, being attached to the top-mounted operating lever, drives the combustible cartridge forward into the breech and serves as an effective gas seal. 

"While the U.S. government was lax in their acceptance of Merrill's firearms, the agents of the C.S.A. were more agreeable to beefing up their small supply of weapons for the impending conflict. It is assumed that several hundred went to the Confederacy until the Federal captured Maryland and Baltimore and then held the state and city under force of arms for the duration of the war. 

General Benjamin Butler announced that during his May 13, 1861, seizure and occupation of Baltimore he found 'several manufactories of arms, supplies and munitions meant for the 'rebels.'

"...The nervous Federal Government gave instructions to the United States Marshal's Office to search suspected persons or companies and seize all firearms. In a June 4, 1861 telegraph, Secretary Cameron instructed the U.S. Marshal of the Baltimore District to close a manufacturing facility.

'War Department, Washington, June 4To; Marshal Bonifant, Baltimore

Get possession of the whole thirty five hundred tons. Stop the factory and take all the work they have done and the materials in hand. Don't fail to execute this order instantly.
Simon Cameron
Sec'y of War'
While this order does not identify Merrill, Thomas & Co., a later sworn statement from Bonifant does. In his statement, the above directive is repeated with the following addition:
'I hereby cirtifie (sic) that the above is a true copy of the order sent me by telegraph to stop the factory & seize the goods of Merrill & Thomas (in the) Sun Building.
Washington Bonifant, U.S. Marshall'

On June 5, Bonifant closed the factory and seized the weapons."

The summertime and fall flow of armaments southward was not closed until November of 1861, when Brigadier-General Henry Lockwood's Eastern Shore Campaign cut off the passageway of goods through that peninsula into Virginia.

The Merrill carbines were produced in two versions: The First Type included a brass patchbox in the stock and had the breech lever secured by a flat, knurled latch.

The Second Type was produced without the patchbox and had the breech lever secured with a rounded, button type latch.

Both used the .54 caliber Minie balls with paper cartridges which were loaded by lifting the top of the breech lever.
The barrels were 22 1/8 inches and round with one barrel band.
Total production of type I and II Merrill carbines was just under 14,500.

The Southerners generally reported favorably on the handy carbines.
Federals, on the other hand, seemed to favor them only when no other breech loaders were available. By the fall of 1862 they were rather widely condemned within the ranks of the Army of the Potomac. As more modern weapons became available, Merrills were quickly replaced in eastern federal ranks. Few were still in the Army of the Potomac after the fall of 1863. Less well equipped Confederates and western Federals, however, used them throughout the war.




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