Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Kerr rifle is another one of those limited issue Confederate weapons.

The rifle was designed and registered in May 1861 by James Kerr, who at that time was serving as the superintendent of the London Armoury Company, The small bore, .451 rifle had a 6 groove, 37” barrel that was slightly recessed at the muzzle to protect the rifling and to facilitate the loading of the paper cartridge. It had no provision to mount a bayonet. 

All of the guns were produced by the London Armoury Company, and it is believed that only about 800 of the rifles were manufactured between 1861 and the cessation of London Armoury Company operations in 1866.

For all practical purposes, the gun was a standard London Armoury P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket, with an upgraded barrel. The rifle was one of the most accurate designs available during the early 1860s.

The extreme accuracy of the rifles, their reasonable price (when compared to Whitworth Rifles) and the strong relationship between the London Armoury Company and the Confederacy would suggest that a large number of these special rifles would have been acquired by the South for use by sharpshooters. While the Confederacy did, in fact acquire some of these special rifles, it seems unlikely that they obtained more than 60 to 80 of them, and documents suggest that only about half that number ever made it into the field. The only confirmed purchase of Kerr Rifles by the Confederate central government was an order placed with Sinclair, Hamilton & Company in July of 1862 by Caleb Huse. It is important to remember that Archibald Hamilton, the principle in Sinclair, Hamilton & Company was also the Managing Director of the London Armoury Company. The order specifies:
“20 small bore Rifles, best cheq’d stocks, brass mountings”
The 20 Kerr Rifles from this order apparently ran the blockade sometime between the fall of 1862 and the fall of 1863, and were eventually delivered to the Richmond Arsenal, where they remained in store until November of 1863. It is not clear when the rifles were delivered, nor when they left England and when they arrived in the South.

On November 16, 1863 Colonel Gorgas of the Confederate Ordnance Department informed Lt. Colonel Hypolite Oladowski, Chief Ordnance Officer of the Army of Tennessee, that he had ordered the Richmond Arsenal to send 20 Kerr Rifles, complete with ammunition to the Army of Tennessee for the use of their sharpshooters. Oladowski subsequently transferred 10 of these Kerr rifles to General Patrick R. Cleburne’s Division (Hardee’s Corps) at Tunnel Hill, Georgia on December 23, 1863 at the request of Captain Charles S. Hill, Ordnance Officer. Captain Hill officially confirmed the receipt of these rifles on December 24, 1863, and included a personal note wishing Oladowski “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year”. No further documents have been uncovered relating to the field use of the remaining 10 brass mounted Kerr rifles, although it seems unlikely that these very important rifles would languish in the Richmond Arsenal unnecessarily, when they certainly could have been put to use in the field.

An additional group of iron mounted Kerr Rifles has been documented in Confederate service, and these guns also saw service in the Western Theater with the Army of Tennessee. The group of 11 guns were a gift to General John Breckenridge from an unidentified “English Friend”. Breckenridge had formerly commanded the Kentucky “Orphan Brigade”, and he passed the guns directly to his old brigade. In April of 1864 a shooting contest was held by the brigade in Dalton, GA, and the two best shots from the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th Kentucky Infantry were issued these special rifles, with the 11th gun going to Lieutenant George Hector Burton who was placed in command of this elite sharpshooting unit. The Orphan Brigade was officially the 4th Brigade, First Division of General Hardee’s Corps at that time, so all documented issues of Kerr Rifles were to elements of Hardee’s Command. 


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