Among the most interesting of the artifacts in our “Duxbury in the Civil War” exhibit are a set of five muskets that were in the collection of the Duxbury Grand Army of the Republic “William Wadsworth” Post 165. They are nickel plated Springfield rifled muskets, Norris and Clement contract, some Model 1863 and some Model 1864. They are handsome artifacts and evoke strong images of local boys carrying such weapons on the battlefield.
The Springfield musket was the most common weapon used by the Union infantry during the Civil War. More than 1.5 million muskets were produced by the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and their various contractors during the Civil War. The second most common weapon among Federal troops was the British-made Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket. Although the Enfield was arguably a more reliable weapon, according to many regimental histories, the soldiers preferred the Springfield. This had partly to due with a “made in the USA” sentiment but also because interchangeable parts to repair Springfields were easily obtainable.
When one examines the Springfields in our collection, it is almost impossible to keep from speculating as to what service these weapons might have seen. Were they fired on the battlefield? If so, who bore them into the fight? Did those soldiers make it out unscathed? Where were they carried? Were these weapons on the field at Gettysburg? Spotsylvania? Petersburg? Unfortunately, we can’t know for certain whether these weapons were used at all during the war. It seems probable that they were surplus munitions and might never have seen action.
Leaving aside any possibility of their use on the battlefield, we know precisely what these weapons were used for after the war…and that use alone renders them significant artifacts. The muskets were released from the U.S. Army and either sold or donated to the Duxbury Grand Army of the Republic post. And here in Duxbury, these muskets fired off many a round (blank rounds though they may have been) over the decades following the Civil War.
The Grand Army of the Republic was the fraternal organization formed for veterans of the Civil War. The Duxbury post was formed in 1885. For many decades, well into the 1920s, Duxbury Civil War veterans participated in Memorial Day observances and other civic events. On Memorial Days, they fired salutes in front of the Civil War monument in Mayflower Cemetery to their fallen comrades using the set of muskets now on display at the King Caesar House.
We have many photographs of gatherings of members of the Duxbury GAR and the affiliate organization, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. In almost all of these photographs, the five Springfield muskets can be picked out. The adjacent photograph is a perfect example and (although somewhat more difficult to pick out) the muskets appear in the image header of this blog (a squad of five men carries them in the second and third rows at far left).
It is humbling to see these muskets on exhibit and imagine them being carried, year after year, by veterans to the Mayflower Cemetery. For some forty years they fired salutes in front of a monument engraved with the names of men they knew and fought beside…their friends. In turn, the sons and grandchildren continued the tradition.
In 1955, the Sons of Union Veterans disbanded the Duxbury GAR post and their artifacts were donated to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. We proudly exhibit these muskets, along with many other artifacts from the Duxbury GAR post in our exhibit.
The exhibit, “Duxbury in the Civil War: The Homefront and the Battlefield” remains on display at the King Caesar House, Wednesdays through Sundays, 1-4 p.m.