Lorenz rifles in the Civil War
by Sam Chapman
It has been generally accepted that the best choice of gun for the generic impression of a Civil War soldier is either the Enfield or Springfield rifled musket (or perhaps the 1842 Springfield smoothbore). However there is another gun which I think has a strong case for inclusion in this list. The Model 1854 Austrian Lorenz rifle was both well liked and widely used, with Caleb Huse acquiring approximately 100,000 for the Confederacy and with the Northern states buying in the region of 225,000. This makes it the second most common foreign gun after the Enfield and possibly one of the more commonly issued rifles amongst western Confederates. The fact that the rifle was commonly referred to as an 'Enfield' due to its blued finish, foreign origin and similar quality may mean that the gun was in fact more common than would otherwise be thought.
The Confederacy obtained their Lorenzs direct from the Austrian government and they were largely used guns that were becoming surplus as newer versions were being introduced into the Austrian army. Most guns were bought during 1862 and 63 and had fixed sights (as the example in the picture). After 1863 the Confederacy took over a canceled Federal contract to get the new long-range sighted 0.58 calibre versions. However the majority of guns used by the Confederacy were .54 calibre which in some situations was an advantage as it was the same calibre as the famous Mississippi rifles, making ammunition issue in some regiments less complicated. The guns were not merely an early war phenomenon either, with the 6th, 10th and 15th Consolidated Texas Infantry both losing 103 at Missionary ridge and having an issue of 107 Lorenzs in January 1864. The reason for some of these losses is noted as being that 'some Aust. rifles became choked and were thrown down & Enfield picked up in their place'. This fouling seems to have been the guns only major failing.
The Federal forces had two motivations when purchasing their Lorenzssupplement the supply of Enfield and Springfield rifled : firstly to muskets with another good quality weapon and secondly to prevent the Confederates from buying them. Rather than just receiving surplus gunsAustrian Empire who hand built them. This led to , the U.S. also set contracts, which were fulfilled by companies throughout the problems in quality and the guns varied reputations in Federal handsquality is easily demonstrated by the soldiers' own . This variance in opinionssuperior weapon' whilst another soldier in the 6th Illinois . A private in the 104th Pennsylvania referred to the Lorenz as being a 'very called his a that the Austrian rifle was 'not worth much' and a member of 'wicked shooter'. In contrast to this a soldier of the 100th Illinois said the 120th Illinois described the guns as 'worthless'.
The guns were widely used in the Army of the Potomac, with 26 regiments using them (12 of these were entirely equipped with the weapon) including two regiments in the Iron Brigade. Federal contracts were usually for .58 calibre (so as to enable the use of standard Federal ammunition), with long range sight, standard US style nipples and 'colored as the Enfield' (i.e. blued finish). The gun pictured in the Union Echoes of Glory (pp.36-7) is an example of the U.S. version of this type (with its barrel polished back to bare metal). Some of the older issue (.54cal) Federal guns were also re-bored to the standard bore size. Despite this the majority of Union weapons were still .54 calibre (21 of the 26 regiments in the army of the Potomac that had Lorenz rifles in mid-1863 were either partly or wholly armed with the .54 calibre weapon).
U.S. Soldier equiped with Lorenz Rifle
Austrian Lorenz Rifles all carry a mark on the lock plate denoting the year of manufacture (e.g. 861, 862 and 863). The guns were true rifles, that is, two banded weapons which fell between 2 and 3 band Enfields in length. They were also lighter than the 3 band weapons. Both the U.S. and C. S. used the quadrangular socket bayonets. The barrel of the weapon is also unusual, starting off octagonal and being lathed round towards the muzzle.
Unfortunately, the supply of Lorenzs for re-enacting is a REAL problem. The version produced by
Dixie is the carbine version which was not even being imported during the Civil War! The Bridesburg
Armoury also claimed to make one, though this company does not seem to be in business any more. Loyalist arms in Canada do make a hand-made museum quality replica but it is expensive ($1070 US). Contact Loyalist Arms via fax at Canada 902-470-0052. Their web site is www.loyalistarms.freeserve.com/index.htnil
Quarterly summary statement of ordinance and ordinance stores returns for the 2nd Qtr of 1863 Army of the Potomac.
Time-Life Inc. 1996. Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Union. Alexandria, Va: Time-Life. www.civtlwarguns.com
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