A Breechloading to Muzzleloading Conversion? — The Confederate Read & Watson rifle,
In a recent post I wrote about the Hall Rifle, the US Military’s first breechloading firearm. You can view this post HERE. During my research I came across a very interesting variant of the Hall which was used by the Confederacy during the American Civil War. What makes it particularly unusual was that they were converted from breechloaders to muzzleloaders. This begs the question, why did the Confederacy convert Hall rifles to muzzleloaders, an obvious step backwards in technology?
The conversions were done by the company called Read & Watson located in Danville, Virginia, with around 900 Model 1833 Hall rifles (the percussion variant) being converted between 1861 and 1863. The conversion was relatively simple, the entire breech mechanism was removed and replaced with an iron breech plug, with a central hammer and percussion nipple installed. The breech was then surrounded by a brass receiver.
So why did the Confederacy make these conversions? While I can find no information to answer this question, I can make an educated guess, and I think it has to do with the economics of the South during the Civil War. By the Civil War the Hall rifle had been out of production for almost two decades. It was a relatively rare and unusual rifle, thus sourcing spare parts was probably difficult. The mostly agricultural South lacked the industry, resources, and know how to manufacture replacement parts, which were relatively complex in nature, thus it would have been easier to simply convert them to muzzleloaders and put them to use rather than maintain them as is. Of course, this is mere speculation on my part, but I’m confident I’m somewhere in the ball park.
While the Confederacy was trying to be economical, the cost of each conversion was $17.50 a pop, which was about the same price to manufacture a brand new Springfield Model 1861 musket. So obviously this was a big fail. It’s unknown if any of these rifles were actually issued or saw combat. Most likely they would have been used as a reserve rifle for local militia or forces not expecting to see combat like guards or supply units.