Kentucky flintlock, America’s first rifle,
paved way for long guns of Civil War
Even before there was actually a “United States” there was what could arguably be considered the first true “American rifle.”
Known as the Pennsylvania rifle, the Kentucky rifle or simply the long rifle, it was designed for hunting and was characterized by an unusually long barrel, a unique development that was uncommon in the European rifles of the era.
Military history consultant and former United States Marine Corps Captain Dale Dye explains that in the flintlock era, the long gun was the first to have grooves in the barrel.
“These grooves, or rifling, along with the longer barrel, made the guns much more accurate than the British Brown Bess musket,” he said.
The long rifle wasn’t ever produced in large enough numbers to truly make a difference during the American Revolution, but its use by sharpshooters such as members of Morgan’s Riflemen at the 1777 Battle of Saratoga established the reputation of the American marksman.
The first truly big leap forward in long gun design came with the Caliber .54, Model 1841 Rifle, which was the first to utilize a percussion ignition system. The Model 1841 is sometimes called the Mississippi Rifle due to its use by a Mississippi rifle regiment during the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848. The regiment was commanded by future Confederate States President Jefferson Davis.
Davis, who served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, also authorized the production of the .58 Caliber Musket, or Springfield Model 1861, the first rifled weapon to be produced for general issue by the U.S. Army. The Springfield Model 1861 would go on to be the most widely used U.S Army weapon during the Civil War.