MARCH 7, 2014, CARMEL, IN- Featured in our March 14, 2014, Spring Firearms Auctions is a Morse Carbine rifle, part of a collection of Civil War firearms consigned by a Florida estate. The information below is a compilation of several sources, illustrating the history of the Morse Carbine and its significance to antique arms collectors today.
In 1863 and 1864, the State Military Works in Greenville, also called the Greenville Armory, made and repaired weapons for South Carolina. Supervised by inventor George W. Morse, the plant made about 200 inside-lock muskets and 1,000 breech-loading carbines. These “Morse carbines” were produced for South Carolina militia (or state troops), not for regular Confederate forces. In addition, the plant produced small quantities of a variety of items, including two field carriages, four wagons, syrup kettles, skillets, and assorted cartridges and mortar shells.
Because raw materials, fuel and skilled labor were scarce, the State Military Works closed in late 1864. Although it made only about 1,200 weapons, the plant was significant. First, it was the state’s only effort to produce badly-needed weapons during the war. Second, the Morse carbine, a breech loader, was one of the few technologically advanced weapons produced in the South.
George W Morse was a nephew of Samuel F.B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph. Morse held many U.S. patents on firearms, and in 1856 was granted a patent for his breech loading carbine and cartridge design. In 1861, Morse tried to sell 6000 breech-loading carbines to Texas. These carbines were to be manufactured in Europe; however, the contract was never concluded. At the start of the war, Morse became the first superintendent of the Nashville Armory in Nashville, Tennessee. Here he began to tool-up to manufacture his new design carbine. He chose brass for the receiver because this non-ferrous metal could be cast and machined easier with semi-skilled labor. He started making parts in Nashville in until February 1862 when the city fell. His operation was transferred to Atlanta, Ga. where he worked with H. Marshall & Co., a sword manufacturer.
In an article in the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, dated December 13, 1862, Mr. Marshall presented and demonstrated the new Morse Carbine to the public. The article gave a complete description of the carbine and its new cartridge. The Atlanta production carbine was assembled from parts from the Nashville Armory and the H. Marshall & Co. The number of carbines produced in Atlanta is believed to be between 200 and 400. The highest serial number known for an Atlanta Carbine is serial #180. This carbine is identical to the Atlanta prototype carbine except for its brass floor-plate and serial number. Both carbines are .54 caliber and their measurements are the same. It appears that the large serial number carbines were from Atlanta production and the small serial number carbines were from the Greenville production. The lowest serial number carbine observed is #425. The serial range for the Atlanta production was between one and 200 to 400 and the Greenville production between 300 and 1025.
The operating lever on the Atlanta carbine was one-piece brass and quite heavy. The bolt head which contained the firing pin was also one-piece brass. The action was only locked when the hammer was down in the fired position. Upon close examination after testing, it was found that improvements were necessary because the bolt face became eroded by the escaping gas from punctured caps. Also the brass bolt face had begun to set back. Another fault which had to be solved was a latch for the operating lever. When the gun was cocked and held up at a 45 degree or more angle, the breech would open and extract the chambered shell. Some of the early production carbines were recalled to the factory to have latches applied….
(Significant Portions copied from “CONFEDERATE LONGARMS AND PISTOLS: A PICTORIAL STUDY.”, by Hill, Richard Taylor and William Edward Anthony, copyright 1978)
WICKLIFF AUCTIONEERS, MARCH 14 AUCTION, ITEM#325 (first lot in auction) described as follows:
Exceedingly rare first model Morse Confederate Carbine, breech loading .50 caliber carbine, developed by George W. Morse, nephew of Samuel F.B. Morse, at Greenville, South Carolina state armory, 1,000 made for South Carolina state militia, 20″ barrel with full stock, 40″ overall length, round barrel, brass loading plate and action, brass butt plate, with cleaning rod and cleaning accessory stored in butt plate, condition is good, 186