By Jim Reynolds
Co. H, 4th U.S. Infantry, Sykes Regulars
Anybody who has served in the military knows that very few pieces of equipment exist without an instruction manual of some kind. This was also true in the Civil War. At the recent NR NCO school, the proper way to disassemble and clean the rifle musket was discussed with much taken from Rules for the Management and Cleaning of the Rifle Musket Model [1855/1861] for use of the Soldier published by the Government Printing Office in 1862. This manual is full of good information we can all use to maintain our rifles the proper fashion, which I will repeat below. Italics are original. Somewhat edited for brevity sake.
RULES FOR DISMOUNTING THE RIFLE MUSKET
1st Unfix the bayonet.
2d Put the tompion into the muzzle of the barrel.
3d draw the ramrod.
4th Turn out the tang screw.
5th take off the lock: to do this, first put the hammer at half-cock, then unscrew partially the side screws and, with a slight tap on the head of each screw with a wooden instrument, loosen the stock from its bed in the stock; then turn out the side screws, and remove the lock with the left hand.
6th Remove the side-screws, taking care not to disturb the washers.
7th Take off the upper band.
8th Take off the middle band.
9th Take off the lower band. Note The letter U, on bands, is to indicate the upper side in assembling.
10th Take out the barrel. In doing this, turn the musket horizontally, with the barrel downward, holding the barrel loosely with the left hand below the rear sight, the right hand grasping the stock by the handle; and if it does not leave the stock, tap the tompion in the muzzle gently against the ground or floor, which will loosen the breech end from the stock. This is preferable to lifting the barrel out by the muzzle, because if the tang of the breech screw should bind in the wood, the head of the stock would be liable to split by raising the muzzle first.
The foregoing parts of the rifle musket are all that should usually be taken off or dismounted.
The soldier should never dismount the band springs, guard, side screw washers, butt plate, rear sight, cone, and cone set screw, except when an officer considers it necessary. The breech screw should only be taken out only by an armorer and never in ordinary cleaning. The lock should not be taken apart, nor the bayonet-clasp taken off, except when absolutely necessary in the opinion of an officer. If proper and regular care be taken of the arm, this will be very seldom necessary.
The musket being thus taken to pieces, as far as it should ever be done by the soldier under ordinary circumstances, proceed.
TO CLEAN THE BARREL
1st. Stop the hole in the cone with a peg of soft wood; pour a gill (1/4 of a pint, or two shot glasses as stated at NCO school – ed.) of water, warm if can be had, into the muzzle; let it stand a short time, to soften the deposit of the powder; put a plug of soft wood into the muzzle, and shake the water up and down the barrel well; pour this out and repeat the washing until the water comes out clear; take out the peg from the cone, and stand the barrel, muzzle downwards, to drain for a few moments.
2d. Screw the wiper on to the end of the ramrod and put a piece of dry cloth or tow, round it, sufficient to prevent it from chafing the grooves of the barrel; wipe the barrel quite dry, changing or drying the cloth two or three times.
3d. Put no oil into the vent, as it will clog the passage, and cause the first primer to misfire; but with a slightly oiled rag on the wiper, rub the bore of the barrel, and the face of the breech screw and immediately insert the tompion into the muzzle.
4th. To clean the exterior of the barrel, lay it flat on a bench, or board, to avoid bending it. The practice of supporting the barrel at each end and rubbing it with a strap or buff stick, or with a ramrod, or any other instrument, to burnish it is pernicious, and should be strictly forbidden.
5th. After firing, the barrel should always be washed as soon as practicable; when the water comes off clear, wipe the barrel dry, and pass into it a rag moistened with oil. Fine flour of emery cloth is the best article to clean the exterior of the barrel.
For brass, use rottenstone moistened with vinegar, or water and keep free from oil and grease.
In cleaning the arms, great care should be observed to preserve the qualities essential to service, rather than obtain a bright polish. Burnishing the barrel (or other parts) should be strictly avoided, as it tends to crook the barrel, and also destroy the uniformity of the exterior finish of the arm.
It is not essential for the musket to be dismounted every time it is cleaned; for, after firing it in fine weather, or when there has been no chance for the wet to get between the barrel and the stock, it can be perfectly cleaned in the following manner.
Put a piece of rag or soft leather on top of the cone, and let the hammer down upon it; pour a gill of water into the muzzle carefully so that it does not run down the outside; put a plug of wood into the muzzle, and shake the gun up and down, changing the water repeatedly until it comes out clear. When clear, withdrawal the leather, and stand the musket on the muzzle a few moments; then wipe out the barrel (as given in the 2d rule for cleaning) and also wipe the exterior of the lock and outside of the barrel around the cone and cone seat, first with a damp rag, and then with a dry one, and lastly with a rag that has been slightly oiled. In this way, all the dirt due to firing may be removed without taking out a screw
To reassemble the musket, the partsare put together in the inversion order of taking them apart.
Oil the stock with sperm or linseed oil, let it stand a few hours and then rub it with a woolen rag until the wood is perfectly dry. Repeat this from time to time and it will produce a polish which moisture will not affect.
For a complete description of the above, visit the U.S. Regulars Archive.
Sullivan press also sells re-prints of the 1855 and 1861 manuals.
Flax Tow and synthetic sperm whale oil are found in the Dixie Gun Works catalog.
By Jim Reynolds