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Part 2 of 2
A month later, on February 17, 1840, Major Craig wrote from Allegheny Arsenal to Lieutenant Colonel Talcott, acting on behalf of an ailing Chief of Ordnance Bomford, that “I have forwarded to the care of Mr. Butler for your examination a couple of Carbine Swivels got up by our M[aste]r. Armorer [Hugh Alexander]. I think them much stronger, and that they can be made at less cost than those now in use…. I am satisfied they can be furnished by contract, of a good quality for less than forty five cents [each].”1 It took a month for the swivels to arrive at the Ordnance Office in Washington, and their construction of brass did not impress Talcott. His reply to Craig was “The Swivels are just received. From the [previous] trial of [Washington Arsenal-provided] Brass Swivels of that general form there is little probability that the pattern could answer and as the old form is much the best no change will be made at present. By the old form is meant that used for Carbine Slings.”2 Despite some new, larger swivels having been made the previous year (as we will see), Talcott was indicating the “old form” of small iron swivels would continue to be the current pattern, at least for a short while longer.
As noted, the Ames firm proposed to manufacture more of those smaller iron carbine and saber swivels on April 8, 1840. The next day Lieutenant Colonel Talcott informed Inspector of Contract Arms Major Mann P. Lomax that “Mr. N.P. Ames has engaged to furnish 1000 Carbine Swivels and 2000 Sabre Swivels; the former at 50 cents, the latter at 42 cents each, subject to inspection and to conform nearly to those which have been heretofore made—Patterns will be provided which when approved by you will be the guide for inspections.”3 That same day, April 9th, Talcott informed Ames that “Your proposals to furnish swivels for carbines and swords are accepted. You will please provide as follows—One thousand Carbine Swivels at fifty cents—Two thousand Sabre Swivels at forty two cents, subject to inspection by the Inspectors of Contract Arms and conformably to the patterns to be first established which will be nearly similar to such as have been heretofore made.”4 The difference in price would suggest two slightly different patterns of swivels had been approved by Craig, although exactly how they differed is not known exactly. Perhaps one was still in brass and the other in steel, or iron; or one was just a bit more robust than the other, a difference that would be difficult to detect today. If any were in brass there may be some of these swivels today in dealers’ junk boxes at shows that could be mistaken simply as swivels for officer’s sword belts.
There is no doubt the swivel shown in Fig. 14, right, and the three extant iron swivels relate to this contract by Ames to supply carbine and saber swivels. This suggests the saber swivels were in iron and cost 42 cents each.
Curiously, while we have seen a carbine sling was discussed by the ‘Fenwick’ Board, and one was approved by the secretary of war in 1838, the author believes it was not really a new one, but merely a confirmation of that improved by the addition of
a small swivel, the P1835, Type II, described here.5 That said, the 1839 Ordnance Regulations clearly refer to a “new pattern” carbine sling. The “old pattern” sling in those Regulations cost just 10 cents and the corresponding swivel 25 cents, compared to the “new pattern” items costing 30 cents and $1.25, respectively. However, since the costs included in the Regulations are the same as what Dingee and Coffin were paid in 1839 for making them, and what the items cost in the 1841 Ordnance Manual (as further described below), it is the author’s opinion the inclusion of the costs just confirms that serious consideration had been given to a more robust arrangement in 1838 by the Board. They had just not received a final approval by Secretary of War Joel R. Poinsett, for whatever reason. Nevertheless, at least some of the new pattern were made in 1839, two years before they would be formally adopted. Perhaps there was confusion about what the Board recommended and what Bomford thought had been recommended and approved by the secretary of war. With possible subsequent confusion about the new, wider sling and swivel, Bomford may not have been able to remove the (proposed?) costs from the schedule of items and costs printed in the 1839 Regulations. Correcting this unintended lack of a pattern change would then take almost three years.
To further expand this discussion, both Dingee and John Coffin of New York City had received contracts for 500 sets each of “cavalry accoutrements” as part of the May 1, 1839 contract series for new pattern accoutrements. These accoutrements were the result of the work of the ‘Fenwick’ Board and were referred to as “Pattern of 1839” in the contracts, even though some items had been approved, and were officially approved accoutrement patterns, as early as 1837.
“Cavalry” was a catchword that indicated purchases for distribution to state militia mounted units, confirmed by contract costs being paid for out of “Arming the Militia” appropriations.6 These were different than
“Dragoon” accoutrements, which would be paid for with funds taken from “Ordnance Stores & Supplies,” indicating their intended use was for Regular Army units. The Dingee and Coffin-produced sets were each to include “500 carbine slings with swivels.” Receipts for the deliveries under these contracts confirm carbine slings and swivels were part of the contract, with Coffin delivering his 500 carbine slings on September 24thand Dingee delivering his 500 sets on September 26th 1839. Coffin delivered his sling swivels separately on November 9, 1839, which were paid for at the rate of $1.25 each7 (Fig. 18). Although the evidence available confirms new sling and swivel patterns had not been actually adopted, and would not be until 1841, the higher prices paid for these slings and swivels clearly indicates they were of the same new pattern. Perhaps their ‘experimental’ nature was hidden by designating their cost for cavalry accoutrements, and thus for state militias. The latter could be issued almost anything the Ordnance Department wanted to rid itself of. Whether any of these ‘preliminary’ 1,000 1841 pattern slings and swivels were actually issued to companies in the two dragoon regiments is unknown.8
A year later, in January of 1841, the Ordnance Board incorporated Captain Sumner’s suggestion into its recommendations. It concluded a swivel bar should be added to the Hall carbine, which, however, was not incorporated in the M1840 series of carbines until North made his M1840, Type III. The first deliveries of these Hall carbines, with swivel bars (Fig. 19), occurred in January 1842.9
At the same Board meeting “It is recommended that the Carbine Sling to be made of Buff leather 2 ½ inches wide with a swivel of dimensions to correspond.—With a brass buckle and tip, similar to the pattern Sling
[sic]. The Swivel to be similar and of dimensions of pattern with a link between the hook and the Swivel.” Both recommendations were subsequently approved by Secretary of War Poinsett on January 20, 1841.10 As noted, once mistakenly attributed directly to the work of the ‘Fenwick’ Board, what has previously been termed the 1839 pattern carbine sling and swivel will Fig. 20 A whitened buff P1841 Carbine Sling, Type I, photographed by James S. Hutchins when it was in the collection of Robert L. Miller, ca. 1970. The sling was later (ca. 1980) acquired by Ralph Arnold. Although similar in shape and construction, the swivel is incorrect, being from the period of the Civil War rather than a P1841 swivel. Courtesy the late James S. Hutchins and the late Robert L. Miller
be included in the typology offered here as the P1841 Carbine Sling (Fig. 20), based on the secretary of war’s approval date in January of that year. The swivels can be separately called the P1841 Carbine Swivel, although collectors often refer to the pair of items as one carbine sling. In any case, new patterns had been approved, and the 1841 Ordnance Manual described and confirmed the new carbine sling arrangement as:
“CARBINE SLING, buff leather. Length 56 in., width 2.5 in. – 1 buckle and 1 tip, brass – swivel and D with roller, iron, bright, 2.62 in. wide – link and hook, iron – guard-spring, steel.”
towards the center, plus a back stitch). Sometimes two rows of stitching are present. The ‘box design’ of stitches attaching the large brass buckle would not appear until the 1850s, with rivets to further secure the large frame brass buckle coming even later, during the Civil War years.
An interesting nuance relates to the sling swivels. The January 1841 Board had described “The Swivel to be similar and of dimensions of pattern with a link between the hook and the Swivel.” (Emphasis added by the author.) Note a link was included from the beginning, and all swivels made for the U.S. Army would have a link between the swivel and hook. As the small number of ringbolt Hall’s carbines were phased out the swivel bar made no restrictions necessary on the size of the carbine swivel or its cross sectional dimensions. Nor did any remaining carbines with rings placed at the end of the guard plate restrict swivel dimensions as that ring was substantially larger than the ringbolt. However, since they still had to accommodate the ringbolt of the 1836 Hall carbines (Fig. 25), the earliest 1841 pattern swivels (Fig. 26) had a smaller cross section than those associated with the Civil War. Measured by the author from extant examples, the cross sections on average were about .382 x .213 inches for earlier sling swivels, made in the 1840s. Later swivels, through the Civil War years, range from .402 x .254 inches for a bell-shaped hook to .434 x .241 for the more typical straight-sided Civil War hook. The latter swivels will not pass through a Hall’s ringbolt, nor rotate, unless the bolt is well worn and oval shaped, whereas the earliest 1841 pattern swivels will easily pass through ringbolts.11
Note the first 1841 swivels basically were enlarged versions of the small iron swivels used on narrow carbine slings (and which it was noted Ames also had made for the 1840 pattern dragoon waist belt saber slings). As shown in Fig. 14, left, shows, the pattern swivel had straight sides, whereas Ames’ production swivels had a slight bell shape to them (Figs. 14, right and 16). Thus some of the earliest large swivels (Fig. 26) incorporate a slight bell shape to their bodies as well, and they likely predate the straight sided ones. It is not known positively if Ames made any of the large swivels, although likely they did (for Coffin, for example) and the documentation has been lost or not yet located. There were numerous competent metal workers in New York City and one of them may have been the maker of swivels.12 Although the exact date
when the change to the more robust dimensions was made also remains unknown, clearly the latter shape and size denotes the swivel typical of the Civil War period. While white buff carbine slings are extremely rare today, when seen they generally have larger, Civil War-era swivels on them (see Fig. 20). The equally rare, but slimmer, swivel is the correct one for a P1841 carbine sling.
To regress a bit, in the author’s opinion the narrow sling and swivel remained in service from about 1836 until at least the Mexican-American War, while Colonel North and Harpers Ferry constructed M1833, Type I and II, as well as M1836, Type I, Type II and Type III carbines. All of these could accommodate the small swivel arrangement. Soon after its official adoption the wider sling and larger swivel entered the service with Regular Army units, for use with M1840, Type III carbines as they were issued, or
as earlier slings needed to be replaced. As Private Samuel Chamberlain illustrated in his memoir, My Confession13 (Fig. 27), the 1841 pattern was clearly in use during the Mexican-American War. There was concurrent use of them during the Mexican-American War, with remnants of the narrow sling and small iron swivels not leaving service until the issue of the last of them from St. Louis. Interestingly, Inspector General George Croghan’s inspection reports end in 1842 and thus cannot be used to confirm usage any later of the small swivels.14
Collectors would like to think that as new patterns of accoutrements were introduced the Regular Army quickly emptied its inventory of any old patterns. However, such was seldom the case in the 19th Century Army as Congressional frugality almost required long transition periods for pattern changes, whether arms, uniforms, or accoutrements. An excellent example connected to the subject of this article follows. Early in 1848 Captain Gabriel de Kvrjunay (sp?15) submitted a “Requisition for Ordnance and Ordnance Stores for Detachment of Recruits 3d Regt. Mo. Mounted Vols.” It was filled by Captain William H. Bell, commanding the St. Louis Arsenal in Missouri, who noted on March 22, 1848 that “This requisition complied with to the amt of the above list,” which included “155 sabres not being on hand; … [and] 200 men will have Carbines with bayonets…” as a result of deficiencies.16 Among the items requested were “300 Carbine Slings” and “300 Carbine Swivels.” Without further clarification one could
assume those supplied were both of the Pattern of 1841. However, Captain Bell was very detailed about what he was able to send, which included “100 Carbine Slings, N[ew]. P[attern]., 200 Carbine Slings O[ld]. P[attern]., 100 Carbine Swivels N.P., 30 Carbine Swivels O.P., 170 Carbine Swivels, sev[sera]l worn.” Copies of both records, the requisition and fulfillment, are provided as Figs. 28 and 29. This suggests 100 of the recruits received slings and swivels of the 1841 pattern, while the remaining 200 received those of the 1835, Type II, slings and swivels, with some of the latter having been previously turned in and thus “worn.” Almost certainly the old pattern swivels were of the iron pattern made by Ames. This is one reason why the earliest slings and swivels are now so rare; they continued to be issued until no more were in store, new or used, and they were used up. It also reveals that, unlike Private Chamberlain and his Regular Army comrades, not every mounted soldier in the Mexican-American War had the latest pattern equipment. In the Army tradition, obsolete patterns continued to be issued as long as they were serviceable.
As just noted, the earliest of these carbine sling swivels saw hard service and most were consumed during the Mexican-American War, and thereafter. By that time swivels were free to be enlarged and made more robust to withstand field service, and the more robust style was made and used through the era of the Civil War. A brief attempt was made to reduce the width of the sling and buckle when the shoulder belts for the experimental 1872 Dyer brace yoke system were considered. In this system the carbine pouch shoulder belt and carbine sling were merged and the latter narrowed in width to 1 1/2 inches. However, it did not see adoption until 1885, and then did not completely replace the wider slings. Indeed, the wide slings still
in store from the Civil War had gotten so rotten replacement slings were made in the 1880s using the old metal work! Thus, beyond that short time, surplus slings were standard issue until nearly 1890. Only
as web gear became the norm in the 1890s was the carbine sling and its wide-throated swivel eased out of the cavalry service.17
Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Frank Harrington, the late James Hutchins, Paul Johnson, Douglas McChristian, George Moller, Lew Southard and Richard Williams for making items from their collections available for study and illustrative purposes, and for their cogent commentaries.