This is a rare example of a Confederate Gillam and Miller Rifle. These were manufactured for a short span of time, the first half of 1863, in High Point, North Carolina. Based on surviving records, we know that approximately 677 were accepted by the state of North Carolina and the possibility that an unknown quantity was delivered to the Confederate government during early production. Today, this is one of just a few surviving examples with at least five currently in museums.
We acquired this one several years ago from a family in central Florida. The owner, a man in his early 60s, told us that he could remember this rifle since his childhood and that it had been in his family for many years. Unfortunately, there was no other history he could provide beyond that although it does bear a set of initials, "J W P" which are likely those of the soldier who carried it. There is also a distinct and deeply carved notch on the top of the wrist.
True to standards set forth by Colonel Josiah Gorgas of the Confederate Ordnance Department around 1862, it has a standard 32-1/2" barrel in .577 caliber in the pattern of the US Model 1841 "Mississippi" Rifle with brass furniture without a patchbox which was omitted from the requirements. This was the Confederate government's attempt at establishing a common caliber and barrel size as up to this point, manufacturers were submitting rifles in all kinds of calibers...a true ordnance nightmare in terms of ammunition supply.
True to most Gillam and Miller's, the rifle is unmarked with the exception of the "P" firing proof on the top of the barrel. The slightly awkward stock architecture and diminished profiles (full-size Confederate but about the size of a cadet rifle comparatively speaking) are unmistakably that of Gillam and Miller. Right side of barrel has a dovetail for a bayonet lug although it appears to have never been installed. See chapter XX, 'Gillam and Miller North Carolina Contract Rifles', pg. 267 thru 294 in Confederate Rifles & Muskets by John M. Murphy, M.D. and Howard Michael Madaus.
Typical of surviving Confederate weapons that turn up in the South today, it survived through about an 80 year span during which practicality far exceeded any novelty of collecting in the devastated postwar economy. Its reason for survival was most likely due to the fact that a farmer needed a gun and couldn't afford to purchase a new one. That said, this rifle found new life during its post Civil War years in use as either a shotgun or hunting rifle. As with many ex-Civil War muskets and rifles that went from ploughshares to swords and back to ploughshares, the forewood was cut back to the about the rear band, bands and forend cap were discarded to make a lighter handier gun. This one was done in the barn...nothing fancy. When we found it, the rear band that was holding the barrel on was a rather contorted looking front band off an Enfield Percussion Cavalry Carbine. Fortunately, the barrel was never cut as it was the correct length and still had its original front sight intact and the slot for the bayonet lug. After carefully removing many years of rust and crud, the bore still had portions of its original rifling present and was never bored out. Another thing was the front portion of the trigger guard had broken off (like from a poor casting) and was precariously flopping around off its rear mount attached to the trigger plate. Aside from the missing wood and some of the brass furniture at the front end, it was a fairly sound original Gillam and Miller Rifle. That may not sound very appealing to most collectors but for a Confederate item of which there are less than two dozen known in existence, it was an incredible discovery and an amazing story of survival through 150 years of less than ideal circumstances.
After acquiring this rifle, we decided to have it restored back to its original military configuration as accurately as humanly possible. The word "restoration" is a very broad term which seems to have a different meaning to each person you ask. In this case, this does not mean bringing something back to look new again, but to appear "correct" as a 150 year old item. Whenever we turn up a rare item that has been altered or damaged, there is the motivation to bring that artifact back to its original form provided the work can be done as accurately as possible and to a very high standard. This is especially important regarding Confederate items as there was a concerted effort during and after the war to remove or destroy any trace of its existence. The problem therein lies that no matter how one feels about the American Civil War, the morality of the issue of slavery, the tremendous loss of over 600,000 lives, a secession from the Union, one can never fully comprehend the full story of what happened without artifacts from the Confederate side of the equation. Unfortunately, they simply do not exist in any appreciable quantity. So with that, there was a bit of motivation on our part to bring this back to life so it could contribute something back to the story. Each year that passes, it seems more of this story is being lost, not just Confederate history, but American history.
So with that in mind, we set out to get this rifle fixed but making sure that new components were worked into the context of the existing condition of the item. In other words, match the repairs to the gun, not the gun to the repairs. This in itself is a form of art and very few people possess such a combination of technical and artistic skills. That said, we did not rush into this process in haste with deadlines. In fact, it took us over two years to restore this rifle back to its original military configuration. During that time, I made two trips to the Greensboro Historical Museum in North Carolina which has an incredible Confederate firearms collection on permanent exhibit. There, I was able to study and photograph not one but four Gillam and Miller Rifles from the collection of the late Dr. Murphy. The rest of our information was supplemented by Dr. Murphy's book on Confederate Longarms which has a dedicated chapter on the Gillam and Miller. From there, we contacted one of the best antique firearms restorers in the business and patiently waited for a spot to open up on his schedule.
Once the ball got rolling on the actual work, the research really paid off as we were able to provide the restorer with numerous photos and details to guide him to restoring the barrel bands, end cap and the forewood...all of which were fabricated by hand. I can remember a number of long phone calls over the course of an entire month that were made discussing even the most minute details. In the end, the time and research that went into the front end of the process coupled with the skills of the restorer (who is one of the BEST in the country) and what I could no less describe as his "obsession to get the details right", the results were rewarding. A farmer's gun had been brought back its original military configuration and could now tell a piece of the story that has largely been lost. This rifle came out so well that in my personal opinion, it could go right on the same rack with the other four Gillam and Millers on display at the Greensboro Historical Museum from the Murphy collection. Since the restoration has been completed, I've displayed this rifle at a number of shows and been amazed at the number of experts and dealers ( many of whom specialize in Confederate items) who had no idea this rifle was restored....until we told them. We even showed this to a collector who currently owns a Gillam and Miller. He too, was quite impressed with this rifle.
In disassembling this rifle, we found a treasure trove of markings from its manufacture in 1863 along with some really interesting surprises that give insight into its manufacture. To really get a true appreciation for what I will attempt to summarize briefly here, I'd highly recommend picking two books. The first book is Confederate Rifles and Muskets by Murphy and Madaus (His forty years of research on Confederate makers including many obscure ones and found nowhere else is money well spent). The other book is Ploughshares to Swords by Frank Vandiver and gives a fantastic overlook of the Confederacy from the ordnance perspective of Josiah Gorgas.
Inspecting this rifle, although we didn't recognize it at first, the various components on this rifle are simply marked with a single straight line in the form of the Roman numeral I, the number 1, or possibly just a crude small line made from a chisel. This mark wasn't noticed at first because it was so simple that it almost looked errant. It wasn't until we really started studying the components carefully where we realized this was the assembly number, numeral, or mark. This marking shows up on the following components:
Barrel I (see photo)
Breech plug I (see photo)
Lockplate I (see photo)
Trigger I (see photo)
Trigger Guard Floor Plate I (see photo)
Buttplate I (see photo)
In addition, since the initial photography was taken and conducting some further disassembly, the assembly number I has also been found on the following additional components:
Trigger Guard I
Brass Side Plate I
On the Wood underneath the Brass Side Plate I
While they don't appear in the ad, we have photographed these additional markings since and can furnish to prospective buyers upon request.
The barrel has quite a few additional markings including what looks to be a three digit serial number that is partially obscured by a spot of pitting underneath the barrel. This is pictured in photo 11 but where you see it better are in the angled shots of photos 13 and 14 to the right edge of the picture. In addition, there is a very clear Roman numeral VIII which has been crossed out. Again, the answer I believe can be found in Murphy's book on page 268 where it list delivery dates to the state of North Carolina with a table of guns delivered, the number accepted, and the numbers rejected. In the first eleven shipments made between January 14, 1863 to May 28, of the 739 rifle delivered, 212 were rejected...and the state would later accept an additional 150 rifles for a total of 677 rifles. At any rate, what most likely happens with these rejected rifles sent back at each delivery is that the usable good parts were salvaged and placed back into production. Thus is the case with the barrel of this rifle. It most likely that originally this barrel was on a rifle that was rejected by the inspector for some reason (i.e. a stock with a knot in the lock channel). The barrel was fine and since it was the most costly and time-consuming component of the rifle to produce, Gillam and Miller certainly wasn't about to throw it away. Thus, it ended up being fit to a new rifle...which is where the earlier assembly Roman numeral VIII gets scratched out and the new numeral I takes its place. This practice was quite common on guns during the Civil War including contractors to the Union Army...Remington New Model 1863's come to mind as a specific example.
Some other interesting aspects of this rifle are the crude inletting inside the stock where we see the workmen scribing center lines to aid in the fitting things like the trigger guard floor plate. Clearly, Gillam and Miller did not have very sophisticated fixtures for milling out and inletting the wood although they did produce enough stock blanks to supply at least one other maker in the Jamestown area which was the Florence Armory. Another thing we notice is a fairly significant amount of what appears to be lead-like substance around some of the screw holes. Was this being used to tighten up loose wood screws of help seat the brass furniture? Another thing we notice was the brass casting for the buttplate must have been quite thin as the interior is filled with lead, much like a Union or Confederate belt buckle for added weight and reinforcement. The fact that the workmen applied the I assembly number directly into the surface of this lead filling reveals this was done during manufacture. Again, very interesting stuff as it demonstrates there is a learning curve in "what to do" vs. "what not to do" as well as "how do we fix this and get it out the door". One of the largest problems manufacturers in the South faced was finding skilled workmen with manufacturing experience deep within an agrarian society. The other half of the problem which you'll find continuously throughout much of the war is the constant battle between manufacturers faced retaining their workforces and the military conscripting their workers into infantry units. The problem was so bad that many manufacturers never truly got off the ground and/or never reached any appreciable production numbers. In contrast, the Griswold Pistol Factory near Macon, GA achieved the highest production of any revolver manufacturer in the South before it was destroyed by Union forces at the end of 1864. As the workforce was composed almost entirely of African-American slaves, these men were likely never conscripted into the fight and were able to learn from the usual mistakes of early production, make necessary improvements, and ramp up production. The last problem faced by most manufacturers was the simple want of quality material. For example, iron had to be used in lieu of steel, brass often became the substitute for iron castings, and so forth. That said, looking inside this rifle, we see exactly the kinds of things to be expected when an unprepared nation finds itself in the middle of a protracted war. We see the lack of skilled labor, the lack of quality materials, the little mistakes being made due to inexperience, and those mistakes being overcome such as the once rejected barrel on this rifle finding its way for a 2nd try on a later production gun. That in itself is really the charm we find in these surviving Confederate weapons as it reveals the human and technological conditions that often escape the books, movies, and reenactments.