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Springfield musket may refer to any one of several types of small arms produced by the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the United States armed forces. In modern times, these muskets are commonly referred to by their date of design followed by the name Springfield ("1855 Springfield", for example). However, U.S. Ordnance Department documentation at the time did not use "Springfield" in the name ("Rifle Musket, Model 1855", for example).
They are sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Springfield rifles". Rifles have grooves on the inside of their barrels. Smooth bore muskets do not. The term "Rifled musket" originally referred to smooth bore muskets that later had their barrels rifled. This term was extended to include weapons that were produced with rifled barrels, as long as the overall design was very similar to the original smooth bore musket.
The Springfield Model 1795 was the first musket to be produced in the United States. It was essentially a direct copy of the French Model 1763 Charleville musket, which had been imported in great numbers during the American Revolution. The War of 1812 revealed many weaknesses in both design and manufacturing, which the Model 1812 sought to correct. The Model 1812 borrowed many design features from the French Model 1777 Charleville musket. The Model 1816 standardized all of the changes that had been made during production of the Model 1812. This design was produced for many years with only minor changes, such as the modification to the sling swivel on the Model 1822. The Model 1835 was likewise very similar in design, but was produced using significantly different manufacturing techniques with an emphasis on machine made parts and parts interchangeability. Minor changes were again made for the Model 1840, which culminated in the Model 1842, which was the first musket to be produced with completely interchangeable, machine-made parts. As these muskets were produced with only minor changes, some historians consider the Models 1816 through 1840 to all be minor variants of a single model type.
The Model 1840 was the last musket to be produced as a flintlock. Many Model 1840 muskets were converted to percussion lock before they made it to the field. The percussion lock was seen as such an improvement that many earlier muskets (all the way back to the Model 1816) had their flint locks replaced with percussion locks.
The 1840s also saw the introduction of the minie ball, which allowed rifled barrels to be used with muzzle-loading black-powder weapons. Model 1840 and 1842 muskets were produced as smoothbore weapons, but many had their barrels rifled after production, causing them to be referred to as rifled muskets. Subsequent models in the series continued to be referred to as rifled muskets, even though they had not been produced as smoothbore weapons originally.
The minie ball, being an elongated, conical bullet, has much more mass than a round ball of the same diameter. Springfield muskets until this time had all used .69 caliber rounds, the same as the Charleville musket that the first Springfield muskets had been based on. The U.S. Army began experimenting with smaller diameter rounds, and settled on .58 caliber for use in rifled muskets, as the .58 caliber minie ball had approximately the same mass as a .69 caliber round ball. The .58 caliber minie ball became standard starting with the Springfield Model 1855.
The Model 1855 also attempted to improve the overall fire rate of the musket by replacing the percussion lock with the Maynard tape primer. This proved to be unreliable, and the Model 1861 reverted to the original percussion lock. The model 1863 featured only minor improvements to the Model 1861, and is often considered to be a variant of that model.
After the U.S. Civil War, many Model 1861/1863 muskets were converted to breech-loading weapons, creating the Model 1865 rifle. After the change from muzzle-loading to breech-loading, these weapons were no longer referred to as rifled muskets and instead were simply referred to as rifles.