Notes on the Austrian
By Alexander Vasquez
One of the
most unique and under-represented weapons in the Civil War is the Austrian model
1854/1861 infantry rifle, more popularly known as the “Lorenz." This article is
designed to make basic information regarding this weapon available in an attempt
to draw attention to this fine piece. Please note that I am not a scholar, or a
professional researcher, but rather have used my first hand experience in
researching my own M1854 infantry rifle here in America and while living in
Austria in writing this article. I do not purport to be the final authority on
this weapon; any and all errors are my own, and are unintentional.
The weapon was designed out of need by the Austrian army to modernize their long arms. The Model 1842 infantry musket was a piece fired by use of the “tubelock" ignition system which was considered unwieldy. In 1854 the Austrian Army began accepting designs for an improved weapon using the more efficient percussion ignition system. The design chosen was one developed by Josef Lorenz (1814-1879), a Viennese gunsmith. His design utilized a 13.9 mm (approximately .54) caliber rifle with 4 grooves and a right-hand twist weighing approximately 4 kilograms (8 pounds). It was shorter and lighter than the M1842, and was considered one of the finest European weapons of the time, being lightweight and accurate. The barrel was secured to the beech wood stock using three spring-retained barrel bands, the middle and nose bands being situated very close together near
the muzzle of the weapon. The barrel was octagonal shaped at the breech, lathed round from the sight area to the muzzle. It used a 4 bladed socket bayonet which when attached to the rifle gave it a length comparable to an English P1853 rifle-musket with bayonet, although the weapon itself was shorter then the English one. The Austrians also accepted Lorenz’s designs for carbines and musketoons based on the infantry rifle design, but these “Dornstuetzen” and “Jaegerstuetzen" weapons are not so common as the M1854/M1861 infantry rifle and do not merit discussion here.
The M1854 infantry rifle had the unique characteristic of using “recycled” musket parts, particularly lock plates. Some lock plates of the 1854 models can be seen with small holes filled in similar to a converted flintlock lock plate. In point of fact, the Austrian gunsmiths used older lock plates (flintlock and tubelock) on the M1854s and altered them by filling in the screw or pin holes (1). When these stores were exhausted, they were cast as one piece with no flint or tubelock holes inletted.
The M1854 was produced in two major variations which are termed the M1854 "Variant I" and the M1854 "Variant II". The “Variant I” rifle used a simple block sight graduated for 300 “Schritt” (225m; Schritt is an Austrian term for pace) on top of the barrel and was to be used in the companies assigned to the center of an Austrian regiment. The “Variant II” rifle used a flip-up leaf sight graduated to 900 “Schritt” (675m) and was to be used by the flank companies in a regiment or sharpshooter battalions in an army corps (2). Some of these rifles also had cheek pieces carved into the buttstocks.
In 1861, the weapon underwent very minor cosmetic changes. The main change was that the lock plate was now of a simpler design and unique to the rifle, not being a recycled part. The lock plate was now the same shape as the English P1853 rifled-musket as well. Some of the sling swivels had been moved into the stock (in the buttstock and between the middle and lower barrel bands) instead of being on the middle barrel band and triggerguard. The differing variations also seem to have been eliminated, with all weapons produced now being of the “Variant II” configuration, and some of them also having double-set triggers (3). It was used until the Seven Week’s War with Prussia in 1866, when Austrian infantrymen armed with the muzzleloader M1861s were decimated by the breechloader
Dreyse armed Prussians (4). This eventually led to the unification of the German states under Prussian influence.
Austrian gunsmiths making the M1854/M1861 operated mainly in Vienna, with attending proofs usually stamped on the barrel, usually on the top flat. Some of the Austrian gunsmiths making M1854 and M1861 infantry rifles were Josef Lorenz, Ignaz Florienschuetz, Ferdinand Freuwirth, Anna and Karl Joseph Oesterlein, E. Umfahrer, and Pirko. These smiths were all operating out of Vienna, but smaller manufacturing concerns throughout the Austrian Empire also built these weapons (5). The weapon was also supposedly produced in Liege, Belgium, a center of gunsmithing in Europe at the time; Liege gunsmiths made copies of almost every military firearm and sold them throughout the world (6).
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the gunsmiths and government first sold the older M1854 pattern to both North and South, and then moved on to selling the M1861 as the older stocks were eliminated. Rifles could be purchased as either Imperially accepted pieces or as brokered weapons; the difference being that an Imperially proofed and accepted piece would have had attending marks (double-headed eagle and date of manufacture stamped on the lock plate) while the brokered guns were purchased from the gunsmith companies themselves and did not have Imperial acceptance marks (7). The ratio based on weapons that still exist seem to indicate anywhere from 12 to 17 Imperial weapons imported for every 1 brokered weapon.
A database I maintain of these weapons gives the following breakdown of these weapons and calibers (8):
Variant IIs, in calibers ranging from .57-.59
*These were probably US issue, based on appearance and caliber.
10 M1854 Variant Is in .54
*These were probably a combination of US and CS issue weapons, based
on caliber and appearance.
3 M1861s in .54
*These were probably US issue, as they were created and imported sometime after 1863, when the “official” Austrian government position was not to sell material to the CS.
2 Original Austrian Army pattern firearms (M1854/II and M1861)
Unfortunately, I am not able to classify these weapons’ issue as anything other than “probably”. As a rule, weapons imported for the South were generally (but not always) of .54 caliber, Imperially-proofed. US weapons were generally a combination of Imperial and brokered weapons of a larger caliber (anywhere from .57-.59) which was done by gunsmiths either in Austria, Belgium, or America. However, cross-overs do exist, as evidenced by ordinance reports showing US issue and use of .54 Austrians and CS issue and use of .58 Austrians. Belgian altered or brokered weapons can also be found with some attending Belgian proofs, with Liege being the place where many weapons found themselves refitted before the journey to the North. These Belgian proofs seem to be found exclusively on sling swivels. Also imported with these weapons was the 4 bladed socket
bayonet, a wiper, and a tool; total cost was $16 (9).
The Austrian M1854/M1861 infantry rifle was the second most imported weapon to America from 1861-1865; approximately 225,000 being imported to the Union and well over 100,000 imported to the Confederacy. It saw service on all fronts and in all situations, asserting itself well in the hands of the noble men who served with them. It deserves a special place in the history of Civil War firearms, and I hope to one day see it on the field in numbers and configurations appropriate for it’s portrayal.
1. Comunication with Greg Edington, August 2000.
2. From display on M1854/M1861 infantry rifles in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna, Austria 1995.
3. Gabriel, Erich. Die Hand und Faustfeuerwaffen des Hapsburgischen Herre Katalognummer 66-74, Schwartzenburgplatz, Vienna, Austria 1994.
4. Letter from Oesterreichische Staatsarchiv (Kriegsarchiv), Vienna, Austria, January 1993.
5. Gabriel, Erich. Die Hand. . .
6. Letters from the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum and Oesterreichische Staatsarchiv (Kriegsarchiv) in Vienna, Austria, January 1993.
7. Communication with Greg Edington, spring 1998.
8. This database has been accumulated from 1993-present and is continuously updated. The figures are taken from weapons seen at museums, gun shows, Living History events, and private individuals. I did not keep track of lockplate markings other than to classify as an M1854 or M1861 as this tends to make owners uncomfortable. None of the weapons had markings which classify them as either US or CS issue. Thanks to the following: Army History Museum in Vienna, Austria; Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA; Lodgewood Mfg., Whitewater, WI; Simpson Ltd., Galesburg, IL; Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, WI; State
Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa; Greg Edington, Springfield, OH; Steve Acker, Madison, WI; and other people and businesses whom I did not get names from.
9. Communication with Greg Edington, spring 1998.