Springfield Armory Museum - Collection Record

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Maker/Manufacturer:SHARPS, CHRISTIAN
Date of Manufacture:1859-1863
Eminent Figure:KING, LTC WALTER
Catalog Number:SPAR 1241
Measurements:OL: 99CM 39" BL: 55.8CM 22"

Object Description:

Manufactured by Sharps Rifle Co., Hartford, Ct. - Model 1859 Sharps single-shot breechloading carbine with iron furniture and iron patchbox. grinder attachment designed by Lt. Col. Walter King who was on "detached service" from the 4th Missouri State Militia Cavalry for all of 1864 and 1865. Stock shows some fire damage. Grinder may be incomplete, at least one screw missing. There are no more than twelve of these known today. Long thought to be used for grinding coffee, the general consensus is now they were used for grinding corn or wheat. Tests done by Mr. Andrew Lustyik concluded that grinder was in fact unsuited for coffee. NPS Historian Jim Ogden of Chickamauga National Battlefield came to the same conclusion in tests he conducted on the "Coffee Mill" Sharps in that collection.

Barrel: NEW MODEL 1859. (46041).
Receiver tang: 46041.
Stock: 648. Fair numerical stampings: 64 located in upper left corner.

1909 Catalog #3077 - "Carbine. Sharp's Breech Loading Carbine. Cal..52. Paper cartridge. Coffee mill in butt. Primer lock."

INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION, 1876. BREECH-LOADING MUSKET AND RIFLES. No. 47. Sharps carbine and primer, coffee-mill in the butt. A number of these carbines were turned in at the end of the war. They are supposed to have been made in Saint Louis, Mo."

"Springfield Daily News," 14 Nov., 1956 - "ARMORY GETS LETTER WITH ONLY CARTOON FOR ADDRESS - Drawing of Ancient Arsenal Weapon With Inquiry From Omaha, Neb., Safely Delivered - One of the most prized possessions of the Springfield Armory museum, a rare Civil War era rifle with a built-in coffee grinder in the stock was brought to the attention of every official at the plant this morning by a letter received from a Omaha, (Neb.) businessman.
In lieu of the address, pasted on the face of the envelope was a 'Believe It or Not' cartoon sketch of the novel rifle. The only indication as to where the letter was to go was in a subtitle that indicated that one of the coffee grinder guns was at the Armory museum. It was delivered with apparently no trouble by the Post Office.
Receipt of the letter sent officials at the plant to Museum Historian Christopher Dvarecka who came up with some facts about probably the most unique gun in our history.
According to Dvarecka, during the Civil War era, the soldier was issued coffee beans as regular ration. Because the bean is useless unless pulverized, the soldiers adopted the habit of using the butt end of their rifles to make the bean into powder. This procedure have have led to quick and tasty coffee, but unfortunately it no only jarred the precision mechanism of the arm out of line but also cut down on the life expectancy of the weapon not to mention a careless soldier.
The Army sought a way out and the Sharps Model 1860 rifle was made as the answer. Only 50 of these priceless weapons were made for trial purposes. The stock of the gun had a little hole large enough to admit the bean and a little crank which the foot soldier was to crank as the first step in satisfying his hunger.
For some reason no more than 50 prototype guns were made and possession of one of them now represents considerable value.
The Omaha businessmen sent his novel communication to Springfield to determine for himself, if the cartoon had its facts correct."

Notes: During the cleaning of this arm by the National Park Service coffee grounds were actually found in the grinder. While we would like to think these coffee grounds were from a civil war soldier, the fact is the coffee grinder was once demonstrated by the former director of the Springfield Armory Museum, Mr. Robert Murphy. Evidently Mr. Murphy did not remove all the coffee grounds from the grinder after the demonstration. Mr. Murphy is pictured demonstrating the grinder in William B. Edwards' CIVIL WAR GUNS on page 300.

"...This weapon (without the crank) was one of the most desirable arms issued during the Civil War. easily get off 10 rounds in a minute. (2.)
If you guessed that the crank plays a role in increasing the soldier's rate of fire you would be wrong. When the crank and its internal mechanism is removed from the butt stock, it becomes immediately apparent that this attachment is a grinding device of some sort. It has an input port in the upper end of the plate on the lower edge of the butt stock. The plate opposite the crank has an output slot. The question is, just what is suppose to come out of that slot?
In his privately published volume entitled FULLER GUN NOTES, the title of Mr. Fuller's entry for this gun read: 'Sharps Breech-Loading Carbine. New Model 1863 with Coffee Mill.' (3.) Early on, however, I read accounts which cast doubt on its function as a coffee grinder. (4.) CHCH park historian Jim Ogden ground a few coffee beans in the gun (just prior to shipping it off for treatment). He reported disappointing results, stating that it would take an excessive number of beans to make a decent cup of coffee using the built-in grinder. Other authors reported similar disappointing results, (5,6) and one logically speculated that '...coffee was more of luxury (for Civil War era soldiers), it is more likely that the 'coffee mill' was originally a grain mill,' presumably for converting foraged grains into meal or flour. (7.)
In looking further into the matter it soon became clear that the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Co. was not responsible for this adaptation. (8.) The question as to who was responsible seemed to have several answers. Here is a sampling: 'During the Civil War a workmen employed at the St. Louis Arsenal devised a plan to incorporate a coffee mill on the butt stock of the gun.' (9,10) 'The coffee mill part was added...by James McMurphy of Camden, New Jersey on contract for the Ordnance Department. (11.) 'The Coffee Mill attachment, located in the stock where the patch box is usually placed, was added to a few of these carbines by a contractor in S (sic) Saint Louis, Mo. The idea being to issue one to a company.' (12.) 'The theory was that the mill would be useful for grinding corn and other grain...as well as the issue coffee.' (13.)
While there may be elements of truth in all of these assertions - the only solid answer came to my attention just before this article was due. Mr. Howard Madaus, curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, thought I would find an authoritative article in the quarterly journal published by the Company of Military Historians. He was quite right. In a brief article on the origin and purpose of the Sharps mill gun, it author quotes directly from the January 6, 1865, report of an inspection board charged with inspecting and reporting about this modification (and other improvements) to the Adjutant General of the Army, Lorenzo Thomas. The board included an Assistant Inspector General for the Cavalry Bureau, a senior officer from the Subsistence Department, and its presiding officer was a general officer from the Quartermaster Department. (14.)
The inventor was Lt. Col. Walter King who was 'detached service' from the 4th Missouri State Militia Cavalry for all of 1864 and 1865 until he was mustered out on AprThe board's report was not encouraging. They felt that if there were grain available to be foraged, there would also be mills nearby for its processing. They expressed doubt that grain found in the field would be dry enough to be successfully ground into meal or flour. They also objected to adding more weight to the cavalryman's equipage when recent experience had shown that their first priority should be to see that the soldier is able to carry as much ammunition as possible. They also pointed out that the mill could not be universally installed, and in particular would not work on the more recently adopted Spencer repeating carbine - because its seven-round magazine runs right down the middle of its butt stock.
Allowing that others might disagree with their findings, the board recommended that Lt. Col. King be permitted to conduct a 'fair trial in the field,' and (at his own expense) be allowed to outfit a squadron of up to 100 men with the permission of the unit's commanding officer. (15.)
At present it is not known if the field trial ever took place. In fact, much more research is needed to determine with documented certainty even the basic facts about this gun. Did Lt. Col. King intend for every mounted soldier to be issued his own 'raiding equipments,' or would they be spread out among the troops? How many Sharps were actually adapted to include a mill, and from what arsenal were they issued? Did Col. King have to purchase them himself or were they on loan and subsequently returned to the issuing armory? Who actually installed the mills and where? How were the guns finally disposed of? Did Congressman King use influence to get his son a hearing for his inventions and permission to conduct a field trial?
The 'Coffee Mill' Sharps carbine is one of the rarest guns collected. I know of four. It is often said that eight genuine examples exist. Others have estimated their being between 50 and 100. Much remains a mystery, and research will continue in order to 'tie up' the loose ends and one day to publish a more expanded article on this most peculiar firearm.
1. Steward Brown, The Guns Of Harpers Ferry. (Berryville, VA: The Virginia Book Company 1986), 69.
2. Wiley Sword, Sharpshooter: Hiram Berdan, his famous Sharpshooters and their Sharpe Rifles. (Lincoln, RI: Andrew Mowbray Incorporated, 1988), 42.
3. Claude E. Fuller, Fuller Gun Notes, (Collegedale, TN: Collegedale Bindery, 1957), 732.
4. James Ogden, Historian, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, personal communication.
5. Richard E. Hopkins, Military Sharps Rifles & Carbines Vol. I (self-published in 1960s, San Jose, CA), 50.
6. Arnold Chernoff's account of Andrew Lustyik's grinding trials, The Gun Report, 'Guns of the Month,' 56.
7. Frank Sellers, Sharps Firearms. (Denver: Frank Sellers, 1982) 76.
8. Ibid.
9. From an advertisement for item #2270 in a reprint of a 1920s Bannerman's Manhattan surplus arms catalogue.
10. Hopkins, p. 48.
11. Seller, p. 76.
12. Fuller, p. 732.
13. Harold L. Peterson, The Treasury of the Gun, (New York: Golden Press, Inc. and The Ridge, Inc., 1963), 175.
14. Roger D. Sturcke, Military Collector and Historian, "Cavalry 'Raiding Equipment': The 'Coffee Mill' Sharps Carbine Question,' XXXI: 4, 181-2, 1979.
15. Sturcke, p. 181." - David Arnold, NPS Conservator, SANHS.

"No. 2270. SHARP'S CIVIL WAR COFFEE MILL CARBINE. During the Civil War a workman empl
"While this device has been incorporated with several models (1859, 1863), it is more commonly known by collectors as The Coffee Mill Sharps. During the Civil War it was customary to issue whole coffee beans to the troops in the field; the grinding or pulverizing of these beans was then left up to the individual. The beans were usually crushed between rocks or smashed against a rock by blows from the buttstock of the arm carried. It would not have been practical to issue a coffee-mill to the now over-loaded soldier. One solution to this problem was brought forward by a highly imaginative employee at the government arsenal at Saint Louis, Missouri. His suggestion was to incorporate a coffee mill with an article a soldier always has with him - his rifle, of course. Made up towards the end of the Civil War in 1865, they were originally intended to be issued on the basis of one to a company, with the cavalry being the first branch of the army to test them. This somewhat impractical device did not prove to be of significant value and was promptly discontinued. Examination of the milling device, with the inclusion of the handle and cover plates definitely prove these parts to have been made out of cast iron. In an earlier publication, it appeared to the author that the mill was incapable of grinding coffee, as the lead-in grooves of the burr mill are not large enough to accept a whole coffee bean. The actual grinding of full size beans has been accomplished by one of the illustrated specimens. While this is a most slow and arduous process, the weapon may still hold title to being called a Coffee Mill....Inasmuch as quantity of manufacture go, there have been five different reports made ranging upwards from six to a total of fifty. Which amount is the most probably correct is a rather doubtful guess at the very best; but the guess would be more inclined to lean towards a figure somewhere between these totals. The idea has also been put forward that none of these arms are genuine, but were just a big joke on the part of some individual. Let us all hope that this is not the case, but this is another aspect that would have to be left up to the collector to decide for himself....These arms, the most highly prized and difficult of all the Martial Sharps to secure, are virtually unobtainable on the present day market. Should the reader ever be fortunate to encounter a genuine specimen for sale he will find that it will command an extremely high price." - Hopkins

"Cavalry 'Raiding Equipment': The 'Coffee Mill' Sharps Carbine Question. Most students of the American Civil War are familiar with the 'Coffee Mill' Sharps Carbine if only from having seen illustrations of it in the 'Bannerman' Catalogs. However, little was known about its origins and exact purpose. It was quite by chance that I came across several documents about this weapon. All of them are quoted below and are self-explanatory, except for the brief description included by Fellow Harold L. Peterson in his The Treasury of the Gun (page 175).
38. A Board of Officers, to consist Brig. Genl. D.H. Rucker, Quartermasters Department, Lieut. Col. G. Bell, Subsistence Department, Maj. W.R. Price, Asst. Inspector Genl. Cav. Bureau. will assemble in this city, on the 6th day of January, 1865, or as soon thereafter as practicable, to examine and report upon the merits of the Cavalry Raiding Equipments, invented by Lieut. Colonel Walter King, 4th Missouri Cavalry....
'By Order of the Secretary of War, (Sgt.) E.D. Townsend, Asst. Adjt. Genl. But as others may differ as to the utility of the invention, and all improvements should 'The Board met in accordance with above order at Washington, D.C. Jan. 6, 1865, all the members being present, proceeded to carefully examine the Cavalry Raiding Equipments submitted by Lt. Col. Walter King, 4th Cavalry Missouri State Militia.
The main features of the Equipment consist of a small mill, ingeniously arranged in the stock of a Carbine, with which corn or wheat is ground into meal suitable for cooking purposes. Of a leather case, about seven inches square, containing cooking utensils, and a canteen, slung over the shoulder, and coming under the left arm, and of four bags on the saddle, capable of containing rations of sugar, coffee and salt for sixty days.
While the Board highly commend the ingenuity of the inventor and think the Equipment might be desirable in the hands of scouts or small parties on the frontier service they submit the following reasons why, in their opinion they could not be made of great practical utility to the Government, or adopted for the entire Cavalry Service.
1st. It has been the desire and aim of all Cavalry Officers to greatly reduce the present weight of Equipments. In all the large movements of the Cavalry in the armies of the Potomac Shenandoah and Division of the Mississippi the first consideration has always been, how to carry the largest amount of ammunition and forage the subsistence for the men being the least important. The 'Raiding Equipment' assumes to find wheat or corn in the country and to grind it with the mill in the carbine. In this country wherever there is wheat there are generally grist mills. Further, the mill of Col. King, would, in the opinion of the board, be of little or no use in grinding grain which was not very dry and hard, and therefore would be of no service in converting into meal or flour any grain which might be found standing in the field or which had been lately gathered.
This equipment leaves no adequate space for carrying forage, the room on the pommel and cantel of the saddle being occupied with rations of the men, 20 lbs. or forage is, and always should be carried on the saddle. The cooking utensils are also large and cumbersome and in the way of carrying a sufficient amount of ammunition.
2nd The mill which is the essential part of this equipment can not be applied to Spencers Repeating Carbine, (which is now largely, and will eventually in the judgement of the board be universally used by all good Cavalry in the service) as the cartridge magazine occupies all the space of the stock.
3rd In the opinion of the board, it is also thought that the accumulation of rust on the machinery and the action of the weather on the stock of the gun would render the mill inoperative, probably just at a time when it could be made of service.'1.
The well-known firearms expert, Arnold M. Chernoff, states in an article in the February 1975 issue of Gun Report that he knows of only eight of these carbines in existence today. (In this same article, Mr. Chernoff states that Mr. Andrew Lustyik, a well-known Civil War carbine expert, has experimented in grinding various sizes of coffee beans in the carbine grinder and that the grinder proved unsuited for that purpose.)....2.
It is appropriate here, to include a short biography of the inventor, Col. Walter King. During the Mexican War he served as a private in the 1st Regiment Missouri Mounted Volunteers from 24 June 1846 to 22 June 1847. In the Civil War he received a Commission as Colonel of the 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry to date from 27 April 1862. On 18 March 1863 he became Lieutenant Colonel in the 4th Missourthe board - for a troop or squadron, since the purpose was to field test the 'Raiding Equipment'. This would account for their extreme rarity today.3.
We realize that this article does not answer all questions concerning this odd weapon. However, we hope that it will lead to further, definitive research on the subject. The author would be glad to hear from any member who has additional information.' - Roger D. Sturcke
1. National Archives: R.G. 156 Ordnance Department Records, Entry 978.
2. Gun Report Magazine, Feb. 1975, pp. 56 (Article) Chernoff, Arnold M. 'Gun of the Month: The Sharps 'Coffee Mill' (?) Carbine.'
3. National Archives: R.G. 94 Military Service Record of Col. Walter King." - Journal of CMA, Winter, 1979.

1241 - "How many of the Sharps Carbines, complete with buttstock milling devices, were actually made up? My own educated guess would be around one dozen which would coincide with the mention made by Frank M. Sellers. I would think that carbines with this device installed were probably nut used to any extent, were possibly retained by Lt. Col. King, if he paid for them or, stored in arsenals(s) until sold by the U.S. Government. Considered rather novel down through the years, they were apparently kept rather than discarded by owners, so perhaps the attrition rate was extremely low.
One very serious carbine collector of the 1950's period, and still my close personal friend, owned a Sharps New Model 1863, Serial Number 99730 and had a list (his carbine included) of eight (8) Sharps Carbines with 'milling device' installed, along with the models and serial numbers, which he knew of and felt were genuine. Having disposed of his entire collection around 1960, the apparently was lost. I have a lost of most of those serial numbers, but will not list all of them here inasmuch as I personally examined only several of the carbines....
And whoever (Bannerman?) originally came up with the bright idea that the mill was a 'coffee grinder,' without knowing the actual facts? I have maintained for the past fifty (50) years that a mill capable of suitably grinding coffee beans couldn't be easily incorporated into a Sharps, or other carbine buttstock. The stock dimensions just would not accept either the width or diameter of a suitable mill. And if the width (diameter) were scaled down, then it would have to be deeper and of course this is not physically possible. The grinding or milling grooves would be smaller and the depth of such a mill could not be incorporated into a buttstock and remain flush with the stock thickness and contours.
Although Walter King never reaped a profit his carbine buttstock, wheat and corn milling device, present-day dealers and collectors who, on rare occasions, put one of these carbines on the market, usually make a handsome profit." - Lustytik

"Name: Walter King
Regiment Name: 4 Missouri
Side: Union
Company: F&S
Soldier's Rank In: Lt. Col.
Soldier's Rank Out: Lt. Col.
Film Number M390 roll 26
4th Regiment, Missouri State Militia Cavalry
Organized at St. Joseph, Mo., January 28 to May 4, 1862. Ordered to Kansas City, Mo., May, 1862, and duty there fitting out till August. Skirmish on Little Blue June 2. Ordered to Southwest Missouri August, 1862, and reported to General Egbert B. Brown. Attached to District of the Southwest Missouri, Dept. of Missouri, to December, 1862. District of Central Missouri, Dept. of Missouri, to July 1863. District of Border, Dept. of MSERVICE: - Pursuit of Coffee August 8-September 1, 1862. Between Stockton and Humansville and near Stockton August 12. Duty at Mt. Vernon till September 30. Joined Totten's Division, Army of the Frontier. Oxford Bend, near Fayetteville, Ark., October 27-28. Expedition from Greenfield into Jasper and Barton Counties November 24-26. Operations against Marmaduke in Missouri December 31, 1862-January 25, 1863. Defense of Springfield, Mo., January 8, 1863. Duty in Central Missouri and guarding Missouri Pacific Railroad, with Headquarters at LaMine Bridge, Jefferson City, Tipton, Sedalia and Warrensburg, Mo., till October, 1864. Operations about Princeton May 4, 1863. Waverly June 1 (Cos. 'B' and 'C'). Sibley June 23 (4 Cos.). Marshall July 28. Saline County July 30. Operations against Quantrell August 20-28. Operations against Shelby September 22-October 26. Tipton and Syracuse October 10 (Cos. 'A', 'B', 'E', and 'F'). Bonneville October 11-12. Merrill's Landing and Dug Ford, near Jonesborough, October 12. Marshall, Arrow Rock, Blackwater, October 13. Operations about Warrensburg February 22-24, 1864. Scout from Sedalla to Blackwater June 3-5 (Co. 'E'). Near Sedalia and Marshall Road June 26 (Co. 'E'). Huntsville July 16. Scout from Independence to Lafayette County August 7-8. (Detachment). Operations in Lafayette and Saline Counties August 13-22 (Detachment). Near Rocheoport August 28 (Detachment). Howard County August 28 (Co. 'E'). Moved to Defense of Jefferson City October 1. Campaign Booneville October 11-12. Little Blue October 21. Independence, Big Blue and State Line October 22. Westport October 23. Engagement at the Marmiton or battle of Charlot October 25. At Sedalia, Mo., November, 1864, to April, 1865. Scout in Calloway County November 6-7, 1864 (Detachment). Moved to St. Louis April, 1865, and most of Regiment mustered out April 18, 1865. Balance mustered out July 8, 1865.
Regiment lost during service 2 Officers and 34 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 2 Officers and 86 Enlisted men by disease. Total 124." - Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System

Army #0481 - Loaned to Colonel DeRohan, Chief of the Connecticut Military District, Hartford, Conn. from 14 May 1951 to 19 May 1951.

Edwards, William B. CIVIL WAR GUNS. Castle. Secaucus, N.J. 1982.
Gardner, Robert E. SMALL ARMS MAKERS. Crown Publishers, Inc. N.Y., N.Y. 1963.
Frasca, Albert J. & Robert Hill. 1909 CATALOG OF THE SPRINGFIELD ARMORY MUSEUM ARMS & ACCOUTERMENTS. Revised. Springfield Publishing Co. Carson City, Nv. 1995.
Hopkins, Richard E. MILITARY SHARPS RIFLES & CARBINES. Volume I. Mrs. Richard E. Hopkins. Campbell, California. 1967.
Sellers, Frank. SHARPS FIREARMS. Sellers Publication. Denver, Co. 1982.

See, Andrew F. Lustyik. Col. Walter King's Carbine Milling Device. Part I. The Gun Report. November, 2005.
Andrew F. Lustyik, Col. Walter King's Carbine Milling Device, Part II. The Gun Report, December, 2005.

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