The Lorenz
by Joe Bilby

After the Enfield, the Austrian Lorenz, in its original .54, and rebored or manufactured to various approximations of .58 caliber for the American market, was the second most common imported firearm used by both Union and Confederate forces. The Lorenz, designed by Lieutenant Joseph Lorenz of the Austrian army and introduced into Hapsburg service in 1854, was a sound weapon well regarded in Europe. Yankee and Rebel buyers eagerly snapped up Lorenz-style rifle-muskets; the Union recorded purchases of 226, 924 and the Confederacy bought as many as 100,000.

Lorenz guns were acquired from several sources; the Hapsburg armories in Vienna and private arms makers in Vienna and Ferlach. The Lorenz rifle-musket had a 37 ½ inch barrel secured to the gun’s stock with three barrel bands. The gun was made with two styles of rear sights; a non-adjustable "block," calibrated to hit a man somewhere on the body up to 300 schritt (paces), issued to line infantry (Type I), and a leaf sight adjustable up to 900 schritt issued to noncommissioned officers and skirmishers (Type II). Both types were imported. Captain Silas Crispin, reported a batch of newly imported .54 caliber as “12,384 of them having the simple block rear sight, and the remainder - 3,144 - being furnished with elevating screws, ranging up to about 800 yards.” It seems reasonable to assume that most bulk purchases of surplus Lorenzes, Union and Confederate, probably reflected the same ratio of sight types, as they seem to correlate with Austrian army issue patterns.

Lorenzes were marked on their lock plates with the last three digits of the year of production. For example “860” designates a rifle made in 1860. The Austrians adopted a new version of the Lorenz in 1862, with a steel rather than iron barrel. These were not imported, and guns with “863” and “864” with provenance to the Civil War are contractor guns made specifically for export. These contract pieces are usually threaded for standard US nipples.

Although walnut stocked examples exist, most Lorenzes were stocked in beech, stained dark brown. The Lorenz quadrangular socket bayonet featured a diagonal mounting slot. Both of these characteristics make it immediately identifiable on a dealer’s table at an antique gun or Civil War relic show.

The Austrians also issued a Jaeger(a.k.a. Jaegerstutzen) rifle designed for rifle battalions (sighted to 1,000 schritt) and sharpshooters, (1,200 schritt). The Jaegerfeatured a 28 inch, octagon to round, wedge secured barrel, a leaf rear sight sliding in a track not unlike those used on the US M-1 Garand of World War II fame and was fitted for a saber bayonet. Sharpshooter Jaegers differed from rifle battalion Jaegers in that they were fitted with a tige breech, which featured a spike extending from the face of the breechplug into the chamber. Originally designed in France to ram an undersized ball against for expansion, the Jaeger's tige was used to assure that the powder charge would not be crushed, providing more consistent shooting. Jaegers were not originally issued with ramrod channels under the barrels, as Austrian riflemen carried their ramrods separately. Those imported were provided with ramrod channels by the importers.

A fourth Lorenz variant was the Extra Korps, with 26-inch barrel, designed for use by military police, transportation and other rear echelon duties. Extra Korps guns were also issued in limited numbers to artillery batteries where they were carried in limber chests for use in guard duty. A fair number of Jaegers and perhaps a few Extra Korps rifles were imported during the Civil War, but the majority of imports were rifle-muskets.

Although Captain Crispin, who inspected Lorenz rifle-muskets imported for the Union by the Boker company, described them as "fair in workmanship and finish, and in weight and caliber according more nearly with our established model than any other arms of Continental manufacture," Lorenz quality apparently varied. Crispin was impressed by one lot of Austrian rifle-muskets, "finished in some respects, in imitation of the Enfield rifle…" as "somewhat superior, in every respect" to other lots of Lorenzes.

Rebel Lorenz shipments apparently varied as well. Confederate arms buyer Caleb Huse, who claimed he purchased excellent rifle muskets straight from the Vienna arsenal, apparently stretched the truth in this as well as other matters. The arms Huse purchased were, in fact, surplus Austrian army guns, as the Austrians were rearming with a newer model of the Lorenz. In 1863, Major Smith Standbury, a Confederate inspector based in Bermuda, classified a shipment of Lorenzes as "a lot of trash, in horrible condition." After a thorough inspection and cleaning, however, most of these apparently well-used guns were found to be satisfactory. The bulk of them seem to have ended up serving in the Army of Tennessee and forces farther west.

Some Austrian gun dealers no doubt took advantage of the warring Americans' need for firearms and deep pockets to fob off guns of inferior quality. Among these may have been weapons rejected by the Austrian government or culled from some Balkan battlefield or the recent war in northern Italy, as well as hastily made copies of the Lorenz using parts scavenged from older muskets.

Exterior finish on the Lorenz rifle-muskets varied, with some guns blued, others browned and still others, perhaps the majority, polished bright. The bore diameters on Lorenz guns rebored in Europe or America, or manufactured specifically for the American market, varied, with samples noted in .577, .57, .58 and .59 calibers. Lorenz rifle-muskets were widely issued, and there is archeological evidence of their use as far to the west as Glorietta Pass, New Mexico, site of an 1862 battle between Union and Confederate forces.

The Lorenz was well regarded by some troops to whom it was issued, including those of the 5th New Jersey and 104th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiments. Private Alfred Bellard of the 5th praised his .54 caliber Lorenz for being "short, light and very easily cleaned, "while Quartermaster James D. Hendrie of the 104th believed his outfit's Austrian guns to be "very superior weapons, although not so well finished as the American arms." His colonel remembered the regiment's guns as "rough but good and reliable." The men of the 23rd Pennsylvania were delighted to trade in their .69 caliber rifled muskets for Austrian arms, which they found to be "most efficient firearms." An Illinois officer regarded the Lorenz as "although a little heavy, a fine piece for service." Leander Stillwell of the 61st Illinois considered his .54 Lorenz "a wicked shooter." Stillwell and his comrades "were glad to get the Austrians, and were quite proud of them." The Suckers of the 61st carried their Lorenzes until June of 1863, when they exchanged them for Enfields.

Other Yanks were not as enthusiastic. In 1863, a Union inspecting officer condemned the Austrian weapons of the 47th Massachusetts Infantry. Lorenz rifle-muskets issued to western troops in the second year of the war seem to have been decidedly inferior to those issued the previous year. William E. McMillan of the 94th Illinois' Company E wrote that his unit's Lorenzes were "not worth much," while the 100th Illinois reported that its .58 caliber Lorenz guns "are roughly and improperly made and cannot be called an effective weapon. The men of the 106th Illinois complained that the Lorenz was "miserably poor," and the 120th Illinois classified its .54 Lorenz guns as "worthless."

The 125th Illinois was issued Austrian rifle-muskets in .58 caliber of "which not over one-half were perfect…many will not explode a cap." The 125th’s regimental historian complained that some of the Austrian guns’ nipples “were not entirely drilled out,” and some could not mount a bayonet without hammering it on. The 130th Illinois reported that “one-third or three-eights of these arms [Austrian] are defective.”

Like Colonel Penrose of the 15th New Jersey Infantry, who exchanged his men’s Enfields for Springfields on the battlefield, Major Robert L. Bodine of the 26th Pennsylvania rearmed his regiment on the field at Gettysburg. Bodine’s men came to Gettysburg armed “with the Austrian rifle of an inferior quality, and I desired toe exchange them for Springfield rifles; which was done without the red tape processes. Quite a number of them were taken from the Rebels. Like the Jerseymen of the 15th, the Pennsylvanians picked up several Confederate-made rifle-muskets along with the Springfields. Apparently unaware of the production facilities at Richmond, Bodine reported that these guns “had gone through the renovating process, and bore the Richmond C.S. stamp.”

Lorenz guns may well have gained a bad reputation from their association with older .71 caliber Austrian “Consol” or tube-lock muskets, which were conversions from flintlock. These guns, some of which were rifled, others not, were converted by a method devised by Giuseppe Consol of Milan. The Consol/Augustin system replaced the flintlock pan and frizzen with a two-piece priming chamber and installed a new hammer.

After muzzle loading the main charge in the usual manner, the Consol/Augustin was primed by bringing the hammer to half cock, lifting the top section of the priming chamber, which replaced the frizzen, inserting a small priming tube filled with percussion powder into a groove in the bottom section, which replaced the pan, then closing the chamber. The gun could then be brought to full cock and fired. The hammer hit a firing pin device in the chamber which, in turn, exploded the percussion tube and ignited the main charge. A number of these guns were converted to the standard percussion system before or after importation, but others, especially in the earliest days of the war, were placed directly in the hands of troops with their peculiar priming system intact.

Continental European arms were more commonly issued and remained in service longer in the Western armies. Major General John C. Fremont purchased 25,000 tube-lock muskets in his desperate search for weapons in 1861 and at least 3,000 Delvigne chambered Austrian “Garibaldi” rifles were issued to Minnesota troops. The men of the 26th Illinois embarked on their military careers in September, 1861 armed with “hickory clubs,” and were then issued “old English Tower” muskets, which they later exchanged for “old Austrian fuse primer [guns] altered and rifled. By the end of the year an inspector classified the tubelock Consol/Augustin weapons as “nearly all…unfit for use.”

The 33rd Illinois began its career with smoothbore Austrian tubelocks, and company C of the 33rd reported 3,155 “Austrian primers” on hand. One soldier accurately described the “Austrian primers” as “a little copper-covered stick of percussion, with a small twisted wire at the end of it.” The men of the 33rd carried their tubelocks until early 1862.

Although the 90th Illinois was armed with .54 caliber Lorenz rifles during the fourth quarter of 1862 and the first quarter of 1863, the recollection of veteran George P. Woodcraft that the 90th’s initial armament, “the Austrian rifled musket…a very inferior arm” subject to premature discharge with stocks and bayonets “easily broken,” does not seem to jibe of what we know of the Lorenz. The 90th apparently got an extremely bad lot of Lorenz contract guns.

The Lorenz was issued in large numbers to Rebel soldiers as well. In contrast to the Federal experience, the number of Lorenz rifle-muskets in Confederate service actually increased in the final year of the war. In April of 1863, the Army of Tennessee reported 663 Austrian small arms in service; by the following spring, 32% of that army’s men shouldered Austrian guns. The Lorenz was among the weapons tested by the Army of Northern Virginia’s sharpshooters in the spring of 1864, and was found to be fully equal in accuracy to the Springfield and Enfield up to 500 yards. That summer, VMI Cadets used Lorenzes to good effect at the battle of New Market.

The early years of target shooting with Civil War weapons in the North-South Skirmish Association in the 1950s saw a few .54 Lorenz rifle-muskets among the original Springfields and Enfields on the firing line. They were never very popular, however, and had a reputation for inaccuracy. The reputation was undeserved, and largely due to the use of Minie balls designed for the US Model 1841 “Mississippi” rifle, which used a .535 slug. The Lorenz bore is .556, which provides a lot of “windage” in the bore for a .535 bullet to rattle around in.

The original Lorenz round was not a Minie ball at all, but the British designed Wilkinson solid base bullet. There were two variants of the Wilkinson, the later version having a slightly convex base. Unlike the Minie design, which relied on gas from the powder explosion to expand the bullet’s hollow base out into the rifling, the Wilkinson featured two deep grooves, which, on preliminary inspection, appear to be lubrication grooves. They are not, as the Wilkinson was patched with lubricated paper. The grooves allowed the bullet to expand by collapsing in upon itself from the shock of firing. The .54 Austrian bullet was nominally .537 in diameter weighed 450 grains and was loaded in front of a charge of 62 grains of musket powder. Wilkinson slugs in .537, .540 and .568 diameter, for .54 and .58 caliber guns, have been found on Civil War battlefields. Whether they were imported with Lorenz rifle-muskets or manufactured in this country is, at present, unknown.

Lorenz rifles in good condition and properly loaded are good shooting arms. Some modern shooters have had good success firing “maxi balls” or patched round balls in original Lorenz rifle muskets. Others have had their Lorenzes relined to fire the standard US style Minie ball.

Should you consider buying an original Lorenz as a shooter, shop carefully. A large number of these guns were converted to breechloaders in the late 1860s, then reconverted once again to muzzleloaders. Other Lorenzes have been converted to flintlock, then back again to percussion. Many of these guns, assembled in Belgium in the late 19th century for the African trade, use a cast iron breech section of uncertain strength and have had their barrels bored out to smoothbore. They should not be fired.

By the time this article sees print you may well be able to make your own Lorenz - or have a muzzle-loading gunsmith whip one up for you. Greg Edington of Bridesburg Armory (4244 Green Meadows Drive, Enon, OH 45323. (937) 525-0012 is producing Lorenz “kits.” When I last spoke to him, Greg had virtually all the parts to make a Lorenz and was waiting for breeches from the foundry. He will offer kits for both Type I and Type II Lorenzes, with barrels replicating original bore diameter and twist or rifled to the customer’s preference by Bob Hoyt or Colerain Barrels. Greg also has reproduction parts, tools and bayonets available for restoration of original Lorenzes, and S&S Firearms (74-11 Myrtle Avenue, Glendale, NY 11385 (718) 497-1100 Catalog $3) has a small number of original Lorenz parts in stock. Since the Lorenz was a “hand made” gun with limited parts interchangeability, parts, even original ones, will probably need to be hand fitted to an original gun. S&S also stocks a reprint (in German) of “Osterrichische Infanterie - Feurgewehr, Wien, 1857,” the original Austrian manual for the Lorenz. There may also be an imported reproduction of the Jaegerin the works.

The Lorenz is a very interesting firearm, which played a significant role in the American Civil War and has been neglected for a number of years. A belated but well deserved recognition seems on the horizon.

I would like to thank Bill Adams and Greg Edington for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this article.

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