A 74th Piedmontese Rifled Musket?


Bret coming face to face with 74th history at


The National Civil War Life Museum

4712 Southpoint Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA 22407


More than occasionally, serendipity – the act of making discoveries by accident, plays a critical role in the advancement of the story and history of the 74th.  Such was the case when a brown highway attraction marker caught the eye, and became the “let’s go find that on Saturday” mission. 



The National Civil War Life Museum is located in the same building as the Spotsylvania County Visitors Center (take I-95’s exit 126 to US Rt. 1 South and follow signs).  This new Civil War museum is remarkable and worth the time and admission – and for the 74thers worth the pilgrimage.  This museum is a collection of entities – the Civil War Life Museum, the Center for Civil War Photography, and the “3-D Theater.”  Let’s start with an explanation of that one first.  As many know, photography was the new media technology of the Civil War era.  After the war, thousands of images were sold and marketed as stereoscopes which when viewed with a viewer provided a remarkably detailed three dimensional image.  In the theater, with a $3 ticket – best dang movie ticket I have bought in years mind you – you can see 75 of these stereoscopes on a large screen while wearing the 3-D glasses provided.  YOU HAVE TO DO THIS IF YOU ARE IN THE MUSEUM – truly it’s that amazing.  The movie gives you a remarkable narrated, photographic overview of the Civil War.  If I had only one complaint it was the fact that the photos ended.  I could have spent hours looking at each one at the size they were presented.  Combined the ticket to the Museum and the 3-D Theater is $7 an adult – it’s a bargain folks – really worth the money!


Now, building quickly on the photographic nature of this museum, there is a remarkable display of Civil War-era photographs, as well as the Civil War Life Studio.  The latter is a working photographer’s studio where you can, by appointment, have a tintype or CDV made.  Authentic uniforms, weapons, and the like can be provided.  In looking through examples, I would be hard pressed to not consider some of the modern photos period pieces.  Information on the studio and prices can be found at the Museum’s website. 


The Museum consists primarily of an absolutely remarkable private collection that augments the battlefield museums and tours of the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania area nicely.  With the focus being on the soldier’s life, there are some items in the museum I have never seen before or didn’t get the chance to “process seeing them.”  The layout of the museum is really conducive to seeing each area of focus:  Slavery; Cause of the War; Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Navy, Camp Life, Field Surgery, Military & Civilian Music and Battlefield Photography.  Each set of displays has detailed information on each piece presented in a very readable and understandable fashion.  Some of the things that caught my eyes were the collection of drill manuals, an officer’s ivory weekly journal – used to make small notes on each ivory page with a pencil then transferable into a journal or diary at the end of the week, and the artillery pieces that included a few cut in half to demonstrate the way that shot or canister was packed.  Take time to look at the Hardee hat, sword bayonet, case and shot, and the Piedmontese rife discussed below.  [The few links here are quick movies taken at the museum with Bret providing the narrative.]


The Rifle

At one of the cases with a remarkable collection of muskets and rifles, Bret got silent and just kept standing there.  So, I came back and looked at the gun in question.  Bret stepped away from it, looked about the case and then came back to this one gun.  Finally, I came back to where he was standing and asked, “what was up?”


Bret was staring at the Belgian Piedmontese .69 caliber.  This was a gun where 800 were imported, although some sites indicate more than that, of which 200 were rifled.  Marcellus Hartley acquired these muskets and exported them to Herman Boker – who had direct ties to the 74th.  Boker imported at least 800 of these muskets and of the original imported 800, over 550 went to the 74th.  Of those 800, 200 were rifled and all of those went to the 74th at the beginning of the war.  This is one of the historical gems that Bret uncovered in the National Archives files. 


When talking the Museum’s Executive Director, Terry Thomann, he was excited as we were about this musket.  He shared the information the Museum had on this piece.  The stock is walnut, gunsmith William Knechtel a great grandson of August Funk of the regiment, noted that it was probably of the Circassia variety sometimes referred to as French, Royal and simply black walnut.  Terry notes that the overall length of the gun is 56", with a barrel length: 40 1/2".  The rear sight is a fixed rear blade screwed onto the tang of the barrel.  While the front site is an iron V on rectangular base.  The guns mountings are iron.  The following four pictures are from Terry and are used with the permission of the Museum.


Note the mounting below the end of the barrel, now this would make it difficult, if not impossible to mount the sword bayonets that the regiment was issued at the same time it got these rifles.  The Museum has such a bayonet in another case. 




The A. Francotte gun works in Liege had a long history of producing quality fire arms, according William Knechtel.  This musket remained with members of the regiment until they were later issued by the Army.


NOTE:  We cannot say that this is a rifle that was in fact issued and/or used by a member of the 74th.  Those veterans of more modern military service would be use to having serial numbers associated with the rifle assigned to them.  That was not the case during the Civil War.  In addition, the records of the arsenals are vague and generic at best.  What we do know is that Boker imported 800 of these with 200 being rifled and those being issued to the 74th.  Unfortunately, Boker didn’t counter mark those that he imported.  Still, a neat opportunity to take a look at the type of rifle that some of our ancestors would have been familiar with.