• The Springfield Model 1866 Rifle, was the invention of Springfield Master Armorer Erskin S. Allin who developed a method of converting surplus muzzle loading muskets into breach loading rifles (Army Heritage Museum Collection).

    Springfield Model 1866 Rifle

    The Springfield Model 1866 Rifle, was the invention of Springfield Master Armorer Erskin S. Allin who developed a method of converting surplus muzzle loading muskets into breach loading rifles (Army Heritage Museum Collection).

  • One of 52, 300 U.S. Springfield Model 1866 Rifles (2nd Model Allin Conversion) converted at Springfield Armory showing breach open ready to accept metallic cartridge. (Army Heritage Museum Collection).

    Springfield Model 1866 Rifles

    One of 52, 300 U.S. Springfield Model 1866 Rifles (2nd Model Allin Conversion) converted at Springfield Armory showing breach open ready to accept metallic cartridge. (Army Heritage Museum Collection).

  • Near Fort Phil Kearney, Wyoming, 2 August 1867. The Wagon Box Fight is one of the great traditions of the Infantry in the West. A small force of men was suddenly attacked in the early morning hours by large force of Sioux Indians. Choosing to stand and fight, these soldiers hastily erected a barricade of wagon boxes, and during the entire morning stood off charge after charge. The Sioux finally withdrew, leaving behind many dead and wounded. The defenders suffered few casualties. By their coolness, firmness and confidence these infantrymen showed what a few determined men can accomplish with good marksmanship and guts. (US Army in Action Series:   DA Poster 21-45)

    Good Marksmanship and Guts

    Near Fort Phil Kearney, Wyoming, 2 August 1867. The Wagon Box Fight is one of the great traditions of the Infantry in the West. A small force of men was suddenly attacked in the early morning hours by large force of Sioux Indians. Choosing to stand and...

  • An image of "Red Cloud," a Sioux Chief, his successful war against the United States led to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. An orator, his outspoken criticism of white encroachment had encouraged Sioux resistance. He led the Sioux in the assaults against Fort Phil Kearny and in the "Fetterman Massacre."  As a result of his signing the treaty the United States abandoned the Bozeman trail and its string of protective forts. Red Cloud was the first, and only, western chief to win a war against the United States (Luther P. Bradley Collection).

    "Red Cloud"

    An image of "Red Cloud," a Sioux Chief, his successful war against the United States led to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. An orator, his outspoken criticism of white encroachment had encouraged Sioux resistance. He led the Sioux in the assaults...

With the end of the Civil War in 1865, the American people soon returned to settling the Western Territories. Even while the war raged, the lure of gold and other natural resources enticed a number of hardy prospectors to risk conflict with the Native Americans by pressing into their territory. Seeking a direct route to Virginia City in 1863, scouts John Bozeman and John Jacobs opened the Bozeman Trail. Originating along the North Platte River in present-day Wyoming, the trail runs north-northwest into Montana. Using the trail, miners and settlers traveled directly through the lands of the Sioux nation, touching off a series of bloody engagements.

After the Civil War, the Federal Army of over one million men under arms was rapidly demobilized. The entire Army of the late 1860s numbered roughly 56,000 men. About half of that number served on garrison duty in the South overseeing the policy of Reconstruction. Other forces guarded the Rio Grande frontier and the coasts. The remaining troops had to police the hostile surroundings of the American West. The Army would garrison the great expanse of the Bozeman trail with small detachments that could easily be overwhelmed by large parties of Indian warriors. One attack overcame a party of 82 soldiers led by Captain William J. Fetterman outside of Fort Phil Kearny on the Powder River on December 21, 1866. The Indians waited until the soldiers had fired their muzzle-loading muskets. They then attacked while the soldiers were reloading their weapons. The result became known as Aca,!A"the Fetterman Massacre.Aca,!A?

The situation became increasingly desperate as more pioneers pressed the limits of the militaryAca,!a,,cs resources to protect them. Help arrived in the spring of 1867 in the form of new technology. Master Armorer Erskine S. Allin of the Springfield Arsenal, Massachusetts, had developed a process to convert the old Springfield muzzle-loading musket into an efficient single shot breech- loading rifle. By May of 1867, 1,000 of the converted rifles, popularly known as the Second Model Allin Conversion, were in the hands of eight Army regiments serving in the West. The 27th Infantry stationed at Fort Phil Kearny was issued 195 of the rifles. The new rifles were tested in combat on August 1, 1867. A party of over 500 Indian warriors attacked a work party guarded by 20 enlisted men and one officer of the 27th Infantry outside Fort C.F. Smith, Montana Territory. The men of the 27th repulsed several charges made on their position with a rate of fire that was three times faster than with the muzzle-loading rifles.

The following day father south along the Bozeman Trail, 1,000 Indians attacked a wood-cutting detail of 2 officers and 26 enlisted men of the 27th Infantry out of Fort Phil Kearny. The soldiers made a hasty defensive position by turning the wooden box bodies of their transport wagons into a crude fort. Engaged for over four hours and suffering only 6 killed and 2 wounded, the little band of soldiers armed with the new breechloader killed over 180 Sioux warriors. Now known as the Wagon Box Fight, the engagement illustrates the concept articulated by the late military historian Russell F. Weigley in his seminal work entitled The Age of Battles. He recognized this intersection of technology and tactics which allows for a temporary advantage in the search for decisive victory on the battlefield.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16