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A Civil War Bilharz, Hall & Company Confederate carbine rifle with rising breech; image credit on full record.
The Bilharz, Hall & Company rising breech Confederate carbine rifle; image credit on full record.
Detail of the rising breech on the Bilharz, Hall & Company carbine rifle; image credit on full record.

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Rifle; Bilharz Hall, Confederate Carbine, Rising Breech, 54 Caliber.

An exceedingly rare and desirable Confederate Rising Breech Carbine (Bilharz, Hall & Company). SN 20. One of the great rarities in Confederate arms collecting and one of the most sought after long arms in the arms collecting field is this Rising Breech Carbine. Its origins have long been the subject of much controversy in the confederate arms collecting field being attributed to a number of Southern armories and manufacturers. Recent research and much study by well known arms scholar Howard Michael Madaus and reported in published works, has shown that this carbine, once attributed to D.C. Hodgkins, is actually the product of the Bilharz, Hall & Company of Pittsylvania Court House, Virginia.

This firm also produced a muzzle loading percussion carbine. The identity of die stampings, rifling, and other manufacturing details associated with the muzzle loading carbine and the Rising Breech Carbine have led scholars to this attribution with little dispute. Courthouse records, summarized below, also confirm the attribution of this rare carbine to this Virginia firm. This carbine is in .54 caliber Serial Number 20, and fired a paper cartridge. The breechblock rises vertically when the trigger guard/lever is lowered. Iron mounted on a two-piece walnut stock, the round barrel measures 21" long and is secured by a single flat barrel band. There is a sling ring mounted on the left side of the stock. The serial number appears on the frame, breechblock, inside the lever and on the underside of the butt plate. "CS" is stamped on the breech of the barrel and on the breechblock and the proof mark "P" is found beneath the barrel as well. The front sight is a pinched blade style with a three leaf graduated rear sight.

The Bilharz, Hall & Company gun factory was built in what was a tin shop/foundry on Main Street in the Town of Chatham, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. According to the deed, its location was in back of the Masonic Lodge Hall some 1400 feet north of the Courthouse on land the partnership purchased of George A. Carter. Candidus Bilharz was the principal in the firm. Bilharz was an immigrant from Baden, Germany who was naturalized in Pittsylvania County in 1859. He was a harness maker, vintner/distiller, miller and mechanic who lived near Tanyard Branch in Chatham. Bilharz was connected to the prominent Bolanz family which emigrated from Baden, Germany also. Bilharz's partner George Hall was a prominent businessman who owned a small tin shop along with extensive land holdings in the county. Records show him acting in various official capacities on behalf of the county during the Civil War. Col. Coleman D. Bennet was a silent partner in the firm and was presumably its chief benefactor. Bennett was a man of enormous wealth who owned vast tracts of county land plus a whole block of buildings on Main Street in downtown Chatham.

Records show that thirty-eight people were employed by the gun works, and those fit for military service were given Confederate draft deferments due to their profession. Some of the names of the employees were as follows: G.C. Haden, A.C. Haden, R.L. Haden, John H. Shelton, Nathaniel Shelton, C.L. Mott, James Motley, B. Riddle, J.D. Reynolds, B. Reynolds, J.T. Abbott, C.P. Oakes, John H. Brown, M.B. Dickson, William Brown, Frank Compton, R.W. Hall, J. Beaver, J.H.C. Hutcherson, and Benjamin Dyer. Ages of the workers ranged from 18 to 40. Job titles included the following: Stocker, Rifling Hand, Polisher, Vice Hand, Band Holder, Helper and Mechanic. The 400 or so firearms produced from August of 1862 through March of 1864 (when operations ceased) were manufactured under contract with the Confederate Ordinance Department. Records also show that the firm purchased thousands of pounds of "skelp iron" from the Confederate government for use in rifle barrels. Interestingly, the company also manufactured 1745 wooden stocks at a dollar each for other rifle factories.

These carbines did not receive favorable reports from Confederate ordnance inspectors; nonetheless, they most certainly saw service in the arms strapped South. Only 100 of these Rising Breech Carbines are thought to have been produced with only a handful known examples in the collecting world. A superb opportunity to obtain one of the rarest of Confederate long arms....[more information available via subscription]

p4A Item D9867168
Category:  firearms & edged weapons    Origin:  Virginia
Type:  long guns    Year:  1861 - 1865

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