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The Harpers Ferry Model 1803 was the first US made rifled musket, designed by the Virginia based Harpers Ferry Armory in 1803. Many recognise the Model 1803 only as a rifle, although it can be named a rifled musket for several reasons.
The Model 1803 was an early example of a rifle, but could also still technically be named a musket due to the long 33in barrel and the fact that it was muzzle loaded. In addition to this, the Model 1803 utilised the Flintlock mechanism to ignite the blackpowder cartridge, the flintlock mechanism being the most popular action in the world at the time of the Model 1803's design.
The Model 1803 was given a rifled barrel, with seven grooves cut in a heptagonal pattern that twisted down the bore of the Model 1803. This gave the muzzle of the Model 1803 a rather distinct heptagonal shape to it while in reailty the barrel was round in shape. The barrel was attached to the stock via pins with the ramrod housed in a sleeve underneath the barrel.
The Model 1803 fired a .54in (13.7mm) calibre musket ball made out of lead. This ball would deform slightly when the blackpowder in the paper cartridge was ignited, allowing it to better engage with the rifling. This blackpowder caused problems, however, as the powder would foul the barrel, blocking the grooves making them redundent after only a few shots. As a consequence the Model 1803 required constant cleaning, although virtually all firearms of that era suffered from the same issue.
The Model 1803 was designed to fulfill the needs of the US Government, following the construction of the Harpers Ferry Armory. The first shots in anger of the Model 1803 were during the War of 1812, a conflict that would last 32 months between the US and Great Britain, her colonies and the Native American tribes. The Model 1803 was produced in two runs, the first running from 1803 to 1806, the second from 1814 to 1819 in an attempt to recover lost examples.The Model 1803, historians believe, was used during the Lewis & Clark expedition as the standard issue rifle of the group. This has been disputed by several people, although in reality there is very little that can be proved either way. The Model 1803 would be replaced in several stages, first by the Model 1814 Common Rifle in 1814, then the Model 1817 Common Rifle, before it was virtually eliminated from military use by the Model 1819 Hall Rifle, manufactured by Harpers Ferry as well.
The Model 1803 was constructed alongside several other firearms during its production life. These included the afore mentioned Model 1819 Hall Rifle aswell as the Model 1795 and Model 1812 Muskets, which were originally designed by the Springfield Armory. As a result, combined with the fact that muskets were the preferred arm of the early 19th century army, production figures of the Model 1803 are thought to have reached, at best, 20,000 in total. Consequently the Model 1803 is a very rare firearm in modern times, costing as much as $17,500 in auctions.