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Antique pre-Civil War musket discovered at Hancock County Museum

Carl Herzog and Steve Harmon hold an 1840 Springfield Herzog donated to the Hancock County Museum in the mid-1990s. Harmon said he recently found the musket tucked into a storage closet at the museum. Herzog said his great-grandfather, Hieronymous Herzog, brought the pre-Civil War weapon to Hancock County after leaving Louisville. It is unknown how Hieronymous obtained it.

By C. Josh Givens

Steve Harmon, a longtime volunteer at the Hancock County Museum, recently opened up a storage closet at the converted 1901 Hawesville train depot and discovered an exciting artifact – an 1840 model Springfield musket.

“It was leaning in the corner of the closet,” Harmon said. “It’s quite a valuable piece of history to be hidden away like that.”

Harmon said he took the musket home, disassembled it, checked it over, and forwarded photos of the individual parts to Bill Niedzwiedz, a friend of his in New Bedord, Mass., who is a retired military policeman and an expert on antique firearms.

“He quickly identified the musket and sent me a bunch of background information. Once I took the bands off the musket, the barrel metal underneath was pristine,” Harmon said. “The stock is in perfect condition with no cracks, which is unusual for a weapon of this age. The musket is still smooth, though many of the barrels were rifled during conversion during the Civil War.”

The .69-caliber weapon was manufactured from 1840 to 1846, originally as a flintlock, and fired a round ball projectile. Springfield Armory and Harper’s Ferry Armory manufactured about 30,000 of the muskets, and this particular example was likely manufactured prior to 1843 when Springfield changed the shape of the butt stock cheek comb. It is stamped “Springfield 1841.”

Family story says musket came down Ohio River

Carl Herzog, who donated the musket to the museum in the mid-1990s, said he inherited the weapon from his grandfather, Frank Herzog. The family lore goes that Frank’s father, Hieronymous Herzog, arrived in Hancock County with the Springfield after leaving Louisville.

“After Hieronymous arrived in the United States from Germany in the mid-1800s, he spent some time in Cincinnati and then in Louisville,” Carl Herzog said. “While he was in Louisville, he worked in a butcher shop in West End, which was famous for its cattle. While he was there, he actually witnessed a murder while looking out the window and came here after that. He did not want to get involved in anything with the murder.”

Herzog says he has no idea how Hieronymous came to be in possession of the rare musket. He said he had been told the 1840 Springfield had been the model used as a training weapon for cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but since muskets of those days are without serial numbers, there’s no definitive way to prove it’s provenance.

Herzog said there is no record of anyone in his family related to Hieronymous who served with either army in the Civil War, though there is record on his great-grandmother’s side.

1840 flintlocks converted to percussion cap for war effort

Upon the breakout of the Civil War, the U.S. Army converted most of the weapons to percussion cap and rifled the barrels to fire a Minie ball projectile, greatly increasing the accuracy. The 1840 Springfield was the last flintlock weapon to be contracted by the U.S. Army.

Both the Union and Confederate armies used the Springfield 1840, though the most common infantry weapons by the end of the war were the 1861 Springfield and Pattern 1853 Enfield, of about 900,000 were imported by both the U.S. and Confederate governments.

Though not original to the musket, the museum also has an 1855 bayonet in its collection. The bayonet is a socket-type, which means it would go over the end of the barrel and front sight, rotate and then be locked in place by a locking ring. The bayonet is triangular in design, which increased the severity of the stabbing wound when used. A triangular wound was tougher to stitch up, and often resulting in a higher frequency of infections and complications than a bladed bayonet.

Harmon said the plan is to display the musket at the museum, where it will mounted on the wall. Mounting hardware has been ordered, and the display should be complete in about two weeks.

Volunteers will soon begin cataloging collection

Remarkably, the immense collection of Hancock County history housed at the museum has never been completely documented, cataloged, and inventoried, Harmon said.

“I started doing it a few years ago, but then work and family obligations took me away from the project,” Harmon said. “Now that I am retired, I plan to get started on it again. We actually have nothing to tell us what exactly is in the collection.”

While many of the items in the museum are owned by the nonprofit which operates it, some of the items are on loan. Harmon said his priority is documenting the collection for purposes such as possible insurance claims or criminal activity at the site.

“It’s going to take a while, it’s not something to be accomplished quickly,” Harmon said. “I’ve been in touch with Judge/Executive (Johnny) Roberts’ office, and I think we might get some assistance. As well, we will be reaching out to other museums in the area, and find out the methods they have used for their collections.”

The Hancock County Museum is open Sundays, from 2 until 4 p.m. Special tours can be arranged by calling Patsy Young at 270-927-8721. The museum was completed in 1987 and opened in 1988.

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