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CIVIL WAR ARTILLERY BRIDLE WITH MODEL 1863 ARTILLERY BIT – VERY NICE SET COMPLETE WITH THE “USA” BRASS BRIDLE ROSETTES: This Civil War era US Army Artillery Bridle Set spans a long period of history, and like so many military collectibles, the devil is in the details. 

  

This headstall is fitted with brass horseshoe-shaped buckles and the brass crown ornaments featuring the intertwined “USA”.  The 1850 Ordnance Manual described the artillery bridle as being fitted with wrought iron buckles with a black japanned finish and makes no mention of the brass crown ornaments of any kind.  A second edition of that manual with an inscription dated 1858 retains this same description.  The 1862 Ordnance Manual is where the first mention is found of the brass crown ornaments, and the description of the bridle includes cast brass buckles “with rollers”.   

The presence of the brass crown ornaments and the brass buckles date this headstall as having been manufactured during the Civil War.  That the buckles are horseshoe-shaped and are not fitted with rollers is not particularly surprising given that much of the equipment produced during the war was manufactured by civilian contractors and variations in their work is well documented.   

This headstall is complete with the crown piece, both crown ornaments, brow band, both cheek pieces and the throat lash.  The crown piece ends in two billets on both sides – one billet is for the cheek piece that attaches to the bit and the other billet is for the throat latch that passes under the horse’s jaw.  All of the billets are full length – notable as these were often shortened by the soldier to eliminate excess leather once the bridle had been fitted to his horse.  The leather surfaces are overall smooth with a stable finish.  The leather is supple and pliable, there are no weak points, and all of the matching brass horseshoe-shaped buckles are present.  The brass crown ornaments are full form and have a very attractive aged patina.   

There is a prevailing misunderstanding as to the identity of the original Model 1863 Artillery Curb Bit as it presented during the Civil War, and the modifications to the bit that were ordered after the war – both shown in the photograph immediately below.  The Model 1863 Artillery Curb Bit was originally produced as a brass faced bit with the dome shaped, brass shell lead filled decorative bosses bearing the intertwined USA.  The brass facing, a holdover from the earlier Dragoon Period, did not survive well in service and as the underlying iron began to corrode, the thin brass sheeting would break away.  After the war, the army having long recognized corrosion as a significant problem, had the time and resources to seek out a solution and they began experimenting with plating – both tin and nickel –  on firearms, bits, and a number of fittings associated with horse equipment.   

As a result of the 1868 Ordnance Board, the following order regarding bits was issued as part of Ordnance Memoranda No. 9:   

“TINNING ARTILLERY AND CAVALRY BITS – The Board recommend (sic) that all new artillery and cavalry bits should be tinned, and that all old bits requiring repairs or cleaning should likewise be tinned, instead of bluing or replating.”  

In the process of refurbishing the Model 1863 Artillery Bits then in service, the decorative “USA” bosses had to be removed.  The thin brass shell likely did not survive being removed in a condition that would be acceptable to be reattached.  The more substantial cast brass “US” bosses in use on cavalry bits were far more durable, were much easier to attach, and were available in quantity, so as the artillery bits were refurbished, or new bits were produced, the cast “US” bosses replaced the “USA” domed shells.  This process yielded the bit shown on the right in the photograph below – compared to the Model 1863 Artillery Bit in its original form shown on the left.    

The experimentation with plating yielded limited positive results, and the army’s dissatisfaction resulted in the effort being soon abandoned.  As a result of the short period in which the bits were tin plated, few plated specimens of these modified Model 1863 Artillery Bits survive today.  

This bridle is complete with a Model 1863 Artillery Curb Bit showing the modifications authorized in 1868, indicating it was used by the post-Civil War Frontier Army.  As with so much of the Civil War cavalry and artillery equipment, these bridles were used well into the 1880’s by mounted soldiers on the Western Frontier in spite of the adoption of the Model 1874 Bridle for all horses.   

The bit is full form with both brass bosses, both rein rings, and the lower bar all present and intact.  The inside of the off-side or right hand cheek piece and the near-side or left hand end of the mouthpiece are both stamped “US”.  These stamps are a nice added value as not all of these bits were so stamped.  This bit has not been abused nor has it suffered from age or poor storage, with no damage or bending out of its original shape.  This bit has retained much of the tin plating and where it was worn away through use, the exposed steel is very clean with no pitting to the surfaces.       

These Civil War Model 1863 Artillery Headstalls and Bits have never been common, and are prized today as one of the most attractive bridle sets ever issued by the U.S. Army.  Francis Bannerman and other military surplus dealers listed these sets as Civil War officers’ equipment and many collectors continue to cherish this belief.  While it is certain that officers from all branches of the army obtained these headstalls and bits for their own use, these distinctive robust sets were designed for the teams of heavy horses that delivered the field pieces to the battlefields.  This is a very nice set which spans both the Civil and Indian Wars and it is one that would never need to be upgraded once on display in your collection.  (0302) $1050

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

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