Old Army Ordnance Inventory: Fort Laramie (1877)

The one persistent theme of our articles is that paperwork and the 19th century U.S. Army went hand-in-hand.  Previous topics explored many types of records kept during that period, including orders, boards of survey, and lists of countersigns and paroles.  Lists provide a brief glimpse into the who, what, and where of the Old Army.  Army ordnance, for example, consistently made lists. 

Historic 1876 Fort Laramie plan view showing location of the army ordnance magazine, in red, taken from "Outline Descriptions of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri, 1876". oldarmyrecords.com
This plan view, dated 1876, shows how the size and extent of the Fort Laramie. Army ordnance of all ages was stored in the magazine located along officer’s row.

In the summer of 1877, the Department of the Platte inspector general (IG) submitted a report of military posts located in what is today Wyoming.  An IG scrutinized and reported upon a wide array of subjects pertaining to the efficiency of the army.  Significant topics coming under the purview of inspectors included the condition and serviceability of supplies, arms, and equipment.

In addition to providing brief discussions on the proficiency of the garrisons, the report included lists of ordnance and ordnance stores he deemed no longer of value and “should be transferred or sold.”  The IG report for Fort Laramie revealed a list of ordnance-related items. Magazines, buildings dedicated to the storage of arms and munitions, often became attics for various types of ordnance and ordnance stores.

Post on the North Platte

Established in 1849 in a run-down fur trade post, Fort Laramie became the center piece of army presence on the northern plains.  Over its 41-year history mounted riflemen, dragoons, cavalry, and infantry, passed through the fort.  Ordnance stored in the post magazine in 1877 was as diverse  as the fort’s history. 

Historic photo, 1942, of Fort Laramie magazine courtesy of Library of Congress. oldarmyrecords.com
View of the Fort Laramie magazine in 1942 years after the post was abandoned. Interestingly, the structure appears to have modified for use as a livestock shed. HABS WYO,8-FOLA,3I–1, Library of Congress.
Captured Army Ordnance

In October 1876, the army seized several firearms and related equipment from inhabitants at Red Cloud Agency.  At the time the agency, located 78 miles east of Fort Laramie, included 5,000 to 6,000 Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne Indians.  The list of confiscated weapons included the following, which were likely stored at Fort Laramie for safety concerns:

  • 1 old style horse pistol
  • 1 Harpers Ferry Rifle
  • 11 squirrel rifles (brass mounted, some barrels cut-down)
  • 1 English musket (cut-down)
  • 1 Sharps Carbine, caliber .50 (worn with a broken stock)
  • 4 Remington pistols
  • 7 Colt pistols (navy and army)
  • 8 Spencer Carbines (1 with a broken stock)

Some, if not all, of the weapons undoubtedly saw use by warriors in clashes with the army earlier in 1876.  Battles included Powder River, Rosebud, Little Big Horn, and Slim Buttes as well as numerous skirmishes.  However, the “squirrel rifles” probably represented small-animal hunting muzzle- loading firearms.  Many guns with that designation fired small caliber, roughly the size of a pellet, lead balls.

Other items taken from Indians included three bullet molds, three holsters, four field belts with cartridges, and about 100 rounds of caliber .44 ammunition for the Henry Rifle.  Unfortunately, the list does not elaborate on whether the Indians took the field belts and holsters from soldiers. 

Antiquated Arms 

The U.S. Army entered the Civil War woefully deficient in material, including firearms, to supply its soldiers.  As a result, the army purchased and issued guns of all different calibers and ammunition types.  Following the War, the ordnance department standardized the caliber of small arms.  As a result, the army adopted caliber .45 for its revolvers, rifles, and carbines.  Twelve years after the end the Civil War, the Fort Laramie magazine still contained antiquated ordnance of no use to the Regular Army. 

  • 19 Enflield Rifles
  • 14 American and English rifles
  • 5 Spencer Carbines
  • 11 Starr Carbines
  • 12 Smith Carbines
  • 1 Sharps Carbine
  • 2 Maynard Carbines
  • 1 Joslyn Carbine
  • 2 Springfield percussion carbines
  • 2 American-contract carbines

Significantly, the IG noted that the above property was “[a]ll broken, utterly unserviceable, and mostly fit for scrap.” 

Photo of Smith carbine, saw extensive service during the Civil War and at Fort Laramie and often showed up on army ordnance inventories.
The Smith Carbine, caliber .50, saw extensive service during the Civil War and at Fort Laramie.  By 1877, however, the Regular Army no longer needed the carbine and its foil-type cartridge.  Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.
Outdated Ammunition

The Fort Laramie magazine also contained outdated ammunition, representing various calibers and ignition systems.  This included, for example, over 10,000 rounds of caliber .44 linen and/or paper cartridges for cap and ball revolvers and the Colt revolving rifle.  The inventory also included over 9,300 percussion caps.  In addition, 1,000 rounds of caliber .52 Sharps ammunition and 3,000 rounds of Poultney’s brass foil cartridges (with a patent date of December 13, 1863) for the Smith Carbine made the inventory.  

Perhaps the most interesting type on ammunition on the list are 5,890 rounds of caliber .58 ball cartridges for the percussion carbine.  This ammunition likely fit the two Springfield percussion carbines listed above.  The carbines were actually pistols with an attachable shoulder stock better known as the Model 1855 Percussion Pistol-Carbine.

Photo of M1855 Springfield percussion horse-pistol often showed up on army ordnance inventories.
Interestingly, in 1877, the Fort Laramie still had M1855 Springfield pistol-carbines and associated ammunition. However, the condition of the weapons were poor compared to this example at the National Museum of American History and photographed by Ralph G. Packard.
Other Agencies Storage Facility

Fort Laramie was strategically located on main travel routes.  As a result, numerous government expeditions, military and otherwise, passed through the post.  Sometimes, those expeditions simply left government property there.  In 1877, the army ordnance list included; 22 firearms (8 Spencer Carbines and 9 Springfield muskets, caliber .50) and 7 infantry cartridge boxes, “reported belonging to [the] Interior Dept.”  The condition of the weapons used by the Interior Department is revealing.  The IG noted that the condition of the Spencers, for instance, as “worn, rusty or [with] locks out of order.”  The rifles also showed signs of heavy use, or misuse.  Many, for instance, featured broken ejectors; with at least one broken stock.  I wonder if the condition of the guns would have been as bad if the Interior Department retained ownership and responsibility for them.

A Simple, yet Revealing View of the Old Army

Lists offer a simple, albeit brief, view into what the 19th century army considered important.  Inventories provide an overview of the types and number of arms, equipment, and rations on hand or used by soldiers.  Likewise, rosters indicate duty assignments or casualties.  Lists are one of the dozens of types of documents that Old Army Records is actively digitizing and indexing.  Want to know more about the 1877 Fort Laramie ordnance inventory?  Contact us.


Army Regulations
Department of the Platte, Office of the Inspector, Letters Sent
Fort Laramie, D.T., Letters Sent

Government Publication
Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri (1876)


Old Army Numbers: 19th Century Cavalry Costs

Defense spending is a major part of the Federal budget.  In the 2019 fiscal budget, for example, defense spending is projected to represent 22% of national expenditures.  Surprisingly, current defense spending pales compared to Federal funds spent on national protection in the 19th century.  In 1810 defense accounted for 47% of the Federal budget, 1830 (55%), 1850 (43%), 1870 (32%), and 1890 (45%).  In addition to paying and arming soldiers, expenditures covered day-to-day operational and maintenance costs.  The cavalry was one of the most expensive branches to maintain.  A short letter sent by the Chief of Ordnance to the Adjutant General, just two years after the Civil War, illustrates the point.

On July 11, 1867, Brigadier General Alexander B. Dyer, Chief of Ordnance, sent an estimate to fellow brigadier Thomas M. Vincent, Assistant Adjutant General for the cost of arming and equipping a regiment of cavalry (1200 strong) for one year.  The estimate came on the heels of the addition of four new cavalry units (7th-10th) organized in late 1866.  In mid-1867 these new regiments were still fitting out and completing organization.  Dyer’s estimates therefore provide insightful information on the costs of maintaining not only the new units, but the six older cavalry regiments.

Weapons and Ammunition

The Spencer Carbine is the only firearm specified in the estimate.  Senior military leadership made issuing the repeating weapon a priority to all cavalry regiments.   By 1867, the new .50 caliber model of the weapon was being issued.  Unfortunately, the estimate does not specify the manufacturer or model of revolver.  Numerous percussion pistols were available then.  However, various documents, contemporary with the period, suggest that the prevalent sidearms were manufactured by Colt and Remington (.44 caliber).

Cavalry Horse Equipment

Per the 1862 Ordnance Manual, the complete set of cavalry horse equipment consisted of:

Bridle                                      Spurs (pair)

Watering Bridle                     Curry Comb

Halter                                      Horse Brush

Saddle                                     Link

Saddle Bags (pair)                 Picket Pin

Saddle Blanket                       Lariat

Surcingle                                 Nose Bag

Cavalry Accouterments

The Ordnance Department also provided the accouterments carried by the cavalryman including; cartridge boxes (one each for carbine and revolver), a saber belt, saber belt plate, sword knot (attached to the saber hilt), and carbine sling.  If issued percussion firearms the cavalryman also carried a cap pouch and cone pick.

A mounted cavalry regiment made an impressive display. Fully equipped, a regiment in 1867 probably looked similar to this drawing made by Waud, Alfred R. in 1863.

Maintenance Costs

About 18% of the budget estimated by Dyer went towards maintaining arms and equipment.  Not surprisingly, the upkeep costs of the horse equipment alone was nearly the same as keeping firearms operational.  Leather constituted the material used most in horse equipment.  The 1862 Ordnance Manual stipulated that harness alone should be inspected and cleaned at least four times a year.  This included the application of grease, such as neat’s-foot oil, to keep the leather supple.  Day-to-day wear and tear left leather equipment in need of constant upkeep.

19th Century Cavalry Costs

Dyer’s costs of arming and equipping a cavalry regiment for one year are eye-opening.  However, the estimate just covers the expenses associated with his bureau.  Obviously, cavalry required horses and forage (supplied by the Quartermaster Department) and cavalrymen needed to be paid (Paymaster Department) and fed (Subsistence Department).

In an earlier article in the Old Army Numbers series, I discussed the cost of the purchase and feeding of Old Army horses.  On average, the Quartermaster Department spent $508,500/ year to provide horses and forage in the late 1860s.  In 1867, the annual payroll for the enlisted men of a cavalry regiment totaled $184,848.  It cost, on average, an additional $100,740 to feed those men.  These costs do not include the cost of transporting supplies, officer’s salaries and allowances, and replacement costs of horses, arms, and equipment.  In 1867, a U.S. Cavalry regiment cost around 1 million dollars to arm, equip, staff, and maintain.  That equals 17 million in today’s dollars.  Keep checking back for updates on our exploration of all facets of Old Army life.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Letters, Endorsements, and Circulars Sent (1867).

Government Documents (from the digital library of Old Army Records)
Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1867)

The Army Paymaster’s Manual or Collection of Official Rules, for the Information and Guidance of Officers of the Pay Department of the United States Army by J.H. Eaton (Revised to include June 30, 1867).

The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army (3rd Edition, 1862).

Internet Resource (Current and historic Federal budget numbers)

Spencer Carbines: An 1865 Cavalry Corps Report

This article is a slight departure from recent posts, which focused on broader Old Army subjects.  The goal of Old Army Records is to present a wide array of data for a comprehensive history of the 19th century U.S. Army.  As a result, some articles will discuss very specific topics about the food, pay, equipment, and weapons used by soldiers of the period.  When viewed together subject matter helps paint a complete picture of Old Army life.  With this mind, we present the following about one of the most highly sought after weapons of the Civil War, Spencer Carbines, as compared with other cavalry weapons.

In February 1865, the American Civil War was rapidly drawing to a conclusion.  At the time Union commanders consolidated their cavalry into autonomous units and sent them to destroy communications, transportation, and industry in the South.  One such unit was the Cavalry Corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi (MDM).  Just prior to participating in the final phase of war, Captain Henry E. Noyes, Acting Assistant Inspector General (AAIG) for the Corps, prepared a report summarizing the merits of various carbines and rifles and ammunition then being used by cavalrymen assigned to the MDM.  Inspectors noted and reported upon a wide array of subjects pertaining to the efficiency of the army.  Significant topics coming under the purview of inspectors included the condition and serviceability of supplies, arms, and equipment.

MDM Cavalry Corps, 1st Division, and 2nd Division Guidons. oldarmyrecords.com
MDM Cavalry Corps, 1st Division, and 2nd Division Guidons as shown in an 1887 publication issued by the Quartermaster General.

MDM Cavalry Corps

Established at the end of October 1864, the MDM Cavalry Corps consolidated numerous cavalry units into a centrally-controlled organization.  Brevet Major General James H. Wilson assumed command of the corps.  Although some of his cavalrymen fought at the Battle of Nashville (December 1864), Wilson spent the fall and winter of 1864/1865 organizing and equipping his force.  One of  Wilson’s first tasks was to outfit his unit for combat and as a result he requested 10,000 each of; Spencer Carbines or, if not available, Sharps Carbines, sets of horse equipment, and light cavalry sabers and 300 rounds of ammunition per carbine.  However, the request took months to fulfill.  By the end of February 1865 the Cavalry Corps consisted of about 25,000 men assigned to seven divisions (designated 1st-7th).

Noyes’ 11-page Report on “Spencer Arms and Ammunition” Compared With That of Other Arms included a summary table, sub-reports, and a summation/ recommendations section prepared by the author.  The sub-reports were completed by the units not serving elsewhere, the 1st, 2nd, and 5th divisions, a detachment of the 4th Division, and the 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment.  Ironically, the MDM Cavalry Corps served under the command of Major General William T. Sherman, but only the 3rd Division served directly with him.  Noyes’ divisional/ regimental counterpart prepared these summaries:

1st Division (Captain Seneca P. Goulding, 7th Kentucky Cavalry)

2nd Division (Captain Jesse N. Squire, 3rd Ohio Cavalry)

4th Division (Lieutenant William T. Benton, 7th Ohio Cavalry)

5th Division (Captain James P. Metcalf, 2nd Iowa Cavalry)

4th U.S. Cavalry (2nd Lieutenant Sebastian Gunther, 4th U.S. Cavalry – Acting Adjutant)

Spencer Carbines, and Other Weapons, Issued to the MDM Cavalry Corps

The carbines carried by the Corps were a good representation of weapons in use at the time.  The unit carried nearly 7,000 Spencer Carbines, by far the majority of carbines represented.  The cavalrymen also carried weapons that fired other metallic cartridges including the Ballard, Burnside, and Warner carbines.  The third type of firearm included those chambered for combustible cartridges (i.e. cartridges made from paper or linen).  The Sharps Carbine and Colt Rifle used combustible ammunition.  The following lists the types of weapons used by the reporting units:

1st Division:            Spencer, Warner, Burnside, Sharps, Ballard, Maynard, and Joslyn (improved and old models) carbines and Spencer, Colts, and Springfield rifles

2nd Division:           Spencer, Sharps, and Burnside carbines

4th Division:            Spencer and Burnside carbines

5th Division:            Spencer, Sharps, and Maynard carbines and Colts Rifle

4th U.S. Cavalry:     Spencer Carbines

The report begins with a summary table organized by weapons/ ammunition type and the division that carried them.  The table includes a detailed accounting of the total number of rounds drawn, expended, and lost.  Each report includes critical, albeit brief, synopsis of the firearms by the respective units.

Excerpt from Noyes’ Report on “Spencer Arms and Ammunition” Compared With That of Other Arms.


The five reporting units drew nearly 1.8 million rounds of ammunition, including 710,000 rounds for the Spencer carbines and rifles.  They expended about 70% of these rounds; the remaining 30% were lost.  The 2nd Division drew 275,000 rounds of Spencer ammunition and, amazingly, listed 100% as expended.  However, this summary came with the caveat that all ammunition was listed as expended, “as it is impossible to ascertain the amount broken or wasted.”

The report notes the loss of Spencer ammunition at a low 4%.  Conversely, the report listed 27% (194,722) of the combustible ammunition lost.  The 5th Division left White’s Station, Tennessee with most of the ammunition carried on pack mules or in saddle bags.  Despite being subjected to “4 or 5 days” of wet weather and being jostled in saddle bags the Spencer ammunition remained uninjured.  The weather and mode of transport, however, ruined 75,000 rounds of Sharps and 12,000 rounds of Colt Rifle ammunition.  In another instance, the detachment of 4th U.S. Cavalry lost two boxes of Spencer ammunition in the Duck River, Tennessee for nearly two days.  The ammunition “was only partially injured” and presumably used.

Report Conclusions

The reports unanimously rated the Spencer Carbine superior to other weapons.  It received high marks for serviceability, rate of loading and firing, and ease of use while mounted or on foot.  Lieutenant Gunther stated that “[i]n the hands of a reliable man, it is fully adequate to perform the work of Four ordinary Breech loading Carbines.”  Noyes stated that the Spencer Carbine “is a universal favorite with officers as well as men in this command.”  Not surprisingly, the Spencer and Springfield rifles were not recommended for cavalry service because their size prohibited them from being effectively used on horseback.  These weapons were issued out of necessity, there being no other arms available.

The Sharps Carbine also ranked high for its range, accuracy, and penetration into a target.  However, the paper and linen cartridges, used by the Sharps, were not durable and susceptible to loss from moisture and rough handling.  Not surprisingly, the metallic Spencer cartridges rated high for durability and reliability; few misfired.

MDM Cavalry Corps Badge. oldarmyrecords.com
The importance of the Spencer Carbine to the MDM Cavalry Corps is best perhaps best reflected in their corps badge shown in an 1887 publication issued by the Quartermaster General.

Action After the Report

The MDM Cavalry Corps began its last campaign not long after the issuance of Report on “Spencer Arms and Ammunition”.   All of the units mentioned in the report, except the 5th Division, participated in the sweep through Alabama and Georgia.  Significantly, Wilson himself led the Cavalry Corps, which captured or destroyed a significant amount of Confederate property.  The 4th Division, for example, captured 3,000 prisoners, 39 pieces of artillery, and 13 battle flags.  The effectiveness of carbines, especially the Spencers, and sheer volume of ammunition supplied to the Corps no doubt contributed to the success.

Noyes and AAIG counterparts served as aides de camp for their respective commanders.  As a result, their roles as inspectors did not restrict them to desk duty.  On April 10th, the 2nd Indiana Cavalry engaged Confederate forces near Benton, Alabama.  Unfortunately, the Indiana cavalrymen charged in the wrong direction and into a swamp and during the melee Seneca P. Goulding, 1st Division AAIG, drowned.  Goulding died just one day after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Noyes served on Wilson’s staff and in this capacity he escorted and turned over to the War Department 24 stands of colors and records from Andersonville Prison, all captured by the Cavalry Corps.  An 1861 graduate of West Point, Noyes ably served as a company commander throughout the late 1860s and 1870s, served as regimental staff (major, lieutenant colonel and colonel), before retiring as a brigadier general in 1904.

Connecting an Individual to a Specific Weapon

During the course of scanning and indexing original documents for the Old Army Records database, we have discovered hundreds of serial numbers for martial firearms dating to the late 19th century.  Individuals who used these weapons are often mentioned with the serial numbers.  Please contact us if you feel that this type of information is useful.


Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, Since Its Establishment in 1802.  Entry 1955.

Report on “Spencer Arms and Ammunition” Compared With That of Other Arms, Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, February 25th 1865.

United States. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  Volumes 39 (1892), 45 (1895), and 49 (1897).