Artifacts & Details

McClellan Model 1859 saddle rings and staples

McClellan Model 1859 saddle tree - early war production.
Early war production McClellan Model 1859 saddle tree

One of the distinctive characteristics of a civil war McClellan saddle are the four saddle rings, ‘holdin down the corners’.  On reading the Ordnance Manual of 1861 and it’s description for how these were to be installed, it was a little bit confusing.  The rings were to be installed with iron staples driven through the sidebar and clinched.

Ok.   Umm, just what the heck is that supposed to tell us?  Let’s break it down.

Rings and staples we get, but what does ‘clinching’ really mean, and why is it necessary?   Clinching is the operation of taking the end of a nail, once driven through a item, and bending it back into the material.  This is to prevent the nail from being pulled easily out of the material, if stress is placed on the head of the nail (or staple in this case).  Those familiar with farriers/horseshoers, this is the same principle as when shoe nails are ‘clinched’.  Horse shoe nail clinches tend to be finished to a more refined level than these ring staples, but you get the point.

The conundrum for me when I first was exploring this subject was – where are the clinched tips on originals?  Look at original M1859’s in good condition, and you don’t see staple tips protruding through the sidebar they were clearly ‘driven through’.  If the staple wasn’t clinched, I’d expect that we’d see most of these existing specimens without ANY rings, as they would have been easily pulled out.  So, what was I missing?

Small fragment of rawhide show where narrowed shanks of staple set on cover.
Small fragment of rawhide show where narrowed shanks of staple set on cover.

The Ordnance manual doesn’t describe the ‘order of operations’ for assembling a saddle tree, which is kind of important.  The ring staples were outside the rawhide covers, naturally, but not the ‘clinched’ tips, so it makes sense that they had to be installed after the TOP rawhide cover was applied, and before the BOTTOM rawhide covers where installed (which covered the clinched staple tips).  This makes sense, as the bottom covers had to cover up all the seam laces holding on the top cover. Neat and efficient.

M1859 McClellan clinched staple shank tips
Note the two ring staple tips, bent back into the wood of the sidebar.

Here are a few example photos from a early civil war production saddle tree, which appears to be an Alleghany Arsenal production tree, or one nearly identical to the form they made.

Note also that the staples are flat and relatively wide, but narrow considerably where they enter the rawhide cover and wood.

Staple shanks narrowed from contact point with rawhide cover (missing here).
Staple shanks narrowed from contact point with rawhide cover (missing here).

 

Like this example tree?  I’ll be looking at this specimen in greater detail soon, and we’ll explore all the idiosyncrasies of the M1857/M1859 specification saddle tree, and how these early specification trees evolved during the Civil War years.