The M1874 was a slightly more ambitious change in the McClellan series, coming on the heels of an intensive examination of horse equipment by a specially convened board of officers. This saddle used the civil war surplus tree, with some qualification. The board finally addressed a problem well known to cavalry officers, that a significant number of civil war period contract saddletrees were defective. This was addressed by requiring that all surplus trees to be used in making M1874 saddles be inspected with prepared jigs. If they did not meet a certain range of dimensional requirements, they were to be condemned. This inspection process may account for the large number of civilian saddles built on military-issue saddletrees, as these were condemned and sold off.
The 1874 saddles are kind of an oddball in the McClellan lineage, as they seem to fall into the mix of the 1870s, where so much variation and trial gear was being used. M1872 saddles and old Civil War surplus equipment was still very prominent, and the use of horsehair cord cinchas was becoming more common by the end of that decade (with many of these cinchas being provide to units by the Benecia Arsenal in California). Any “absolute” statements about equipment in this time frame should certainly be taken with a grain or two (or handful) of salt.
These civil war saddles were stripped of all hardware and leather parts (with the exception of the rawhide). New black collar leather covers were installed, followed by the rigging assembly. This rigging assembly consisted of the usual two quarter straps, attached to the rigging rings. The off-side ring was the 1864 dee ring with the tab. The near-side ring was to be a round, 2 1/2″ iron ring. Both rings were backed with heart-shaped leather safes. Well, perhaps not so much ‘heart-shaped’ as ‘tri-lobular’ – basically an aesthetically pleasing rounded shape that does that job without any corners or hard edges and a minimum of leather being used.
The cinch was similar in attachment method as the M1857/59/72 cinches, but was made of slightly wider material (7.5″ wide linen). The stirrups of the M1874 were essentially the same as civil war issue, with the exception that the hoods were stamped with a US cartouche. All the saddle fittings (with the exception of the stirrup loops and rigging hardware) were now of polished brass. Considering that there must have been considerable chemical reactions with the leather covers and iron civil war hardware on the M1872, this is only to be expected.
This model was made, as were most other Ordnance Dept. harness items, at the Watervliet Arsenal, in Watervliet, N.Y. Production was later transferred to the Rock Island Arsenal around 1880, about the time this facility came online.
The M1874 was the first McClellan pattern to be officially adapted for use by the field artillery. This configuration was first conceived and tested @ 1881-2 at Ft. Leavenworth, with the first Ordnance Dept.-approved and RIA-produced equipment being delivered in Sept. 1883. These may also have been the first production McClellans to be supplied with the strand horsehair girth (original correspondence is not clear on this point). The image to the right is taken directly from an original in the RIA Museum collection, which shows the manner in which the trace lines were attached to the saddle rigging. (As far as I know, this is the first time this drawing has been reproduced in any published media.)