The Model 1885 McClellan Saddle

The next variant to appear in the McClellan series was the 1885 model McClellan. This is the first change to the McClellan tree used since 1857. To the interested observer, regulations and actual practice in the modifying of the tree for the M1885 version seem to have been two different things in most cases. The 1885 Ordnance Memoranda schematic clearly shows little difference from the acceptable dimensional drawings shown in the 1874 specifications. The seat is slightly hollowed, with little significant change for the tree. In practice however, these seats had extensive portions of the wood removed. The reasons for this difference appear to have been rooted to some degree in the construction of the saddletree.

The civil war trees were made with two sidebars, and a cantle and pommel made of two pieces each. The cantle and pommel pieces were joined with a single dovetail joint, that would rise vertical through the center of the finished pieces when mounted on the saddle. The cantle had a somewhat hollowed, or shaped, section facing the front or seat of the saddle. Arsenal woodworkers removed a considerable mass of wood from the outer edges of the sidebars, between the pommel and cantle. These saddles would have (in riders language) a very narrow twist. Of all the McClellan series, the M1885 was probably the lightest and simplest saddle made, although it had the weakest tree construction. The stirrup loop was also changed, in that the original rectangular loop was (usually) reformed and welded so that the bottom edge (where the stirrup strap rested) was angled high end to the front and low end to the rear. Set into the narrow twist seat, this new hanger allowed the lower edge to remain horizontal so the stirrup strap would hang normally.

After this seat modification was made, the saddle was recovered in rawhide, covered in black collar leather, and had new rigging installed.

This rigging differed from the (Ordnance Memoranda   No. 18 defined) 1874 model in that it was designed for use of a horsehair cord cinch.   This type of cinch had been tested and used for several years before, and is likely to have already been adapted and issued with the new field artillery McClellan that was being issued in 1883. Various arsenal sources refer to “California” horsehair cinchas being supplied, one referring to cinchas supplied by the Benecia Arsenal.

The rigging looked much the same with the main difference being in the rings and cinch straps. The off-side dee ring of the ’74 saddle was replaced with a 2 1/2″ iron ring. From each of the two rings, a plain tapered leather strap descended, which was run through the rings of the cinch, and returned to be “knotted” at the rigging rings. The cinch itself was made up of two 4″ iron rings, horsehair cord, and two leather safes to protect the horse’s side and the cinch knots of the horsehair cord. This cinch was to be standard McClellan issue until the mid-1920s, for the cavalry; the artillery used this until they were de-horsed in the 1930s.

Hardware for the M1885 was essentially the same as the M1874, although the rear saddle rings were moved from staples on the rear ends of the sidebars to being held by the cantle loops. Sometime around 1887-8, the brass staples holding the front saddle rings were replaced with semicircular footman loops, held by screws.

To see Ordnance Memoranda No. 29, which describes and shows all the M1885 pattern horse equipment and cavalry accoutrements.