The Model 1896 McClellan Saddle

Rock Island Arsenal photographic plate of 1896/1904 Pattern I McClellan

Lt. Odus Horney (Ordnance Dept, US Army)  is credited with developing what was essentially an entirely new saddle, although dimensionally very similar to the McClellan. Indeed, it retained the McClellan name despite the many changes, as it obviously was so close in appearance to the earlier models.[click here to see his 1897 report]

Lt. Horney’s task was to mechanize the saddle production process. Prior to this time (mid-1890s), all saddletrees were civil war surplus, which had been hand made with resulting variances in dimensions. The time to produce a saddletree would also be quite long, even for an experienced saddletree craftsman. To accomplish the mechanization of the saddletree making process, Lt. Horney had to make some changes in the tree itself.

First, the wood used was changed with the poplar sidebars and beechwood pommels and cantles of the civil war saddles being replaced with basswood bars and ash pommels and cantles. The metal reinforcing plates of the earlier varieties were replaced with a one piece stamped metal bracket, which was riveted to both the pommels and the cantles to the sidebars. This strengthened the tree enormously. Iron rivets were used throughout instead of the screws of the 1859/64 version. The old cantle, previously more  oval-shaped, was changed. The outer cantle edge was now a section of a circle (semicircular), with a flat face on the front, or seat, side. This was to facilitate the turning of this part. The sidebars were turned on copying lathes so that each was identical to the others produced. There were no extensions as noted on the civil war version, the joining parts connected at flattened areas on the sidebar. The pommels were the least changed, dimensionally speaking, with a slightly larger, thicker appearance.

The method of rawhiding these trees appears to be different from a majority of the saddles done before this. Most civil war saddles showed that only stitches were used in the seat side of the cantle and pommel. A few exceptions show the use of the external lace that was run under these stitches on the cantle seat side, as in the cantle seat rear and pommel front edges. In the 1896 variant, all these top side pommel and cantle edges used an external lace, over which the lace “holddown” stitches were passed. This served to reinforce the rawhide around the stitch, spreading the strain evenly. If the rawhide cover under the stitch broke or ripped, the lace would serve to hold the rawhide in place. Before this time, the rawhide would have been free to lift away from the saddletree had a stitch pulled through.

The stirrup loops were also changed somewhat, to aid in the ease of mechanical production, as well as strengthen them. Civil war varieties invariably positioned two of three screws or rivets, through the squared folded strap holding the loop, in a straight line parallel to the wood grain. This tended to promote splitting of the wood along the grain, thus weakening the attachment of the hardware. Since this was also a straight metal strap, cut and wrapped around the loop, it necessarily had to be inletted by hand because of the square corners. The new design used a rounded end stirrup loop strap (to facilitate use of routers to inlet the sidebar for it) and offset rivet holes, so that no two rivets passed through the same plane in the wood grain.

The wooden parts of the cantle and pommel, instead of a weak dovetail joint, were formed with an interlocking mortice joint. These pieces were glued together before being shaped, and then screwed to the sidebars.

The rest of the saddle was completed in much the same way as the 1893, with the exception of a small refinement in the rigging safes. These safes were more rectangular in shape (long side vertical) with rounded corners. These were attached by loops around the rigging rings, which were the same as the 4″ cinch rings. Hardware was also refined somewhat, with the saddle fittings being substantially heavier than previous ones.   During the summer of 1898, 3,000 sets of cavalry equipment were made at the San Antonio Arsenal – these have the earlier M1893 style ring safes, although they were riveted to the ring ala M1896 pattern.  All San Antonio made saddles used Rock Island Arsenal made trees and hardware.

 Improved stirrup and stirrup details

Improved stirrup and stirrup details

This saddle pattern was also used by the artillery, with the addition of iron dees at the top of the pommel and cantle, under the quarterstraps. These were attached to the pommel and cantle arches by metal straps, with brass rivets passing through the leather cover, arch, dee strap, and quarterstrap (the rivet burr was placed on top of the quarterstrap).  These saddles utilized the old Civil War pattern brass stirrups.