The Model of 1859 McClellan

Late-war pattern.
Late-war pattern.

The final recommendation of the 1859 selection board was to have the production saddles covered with rawhide instead of the impractical thin varnished leather. Changes from the M1857 saddle include small saddlebags with a longer seat, iron hardware, hooded bare-wood stirrups, as well as changes in related equipment, and a three buckle bridle instead of the six (brass) buckle bridle of the 1857 equipment set.

The last vestiges of the old French hussar saddle were finally exorcised from military saddle styling, as the exposed rawhide cover, and now-hooded stirrups gave the new cavalry saddle a distinctly American character.

The adoption of the McClellan saddle in 1859 is useful in showing the role economics has played in the evolution of this piece of equipment. With the tremendous need for all kinds of military equipment with the coming of the Civil War in 1861, there started a huge acquisition boom for all kinds of material, including horse equipment. Early contracted equipment tended to be hastily constructed, many times to the point that the defrauded government was stuck with unacceptable goods. This practice of shoddy workmanship was not to last long. After some delay in getting a grasp on the procurement and inspection process, there were numerous cumulative efforts initiated by the Ordnance Dept.

Related blog posts:

Civil War McClellan Pommel Shields 
McClellan Model 1859 saddle rings and staples
US Model of 1859 iron buckles for cavalry equipment
Civil War McClellan inspection marks

Indeed, nearly every year the Ordnance Dept initiated ever more stringent standards for production and inspection of horse equipment. In 1863, pattern sets were distributed to all government arsenals to be used by contractors for use as standard examples in executing their own production. By 1864, they were demanding that all saddletrees be inspected and marked by a government inspector, both before and after rawhiding.

Exploration of 1864 Ordnance Circulars - show all and discuss the effects](*)

Total production figures for complete sets of horse equipment acquired during the war years surpassed 530,000, according to the Annual Report to Secty of War, 1866. This does not distinguish if these were purely 'approved pattern' (ie. McClellan pattern) sets, or all purchased types which included some amount of 'Ranger' saddles in the early days of the war. It would likely be a safe assumption to say that about a half million sets of McClellan horse equipments were purchased and delivered.

For Jan 1, 1861 to 1865

Construction Details of the Pattern of 1859 horse equipments:

Iron hardware - the 1859 pattern departed from previous wisdom in calling for "blued iron" hardware in 1861 Ordnance Manual specifications. Why this clearly ill-advised decision was made may never be discovered, but it was quickly identified by officers in the field. Blued iron required considerable care to keep the inevitable rust formation from causing serious leather deterioration and wear. At some point during the war, much of the 'blued iron' was being delivered with a more durable japanned finish - jappaning being a type of heavy durable varnish coating similar to paint.

The trees were all hand-made, and can show variations in dimensions, though more conformity came about later in war as pattern samples and arsenal-made gauges were made and distributed(*). They were held together with nails and iron rivets, although some mid-war contractor-made trees show wood screws instead of rivets. Stirrup loop attachment straps were also supposed to be attached with iron rivets. The cantle and pommel were each made from two pieces of ash, morticed with a dovetail joint running vertically through the centerline. A straight morticed joint has also been seen.

[images of mortices]

Early-war 1859' s show very few rivets being used to reinforce leather attachments. The rivets used tended to be small, no larger than #12' s - even for rigging assembly attachments. Later war production shows increased use of rivets to reinforce sewn areas, such as the stitching at the rigging rings, saddlebag loops on the skirts, saddlebag chapes. They quickly replaced the stitching for the stops on the coat straps.

Stirrups were issued with leather hoods on bare wooden frames, attached with small copper rivets and burrs (six per stirrup). There was considerable variation in the pattern of the hood, where leather was 'economized' to the point that it was essentially flat across the front of the stirrup, leaving little room for the rider' s toe. Many, many of these were modified in the field by troopers who cut various sized chunks of hood leather away to allow their toes to project through. It appears that very late in the war, contractors were allowed to discard the stirrup hoods completely (still looking for the confirmation of this in Ordnance Dept Circulars, as well as archival evidence that this was at the instigation of a major contractor, Demorest, in NJ.).

One interesting detail I' ve run across is a reference by a decorated cavalry captain (responding to the survey request in 1864) sheds some possible light on the variations of saddle pommel ornament markings. We find some pommel 'shields' with the 1861 specified stamped numeric size codes ("1" for 11" trees, "2" for 11 1/2" trees, and "3" for 12" trees), as well as the common raised size markings (' 11 IN SEAT' , '11 1/2 IN SEAT' , '12 IN SEAT' ). This captain clearly indicates his understanding that government arsenals marked with production with the numeric-only ornaments, and the text-marked ornaments were used for contractor-made saddles.  This was not always the case, as some late-war Allegheny saddles have shown the full text size markings, but for mid-war and earlier production, this is probably a good rule of thumb.

Early M1859 saddletree - different images and descriptions of key features of this saddle design

Late-war M1859 contractor saddletree - key features of the late-war saddletree design

Note how similar much of the late-war 1859 saddletree looks like late model 1904 saddletrees. By the end of the war, cantles were essentially semi-circular, and nearly identical to late model 1904s. Sidebars are very similar, and the only real difference is in the pommel profile. This only makes sense in light of the decisions made in 1896 for the new tree design - where they found the most prevalent problem being broken pommels.

1859 Cavalry Equipment Measurements Specifications - from 1861 Ordnance Manual (link)


Post-cw years - company level improvements, collar leather covers...

In the years immediately following the civil war, there were quite a number of trials and examples of 'initiative' where company saddlers began using annual allotments of collar leather to cover their unit' s saddles.

As these were not formally recognized or sanctioned for the most part, I' ll not pursue these at this time. Writers such as Steffen have examined these variations, and even assigned model designations where there probably shouldn't have been any.