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National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey
Press Releases: Brazilian Light Minie Rifle

The National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in Sea Girt recently acquired some historic firearms for its collection from the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department as a result of a county gun buyback program.  Perhaps the most outstanding item in the selection was a muzzle loading rifle known to collectors as the “Brazilian Light Minie Rifle.” The Belgian-made Minie Rifle (named after its projectile, a conical bullet designed by French army officer Claude Minie) shares both British and French design characteristics of the era.  It was long believed that these guns were made for a Brazilian contract in 1861 and that when the Brazilians could not pay, they were sold to US buyers and imported to help arm the Union army. Although some doubt has been cast on the provenance of this origin story, there is no doubt that between 3,000 and 6,000 of these .577 caliber arms were imported in the early days of the Civil War.


(Brazilian Light Minie Rifle Before)

 


(Brazilian Light Minie Rifle After)

The example the museum acquired was neglected and dirty and missing a front lock screw, sear spring and sear spring screw.  It was turned over to the temporary work crew carefully deep cleaning the firearms initially stabilized in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy disaster, and an effort was made to acquire replacement parts.  Original parts specifically made for this rare gun were, unsurprisingly, unavailable. The fact that the action closely resembled the British Enfield suggested that Enfield parts might fit, although in guns made in an era before general firearms parts interchangeability that could be problematic as well.  Well known antique firearms parts dealer S&S Firearms of Glendale, NY, generously donated an Enfield sear spring and lock and sear spring screws to the project. We were in luck. The screws fit and, after minor modification, so did the sear spring.  The result was a new addition to the museum collection that will go on display soon as an example of the many foreign arms purchased and imported to arm Union soldiers, including New Jerseyans, during the Civil War.

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