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Weapons of the Expedition

When Captain Lewis visited Harpers Ferry Armory in March1803, he acquired many arms, ammunition, and other basic supplies for the Expedition, including 15 rifles. Many assume these weapons were the 1803 rifles produced at Harpers Ferry, but this is not true. The Secretary of War did not authorize the production of the 1803 rifle until May 1803. The rifles Lewis took with him were built under Army contract in 1792 and 1794. Pennsylvania gunsmiths produced these weapons, which were .49 caliber with a 42-inch barrel. These weapons also featured a patch-box with a push-button release. More than 300 of these rifles were stored at Harpers Ferry when Lewis arrived in March. To prepare the weapons for the Expedition, the barrels were shortened to between 33 and 36 inches, and swivels were added to make it possible to carry them with a leather sling. Additionally, the Armory, which had produced the original locks, fitted the rifles with new locks and provided both replacement locks and spare lock parts for each rifle. The converted rifles were similar in appearance to the M1803 rifles, and this is probably the reason many believe the Corps of Discovery carried 1803 rifles. Others argue that the modified 1792 and 1794 contract rifles were the prototype of the 1803 rifles. But the fact is that is was more than six months after Lewis had left the Harpers Ferry Armory (about the time the Lewis and Clark were leaving Clarksville, Indiana Territory) that the Armory completed the first M1803 rifle.

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