Ever since I began reenacting, I had lots of curiosity of about how the Berdans cleaned their rifles. Aside from a few references in their diaries, little was written of. Matthews only mentioned that at one inspection, Col Berdan found their rifles so dirty he threatened to take them away. Wyman White only mentioned tending to his target rifle. Various manuals shed only slightly more light. Sharps were shipped ten to the case with one cleaning or “garrison” rod per case. Other sources, like the great reference, “Gun Tools: Their History and Identification” tends to focus heavily on carbines. I have read varying accounts about which rifle used the double thong brush or the single thong brush. The predominance of research I have reviewed tends to lean towards the single thong brush used for the 1859 infantry/Berdan sharps. The double thong being more likely used for the carbines. The removable brush on the single thong allows it to be used with the garrison rod. The double thong brush was pinned into place and non-removable.
Additional research and conversations I’ve had with knowledgeable experts say the same system was used for Spencer rifles, too, though I don’t have a definitive citation to share. Rather, I wanted to share that it is a thought floating out there. The overlap of use continues post war with many of these being used on numerous other rifles.
So, how would I go about recreating these items? I was pretty close with my first version that I wrote about in a previous article. The photos above show exact measurements, though I think that level of precision may be a bit unnecessary. Especially since there seemed to be various manufacturers of these kits. Thong length varies anywhere from 29 – 39” or more in extant examples. The short ones being most likely for carbines. Brush color varies between light colored boar hair and dark colored boar hair. Most surprising for me was just how long the original brushes are compared to modern ones. My brush is 4” long and roughly 5” over all. I think with some cleaver tinkering you could probably modify a similar diameter nylon cleaning brush. Nylon of course, not being period correct but passes pretty well. You can also get brass cleaning brushes on Amazon. The thread pitch appears to be 1/4 x 24, though I’ll continue making the parts to accept modern commonly available gun brush pitches.
Thong: The thong measures about 11/64” in diameter which is still pretty close to the 4mm leather thong I currently use in my recreations. The thong ferrule comes in at .286 in diameter, so I would probably increase my brass rod diameter to ¼”. The length of the thong ferrule is .762, so I’d probably cut it at ¾”. It appears to be tapped all the way through with the thing being inserted 3/8” and pinned into place with a 1/16” steel rod inserted 3/16” from the base. My thong is 35” long.
Garrison Rod: The rod appears to be made of simple pine and is about 7/16” in diameter as is the 1” long brass ferrule. Civil War issues, like this one, have a nicely crowned end. The ferrule is attached to the end of the rod with a 3/32” steel pin 7/32” up from the base. The end of the rod is turned down slightly so the ferrule can slide on prior to pinning. Looking carefully inside, you can see the indentation from the dead center of the lathe.
The rest of the photos should answer any additional questions you might have. If you have any questions about this particular set, feel free to leave a comment below. For lots more information about these cleaning systems be sure to check out “Gun Tools: Their History and Identification.”