.52 caliber, 23.125" round barrel, S/N 311. Marked on the top of the tang "J H Tarpley's Pat Feb 14 1863” in three lines. Two-leaf rear barrel sight. German silver blade front sight 7/16" wide and very light dovetail. Seven lands and grooves, deep rifling. Walnut butt stock with the name "S. P. Johnson" carved into the right side of the butt. Left side of the stock is marked in three lines; “MANUFACTURED BY / J & F GARRETT & CO / GREENSBORO N.C.” A total of twenty Tarpley carbines are known to exist; nine remain in private hands, with the remaining curated in institutional collections.
The Tarpley was plagued by poor design and quality control, and never entered into widespread service. Of the approximately 400 Tarpley carbines known to have been manufactured, many were sold to the state of North Carolina for troops from that state, and others were made available to the public. In December, 1863, 150 were shipped to the Chief of Ordinance, of the Army of Mississippi, entering service in the Western Theater.
A search of Confederate personnel in various Civil War databases suggests at least three choices for the owner of this weapon: "Simon P. Johnson" of the 26th North Carolina; "Simeon P. Johnson" of the 13th South Carolina;" and "Samuel Parsons Johnson" of Company F of "Waul's Legion, Texas Cavalry.” Based upon the principal of parsimony, and knowing that the Tarpleys were distributed to North Carolina and to the Army of Mississippi troops, we assume that the South Carolina Johnson was unlikely to have been the owner.
At the outset, one would think that the most logical choice for ownership was Simon P. Johnson of the 26th North Carolina infantry. He was a 20-year-old farm hand when he enlisted in September, 1862. He was wounded in the thigh on July 1, during the clashes of the first day at Gettysburg, and was taken prisoner on July 5, in the wake of the Confederate retreat. He died of his wounds on July 20, 1863.
Johnson, of course, was a Confederate infantryman -- not attached to the cavalry, and no records exist concerning the type of weapon he was issued during the course of his service. While the Tarpley was available to the public for purchase, and it is, of course, possible Johnson privately acquired the carbine -- advertised as "The one of the best-breechloading Rifle that has been introduced in the country." On the other hand, the Tarpley was expensive, listing for $40, a price probably out of reach for a 20-year-old farm hand.
More compelling, however, is the information presented by Murphy (1986: 207) in his study of Confederate carbines. North Carolina took delivery of the first shipment of 78 carbines on April 22, 1863, when the 26th North Carolina was already in the field, and 33 were rejected by the Ordinance officer, leaving 45 available for distribution to troops. We believe it is highly unlikely that Johnson was a recipient of one of these first carbines, and a mere two months later, he died of his wound received at Gettysburg.
Requisition forms illustrated in Murphy (1986:243-44) clearly show that at least 150 Tarpleys were shipped to the Army of the Mississippi in December of 1863 and presumably entered service. We believe that "Samuel Parsons Johnson" of Co. F, Waul's Legion, Texas Cavalry received this Tarpley sometime afterward.
Johnson enlisted as a private March 15, 1862 and served until May 4, 1865, when the Legion surrendered at Meridian, Mississippi. It was attached primarily to Stephen Lee's, Ben McCulloch's and Nathan Forrest's cavalry. A Texas native, Johnson died in West, Mississippi and is buried in the town of Black Hawk of the same state. Simply put, Samuel Parsons Johnson was in the right place, at the right time, and associated with the right cavalry units to have received the gun.
Waul's "Legion" (an amalgam of cavalry, infantry and artillery components) was organized by Colonel Thomas Nevil Waul from men mustered into service around Brenham, Texas in the spring of 1862. Originally consisting of 12 companies of infantry, six of cavalry and a six gun battery of field artillery, the total complement was around 2000 men. By October, the unit was stripped of its cavalry and artillery in the face of difficulties coordinating the various components. The infantry was reorganized and transferred to Pemberton's Army of Vicksburg, with the cavalry units assigned to Lee's, McCulloch's and Forrest's cavalry.
Handbook of Texas Online (tshaonline.org/handbook)
Murphy, John M. Confederate Carbines and Musketoons. Taylor Publishing Company, 1986.
Provenance: E.G.Carson, M. Clifford Young
Overall, this Tarpley is thought to be the finest of the 20 known to have survived. Its condition is untouched. Barrel has an untouched plum to brown patina. The color of the rear sight is very even and blends well with the barrel. The hammer and breechblock have untouched mottled plum to brown patina that evenly matches the rest of metal. Brass has a untouched mustard patina. Stock with nice dark patina. Markings in the right side are very clear, the markings on the left side are dim, but readable. Bore is outstanding.