Early(ish) US military ammo

Hi to all,
I am ashamed to admit that for a long time now that early US military ammunition has been a rather ‘grey’ area with me…but I’m pleased to say, because I’ve finally got round to cataloging my collection, I’ve had a steep learning curve and just about got my head around them now but have a few questions about three of them please.
I have a 45-70-405 contract round manufactured by Lowell,USC Co, headstamped R 8 L 79 and does have the machined groove on the rim,thought to have been to provide a cushion or gas seal (ref HWS Vol 1), my question about this one is what M number would it be?

Next is a 50-70 Springfield round, as its crimp for the internal priming is ‘low down’ on the case (see photo) I presume this is a early(Oct 1866-March 1868) bar and anvil primed example…would this be Martin bar and anvil primed?

Lastly a not so early round, 30-03 ball round,my example is April 1903 dated and as the 03 designation wasn’t given until July 03 should I be cataloging this round as a 30-01?


The .50-70 cartridge = Frankford Arsenal bar primed: http://www.oldammo.com/boxes.htm

Re your .30-01 vs .30-03
The rim thickness is the determining factor. Compare it to a .30-06, if the rim is thicker you have an 01 if the same it’s an 03. The 06 is the shorter necked 03, very briefly stated.
At this time rounds were being modified & some 03’s were made by turning down the rims of 01’s
Look in your HWS Vol. 1

Re your Bar primed check it with a magnet, it fact any & everything of this era should be checked with a magnet.

Re your gas-check Being a U.S.C.Co. cartridge even with a military style headstamp I don;t think “M” designations were used for experimental’s. What does HWS say?

Thank you bdgreen,
that certainly answers my 50-70 question.


Thank you PetedeCoux,
long story short ref 45-70-405 in HWS Vol 1, in 1879 FA was instructed to manufacture boxer primed reloading cartridges and was called the ‘M1879’, also at this time a commercial contract was placed for these rounds but from what I can gather may have been Berdan primed,three contactors are known,UMC Co,USC Co(Lowell) and WRA Co.
All had military headstamps apart from the early WRA which was unheadstamped but later had a military headstamp, the Lowel can sometimes be found with the machined groove on the rim as mentioned in my first post, there is no indication that this round was experimental.
So maybe these commercial contract rounds were also designated M1879???


Notes on the caliber .50 cartridges made by Springfield armory and Frankford Arsenal between 1865 and 1876. By Col. B.R. Lewis.

The article is from “The International Cartridge Collector”. Volume one, June 1968, Number Four.
scannen0001.pdf (4.8 MB)

In the book Metallic Cartridges, manufactured and tested at the Frankford arsenal, Philadelphia, PA is a chapter on Treadwell’s Experiments relative strength of cartridge heads Frankford Arsenal 1871-1872.


My impression has been that the .45 rifle and carbine cartridges made by the commercial firms between the 1870s and about the end of the century is that with the exception of the USC and UMC production circa 1879 and WRA production for a considerable number of years did not bear military style headstamps.

Further these were not made according to a set standard but were in fact each firm’s regular commercial product, using Berdan, Boxer, or Farrington priming according to the practices of each firm at a given time. Jack

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Hi TonyL
The US (Lowell) were Farringtion, style Boxer primed.
Here is a Frazier’s patent cartridge box (patent dated May 21, 1878) which holds two of the rounds in question. As you can see no mention of an “M” number.

As to experimental, I can’t say. Bill Dibbern lists dates, 1878- 4 and in 1879- 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9 and 12. as “thick rim” and makes no note of “Gas Check”. He does note some “thin rim” variations in 79. So I was miss-leading in my above comment, sorry.

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Thanks once again PetedeCoux,
Please don’t be sorry, as I said I’m having a learning curve with these and you have ‘set me straight’ on several points with this one and I really appreciate it.
Nice box too.


I was sorry because my comment about these being experimental was miss-leading to everyone reading the post

On another point. I looked at boxes of other makers of the military .45-70-405, .FA, W.R.A.Co. and U.M.C. and none had a model designation printed on the box. So It would seem to me that this “M” designation was not considered to be an important factor for troop use to the include it’s use (to be printed on the box) in the contract or for the Arsenal to use at this time.
I do have this undated (that I ca see box 500 grain loads with a model number. headstamp is: U.S.C.Co. 45-70, oval copper primer and brass case with a smooth case cannelure.

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I believe the “Model 1898” .45 caliber Rifle Ball Cartridges were given that designation when they were procured during the Spanish American War, to distinguish them from the black powder cartridges. Believe HWS mentions this, but cannot check right now.

Bear in mind that distinguishing USC cartridges with Farrington primers from that firm’s early Boxer-primed rounds isn’t simple. The early Boxer rounds will be without headstamp, just as the Farringtons were. The switch from Farrington to Boxer occurred at some point in the 1880s. Jack