Dating back to the 1860s, Oliver Winchester decided to collect not only his company’s firearms but that of their predecessors (See the Hunt Volitional Rifle and the Jennings Repeater). Fast forward to the 1940s and the collection took on a new image. Thomas E. Hall, the newly appointed company historian, worked to diversify the collection to become more encyclopedic in nature. He worked with Winchester Vice President Edwin Pugsley to acquire many historically significant pieces as well as subsume entire collections.
The Winchester Arms Collection truly changed, however, when they purchased Pugsley’s nearly two thousand firearms in his personal collection. Within this collection were the collections of Eli Whitney, Jr. (1820-1840) and Major General Benjamin F. Butler (1818 – 1893). The latter was a collection of rare and diverse Confederate firearms.
General Butler was Military Governor of Louisiana during the American Civil War. It is believed his intent with this collection was to chronicle the diverse range of southern manufacturers during the War. Many major manufacturers were based out of the North. As a result, they tried to import firearms from other countries. For example, they contracted for more than 10,000 LeMats – the famous revolver with a shotgun barrel underneath a rifled one – from France and England, but they didn’t receive that full order. In order to keep up with supply, they turned to the South.
It’s rare to see this eclectic collection of Confederate firearms proudly displayed and even more ironic to see it in a museum on Yankee soil. But it is just another example of Winchester’s desire to have a full representation of firearms from all over the country.
For more information, visit centerofthewest.org