M1859 McClellan / CW pattern roller buckles

The common iron ‘barrel buckle’, or roller buckle, was referenced in the U.S. Ordnance Manual and other specifications for civil war horse equipment, such as the McClellan, the various artillery items, and quartermaster harness. A truly popular form of buckle hardware for leather straps and belts, it’s still very common today.

The exact style of the mid-19th century military roller buckle was distinct, and now quite uncommon. These buckles were so utilitarian and common that they were used, and used up, in the years and decades that followed. Many people may have never seen, or recognized, the key design aspects of a ‘civil war roller buckle’.

Following are some photographs of a reasonably good condition 1 1/2 inch common iron roller buckle, probably used on a piece of artillery harness or perhaps a McClellan web girth. The 2 inch buckle had a similar look, with the expected increased width. The frame is a one-piece malleable iron frame, with a slightly reduced diameter side over which the roller would be formed. The roller material is sheet iron, and perhaps a bit lighter than modern-day steel rollers. The tongue is heavy iron wire, with a smooth shaped tip, and (in this case) a curiously indented underside closure. The key design identifier is the distinct outer corners, with the roller clearly slightly narrower than the strap opening.

Civil War period roller buckle typical for girths and surcingles.
Bottom view

Found with metal detectors in many Civil War related locations, these might also be found in Civil War era or immediate post-War military equipment. Old stocks were used until they were depleted and then replaced with newer commercial replacements, which introduced different styling. Being iron and of no particularly unusual character, these old-style buckles were used up and cast aside when no longer serviceable. This particular specimen was spotted in a collection of old rusty harness buckles held together by a loop of baling wire – probably left hanging in a barn somewhere for years.

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