The Lincoln-Spencer Target Board — Found!


In American Rifle, following every other source on this matter, I wrote that the target board Lincoln used to test the new experimental Spencer rifle on the White House grounds had been lost in the decades following the president’s gift of it to Christopher Spencer, the rifle’s inventor. (See also my article in American Rifleman on “Lincoln’s Rifles,” available at my website,

I now happily stand corrected. Apparently, it was just miscatalogued some time ago and can now be seen at the Illinois State Military Museum at Camp Lincoln. I’ve pasted in two letters on the subject below.

All in all, this is great news: the target board is a genuinely important American historical artifact.

Letter #1: From Joseph Kissel

“There is a small error in Mr. Alexander Rose’s story “Lincoln’s Rifles: ‘They Might have stayed to see the shooting.'” In it he states that the target Lincoln shot with the Spencer rifle is lost. This is not true. The target is currently on display at the Illinois State Military Museum located at Camp Lincoln in Springfield Illinois. Web site of target in the display case):

The belief that the target was lost appears to have started with William B. Edwards’ book Civil War Guns (page 152). Mr. Edwards apparently tried to locate the target for use in his book in 1961. At that time, Miss Margaret A Flint, the Assistant State Historian told him that when the General John A. Logan Memorial Collection was transferred 1956 by the Illinois Adjutant General that ‘… we were never able to locate it or any information regarding it.’

When the Illinois Adjutant General re-took control of the General John A. Logan Memorial Collection (prior to 1982), the target was re-discovered by Charlie Munie who was the Museum Curator. The target together with its inventory card had been improperly stored which is likely why Miss Flint could not find any information about it at the time.”


Letter #2: From Barbara Wilkinson, Executive Director of the Quincy Museum

“It has been brought to my attention that there is an error in the article “Lincoln’s Rifles” by Alexander Rose in your October issue. My particular correction is related to the portion of the article regarding the Spencer rifle test fired by Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC. On page 104, second paragraph, it reads as follows:

‘Bidding farewell to Spencer, Lincoln gave him the riddled target, saying that ‘it might be a gratifying souvenir.’ (in 1883, Spencer donated it to the Lincoln collection in Springfield, Ill., but it was subsequently lost.)’

I would like to take this opportunity to let you and Mr. Rose know that the Lincoln Target Board has not been lost! It is currently on display at the Illinois State Military Museum on Camp Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. The target board was part of the original Memorial Hall collection which was displayed in Springfield in the Memorial Hall in the State Capitol building. The Memorial Hall collection is under the care and preservation of the Illinois National Guard which has a statutory obligation to preserve and protect these wonderful artifacts. As of this writing, the Lincoln Target Board may be seen either in person, or on the Illinois State Military Museum website at The target board is in the image to the right of the Spencer rifle on display.

I served as the Curatorial Assistant for the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield for over four years and assisted in the preparation of the exhibit that you see on the website. I have examined the target board and have noted the seven bullet holes from the test firing and personally seen the penciled information on the board itself declaring that it was given to Christopher Spencer by Abraham Lincoln. The piece is dated as well.

I hope that this information will be made available to your readers and to Mr. Rose. I would suggest that anyone interested in seeing the Target Board for themselves take a trip to Springfield and stop into the Illinois State Military Museum at Camp Lincoln. They have a great collection of military firearms and outstanding exhibits tracing the history of the Citizen Soldier in Illinois. Folks might also like to take a peek at General Santa Ana’s artificial leg, on display in the display dedicated to the Mexican War of 1848.”


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