FBI Returns 19th Century Mississippi Rifle to MDAH
A ceremony was held at the Two Mississippi Museums on Friday, July 21, for the return of a stolen rifle used in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and their law enforcement partners exchanged custody of the 19th century rifle with staff of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH).
The .54 caliber Eli Whitney rifle was initially donated to MDAH in 1903, along with a bullet-marred cartridge box and belt, by the daughter of Private Charles H. Gibbs of Raymond. More than 40 years ago, the rifle was stolen while on loan to Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis in Biloxi.
Nan Prince, director of collections at MDAH, formally accepted custody of the rifle from the FBI. “MDAH is grateful to the FBI Art Crime Team, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and everyone who was involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case,” said Prince. “We are thrilled to have this important piece of Mississippi history back in the collection.”
Gibbs carried the rifle while serving in the Raymond Fencibles of the 1st Regiment of the Mississippi Rifle volunteers, commanded by Captain R. N. Downing, under Jefferson Davis in the Mexican-American War. Gibbs fought at the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista.
Gibbs was injured on February 22, 1847, at the Battle of Buena Vista, survived his injuries and lived in Raymond with his wife, Ellen Elder Gibbs, until his untimely death by yellow fever in the 1850s. His name remains engraved on a plate on the stock of the rifle, along with inscribed dates of the battles he fought in Mexico.
Various news articles of the era state that, following Gibbs’s discharge in 1847, the rifle was reissued to another, unknown member of the Raymond Fencibles. The rifle was later confiscated by the Union during the Civil War. The weapon disappeared for several decades until it was returned to Ellen Gibbs, after the discovery of her late husband's name marking the weapon.
“The FBI’s Art Crime Program and members of the Art Crime Team are honored to return to the state of Mississippi the Charles Gibbs rifle that was stolen so many years ago,” said FBI special agent Randy Deaton of New Orleans. “The investigation that resulted in the recovery of this rifle along with other items, was conducted by the FBI Philadelphia Field Office and the Art Crime Team members stationed there.”
The recovered rifle will be placed alongside Gibbs’s cartridge box, also carried by him during his service in the Mexican-American War, on display in the Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson.
In December 2021, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania indicted Michael Corbett of Newark, Delaware, for possession of stolen firearms and other items stolen from museums in the 1970s. In August 2022, Corbett pleaded guilty to the possession of stolen items transported interstate. In accordance with his plea agreement, he turned over the stolen Mississippi rifle to the FBI.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History was founded in 1902 to collect, preserve, and provide access to the archival resources of the state.