The FBI recovered a stolen, historic rifle from the 1800s and returned the antique to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in a ceremony Friday.
The .54 caliber Eli Whitney rifle saw action in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. The rifle was originally donated to MDAH in 1903, along with a cartridge box and a belt, by the daughter of Private Charles H. Gibbs, MDAH wrote in a news release. More than four decades ago, the rifle was stolen while on loan to Beauvoir, the former residence of Jefferson Davis in Biloxi.
A ceremony was held at the Two Mississippi Museums on Friday, July 21, for the return of a stolen 19th century rifle used in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. FBI agents exchanged custody of the rifle with MDAH staff: https://t.co/UG4xoCH0mm. pic.twitter.com/AomHpX0khV
— MS Depart. of Archives & History (@MDAH_Official) July 21, 2023
In December 2021, a federal grand jury indicted Michael Corbett, a man from Delaware, for the possession of stolen firearms and other items taken from museums. In August 2022, Corbett plead guilty to the charges and returned the stolen Mississippi rifle, according to the news release. (RELATED: Goodwill Employee Finds WWII-Era Treasure Hidden In Donation’s Secret Compartment)
The rifle was carried by Gibbs while serving in the Raymond Fencibles of the 1st Regiment of the Mississippi Rifle Volunteers, under the command of Captain R. N. Downing, during the Mexican-American War, wrote MDAH. Gibbs fought in major battles, including the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista.
Gibbs suffered injuries during the Battle of Buena Vista on Feb. 22, 1847, but survived and returned to his home with his wife, where he died of yellow fever in the 1850s. His name is engraved on a plate attached to the stock, alongside inscribed dates of the battles he fought in Mexico.
Following Gibbs’ discharge in 1847, the rifle was reissued to an unknown member of the Raymond Fencibles and later found itself confiscated by the Union during the Civil War. The weapon disappeared for several decades until it was returned to Gibbs’ wife because of the inscription on the weapon, according to the news release.
“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 Nan Prince, MDAH director of collections. “We are thrilled to have this important piece of Mississippi history back in the collection.”
“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.”
Visitors can view the historical artifact at the Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson.