The so designated Snake Buckles are commonly misunderstood by many. It is definitely known that P53 Enfield Snake Buckle belt sets were used during the Civil War by both Confederate and Yankee forces. Many were smuggled and ran through the Yankee blockades to the Confederate Army (starting on April 19, 1861, the blockade was part of General Winfield Scott's strategy called the Anaconda Plan) - along with cartridge pouches, saber & socket bayonets as well as the P53 Enfield Rifled Musket.
It has been estimated that over 900,000 P53 Enfields were imported to America and merits the distinction of being the second most widely used infantry weapon (surpassed only by the Springfield) in the Civil War.
The Confederates imported more Enfields during the course of the war than any other small arm. Although the British government would not sell weapons directly to either side, private contractors who would sell the P53 Enfield Rifled Musket to the North or South. The P53 Enfield saw service in every major battle from Shiloh in April 1862, Vicksburg in 1863, and the final battles of 1865.
Many of the Enfield Snake Buckles on black leather belt (no buff or brown) were subsequently photographed and a multitude of these brass snakes have been excavated since in camps, battle and skirmish sites. A few non dug specimens exist as well. An example of Civil War usage is as pictured below with two Yankees posing with their Enfield Snake belt sets. Also, please note the Enfield saber bayonet.
BUT, the vast majority of NON-DUG specimens on todays market are of POST Civil War vintage, and may not even been originally sent to this country. Actual usage in India, Canada, Pakistan dates well into the 20th century (some are still in use today!!) See photo below for a circa 1915 British unit with these small, "squashed guppy" snake buckles:
Most on the market today that are being sold as "Confederate" or "Civil War" snake buckles come on BROWN leather belts which are post Civil War. They are then sometimes REMOVED from the brown belt and sold as Civil War specimens to the novice. Therein lies the problem!! See photo below of 20th century snake belt and buckle.
The NEW snakes are small, lightweight, somewhat frail and tend to be a bit flat. A bit ellipitcal, if you will. Somewhat akin to a smashed guppy. Also, the O ring in which the snake attaches is NOT split and straddle of the belt loop. Notice that it is directly brazed to the TOP of the belt loop. Refer below.
The key to knowing AUTHENTIC Civil War period is construction. The circa 1860's snakes are larger, heavy, have a higher relief and more rounded and fuller. Most will have 2 inch loops (or larger). Then the O ring is SPLIT and brazed STRADDLE of the belt loop portion. A good indicator of age!!!! The following photograph is a good specimen, still complete with original BLACK belt. Designed to accompany the Enfield in some occasions. Notice how the O ring is attached.
* * BEWARE * *