Location: Remote Utah desert, separated from Oblivion by a screen door.
When observations become historical fact
I've been shooting cap and ball revolvers since about 1970. The information in those days about these pistols was pretty straightforward, possibly because there still lived men who had known people who used them regularly in the 19th century.
Today's proliferation of the internet allows folks to make statements that lack proof, but are taken as historical facts.
What I seek are contemporary accounts to verify these statements. By contemporary I mean, "of the same time period," such as might be found in vintage diaries, newspaper or magazine articles, manuals, guides or other publications.
Can anyone provide contemporary proof of the following statements we see time and again?
1. Soldiers in the Civil War carried extra cylinders for their revolvers, so they could reload quickly. These were carried in the pocket, or in special leather pouches.
Yet, I've never seen an authentic Civil War pistol belt containing these pouches, or any contemporary reference to this practice.
2. If they were issued a Colt revolver, soldiers would immediately trade it for a Remington.
I recently read this on the internet, for the first time. News to me.
3. Some soldiers used lubricated felt wads between the powder and ball.
Actually, archaeological digs indicate that most pistol projectiles were conical, with a relatively few lead balls found. If a soldier wanted lead balls, he had to cast his own because conical bullets, attached to a paper tube containing the powder charge, were standard issue. Balls were not.
The earliest reference I've found to using a lubricated felt wad dates to an American Rifleman magazine of 1929.
4. The load for cap and ball revolvers was standardized at X-amount.
In truth, there was a large disparity in the weight of conical bullets and the powder charge their paper tube contained.
The February 1975 issue of the American Rifleman has an interesting article in which vintage, original paper cartridges were opened and their powder charge and conical bullet weighed. The charges and bullet weight were all over the map.
5. The Colt design is weaker than the Remington.
Actually, I'll allow this is true but only with the recent advent of black powder substitutes that generate higher pressure. Hodgdon's 777 comes to mind. Or when considering conversion to a cartridge gun.
I am discounting brass-framed revolvers, which are weaker by the strength of their material, not their design.
Not so long ago, the only proper propellant was black powder. Both designs were amply strong for it. Before World War II, some shooters used a bulk powder made for black powder shotguns called Kings Semi-Smokeless. Some swore by it, others felt it was too powerful for black powder revolvers.
As long as you use black powder, or black powder substitutes in their recommended charges, the Colt design is amply strong for the pressures involved.
I'm sure there are other blanket statements made about cap and ball revolvers in their heyday, that are made today without regard to historical proof. I can't think of any more. If you do, please post them here.
And if you have contemporary proof of the above statements, I'd like to hear of it as well.
"Therein do I see an ugly cat. Smoke. Fire. Brimstone. A vast desert. Holes in parchment. The ugly cat is much amused." --- The quantrains of Gatodamus (1503-1566)
... "Today's proliferation of the internet allows folks to make statements that lack proof, but are taken as historical facts."
- No surprise there.
... "1. Soldiers in the Civil War carried extra cylinders for their revolvers, so they could reload quickly. These were carried in the pocket, or in special leather pouches."
- I recall correctly I've seen B&W CW photos of the leather pouches in old editions of American History, back when they published in hard cover, in the mid-70's or so.
... "2. If they were issued a Colt revolver, soldiers would immediately trade it for a Remington. .... News to me.
- I wondered about that to when I read it on the Internet, not that when given the opportunity the individual(s) then didn't "trade up."
... 3. earliest reference I've found to using a lubricated felt wad dates to an American Rifleman magazine of 1929.
- Don't be too surprised if you learn that varients of that were in use, well prior to 1929.
... 4. The load for cap and ball revolvers was standardized at X-amount. ...there was a large disparity in the weight of conical bullets and the powder charge their paper tube contained.
- Wouldn't at all surprise me that this is/was true.
... 5. The Colt design is weaker than the Remington. ... black powder, or black powder substitutes in their recommended charges, the Colt design is amply strong for the pressures involved.
- This I for one believe.
I've never seen or read evidence of soldiers carrying extra cylinders. Most soldiers that had pistols other than officers were cavalry and swapping cylinders on a galloping horse would be difficult at best. Even more so under fire. Much easier to reholster or discard and draw another pistol. Many cavalry troopers especially Southerners carried up to eight. They did carry caps in a special pouch.
That probably stems from the fact that some soldiers were offered the opportunity to purchase their sidearm after the war and more bought Remingtons, probably because they were cheaper.
Colt in their 1860's literature advised against using wads, so yeah they were around.
Loads were all over the chart for paper cartridges. Some ran from 17 grs to 42 or 43 grs for a 44 Colt.
i dont think a calvery soldier would try to change cylindars for 2 reasons, motion of horse would not be a stable platform to do so, 2nd far easier to pull any of a dozen pistols he could carry on saddle
i would think a foot soldier would use extra cylinders for several reasons, first being the weight, carry 4 pistols at 4-6 lbs each( ie 28 lbs? and max 24 shots) or 1-2 pistols with say 3 extra cylinders for a weight of 18 lbs? (2 pistiols max shot each with 3 cylinders, double the shots at 48 shots) and as a foot soldier can easily drop and pause to change cylinders. cylinder weighed what 1 lb? far less than extra pistols, and most soldiers even today will opt for less weight and more firepower (ie: more shots) in almost any given situtation!
i do think the foot soldiers seldom had pistols as they were usually only issued rifles and usually only got pistols from the battlefield. and yes the extra cylinders would have been carried in a leather "sack" like bag with other nessary items.
I too seriously doubt if soldiers regulary "Traded up" their issued pistols. If someone is issued something from an authority of some kind, what that inheritantly means is, they will be required to give it back at some future point. But, this does not prevent them from picking up weapons dropped on the battle field, confiscating weapons from caputured men, or, even purchasing them on their own, does it? And I can imigine that there was quite the party, when on rare occassions, they came across a storage bunker of weapons and supplies, or a train car or wagon load of them !!!
ElvinWarrior... aka... David
__________________ God Made Man, But COLT Made Them Equal !!!
Last edited by ElvinWarrior; 03-29-2011 at 04:56 AM..
The book "Empire of the Summer Moon", S.G.Gwynne tells about the early use of the Perc. revolver. The Texas Rangers were the first to understand how to combine NDN horse back fighting with a Colt Patterson and later the Walker Colt. This would be well understood by the time of the Civil War 20 years later. Had it not been for Capt. Walker of the Texas Rangers a broke Sam Colt would never have made another 6 gun. Texas rangers were issued 4 extra cylinders for their Colts. When they were spent that was all they had. They were unable to reload the cylinders in the heat of battle. It seems they were able to change cylinders on horse back. The Comanche NDNs could hang under a horses neck and shoot 12 arrows before the first one hit the ground. The Rangers became equal in horsemanship. The Colt Perc. revolver removed 300 years of NDN power in the SW.Good luck
Being an "old timer" I gotta agree about your opening statement !!
Hard to say about "issue spare cylinders" as so many, (North and South) troops furnished their own arms. I suspect, (without any proof) some officers on both sides would/could have so equipped themselves. OTOH, real cavalry most commonly carried multiple pistols in saddle holsters as both carbines and pistols of the period didn't facillitate reloading horseback in combat. (Yes the Spenser might have been an exception with the Blakeslee Quick Loader.)
I can't speak with any authority on the Texas Ranger's engagements with the Commanche, and other miscreants. Its recorded against the Commanche, they were trained to take a dismounted defensive position and use their rifles first. From dismount changing cylinders for a fast reload would be logical against an enemy with a superior rate of fire.
Old mfgs of powder/shot varied considerably in performance long after Dupont had pretty well established the sine qua non of black powder quality/performance. NO doubt why professional hunters/shooters of the post Civil War era loaded their own......For pistols I'm sure convenience far overshadowed performance, as most uses - especially post-war - were "up close/personal" defensive uses , not combat range ones......
The advent of modern "BP substitutes" and, ( as you noted ) a lot of "net fact" has taken the sport of shooting C&B pistols a long way from its antecedents.
The Rangers under Capt. Hayes changed the bad habit of dismounting agansit mounted NDNs. The advent of the Colt Patterson and mounted Rangers fighting from horse back evened the odds. The life of an 1840s Ranger in service was less than 2 years. The Rangers were the first warriors to find a use for the Colt 6 shooters. During the Civil War they had so many Remington pistols they were being issued to Infantry by wars end. Accounts note that the Infantry would throw the handguns away on long hot marches.Good Luck