Breechldrs Colt Model 1855 Revolving Rifle

KianGaf

First Sergeant
Joined
May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
I watched a documentary about chickamauga and a segment spoke about this rifle. It seemed to preform well at snodgrass hill , so I was wondering what were the faults with the rifle and why was it not issued in larger volume. Was the model used at chickamauga a carbine or a longer barrel ?
 

ucvrelics

Colonel
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zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
The big problem with the revolving rifle is powder blast can come out in front of the cylinder and burn your the wrist of your forward hand. To safely and comfortably fire the rifle you have to hold both hands behind the cylinder. That is very hard to do with a full length rifle and a pistol with a stock is just about as effective as a carbine.
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Can't use the forearm to support it.

It has the same issues as with cap 'n ball revolvers. First, like Zburkett mentioned, gases and lead escaping from the barrel and cylinder gap can injure the support hand if it is holding onto the forearm. Second, like a cap 'n ball revolver, you can had chain fire where other cylinders discharge. If your hand is supporting the forearm, you can get shot in the hand/wrist.
 
Joined
Jul 20, 2017
zburkett points out an important problem, but understates the matter. Burning your wrist could be the least of your problems: getting your hand blown off was a real risk. The weapon had a nasty tendency for some or all of the cylinders to discharge prematurely, and if you were holding the weapon conventionally, with your left hand on the forestock, good bye left hand! With paper cartridges, spark or flame from the ignition of the round in the chamber under the hammer/in line with the barrel could ignite rounds in the other chambers of the cylinder. It wouldn't have been a problem with metallic cartridges, but it was with paper
 

KianGaf

First Sergeant
Joined
May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
Did they fire metal cartridge ammunition ? Someone mentioned in the other threads that it wasn’t an easy rifle to reload.
 

Rusk County Avengers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
Back then most cap'n'ball guns weren't loaded with loose powder and ball like today, but paper cartridges that were loaded whole into the cylinder.

Getting to the issue of them being issued, I know there were a lot of them issued early on, most notably to Berdan's Rifles where they were hated with an passion. However the part a lot of folks forget, is the guns seemed to have liked by most of the soldiers who got them, and were sold off as surplus after the War and I wouldn't be surprised if they played a larger part out West than most people expect. Why would I say that? They cost only $0.50 apiece after the War, versus $6.00 for a rifled-musket, and the prices for surplus Spencers some sources I've read way back say a surplus Spencer in the 1860's ran only like $1.25 for a issued and used one, and $3.25 for one that hadn't been issued, but I can't remember for sure so I won't swear to the Spencer prices. Its hard to imagine, but repeaters were sold for surplus cheaper than a rifled-musket in the 1860's!

As for the chain-fire problem in Colt M1855's I really don't know if it was really an issue, as I haven't read of any occurrences of it, but the troops at Chickamauga seemed to have preferred them, (an Ohio regiment wasn't it?). But that not to say people back then didn't know of the potential for it. Supposedly in the Colt Archives there is a 1850's letter from none other than JEB Stuart that he had sent to Sam Colt himself asking for the best one he had in stock, and I'm going from memory here, it also said "I wish for you to personally select the carbine to make sure it will only fire one chamber at a time..." so even in the 1850's after the rifle came out folks knew the potential for some lost fingers, JEB Stuart apparently did.

Main thing that bugs me about the guns, is nobody has ever came out with a good reproduction of one. I've handled several originals, all the military rifle version, and I really like the feel of them. I'd try shooting one without hesitation, though I might not hold the forearm in a conventional manner for the whole potential for losing a hand, or part of one.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
I’ve never managed to find a first person account of a chain fire on a Colt Revolving rifle or shotgun prewar, wartime or postwar. I’ve failed o ever find the name of a man wounded by a chain fire of a Colt Revolving rifle. It seems most of the negative remarks and writing came out of Berdan’s men. I believe it has more to do with it being in the hands of men who were prone to tinker or were prone to tear things apart to see what made them work.

The Colt Revolving rifle is not a simple rifle and just because a man knows how to shoot doesn’t make him a gunsmith. If you don’t know the weapon putting it back together correctly can be an issue. Admission of mistakes isn’t done as often as people admit.

It doesn’t help that the men had been promised Sharps rifle. Which already had a good reputation and was a simpler arm.

I believe the Colt Revolving rifle gets a bad reputation. But from what I’ve seen much of it is undeserved.

I have seen some really boneheaded things done to firearms over the years. Some done long in the past.
 

Rusk County Avengers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
Was fat rubbed over the chamber to prevent chain fire , I’d imagine this wasn’t practical during an engagement.

Back then? No. Fat, grease, and other things rubbed in a chamber is a 20th Century thing.

Back then folks tended to buy or in the case of the CW were issued ammunition that was essentially a combustible paper cartridge and they loaded the each chamber of a cylinder with them. Really speeds up the loading process.

However there are a TON of folks who insist that if grease or something else isn't put in a cylinder it'll chain fire no matter what. Speaking for myself, yeah I've never done it shooting cap'n'ball revolvers, and I used to shoot them quite often on a daily basis and never greased the chambers, or had a chain fire (I've only shot the guns for 18 or 19 years, so give me time, also don't try that at home). Its all in the bullet being the correct size undersized bullets risks a chainfire. There's a lot of evidence, from high speed cameras and so on, that chainfires come from the back on the cones/ "nipples" and not the front.

The main virtue in greasing the end of a chamber is keeping the fouling soft, a big concern in black powder firearms.
 

zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
Most of the reproductions I shoot are of the .36 Colt's Navy which fires a .375 ball and when you press it into the chamber it deforms the ball, even shaves it a bit, and forms a very tight seal. When I use Bore Butter it is for the lubricating/ protection that it gives. I was shooting with a friend firing a .44 Dragoon who always used some kind of grease, usually Crisco. One day he ran out of grease and decided to keep shooting anyway. First shot all six chambers went off. When the smoke cleared enough so we could see him, he was holding the pistol by the barrel in his off hand, shaking ahis shooting hand, "I always wondered what would happen if that happened." Interestingly there was no damage to the pistol. We did have a little trouble pushing the bottom ball out of the loading mechanism. From the smoke produced by six .44 chambers, I don't know how they ever saw anything after a volley from a lined up regiment.
 

Rusk County Avengers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
Most of the reproductions I shoot are of the .36 Colt's Navy which fires a .375 ball and when you press it into the chamber it deforms the ball, even shaves it a bit, and forms a very tight seal. When I use Bore Butter it is for the lubricating/ protection that it gives. I was shooting with a friend firing a .44 Dragoon who always used some kind of grease, usually Crisco. One day he ran out of grease and decided to keep shooting anyway. First shot all six chambers went off. When the smoke cleared enough so we could see him, he was holding the pistol by the barrel in his off hand, shaking ahis shooting hand, "I always wondered what would happen if that happened." Interestingly there was no damage to the pistol. We did have a little trouble pushing the bottom ball out of the loading mechanism. From the smoke produced by six .44 chambers, I don't know how they ever saw anything after a volley from a lined up regiment.

Its very easy to use the wrong size percussion cap. The revolvers I've seen chain fire either the wrong size cap was used, or in the case of Colt-style repops the metal nubs between each cone was roughed up. If you have to pinch a pistol cap to fit the cone, you risk a chain fire.

I had to throw one old man off a movie set last year because he was doing that. I spotted it while I was supervising folks loading their revolvers, I told him don't do it and gave him some proper sized caps from my supplies. He ignored me and a chain fire happened on camera. He never had it happen till it then and been doing it that way for years, and insisted it wouldn't happen again, but I didn't risk it, and so he had to go. Another incident on that movie set was an old fart who's been banned from reenactments with his unsafe practices with his cannon had showed up and kept loading his revolvers with powder and felt wads after I told him repeatedly "NO!!!" and when he told me that's how its done at reenactments, I told the old fart no it isn't and threw him off set (I really know how to make "friends" on movie sets lol), funny part his he kept spreading manure about me afterwards, so I had the powers that be at the only reenactment he can attend check his revolver and he got banned from there too.

Chain-fires seem to have been a thing back in the day and is now, and while I trust my way loading a gun, even in a Colt M1855 rifle, I'd still keep both my hands behind the cylinder's face. I think it was supposed to be the practice anyway, even back then as a lot of Colt M1855's have a second spur in front of the triggerguard on civilian versions. I suppose the fore stock was meant more for ease of handling, carrying, or in the case of the military version military drill. But I also think the guns were far from junk, I would carry one.

EDIT- Also very slightly under sized bullets, I've seen guns chain-fire when there was a sliver of ring of lead shaved from the ball, (like an incomplete ring) and the guns chain fire. I personally like a fully round shaved ring with a bit of thickness to it to prevent me from having chain-fires.
 
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KianGaf

First Sergeant
Joined
May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
Had a feeling that stories of unreliablity had to be overstated. In the bit about snodgrass hill it’s told that soldiers urinated on the barrels to cool them down, to get to this point they would have been repeatedly fired with no faults.
 

Rusk County Avengers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
Had a feeling that stories of unreliablity had to be overstated. In the bit about snodgrass hill it’s told that soldiers urinated on the barrels to cool them down, to get to this point they would have been repeatedly fired with no faults.

I've seen the documentary you've mentioned. Personally I'm a little doubtful of that story, as I've never read it or heard it anywhere else. It sounds more like something out of WW2, but there's chance it happened.

As for stories of unreliability in guns, it goes back to context, and soldiers not knowing their weapons. Take the WW1 vintage Chauchat for example, EVERY book and author out there is adamant they were pieces of junk and without question the worst gun ever built (and that is exactly how most authors describe it). But that's quite incorrect because of context. The French didn't have many problems out of them, and kept issuing them alongside newer and better designs till WW2. Were they idiots? No, the gun worked. Its the American version built in France in .30-06 that had problems, bad chamber measurements, bad bore measurements, bad training, and not the best designed box magazine, that gun was cussed over and over, and almost every author out there is adamant the all Chauchats were junk because of mostly American complaints, even though France, and more than a few other countries kept them on hand and used them in WW2. Look up Forgotten Weapons on YouTube, I'd say they've debunked that myth pretty well, with a French Chauchat and even an ultra-rare American contract Chauchat with the chamber and bore issues fixed, and both kept firing and firing without issue. Its just a quirky gun, kinda like the British WW2 Sten.

I think the Colt M1855 has suffered a similar fate, with the Berdan guys cussing it, and a modern fear of chain-fires, the poor gun gets a bad rap even though the majority of folks back then had no problem with it.
 

Rusk County Avengers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
Coffeeville, TX
Take another CW era gun that was unfairly maligned. The Starr Carbine.

It resembled a Sharps, was the same caliber, and many viewed at it as a cheap worthless copy of a Sharps. Only problem is while similar, the same caliber, it had a different operating system and used a longer paper cartridge. Most evidence now points to that guns issues coming from Sharps ammunition being issued to use in them, which it was not going to work worth a dern with that ammo. But feed it the proper ammo, even back then, and the soldiers who got the proper ammo preferred them over Sharps.

Bad raps on military weapons is usually the fault of the soldiers not being "gun guys" and ordnance and supply officers not doing their jobs right. Except on guns like say the Gwynn & Campbell, those guns were junk bought in an emergency.
 

KianGaf

First Sergeant
Joined
May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
Take another CW era gun that was unfairly maligned. The Starr Carbine.

It resembled a Sharps, was the same caliber, and many viewed at it as a cheap worthless copy of a Sharps. Only problem is while similar, the same caliber, it had a different operating system and used a longer paper cartridge. Most evidence now points to that guns issues coming from Sharps ammunition being issued to use in them, which it was not going to work worth a dern with that ammo. But feed it the proper ammo, even back then, and the soldiers who got the proper ammo preferred them over Sharps.

Bad raps on military weapons is usually the fault of the soldiers not being "gun guys" and ordnance and supply officers not doing their jobs right. Except on guns like say the Gwynn & Campbell, those guns were junk bought in an emergency.

I must look that one up , there is a good channel on YouTube that discusses such weapons, it’s called Forgotten Weapons.
 
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