Breechldrs Colt Model 1855 Revolving Rifle

Joined
Aug 1, 2018
Location
Nashville, TN
Colt Revolving cutout.png

Marshall Thatcher speaks rather highly of them in his One Hundred Battles in the West, which is a regimental memoir of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. He says the going joke was "you can load it on Sunday and shoot all week long." There were problems with chain fire but he doesn't mention them.

I do in my book The Perils of Perryville, in which the 2nd Michigan uses them quite extensively.
 

DixieRifles

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Mar 22, 2009
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I believe the Colt Revolving rifle gets a bad reputation. But from what I’ve seen much of it is undeserved.

The best example of the effectiveness of the Colt comes from the History of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. I'm sure the account is exaggerating by quoting the remarks coming from the enemy commander leading the charge but the results are accurate.
Excerpts 2nd Iowa Cavalry__Pt-1.JPG

Excerpts 2nd Iowa Cavalry__Pt-2.jpg


"General George" was Colonel J. Z. George, commanding the 5th Mississippi Cavalry.
 

DixieRifles

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I quit firing my 36 cal, Navy Colt because it became progressively terrifying. No matter how hard I tried, couldn't hit what I aimed at.
I should have emphasized the word "cheap" in my original post. The quality of this brass frame snub-nose Colt was terrible. It shot far to the Left and I missed the standard target firing only 15 feet away.
But I could hit with a Navy Arms Colt Navy. Loved to shoot it and could put it in the black.
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Is this correct though? I've never heard of it happening.
Got a friend with a modern centerfire revolver? If so, wrap a sheet of paper over the frame where the barrel and cylinder meet (around the forcing cone). Hold the paper such that your fingers are not close to that barrel/cylinder gap. Fire the gun and watch what happens to the paper. There is a jet of flame that jumps out from the side. I found these images on the interweb:
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Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I should have emphasized the word "cheap" in my original post. The quality of this brass frame snub-nose Colt was terrible. It shot far to the Left and I missed the standard target firing only 15 feet away.
But I could hit with a Navy Arms Colt Navy. Loved to shoot it and could put it in the black.
I traded a pocket knife for mine. Enough said on that topic.
 

hrobalabama

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 12, 2014
Location
Andalusia, AL
We imagine a "chain fire" with cylinders in a percussion arm. I have never had one with a revolver. My only problem was with fired caps jamming the system. The fire from the discharged round could not get to the next chamber as the rammed bullet sealed the opening.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The best example of the effectiveness of the Colt comes from the History of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. I'm sure the account is exaggerating by quoting the remarks coming from the enemy commander leading the charge but the results are accurate.
View attachment 345392
View attachment 345393

"General George" was Colonel J. Z. George, commanding the 5th Mississippi Cavalry.
I have several citations very similar to this concerning Spencer Repeater tactics. Wilder's men would fire & then pretend to begin to reload. Their opponents would follow standard doctrine & charge. At that point they would be met with repeating rifle fire that would do terrible destruction. The tactical bind the Confederate commanders found themselves in when they confronted repeaters was vexing. All their training & tactical doctrine was obsolete when faced by repeaters & they only had about 15 seconds to figure it out.
 

cake1979

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Aug 30, 2019
Location
The South Shore of the Mighty Ohio
Comments? Ever experienced this?
I have a rather “wobbly” WW1-era Webley Mark VI, in the original .455, that will happily shave lead. It’s confined to my safe until I can locate a new hand (unlikely), or convince my gunsmith friend to take a swing at fixing it.

Any revolver with bad timing will be apt to shave off a little lead, because the cylinder and barrel don’t line up. Revolvers really are complicated things, as anyone who has taken off a side plate will attest. But any well-built new revolver, and most Colts in the era we’re discussing would’ve qualified, is going to be just fine. Regardless, anyone in the ACW would have been more worried about a .58 minie than a little shaving.
 

sourdough

Corporal
Joined
May 29, 2017
Location
Pe Ell, Washington
We imagine a "chain fire" with cylinders in a percussion arm. I have never had one with a revolver. My only problem was with fired caps jamming the system. The fire from the discharged round could not get to the next chamber as the rammed bullet sealed the opening.

Most C&B revolver chain fires, although rare, happen at the rear of the cylinder due to loose fitting or lost caps.

Jim
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
I have a rather “wobbly” WW1-era Webley Mark VI, in the original .455, that will happily shave lead. It’s confined to my safe until I can locate a new hand (unlikely), or convince my gunsmith friend to take a swing at fixing it.

Any revolver with bad timing will be apt to shave off a little lead, because the cylinder and barrel don’t line up. Revolvers really are complicated things, as anyone who has taken off a side plate will attest. But any well-built new revolver, and most Colts in the era we’re discussing would’ve qualified, is going to be just fine. Regardless, anyone in the ACW would have been more worried about a .58 minie than a little shaving.

Three things to check on your wobbly Webley:

1) Wobbly generally indicates a poor bolt (cylinder stop) fit. Inspect the notches for wear. If they're worn (opened up), you might be able to peen some of it back into place. (2 oz ball peen is the largest I would use with a flat chisel). Then ignoring the hand (for now), check the wobble on each notch first. You may have to have a bit of metal soldered onto the bolt (cylinder stop). I'd use high-force low temp silver solder. If that fixes it, then the hand is not the issue.

2) On the hand, that can be made with 4140 steel (and then hardened and tempered for longevity). First tihing is to drill a hole for the pivot pin. All measurements are taken from that hole. Glue a pattern onto the metal and begin filing (grinding can heat the metal). make it a bit oversized where the lower shelf and the top of the hand is. The top portion of the hand begins the cylinder's rotation and the lower shelf finishes it.

3) Then again, the ratchet on the cylinder can be worn. The ratchet is that start shaped thing that helps eject the spent cartridges. None of the remedies I suggested above would work if the ratchet is worn. I wouldn't want to make one (need a lathe and a mill) and I'd check with Numnuts (Numrich/GunParts Corp) or JackFirst to see if they have a ratchet.

If you don't want to do this yourself, then ask Cylinder & Slide if they will. Bill Laughridge and his crew knows how to work on the Colt Python (and the Webley's action is very much like the Colt's). If your smith doesn't know how to work on the Colt Python, don't ask him to work on your Webley.
 
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gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Most C&B revolver chain fires, although rare, happen at the rear of the cylinder due to loose fitting or lost caps.

Jim
The late Elmert Keith and the Dean at TSJC (gunsmything skool) agrees; as does your humble servant.
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
This was written for the Python twenty years ago. The Webley lockwork is very similar:

Part I. How the Colt I & D Frame works:

In the Double Action mode, as the trigger is pulled rearward, the hand is raised. The finger of the rebound lever rests on the pivot pin of the hand. So, as the hand rises and engages the ratchet of the cylinder, it carries the rebound lever upward and causes the tail of the bolt to pivot upwards. Resultingly, the bolt drops, disengaging it from the cylinder and allows the cylinder to be rotated by the hand. Concurrently, the safety lever is raised (by the trigger) causing the safety to slide downwards. The trigger nose now begins to engage the sear, allowing the hammer to start its rearward motion. When the hand rotates the the cylinder 1/2 to 2/3 of the point of indexing the next chamber, the bolt tail falls off the rebound lever shelf. The bolt is then forced upwards by the bolt spring, resulting in the bolt engaging the leading notch of the cylinder. The cylinder is then arrested from further rotation by the bolt which engages the cylinder notch. The trigger nose continues to raise the sear. When this happens, the hammer is forced forward by the pressure acting upon it from the rebound lever. The mainspring supplies the pressure for the rebound lever. The hammer falls on the frame mounted and spring loaded firing pin, which strikes the primer; thereby compressing the anvil in the primer. The crushing of the anvil grinds the primer compound to 300 degrees, thereby causing ignition. The flash travels through the primer hole into the chamber of the case, igniting the propellant. The gases formed by the propellant dislodges the bullet from the case. The bullet then begins its journey which will take it from the cylinder, past the barrel cylinder gap, through the forcing cone, down the barrel and eventually out of the muzzle.

As the trigger is released, the hand begins to lower and disengages itself from the cylinder ratchet. This permits the rebound lever finger to follow the hand downwards. As the rebound lever lowers, the shelf of the rebound lever forces the bolt tail raised. The trigger nose pushes the sear inward (towards the hammer) and an audible click can be hard as the trigger disengages the sear and allows the sear to return to its position of rest. The safety lever is lowered, allowing the safety to rise. The hammer is pulled away from the firing pin by the mainspring. The bolt tail now pops back onto the shelf of the rebound lever and another audible click is heard. The trigger is now returned to its position of rest by pressure from the finger of the rebound lever. The hammer returns to its position of rest by both the mainspring and a camming action from the rebound lever against the seat of the hammer.

A word of caution on working on your own Colt I frame gun. Some guns have parts which performs a single function. On the Colt I or D or E frame guns, a part may perform numerous functions, all of which relates to timing. Changing one part may affect the timing of several other parts. This is especially true of the Rebound Lever. So, whereas one problem may be corrected, two or three others may have been created. Also, consider the cheapest alternative first which allows for restoration to status quo ante. Bending a part as a solution which you find doesn't work may be resolved by bending it back to its original shape. Removing metal may sometimes be remedied by lengthening by peening; the operative word is sometimes. Since Colt uses 4140 steel for its parts (on D, I and E frames), this allows for peening and shaping by filing/stoning to restore function. On a Colt, you should rarely need to replace parts. If a task appears too daunting, send it to a gunsmith.

So, with those words of advisory out of the way, let us begin by defining a common thread: definition. Unlike the cylinder stop of a S&W or Ruger revolver, the bolt on a Colt (D, I and E frame) is rather lengthy. We'll refer to the "cylinder stop" portion of the bolt as the bolt head and the opposite end which rests on the rebound lever shelf as the "tail". The actual tip of the tail will be referred to as the actuator.

With that, let's look at some ways to delay the bolt from popping up too early.

Recall from Part I how the hand raises the rebound lever and that that action causes the bolt to pivot downward and disengage from the cylinder notch. If you increase the time required for the rebound lever to rise, you delay the bolt's pop. This may be achieved by removing metal from the radius of the pivot pin of the hand. We're talking about removing metal from the top where the rebound lever finger rests on that pivot pin. The end result is that the rebound lever sits slightly lower, thereby taking more time to rise. Doing this should not affect the dropping of the bolt.

Another alternative is working on the bolt itself. As you recall, the bolt tail rests on the rebound lever shelf. If it's been bent previously such that it cants away from the rebound lever shelf. From a top view looking from the top of the gun towards the bottom of the grip, if the tail appears bent towards the solid side of the frame as opposed to the sideplate side, then the bolt tail and actuator sits more precariously on the rebound lever shelf, shortening the time it will rest on that shelf before dropping off (and allowing the bolt to pop up). The bolt may be placed in the vise and with only the tail exposed, grasp with a plier and tweak it (top view again) slightly to the left. This will increase the actuator's contact with the rebound lever shelf, thereby giving you a little more time.

Another thing we were taught was that the main spring could have been weakened, and that increasing spring tension could affect timing of the bolt.

I've also worked on a Colt Official Police. It has the same lockwork as the Python. It needed a new bolt and after it was fitted, the gun had more issues. The trigger was not returning because the bolt wasn't climbing back on the rebound lever shelf. I bent the rebound lever and then polished part of the shelf. I also polished to bolt tail and that only helped a little. The hand was polished to remove any scratches or burrs. My teacher diagnosed the problem back to the rebound lever. The rebound lever also pushes the hammer back, causing the firing pin to retract from the primer. It does it two ways. First is the mainspring which helps pull the hammer back. The second (and why it hung up) was that it pushes at the back bearing surface of the hammer, causing it to rotate back to its position of rest. The rebound lever had been worked over, removing too much metal from it thus not having the surface area to push on the hammer. The cheap quick fix (because no new rebound levers are to be had) was to file down the hammer block at 45 degrees, leaving only 1/2 of its contact surface to block the hammer. Now on Monday I have to lengthen the hand so it will rotate the cylinder earlier.

Finally, if these measures don't work, then fitting a new bolt may be in order. Alternatively, the rebound lever may have to be replaced (and may have been the culprit all the time). If it comes to either two, I'd recommend sending it to a gunsmith or back to Colt.

Notes on the hand: Like the Colt SAA, there are two steps in the hand. The top step initiates the rotation of the cylinder and the lower or second step completes the rotation. The top step should be inclined towards the center pin. If it doesn't, it can cause drag when the second step takes over the rotation. Also, the lower/second step should also be slightly inclined towards the center pin. The belly of the hand should not be so fat so as to push the first step away from the ratchet. With the side plate off, you can watch the hand move as it enters the hand window. It should begin from a retracted position and as it rises, then engage the ratchet. Near the hand's pivot pin you will notice that there is bevel for the finger of the rebound lever. If the two mate perfectly or close to perfect, then the finger will drag on the hand and could possibly prevent the trigger returning to position of rest when the trigger is release (sticky trigger). Polish the finger (not file) and you can gently file to alter the angle of that bevel on the hand.

Cylinder Disassembly: You need a special tool to grab onto the rachet. Brownell's sells it. Push the extractor to give full exposure to the ratchet. Then rotate it so you can unscrew the ratchet. Remove the ratchet. You now need another special tool to disassemble the cylinder screw.
 
Joined
Nov 1, 2018
Location
Canad-istan
We imagine a "chain fire" with cylinders in a percussion arm. I have never had one with a revolver. My only problem was with fired caps jamming the system. The fire from the discharged round could not get to the next chamber as the rammed bullet sealed the opening.
I totally agree with hrobalabama. I have put approx. 750 rounds through various antique Colt and Remington revolvers and never had a chain fire. Just like you said, the bullet seals the other chambers. I have to go poking through some books to find a direct quote, but I recall that Colt had to prove to the Military that his revolver cylinders were waterproof when properly loaded. The cylinders were left in water for a set period of time (presumably the nipples were somehow sealed) and then test fired. it was one of the tests that convinced the Military that his guns were very well made. How could they chainfire if water would not penetrate?

The greasing of the loaded chambers is for lubrication and to reduce fouling....not to prevent chain fires. of course, you need to use a properly sized ball when loading.

My biggest problem is the same as yours...the caps can jam up the revolver. The Colts are much more prone to this than a Remington New Model Army.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I agree with ConfederateCanuck, the caps are an issue with the Colt revolver. My fat fingertips often had a hard time removing the spent cap. I have also had a cap fall off prematurely & get stuck between the cylinder & the frame. I can easily see where that is a recipe for all manner of mischief. I would have hated to depend on one of those iconic weapons during the chaos of a firefight. Perhaps my attitude is colored by an account written by a signalist.

I study the Signal Corps. The six man flag & torch teams were mounted. They were issued a pistol & saber. Unless they were in garrison where regular drill was routine, the only use they made of the sabers was telescope props. The guard of a saber stuck in the ground is an excellent support that holds a telescope steady.

Near Nashville, a signal team was ordered to escort a wagon convoy. The signalists were deeply concerned; not because they feared a guerrilla attack, exactly. Their Colt pistols had been neglected for so long that "Should we pull the trigger, there was no way of knowing which way the fire would come out."
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I was curious, so did a little research on Colt rifle chain fires. What happened with the Colt Rifle during combat was that the soldiers would spill powder into the nooks & crannies around the cylinder wile reloading. Apparently, it was quite something when the spilled powder cooked off. To prevent this, some commanders ordered their men to only load one shot at a time. An additional element was the lead shaving that has been referenced in this thread which was very painful.

While it could be very effective, a board of inquiry found the faults far overshadowed the benefits. Surplus Colt rifles sold for $42.

The Machine Gun, George M. China, 1851.
 
Joined
Nov 1, 2018
Location
Canad-istan
Getting back to the caps that can jam the revolvers....if you recall in the old movies, the pistol-wielding guy would fire then lift the gun over his head, cock it, and then fire again. Before I had ever fired percussion guns, I thought these movie actors looked absurd doing that. The fancy-schmancy prissy show-off with all the unnecessary theatrics of lifting the gun above his head/shoulders to cock the gun. What I later learned (from books, and in practice), is that "lift-and-cock" motion was an effective way to avoid the spent cap jamming the revolver. The caps would fall out the top of the gun (the top of the cylinder was now on the downside after the "lift"). Whereas when the gun is cocked without lifting, the cap can fall, by gravity, into the revolving mechanism and the hammer mechanism and jam it.

The Remington New Model Army was far less prone to this (by design, as I recall, though I can't recall the specific design improvements) than the Colt, so I don't bother doing the "lift-and-cock" with m y Remington. I can't recall jamming up my Remington with a cap, whereas I don't want to recall all the frustrating moments when a cap jammed my Colts (Army, Navy, Pocket). So now I look like the show-off movie guy (I still think it looks prissy), but I have way less cap jams.
 
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