Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by Bob Owen, Aug 24, 2012.
The revolving rifle by Colt. Was it a boon or bust?
Your post prompted me to read up on the 1855. It gets mixed reviews, but to my mind I would say bust. I would prefer a Spencer. I have included a link I found on the 1855 that helped me form my opinion.
One of my ancestors was in a flanking company (Co. A) of the 37th IL Infantry. The two flank companies were issued the Colt revolving rifles (personally provided by Gen John Fremont as the regiment was organized as the "Fremont Rifles."). Per the regimental histories, they evidently used the flanking companies for their extra firepower. It seems they liked having the Colts over the single shot Springfields. No mention of the chain firing problem and no idea if they would have rather had the Spencers over the Colts.
To prevent the cooking off of other chambers in the cylinder, present day cap and ball revolver shooters are recommended to smear a dab of grease (Crisco, lard, etc) over the loaded chambers of the cylinder before firing. I wonder if that expedient was used by the Colt shooters during the war. It's simple, cheap, and was available to the men as you could always get some fat from your cooled pan after cooking bacon or "salt horse."
If your hand's in front of the cylinder when you fire; Ouch!
Not really fast to reload.
With the Remington 1858 New Army style revolvers (pistols) with the "top strap", you could pull a cylinder pin, remove the empty cylinder, drop in a stand-by, loaded cylinder and then continue firing. Were you able to do that with the Colt rifles? That would give you 10-12 shots in a very short period before you needed to reload a cylinder (which does take a fair amount of time as Grumpydave says.)
The extra cylinder syndrome is a hollywoodism/re-enactorism. I've never read a period account of it having been done. Remingtons & Colts only shipped w/ one cylinder.
The Colt revolving rifle was a mixed bag, men either loved them or they hated them. The men of Berdans liked to tinker and generally being shooters they had more of a tendency to do so than men who weren't. while they despised them, wanting their promised Sharps Rifles. In that I cannot blame them as I like the Sharps Rifle. But the men of the 21sy Ohio (who received the former rifles of Berdans) had few complaints. The chain firing issues was oft talked about but I've never ran to ground, in the period, the name of someone actually hurt or who even had it happen to them. I've handled a couple original M1855's and an original Colt revolving shotgun. They balance well and really don't take much longer to load than a standrad muzzle loader as their isn't the travel of the ramrod.
The modern repops of the M1855 Revolving rifle are, as I understand it, ****.
As noted, the 37th IL companies that had them did good execution at Pea Ridge. There are other examples as well such as the 21st OH at Chickamauga.
There apparently were instructions given to some to lower the loading lever and hold the rifle that way.
Yeah, I imagine it would have been expensive to supply extra cylinders.
I have one of the reproduction 1858 Remington pistols and it's a good weapon; rugged, fairly accurate as far as black powder pistols go, and not too hard to reload. It's easy to remove the cylinder but, as I have only one cylinder, I've never tried the loaded cylinder swap. When you're in combat at pistol range, I don't imagine you get off any more than your six shots before you're moving to a new location or taking cover or both, so I suppose the extra cylinder wouldn't have been so beneficial.
How did that work? When you lower the loading lever, wouldn't the plunger be pressed into the bottom chamber? I guess you could lift the loading lever when cocking the hammer and rotating the cylinder, but it sounds awkward. Still, I suppose it's better than having small shavings of lead blasted into your arm from the gap between the chamber and barrel or larger chunks of lead from a chain fire.
I wasn't sure how it worked either, but I've not used one of these period colts.
Ya know johan I have never, to my knowledge, read an account of a man's fingres getting blown off ny the Colt Revolving rifle., Was NOT a soulution but I thinks there is is a lotta uban myth surrrounding that weapon....not perfect....tranasition piece,....great NO. But I wanna know....did it blow yer fingers off? Hey, those guys were not stupid. Something is put in a book.....and it goes on and on. I do think ny GGP had one brielfy on Missouri....he did not like it...he did not hate it. Make sense? You took precautions.
Also, each cylinder would have to be timed for one specific rifle (or pistol). That would add to the production time and cost of each rifle, especially if any extra cylinders were lost in the field during battle.
I have fired several hundreds of rounds from percussion revolvers and have never had a chain fire. I'm sure that it has occured but not frequently.
Better than a single shot. However, like modern revolvers, lead does spit out from the gap between the mouth of the cylinder and the forcing cone. It was crazy to support the gun from the fore end. At least one Berdan SS lost some digits because of chain-fire.
So long as the user was aware of its limitations, it was a good gun. Would I take it over a Spencer or Henry? no. But over a Springfield? yes.
An account of Battle of Collierville, Nov. 3, 1863.
A couple of companies of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry were armed with Colt Rifles.
I tend to think that this account elaborates on the quote from the Confederate commander as I doubt he really believed the Union defenders would get off only one volley. It also states General James Chalmers let the attack by the Right flank but I have not found that in the OR's. Col. George lead the regiment on the right and Col. Slemons on the Left.
Just at this time the Second Iowa, Lieut-Col. Hepburn commanding, came up from the north of town on a gallop. Quickly dismounting the eight rifle companies, Hepburn sent them to the railroad across which the enemy must charge, and which afforded fine shelter; while companies "E" and "K" were placed on ther right, mounted, and "M" and "L" on the left.
No sooner were these preliminary orders for our formation executed, than the enemy came down upon us at full speed, their right lead by Chalmers, and their left by Gen. George, of the Mississippi Militia.
The sight was truly imposing, for their course was across an open field where their entire line was visible. They kept their line remarkably well dressed, while the riflemen of the Second Iowa quietly awaited their approach, conscious of their ability to check them when they should open. Unfortunately they fired a moment to(sic) soon, and few feel from the balls thrown. Gen. George, who supposed he was charging single shooting carbines, now yelled to his men to "Come on, as they have now no loads in their guns, they will be ours before they can reload." These words were not out of his mouth, however, ere a second volley, more murderous than the first, appraised him of his error and the nature of of the work he had undertaken.
His lines waver, but still follow their dauntless chieftain; a third volley whistled past him with murderous effect upon his follers, who break in confusion; two more vollies are fired at them as they leave the field. Gen. George, however, refuses to stop, but comes madly on regardless of the leaden hail around him. WIth four brave followers he reaches out lines and leaps over the railroad, when his horse falls pierced by five balls. Serg't John .M. Guild, of Co. "G", seized George by the collar and ordered him to surrender.
Source: History of Second Iowa Cavalry
Gen. George mentioned in the account was Col. James Z. George who commanded the 5th Mississippi Cavalry. He was referred to as a General because of his previous position as Inspector General for the State of Mississippi.
This is the 1st model Colt revolving rifle of the Root design and it was meant to be fired with the left hand supporting it under the cylinder. I believe that the support pieces were eliminated in the later models as they were too restrictive in firing. The proper way to fire didn't change for those who were properly trained.
I will beg to differ with Johan's hearsay opinion of the reproduction Colt 1855 Revolving Rifle. I have had one since they first came out and it is an exquisite piece of workmanship! It functions flawlessly. Unfortunately, it was too expensive for the general public and had no real application in today's world so only one run of them was ever made. Sadly the manufacturer, Palmetto Arms, has gone out of business so the only reproduction of the Colt 1855 Revolving Rifle is now too a thing of the past.
Chain fires are not caused by the "bullet" side of a chamber, if, the bullet is of proper size and a small ring is shaved off when loaded. It has been determined by several sources that the chain fire is caused at the nipple end of a chamber. This is due to loose, and improperly fitting caps, and also to missing caps. If I can find it My new avatar will show what happens when you fire a handgun at night, this is to give you an idea of where the the "fire" comes out. Also remember they didn't load handguns the same way as long guns. They had cartridged that dropped into the chambers which made for faster loading of each cylinder. T hey didn't pour in the powder from flask, or paper cartridge, like we do with the long guns, and then drop the bullet in the chamber then ram. It came as 1 complete unit also they used conical rounds and not round balls.
History of the Colt 1855 revolving carbine:
A YouTube video on the 1855 revolving carbine:
I also find it interesting that when ammunition evolved into cartridges that were less likely to injure the shooter, the revolving rifle idea was made available in a slightly updated form:
Pic of my G, G, G-Uncle holding an 1855 Colt revolving rifle. I'm sure it was a photographer's weapon, along with the uniform since the 22nd TN had no uniforms or weapons of this style.
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