How many used single-shot pistols during the war?

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

huskerblitz

Captain
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Messages
6,945
Location
Nebraska
I found a picture a few months back from the Kentucky Historical Society that shows the pistol carried by Lt. Col. D. W. Lindsey during the war. I thought it was odd he didn't carry a multi-shot revolver. Who else carried a single-shot pistol during the war?

This Model 1836 Johnson Army pistol has been converted from flintlock to percussion fire. The barrel is chambered in .54 caliber. - See more at: http://kyhistory.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/772011DA-AC9F-45EC-9EF1-353127063977#sthash.mfHz9LOE.dpuf



Pistol carried by Lindsey in CW KHS.jpg
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
34,431
Location
Near Kankakee
Good question. They couldn't all have been equipped with revolvers, or could they?
 

huskerblitz

Captain
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Messages
6,945
Location
Nebraska
Good question. They couldn't all have been equipped with revolvers, or could they?
Not sure. My understanding is the army would issue pistols to cavalry, officers and members of the artillery but those people could also purchase them on their own too. Maybe this was a family heirloom he took more for pride? I don't know. Personally I would have taken a government issues that had more than one shot...just in case.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Legion Para

Captain
Retired Moderator
Joined
Jul 12, 2015
Messages
6,116
http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_438603


Model 1842 Pistol
deliveryService?responseType=location&max=120&id=NMAH-ET2010-31939-000003.jpg

DESCRIPTION

Physical Description:
This .54 caliber smoothbore, percussion lock pistol was made by the Palmetto Armory of Columbia, South Carolina around 1853. This pistol is brass mounted with a black walnut stock and an iron swivel type ramrod.

The lockplate is stamped “COLUMBIA/S.C. 1853” at the rear and is stamped “PALMETTO ARMORY S*C*” in a circle around a palmetto tree under the flashpan. The left side of the barrel near the breech is stamped “WM GLAZE & CO”.

History:

The Palmetto Armory was established in 1852 by Columbia silversmith and jeweler, William Glaze and his associate Benjamin Flag. They purchased their equipment from Asa Waters of Milbury, Massachusetts. This armory initially retained its original name, the Palmetto Iron Works, which was famous for making tools, barrels and cotton gins. In 1851 the state of South Carolina contracted this company to produce arms for the South Carolina militia in preparation for a potential war.

In addition to muskets and rifles, the Palmetto Armory produced 2,000 Model 1842 Palmetto Percussion Pistols for this contract between the years 1852 and 1853. These pistols were among the first to be issued to Confederate Troops during the Civil War. By 1860, any of the additional pistols that had not been sold to the federal government were sold to the state government. The factory was destroyed by General Sherman’s troops during the Civil War in February 1865.

References:

Flayderman, Norm. Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms…and their Values, Gun Digest Books, Iola, 2007. 9th edition.

Gardner, Robert E. Col. Small Arms Makers: A Directory of Fabricators of Firearms, Edged Weapons, Crossbows and Polearms, Crown Publishers Inc, New York: 1963, 145.
 

huskerblitz

Captain
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Messages
6,945
Location
Nebraska
Early in the war a lot of soldiers carried what they had, or were issued what was available. Later in the war single shot pistols and shotguns were less common.
I guess what surprised me was the fact that Lindsey was from a prominent family and was a successful lawyer when he headed his own regiment. I figured he'd want a little more fire power and had the means to acquire one if wanted.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

major bill

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Messages
15,819
I do not believe that Union officers were issued pistols. I also believe they were only required to obtain swords.

Many state militias would have still had large numbers of converted single shot pistols. Many of these would have found their way in to active service.
 

Jobe Holiday

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 1, 2010
Messages
2,484
Location
The Perpetually Frozen North
Union Officers had to purchase their own side arms, including their swords. I sincerely doubt that Lt. Col. Lindsay carried a clumsy antiquated single shot smooth bored pistol. First of all, they were carried in pommel holsters, not as side arms. I have seen many historical societies with well meaning but flawed information. The pistol was probably donated by a well meaning family member who had it, and because it was "in the Lindsey family" of course Lt. Col. Lindsey carried it!
J.
 

huskerblitz

Captain
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Messages
6,945
Location
Nebraska
Could be. I had to correct them on a misidentified flag a few months ago and this was the same site. The gun is part of the Lindsey collection.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Messages
10,397
This is quite interesting to me. I have a box lock pistol which I am sure hasn't been far from my home county in more than 150 years. I know it was functionally obsolete by the time the war broke out, and it was NEVER a military-type side arm. However, in a period when civilian firearms were being confiscated around here (yes, it was attempted), the little box lock pistol would have been a easy gun to hide, and an easy gun to keep handy for defending one's home against marauders from either side. I'll bet there were hundreds, if not thousands, of single shot pistols out here in Missouri--during the war, although I'm pretty sure they were just old guns and not considered to be military arms.
 

Craig L Barry

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jan 5, 2010
Messages
2,059
Location
Murfreesboro, TN
Contrary to popular belief, the advent of the first revolvers did not spell the complete and sudden demise of single-shot pistols and other handguns. Colt (and other) revolvers were expensive purchases that probably seemed like a good way to waste bullets to people primarily concerned with close range self defense up until the outbreak of the Civil War. Most gentlemen had at least a pocket pistol which they kept handy. And militarily speaking, as late as 1855 the U.S. Army adopted a single shot .58 caliber "horse pistol," the same year it began official purchases of the 1851 Colt .36 six shot revolver. Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War and later Confederate president, had quite a bit to do with that.

Unfortunately there isn't any real way of answering the question factually. For example, "pepperboxes" were extremely common among civilians and soldiers (in semi-permanent camp) but how would we gauge the relative popularity compared to other revolvers without sales records or something similar...Period accounts of their use abound, though. This much is known, gun makers producing these sort of arms far outnumbered the revolver makers during the mid-19th century.

Mark Twain notes in his book Roughing It that the guns carried on the stagecoach during his trip out West (in 1861) were mostly of the multi-shot variety. His brother, Henry, carried the 1851 Colt Navy model which he kept uncapped for safety. Fellow passenger "Mr. George Bemis," carried an Allen "pepperbox" revolver and while demonstrating the effectiveness he accidentally shot a mule 30 yds left of his target (p. 23), while Mark Twain "...was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith and Wesson seven-shooter that shot a ball the size of a homeopathic pill", and he noted "it took all seven to make a dose for an adult."
 
Last edited:

civilken

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 25, 2013
Messages
3,519
I kind of believe the one shot pistol was the sad answer for the owner when the wound was too big and there was no doctor i in sight.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

pfcjking

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jan 15, 2014
Messages
2,116
Location
Memphis
Lets talk logic for a second. Lets say that you were a Major who had this old single shot .54 caliber horse pistol slung over the pommel of your saddle. Then you either purchase, or get issued, a new revolver, whether it be a Colt, Remington, etc.
The new lighter revolver is meant to be carried in a holster that is attached to your belt.

Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that you, as a Major in the US Army, could simply continue to keep that old single shot pistol slung over your pommel, while simultaneously having the new revolver hanging off your belt? Why must one be swapped for the other?
 

Story

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Messages
1,736
Location
SE PA
Union Officers had to purchase their own side arms, including their swords. I sincerely doubt that Lt. Col. Lindsay carried a clumsy antiquated single shot smooth bored pistol. First of all, they were carried in pommel holsters, not as side arms. I have seen many historical societies with well meaning but flawed information. The pistol was probably donated by a well meaning family member who had it, and because it was "in the Lindsey family" of course Lt. Col. Lindsey carried it!
J.
This.

Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that you, as a Major in the US Army, could simply continue to keep that old single shot pistol slung over your pommel, while simultaneously having the new revolver hanging off your belt? Why must one be swapped for the other?
Thinking logically, because an outdated 2.5 lb pistol is equivalent to a canteen full of whiskey.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Story

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Messages
1,736
Location
SE PA
Booth was an assassin behind an unarmed man, not a soldier facing other soldiers.
 
Joined
May 4, 2014
Messages
107
We will never know the number of combatants that actually used the U.S. single shot military pistols in the war. If someone was ambitious enough they could archive surviving records of pistols issued on both sides and at least get an idea of the amount made available for use during the War. What is known is that these pistols saw use in the War. The oldest of the U.S. pistols would have been 61 years old, the newest only 9 years. Military personnel serving in earlier wars now finding themselves in this war would still have fresh in their memories the use of these pistols and be quite familiar with them. They may not have thought obsolete and felt a confidence in there familiarity. Here's what I can say with certainty, these smoothbore single shot pistols were very sound and serviceable and far less likely to break down or get out of order like a revolver making them quite practical. The service load for the 54 cal pistols such as the M1836 flint lock and the M1842 percussion was 50 grains of rifle powder and a .525 round ball. That's a lot of stopping power. This load could easily drop a man or horse. Here's the downside, the range of effectiveness is about 0-25 yards. Accuracy wasn't viewed then as it is now. That is to say keeping the hits within a man size target at this 0-25 yard range was considered acceptable accuracy for the smooth bore single shot pistol. I regularly shoot both my 1836 and 1842 pistols. They both handle and shoot excellent. Note, this post is not to decry revolvers but to voice my thoughts on the single shot pistol, topic of this post. If I found myself in that War having to carry pistols such as cavalry or raiders, I'd carry both types of pistol if possible. Final note, I don't use the original service load in my pistols. Rather I use 20 grains of 2F and a un-patched .542 RB in the M1842 and a .562 RB in the M1836 flint. The different ball size is to accommodate the inconsistencies in the bores diameters ever though they're technically classified as 54 cal.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Story

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Messages
1,736
Location
SE PA
The question did not mention combat. Also, many of the local museums display single shot pistols either carried by a named soldier or picked up on the battlefield.
No it did not. I framed your answer, on a single shot pistol's utility during that war; good for standing behind an unsuspecting victim and blowing his head off at point blank range.

In any sort of close-quarters fight where an enemy might have a multi-shot revolver, or the bearer facing multiple targets? Not so much.

@30,000 M1842 horse pistols made before the war. Just counting Colt's revolvers, there were 250,ooo Colt M1849 pocket, 175,000 Colt M1851 Navy & 150,000 Colt M1860 Army pistols made by the end of 1864. That also frames the original question.

As for 'many' local museums having something *identified*, unless there's an accompanying letter/diary stating "I carried a pair of horse pistols when I valiantly did whatever it is I did" it's just apocryphal. See also

I have seen many historical societies with well meaning but flawed information. The pistol was probably donated by a well meaning family member who had it, and because it was "in the Lindsey family" of course Lt. Col. Lindsey carried it!
J.
 
Last edited:
Top