Handguns How many used single-shot pistols during the war?

Championhilz

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 18, 2011
Location
Clinton, Mississippi
William F. Scott, adjutant of the 4th Iowa Cavalry, had this to say about the regiment's arms in the spring of 1863:

"It was about this time that carbines were first issued to the regiment. Only forty could be obtained, and they were divided among several companies. They were "Hall" carbines, an inferior gun of short range, taking a paper cartridge; but they were breech-loaders, and their coming was a great interest to the men...The armament of the regiment in general was still very poor. A few men who had Colt's navy revolvers were the envy of their comrades, who had to put up with weapons in which they had no confidence. The clumsy Austrian (infantry) rifles, issued when the regiment was first equipped, were still in the hands of those men who had not had the hardihood or ingenuity to "lose" them. Some had revolvers of the Starr and other bad kinds, many had the single-barrelled holster-pistols, with ramrods, of the pattern in use in the Mexican War, while all had the awkwardly long and very heavy dragoon sabre, as old as the century. Every man saw and what was much worse, felt the inefficiency of the arms."

The Story of A Cavalry Regiment by William F. Scott, pg. 63
 

Booner

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
May 4, 2015
Location
Boonville, MO.
My GG Grandfather was in the 3rd Indiana Cav., and when they arrived in Washington, DC in Sept. of '61 were issued swords and "Dragoon Pistols" aka "horse pistols" which were carried in holsters affixed to the front part of their saddles. The trigger pull was so stout, that an aimed shot was all but impossible.
I'm reading through the history of his unit now in the hopes of finding when they were issued revolvers and carbines.
 
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rob63

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 13, 2012
Location
PA, but still a Hoosier
I seem to recall a relic M1842 pistol from the Rosensteel collection in the old visitor's center at Gettysburg. Apparently a few single-shots were still around in 1863.
(I actually miss the old visitor's center and wonder where the relics from there went.)

I also miss the old visitor's center, it was far better than the current one in my opinion.

This clearly isn't the pistol you mentioned, but I thought I would share it simply because it fits into the discussion and it is a photo I took at the old Gettysburg visitor's center. (I wish I had taken a lot more!) I have no idea what the source of the information included with the pistol was, how reliable the attribution is, or why it is no longer on display. I kept the photo because I have the same pistol in my collection. It's a small pocket pistol that was surely a private purchase, not a government issue piece.

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zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
Excavated artifacts rarely have letter or diary documentation. Small daggers and small single shot pistols are often found in old camp sites and on battlefields. They might well have been carried by gamblers who weren't very good at bottom dealing, but there is ample evidence that they were carried during the war.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Sorry to bump the thread, but has anyone come across evidence for guys during the Civil War carrying more than 2 single-shot handguns at a time? I've heard of Missouri guerillas carrying more than 2 revolvers on them, so I don't see why someone mightn't carry 3 or 4 single-shot pistols to compensate for the limited capacity (assuming that was all they could get their hands on at the time).

I know it was something that cavalry sometimes did in earlier eras ... I've read mentions of 17th century reiters in Central-Europe carrying three or four pistols at a time, some tucked into their saddles, others in their belts, or even in their boots.
 
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Lampasas Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Sorry to bump the thread, but has anyone come across evidence for guys during the Civil War carrying more than 2 single-shot handguns at a time? I've heard of Missouri guerillas carrying more than 2 revolvers on them, so I don't see why someone mightn't carry 3 or 4 single-shot pistols to compensate for the limited capacity (assuming that was all they could get their hands on at the time).
In Sept. 1864, as the Federal defenders retreated from Pilot Knob, Missouri, their rear guard had to charge the pursuing Confederates to hold them back. Sgt. J. Steakley, Co. K, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry recalled how his company was armed: "The Co. K boys were armed with long Austrian rifles, in addition to their sabers, and two heavy eight-inch pistols [Remington revolvers, he says later] and two horse pistols each.... We had hidden our long guns in the leaves of a tree, intending to get them when we came back. There I suppose, they still are, for when we came back we had no time to stop or even think of them."
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
I also miss the old visitor's center, it was far better than the current one in my opinion.

This clearly isn't the pistol you mentioned, but I thought I would share it simply because it fits into the discussion and it is a photo I took at the old Gettysburg visitor's center. (I wish I had taken a lot more!) I have no idea what the source of the information included with the pistol was, how reliable the attribution is, or why it is no longer on display. I kept the photo because I have the same pistol in my collection. It's a small pocket pistol that was surely a private purchase, not a government issue piece.

View attachment 325101
Well I'll be, I didn't think any double barrel pistols made it into the ACW. Probably an import.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
The one I have, that looks just like the one in the previous photo, is from Belgium.

Belgian-made pistols seem to have had some degree of popularity in the US around this period. The Broderick-Terry duel in California (fought between a pro-slavery and an anti-slavery politican) involved a pair of .58-caliber Belgian pistols. If guns from Belgium were finding their way to California in the 1850s, I'm not surprised at all to hear of them in the eastern states during the Civil War.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I will admit that I have not read any of this string, but I a sure that the correct answer to the question of "how many used single shot pistols during the War" is only those who could not get a better weapon.
Same as the question "how many swung their muskets as clubs" - the answer is only those who has no better choice!
That said, it is a good question, and I will read this thread!
 

Papabyrd

Private
Joined
Sep 28, 2021
Large numbers of this type pistol were in Federal arsenals when the South took them over. They would more than likely been carried in holsters mounted to the saddle of their horse. Such the name horse pistols. General Forest required his men to have at least 8 loaded pistols and a sawed off double barrel shot gun or carbine on them and their horse on every battle. that way they would not have to reload under fire.
 
Joined
May 1, 2015
Location
Upstate N.Y.
Large numbers of this type pistol were in Federal arsenals when the South took them over. They would more than likely been carried in holsters mounted to the saddle of their horse. Such the name horse pistols. General Forest required his men to have at least 8 loaded pistols and a sawed off double barrel shot gun or carbine on them and their horse on every battle. that way they would not have to reload under fire.
Good info, thanks
 

RicM

Cadet
Joined
Apr 17, 2021
Hi all. Very interesting thread. I own an original 1842 Aston/Martin .54c single shot PC handgun. Yes, I do shoot it on occasions and its pretty much spot on at 40 feet (see 2 pics) I'm no expert by far and do often dive with pleasure into the history of the Civil War and love this site as its a wealth of information.

To the point, Was this type of single shot musket handgun shortly used in the Civil War. At least a modified version of it was by Springfield, the Model 1855 Pistol Carbine. My guess if this version was used early on in the Civil war, the standard type like this thread talks about was probably used. In the June/July edition of American Rifleman there is an article about this. And mentions about "Civil War Field Service in early 1862 by the 9th Illinois Cavalry using this 1855 Pistol Carbine. It was used a few times as the article mentions, but as you can read and see it was not a durable weapon and Springfield made only a small amount of them.



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