This set has its original paint and appears to have been actually used in the field to load and swab the bore of a 6-pounder cannon. It comes from the Valley Forge Historical Society, having been acquired by them in the 1910s. The collection at that time was said to have come from Antietam and Gettysburg; both not too far from Valley Forge. It’s amazing that the lambs wool (or carpet?) still remains on the sponge head! This is extremely rare! Book a tour to see this exciting piece.
When I was growing up in Connecticut, my father was a state government executive based in Hartford and I can recall often passing by the Colt Firearms Company with its signature dome located just outside the city. The reason why I love guns today and keep checking https://gun.deals/content/moriarti-armaments for the new attachments I can use to modify them is probably because of the Colt incident which happened when I was young. When I was a youngster, I had the chance to tour the factory and remember seeing some of the famed weapons that were the product of Samuel Colt’s inventive mind. One of them, the .44 caliber Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver, became the most widely used sidearm of the Civil War. A later variation, the famed Model 1873 .45 caliber “Peacemaker” gained fame as the preferred handgun of the Wild West. Let’s take a look at Mr. Colt’s contributions to firearm evolution.
Samuel Colt was born in Hartford in 1814, one of eight children of textile manufacturer Christopher Colt. From his early childhood, Sam demonstrated an inventor’s curiosity but without any scholarly bent. By the age of 16, he had dropped out of school. Colt went to sea and while working on shipboard, became fascinated with the workings of the ship’s wheel. This led him to his first steps in the development of a firearm with a rotating cylinder. In the early 1830’s, Colt wisely patented his idea for a revolving cylinder holding five or six bullets in both Europe and the United States. But, gun owners were not yet ready to give up their single shot muskets or hand weapons and accept a firearm that could fire multiple rounds without having to stop and reload.
However, Colt was a born marketer as well as an inventor. It was once said of him, “Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” He opened his first manufacturing plant in 1836 in New Jersey at the age of 22. At first, his business failed to gain momentum. But, as word came back from front line soldiers that his revolver was instrumental in defeating the Indians in Florida and Texas, business picked up. It took the 1846 Mexican War and a commission by the U.S. Government to popularize the Colt revolver. Colt secured a government contract for 1,000 handguns. He built his now famous factory in Hartford in 1855 and soon had offices in New York and London. The Civil War was looming and Colt went into high gear.
Taking the .36 caliber Model 1851 Navy revolver, Colt re-engineered the frame to enable the use of a .44 caliber cylinder as well as interchangeable parts. The 1851 Navy Colt had an octagonal barrel, whereas the Army Model 1860 had a rounded 8-inch barrel. The Model 1860 uses a small copper percussion cap to ignite a 30-grain charge of black powder and fire a spherical lead ball or conical shaped bullet. Soldiers usually used paper cartridges consisting of a measured load of black powder and a ball wrapped in nitrate-soaked paper (to make it more flammable). These cartridges were inserted into the front of the cylinder chambers and rammed into place with the loading lever. A percussion cap was seated into a raised aperture (or nipple) at the rear of the chamber on the back of the cylinder. The hammer was cocked and the trigger pulled to fire the weapon. The hammer had to be manually pulled rearward with the thumb to fire each round. Depending on the amount of powder used, the muzzle velocity of the fired ball would be between 550 and 1000 feet per second. Compare that to the muzzle velocity of a modern Colt 1911A1 .45 ACP at 825 feet per second. At .44 caliber, the old Colt Model 1860 had great knockdown power with an effective range of between 50 and 75 yards.
More than 200,000 Model 1860s were produced between 1860 and 1873 (with nearly 130,000 going to the U.S. Government). Although the Colt factory supplied had both the North and South just prior to the start of the Civil War, the vast majority of Colt revolvers carried by Southern fighters were captured. Colt’s patents eventually expired and this opened the door to numerous other smaller gun manufacturers to make copies – some poor, some excellent- that added to the plethora of percussion side arms carried by many of the 2.75 million who served in the War. Nevertheless, the Army Model 1860 and other Colt pistols were certainly weapons of choice on both sides from 1861-1865. Early models of the Model 1860 sold for $20, a little pricey at the time. Eventually, the price was lowered to $14.50.
Colt’s company continued to dominate the handgun market after the Civil War. The company’s most legendary pistol, the Colt Single Action Army in .45 Long Colt caliber, also known as the “Peacemaker”, was introduced in 1873. Various models of this weapon were used by the military during the Indian Wars, the Spanish American War and the Philippines Insurrection. This revolver remains extremely popular today as a reminder of the “Old West” and is still manufactured by Colt.
Colt died in Hartford on January 10, 1862, one of the wealthiest men in America. His company has continued to grow over the many decades since.
Last fall, the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum’s collection was enhanced with the acquisition of a Model 1860, cap n’ ball paper cartridge revolver. Armory Vice President and Museum Curator Patrick Donovan has also obtained a matching military-issued holster in excellent condition (both revolver and holster are illustrated in this article). We continue to enhance our collection of Civil War firearms and other memorabilia, with a special focus on the First Rhode Island Cavalry, a unit whose men would have carried the Model 1860 as a standard-issued sidearm. Watch for more developments in the future.
Christmas came early for the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum. We just acquired several wonderful identified artifacts from the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, a hard-fighting unit in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. Thank you, Brendan Synnamon and your shop, The Union Drummer Boy, for putting all these things together!
HISTORY: 1st Rhode Island Cavalry
The regiment was organized between December 1861 and March 1862 at Pawtucket as the 1st New England Cavalry. Late in that month, the regiment was sent to Washington D.C. and initially assigned to Hatch’s cavalry brigade in Nathaniel Banks’ V Corps in the Department of the Shenandoah. Throughout the war, the regiment would be a part of many reorganizations of the cavalry, although the majority of its service was with the Army of the Potomac.
Most of the regiment’s service in 1862 was in northern Virginia, where it served as scouts to determine enemy movements, as well as foraging for supplies and screening infantry movements. The troopers saw action contesting Stonewall Jackson’s cavalry in the Valley Campaign. They fought in the Second Bull Run Campaign, as well as many other battles of note, including service in the cavalry actions surrounding the Battle of Fredericksburg.
In 1863, they participated in the Chancellorsville Campaign, and played an important role in the opening battle of the Gettysburg Campaign at Brandy Station. Shortly thereafter, isolated and alone deep in Confederate territory on a scouting mission, they lost nearly 240 of their 280 remaining men at the June 17 skirmish at Middleburg. The regiment was refitted with new recruits and performed scouting and outpost duty along the upper Potomac River until September, when they rejoined the Army of the Potomac, participating in the Bristoe Campaign and Mine Run Campaign.
The following year, the 1st Rhode Island served in the defenses of Washington D.C. before eventually returning to the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Philip H. Sheridan. Due to heavy battle losses, the regiment was consolidated to a battalion of four companies on January 1, 1865. They continued serving in the valley for much of the rest of the war before being mustered out at Baltimore, Maryland on August 3, 1865.
During the war, the regiment lost 1 officer and 16 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and 2 officers and 77 enlisted men to disease. Hundreds more were wounded or captured. A total of 2,124 different men served in the regiment at various times, although its field strength normally was less than 500 effectives.
In preparation for our Guns & Beer VI Annual Beer Tasting Fundraiser (Saturday, November 14), we successfully moved the Civil War James cannon (click here for more information about this canon) from our canon shed to the Varnum Memorial Armory’s drill hall today.
This very rare 19th century canon is being brought out as a special treat to our beer tasting attendees. CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS!
Special thanks go to Gordon Kilday (Quonset Auto Body) who provided a flat bed truck for the move and to truck operator Mike Corey along with several Varnum member volunteer assistance.