Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 246: Captain Conner Colt 1860 Army with Fluted Cylinder and Stock

Auction Date: December 3, 2021

Incredibly Historic, Gettysburg Killed In Action, Confederate Shipped and Inscribed Colt Model 1860 Fluted Army and Shoulder Stock of William G. Conner of the Famed Cavalry Unit "The Jeff Davis Legion" with Original Bill of Sale for the Complete Order

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $55,000 - $85,000

Incredibly Historic, Gettysburg Killed In Action, Confederate Shipped and Inscribed Colt Model 1860 Fluted Army and Shoulder Stock of William G. Conner of the Famed Cavalry Unit "The Jeff Davis Legion" with Original Bill of Sale for the Complete Order

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: 1860 Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 8 inch round
Finish: blue/casehardened
Grip: walnut
Item Views: 1631
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 117
Class: Antique

This exciting and extremely historic revolver and shoulder stock were among the early production Colt Model 1860 Army revolvers shipped to the South. The grouping is considered by many experts to be one of the most historic of all Confederate used Colts due to its accompanying shoulder stock. Reportedly, around 2,300 revolvers were shipped to southern dealers just before the Civil War. Among those identified, perhaps the most significant were those purchased by William T. Martin of Natchez, Mississippi. The accompanying factory letters state that 160 revolvers, 80 shoulder stocks, and 80 flasks were shipped to William T. Martin (1823-1910), Commander of the Adams Troop of Cavalry, of Natchez, Mississippi, on January 17, 1861. Both the gun and the stock letter in the William T. Martin shipment. The letter lists the gun in .44 caliber with an 8 inch barrel, blue finish, and wood grip, and the shoulder stock is documented as having been part of this order. Miraculously, this rare set includes the original document receipt for payment in cash dated January 14, 1861! In addition to the guns, stocks and flasks, Martin also ordered 10,000 cartridges, 80 holsters and a supply of caps for a total charge of $4,633.00. The receipt is marked at the bottom, “Received Payment, Jan. 16, 1861” and signed by William B. Hartley, Sect. Co. The document has a beautiful letterhead that pictures the Colt factory, a patriotic eagle on shield, crossed Colt’s revolvers and a First Model Colt Revolving Rifle, a wonderful original artifact in its own right. Colt's company is known to have shipped a considerable quantity of arms to the South. In fact, his company even shipped some arms in the days immediately following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. With the actual outbreak of war, however, Colt threw his weight and his armory behind the Union cause and produced hundreds of thousands of revolvers and rifle-muskets along with large quantities of ammunition. In Charles Pate's "The Colt model 1860 Army Revolver" on page 92 is a similar list of the items purchased by Martin from Colt. Pate notes on page 93 that the included shoulder stock, serial number 1545, is the only example extant positively identified from this order. Pate notes that just 23 of these revolvers are known. Martin personally visited the northeast to purchase arms for his men. In addition to the Colts, these included Maynard and Sharps carbines, and Ames sabers. The Adams Troop was thus originally 80 very well-armed and out-fitted men, especially by Confederate standards. In addition, the men were generally well-educated landowners from the Natchez area. They were each hand-picked by Martin and were excellent marksmen and horsemen. They had the finest horses in the state, tailored uniforms and enough equipment to fill a train, which they actually did at their own expense to get to Richmond. When arriving at Richmond, they geared up and rode to the capitol and were greeted by General Cooper and Jefferson Davis, with Davis immediately naming them Company A of the Jefferson Davis Legion and later nicknamed “The Little Jeff”. They were later merged with other companies and troops, but retained the namesake. The Legion was led by Martin in the first part of the war, and he was promoted several times. He left the unit when he was given a command in the West and was ultimately promoted to major general. The Legion served within the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, and later Wade Hampton. William Gustine Conner (1826-1863), a graduate of Yale University in 1845, is recorded in "Yale's Confederate: A Biographical Dictionary" by Nathaniel C. Hughes as the eldest of the five Conner brothers who fought for the Confederacy. He was a wealthy cotton planter and owner of the Grove Plantation in Adams County, Mississippi, and also lived at and operated the Rifle Point Plantation that had been inherited by his mother and was located in nearby Concordia Parish, Louisiana. He was commissioned as first lieutenant of the Adams Troop and was a lieutenant when it became Company A (Natchez Cavalry) of the Jefferson Davis Legion Cavalry. He was promoted to captain and company commander on October 28, 1861. He was captured at Williamsburg in early May 1862 and reported among the prisoners in the northern press. He was held at Fort Delaware in Washington, D.C. After being exchanged and released on August 9, 1862, he returned to duty shortly before the Legion fought at Antietam and the Chambersburg Raid and was promoted to major on December 2, 1862. In an agreement with Lt. Col. Waring, Conner was allowed to lead any charge once the unit travelled inside enemy territory due to his disgust of the treatment he received during captivity. At Gettysburg, the Legion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J. Frederick Warring, and Conner was the executive officer. They were in General Wade Hampton's brigade in Major General J. E. B. Stuart's cavalry division. Their goal was to get around or break through the Union cavalry to the east of Gettysburg to engage the rear of the main body of the Army of the Potomac. The Legion and the rest of Hampton's brigade was at the center of Stuart's division. Among the Union units opposing them was Custer's Michigan Brigade who Custer famously urged on by yelling "Come on, you Wolverines!" The Legion charged into battle with the second wave of Confederate cavalry as Custer's men began to push back the 1st Virginia from Fitz Lee's brigade. Reportedly led by Conner and Hampton riding side by side, the Legion and the rest of the second wave's counter attack initially succeeded in pushing back Custer's brigade, but as the Confederates began to push their advantage, the Union troopers brought in fresh reserves and hit them from three sides, including the Michigan Brigade which had turned back into the fight. Much of the battle was fought at point-blank range with sabers, revolvers, and carbines. One of the most well known events during the fight was when Wade Hampton noticed a trooper surrounded by Union troops and was attempting to escape. Riding to his aid, Hampton himself was surround and wounded several times by ball and saber before saving himself by jumping his horse over a fence. This event is documented and featured in a well-known Don Troiani painting. Interestingly, the Mississippi Historical Society has documented testimony that Conner rode into the fray “amid the rattle of pistols and clashes of sabers, he seized a guidon of the enemy, and when ordered to surrender drew his pistol and killed two of his assailants before being killed himself”. Knowing he rode side by side with Hampton, it’s not unlikely that Conner was the man that Hampton rode to assist. Regardless, the Legion and other Confederate forces ultimately retreated. As his men fell back, Major Conner lay on the field. Around this same time, Pickett's Charge was also halted nearby on Cemetery Ridge, and the bodies of many of Pickett's men on the battlefield were the bloody embodiment of the "high-water mark of the Confederacy." Together the halting of these charges and the overall Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked the beginning of the end for the Army of Northern Virginia and the rebellion. In J.E.B. Stuart's report of the Battle of Gettysburg he writes, "Among the killed was Major Conner, a gallant and efficient officer of the Jeff. Davis Legion." The revolver features a German silver blade front sight, "B" on the lower left side of the barrel lug, "PATENTED SEPT. 10th 1850" in one of the cylinder flutes, "COLTS/PATENT" on the left side of the frame, "four screw" frame (actually five screws) cut for a shoulder stock, corresponding notch in the heel, "2725" marked replacement wedge, and all matching remaining serial numbers. The back strap has the historical inscription "Capt. W.G. Conner." The non-matching shoulder stock is from the same order and is marked with "1545" on the lower tang and buttplate.

Rating Definition:

Very good with traces of original finish and otherwise gray and brown patina typical of revolvers that saw extensive use during the Civil War. The brass trigger guard has an attractive aged patina. There is some moderate scratches and dings throughout. The markings, including the inscription, remain crisp. The grip is very good and has mild overall wear including from mounting a shoulder stock. The revolver is functional but does not lock up properly at full-cock. The shoulder stock is fine and exhibits the same moderate wear as the revolver and has the same attractive aged patina on the brass. The wood has some general dings and scratches. This is a very solid early Colt Model 1860 Army with the highly desirable and scarce fluted cylinder made all the more desirable by its historical inscription for Captain William G. Conner of Company A of the Jefferson Davis Cavalry Legion who was killed at the height of the mounted fighting at the East Cavalry Field during third day of fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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