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The guns of the American Civil War provide an anchor to a deeply historic moment and often a connection to someone who was there, fighting a war that up-ended America and righted an abhorrent and inhumane wrong.
To their wielders, Civil War guns offered an increased rate of fire and firepower, from the Henry Rifle to percussion revolvers and breech-loading carbines. These guns would be the precursors for the guns carried west by emigrants, frontiersmen, desperados and lawmen, like the Winchester lever action rifles and the Colt Single Action Army.
Perhaps the most famous Civil War repeating rifle, the New Haven Arms Co. Henry rifle is also one of the most recognizable collector guns today. These trailblazing lever action rifles fired .44 Henry rimfire cartridges, 15 of which were kept within a tube magazine located under the barrel, offering an unprecedented rate of fire for the era.
Confederate Colonel John Mosby, who became infamous for his sudden raids against advanced Union positions and captured Union Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton in 1863, when first encountering the Henry in battle called it "that damned Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week."
Of the approximately 13,000 Henry rifles manufactured from 1860-1866, only 1,731 were purchased by the U.S. Ordnance Department. Many other Henry rifles were acquired by individual soldiers, often veterans using a portion of their re-enlistment bonus to obtain the expensive firearm.
This Henry Rifle was manufactured late in the war and has period inscribing to “Frank W Meese/KANE/Pa” on the left sideplate Frank Meese mustered out of the Union Army shortly before the gun was presented to him. A Civil War pension record lists a Frank Reese as part of Company F, 16th Ohio infantry that was active between May 1861 and August 1861 and then from Sept. 23, 1861 to the end of October 1864. The unit was involved in a number of battles during the war.
Designed by Jean Alexandre LeMat with his manufacturing backed by P.G.T. Beauregard, a relative by marriage who would serve as a Confederate Civil War general and order the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the LeMat was created in 1856 before the outbreak of the Civil War. The South didn’t have the manufacturing ability to produce the guns they needed at the start of the Civil War, so they contracted 5,000 to be produced overseas.
Only about 2,500 made it to the Confederacy by means of their gun runners. The majority of LeMats that actually saw use in battle were produced in France and shipped via the United Kingdom to the Confederacy. The gun was very popular with the army because of its large caliber .42 caliber, up to 100 yard firing range, and nine shot capability.
Manufactured between 1856 and 1859, this rare Civil War six-shot revolver is known for its “figure 8” shaped trigger guard that is actually integral to firing it. The lower part of the “figure 8” is the cocking lever that also rotates the cylinder, while the trigger is at the top.
About 100 of the Second Model have a creeping loading lever and about 100 were produced. The Middletown, Conn. Company reorganized in 1859 as the Savage Revolving Firearms Co., and made about 24,000 revolvers for Union military use during the Civil War.
Made between 1856 and 1859, only about 100 of this Second Model of the Savage & North “Figure 8” were reportedly made of a total production run of less than 700. These were redesigned and became the more widely used Savage Navy model manufactured during the Civil War.
In an era dominated by single-action revolvers with external hammers, New Haven-based inventor C.S. Pettengill created a double-action revolver with an internal hammer. Subsequent patents improved on the design, streamlining the double-action mechanism by reducing the number of parts and eliminating the hinged cylinder locking pin on the original design.
Through a connection with one of the owners of the factory where the revolvers were made, Pettengill secured an order of 5,000 of the .44 caliber, six-shot Pettengill Army Model revolvers at a price of $20 each. It was a slightly lower price than the original military contract for the popular Colt 1861 Navy revolver.
The guns did not fare well in military trials, fouling quickly with black powder residue, preventing them from cycling properly. More political wrangling reduced the contract to 2,000, rather than cancel the order outright; the individual price remained at $20.
A total of 2,001 revolvers were delivered to the U.S. military. At least six different Army units were issued Pettengill guns, with the 3rd Michigan Cavalry receiving a quarter of the entire contract production. Other units from Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri received the remaining revolvers.
All told, approximately 3,400 Pettengill Army Model revolvers were made, most between June 1862 and January 1863. Within a year, almost all of the guns had been removed from service.
From the start of the war, the Colt Model 1860 Army took over as the handgun primarily used by Union forces. Interestingly enough, Colt Manufacturing sent around 2,200 Model 1860 Colts to the South on contract early in the war. The Colt revolver made its way to be the second most common military handgun of the Confederacy.
The six shooter, single action black powder gun could do some damage to an opponent up to about 100 yards away. The Union’s first choice was always the Model 1860. The price, range and accuracy were big selling points, as well as its .44 caliber which provided excellent stopping power. More than 200,000 were manufactured during its production run from 1860 to 1873.
The Smith & Wesson No. 1 was manufactured from 1860-1868. These spur trigger revolvers used metallic cartridges and were distinguishable from the first issue by their flat sides and irregular shaped side plates. Daniel Wesson learned that his bored-through chamber had already been patented by Rollin White, a former Colt employee, so Smith & Wesson agreed to pay White 25 cents/gun until his patent expired in 1872.
More than 250,000 Model No. 1 revolvers were produced in three issues before it was discontinued in 1881. Of those about 110,000 were Second issues.
Allen M. Haight of the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, to whom the gun is attributed, can be seen in a photo with his brother Orlando. Allen is on the right holding a musician’s sword and fife, a revolver and knife, that appear to be the same as those included in this lot, are tucked into his belt.
This revolver is attributed to Allen M. Haight, who is listed as a musician in the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteers from Sept. 1861 to November 1864. Included is a leather holster marked “A.M. Haight/Burlington/PA.” Also in the lot is a Marsh Bros. & Co. knife that features gilt floral etching on one side of the blade and a leather sheath.
This is patterned after the British Enfield Model 1853 including the “S” shaped hammer, a bolster clean-out screw that was eliminated and split barrel bands. These were very similar to the U.S. Model 1861 rifle-musket.
Colt made about 100,000 with an unknown number rejected by the military going to the civilian market. Along with Colt, Amoskeag and E.G. Lamson and other contractors manufactured about 50,000.
Designer Benjamin Joslyn designed a spring-clutch that both rotated and moved backward and forward with the hammer’s movement, rotating the cylinder. Military tests saw it positively because of its simple construction. The U.S. government ordered 3,000 revolvers but the company was unable to fill its first batch of 500 revolvers to the U.S. Ordnance Department despite being assured by a Massachusetts state senator (they were made in Worcester) that there were ample revolvers to deliver. Joslyn was also producing breech-loading carbines during the Civil War and doing a somewhat better job of delivering them.
Joslyn moved production but the revolvers delivered continued to have defects. The Ohio 5th Cavalry were issued 418 Joslyn revolvers. One officer would declare that the Joslyn revolvers were “condemned as wholly unfit for service. They are a spurious weapon, made out of cast iron, and one half of the time will neither cock nor revolve.”
This gun is a great addition to any Civil War gun collection for its scarcity, since only 3,000 were produced.
Manufactured in England, the five-shot Kerr revolver found its way to the Confederacy and was carried by a number of Southern generals and even CSA President Jefferson Davis. This gun is marked “LAC” on the barrel for London Armoury Company.
James Kerr had been foreman for English gunmaker Deane, Adams and Deane. He developed an improvement on the Adams revolver, made by his cousin Robert Adams. Adams and Kerr left to create the London Armoury Company, a major arms supplier of the Confederacy during the Civil War. How many of the company’s guns made it through the Union blockade is unknown, but the London Armoury Company supplied more revolvers to the Confederacy than the total of all southern manufacturers.
This superposed muzzleloader had two hammers with a single trigger; only about 1,000 were made. They were issued to the 16th Michigan infantry; made in New York; known contemporarily as one of the least-favored rifles.
The inventor J.P. Lindsay had experienced the tragedy of his brother being killed by two attackers. He was able to kill one of the men with his single shot musket but the other was able to overcome the now defenseless man. Lindsay always thought about what if his brother had a second shot in that encounter. Along with the rifle-musket, Lindsay also made two-shot pistols, as well.
When both hammers were cocked, the gun was designed to fire the right hammer first; if the soldier dropped the left-hand hammer before the one on the right it would ignite the both powder loads at the same time, resulting in heavy recoil. Issued to soldiers of the 16th Michigan Volunteers, they reported in combat that in the heat of battle simultaneous discharge was a common event and could severely damage the gun.
James Warner got his patent for the carbine in February 1864 and even landed a contract with the federal government before the patent was issued. The contract was for 1,000 carbines priced at $18 each. About 1,500 were made as the war came to an end. The Third Massachusetts completely turned up its collective noses to the Warner, but the First Wisconsin reported better results though some inadequacies were also reported.
Warner carbines were sold to France by Schuyler, Hartley and Graham and other dealers in 1870 along with more than one million cartridges. The guns were improperly chambered for the ammunition, leaving the French to grumble about guns with no ammunition.
The Zouave fighters harken back to North Africa and refers to Berber fighters of Algiers. In 1855, U.S. Army Capt. George McClellan was assigned to Europe as an observer in the Crimean War and saw the French Zouaves face Russian troops. He called them “the finest light infantry that Europe can produce;”
Zouave-style training with its acrobatic moves became popular in the United States in the 1850s. During the Civil War about 70 Union volunteer Zouave regiments existed while about 25 smaller units served in the Confederacy; fighting from the First Battle of Bull Run to Appomattox. These units often wore vibrantly colored uniforms that made them easy battlefield targets.
Mysteriously named the Zouave Rifle, these are officially referred to as Harpers Ferry Pattern in U.S. Army documents. Like the colorful uniforms of Zouave soldiers these guns were a bit flashy with brass barrel bands, trigger guard and a patchbox, a blued receiver and barrel. More than 12,000 of these .58 caliber muzzleloaders were made.
In the progression of weapon technology, the American Civil War was a bridge from old to new, with breechloaders finding use alongside muzzleloaders, and various revolver mechanisms being created as companies tried to match Colt. The Civil War is an interesting chapter of arms development, with stories of technological triumph and failure. These fascinating and sometimes scarce firearms are available in the Feb. 16-18 Sporting & Collector Auction.
From the time a young Samuel Colt observed the working of a capstan on board a sailing ship in the early 1800s to when he produced the Colt Paterson
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