Arsenal "Cleaned & Refurbished" US Marked Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-2269-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
There is probably no more iconic revolver from the American Civil War era than the US Model 1860 “New Model” Army Percussion Revolver, produced by the famous Colt Patent Firearms Company. More Colt “Army” .44 caliber revolvers were purchased by the US military during the course of the Civil War than any other model of handgun. Thousands of M1860 “Armies” that were sold commercially no doubt saw service in the field as well; in the hands of both northern and southern soldiers. The revolver was developed by Colt to provide a smaller, lighter and more streamlined replacement for the .44 caliber “Dragoon” series of revolvers. The revolver essentially utilized the smaller M1851 “Navy” revolver frame, coupled with a slightly larger, iron backstrap, an 8” .44 caliber barrel and a rebated, 6-shot cylinder that allowed the .44 cylinder to fit on the .36 caliber frame. While some early production M1860 Army revolvers had non-standard features like 7 ½” barrels and fluted cylinders, these guns were produced in very limited quantities and are typically only encountered under serial number 5000 or so. Colt produced some 200,500 Army revolvers between 1860 and 1872, making it one of their most successful handgun designs of the 19th century. During the course of the American Civil War, the US Ordnance Department acquired some 127,157 Colt M1860 Army revolvers by direct contract with Colt. These guns were delivered between 1861 and 1863, with no deliveries in 1864 or 1865. Delivery totals for 1861 were 14,500, with 53,702 and 58,955 delivered in 1862 and 1863, respectively. An additional 2,027 M1860 revolvers were acquired on the open market by the Ordnance Department from Joseph C Grubb & Co (963) and B. Kittredge & Co (1,064). The initial Ordnance Department contract listed the Colt Army revolvers at a per unit price of $25 each. Subsequent orders were at the much more reasonable prices of $14.50 and $14.00 each, respectively. The fire at the Colt plant in 1864, and the fact that Remington offered to deliver their “Army” revolvers at a price of just under $12.00 each, were the determining factors for the Ordnance Department deciding not to issue any further contracts to Colt for their 1860 Army revolver after 1863. Even so, the Ordnance Department acquired nearly 65% of the total Colt M1860 Army production. More .44 caliber revolvers were purchased from Colt by the US military than from any other maker during the course of the war, although the 115,557 .44 caliber revolvers delivered by Remington places that company’s revolver a very close second.
Amazingly, despite the acquisition of slightly less than 130,000 Colt “New Model” 1860 Army revolvers during the course of the Civil War, at the war’s conclusion there were not a significant number of Colt Army revolvers on hand for issue to the peacetime cavalry. With the elimination of the volunteer regiments, the Regular US Army returned the number of active cavalry regiments to the pre-war strength of six. Due to the pressing need for cavalry to protect settlers that were migrating to the American west, and to control and “pacify” hostile Native Americans in that region, the number of cavalry regiments was rather quickly increased from six to ten. The last two regiments, the 9th & 10th Cavalry, were comprised of African-Americans and were known by the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers”. These newly formed regiments needed to be armed and equipped from stocks of weapons on hand, as the debt ridden US government was in no position to acquire new arms in the immediate post-Civil War period. Logic would dictate that thousands of Colt and Remington revolvers were available for issue to the new regiments, but in reality, the number of available arms was much smaller. In his new book The Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver Charles W. Pate does a detailed analysis of the Colt M1860s used during the war and in the post-war period. He notes that the rate of “wastage” for the M1860 Army was roughly 26% per year. This would include revolvers that were lost, stolen, captured, damaged or were in any other way no longer classified as serviceable. By using Pate’s wastage average, and analyzing delivery dates, it seems reasonable that the US Ordnance Department was only in possession of some 40,000 to 45,000 “serviceable” Colt M1860 Army revolvers at the conclusion of the war. Many of these guns were subsequently purchased by the men who carried them as they mustered out, and were taken home, further reducing the available inventory. Despite the fact that the Remington New Model Army is considered by most modern arms aficionados to be a superior revolver design to that of the Colt, the gun was not as popular as the Colt with the men and commanders in the field. The large number of requests from post-Civil War cavalry commanders to have their supply of Remington revolvers on hand replaced with Colt’s is testimony enough of this fact. Due to Mr. Pate’s research we know that by May of 1867, the Ordnance Department reported only 1,611 “serviceable” Colt Army revolvers available for issue, with an additional 5,454 in inventory that were in need of repair. As the supply of available Colt Army revolvers in the various arsenals and depots was so severely depleted, a significant program of “cleaning and repairing” (or C&R) was undertaken to place revolvers back into service. This was a multi-faceted approach that refurbished the guns to make them functional and often included refinishing as well. In many cases the arms were reassembled using salvaged parts from other guns, which resulted in mixed number revolvers similar to those found during the rebuilding program of the late 19th and early 20th centuries of US M1873 Single Action Army revolvers, which resulted in the so-called “Artillery Model”. In some cases, the mixing of numbers was the result of breaking up other unserviceable revolvers to make use of component parts for repairs. This practice was not uncommon, and even arms destined for sale as surplus, like Lefaucheux pin fire revolvers and Colt and Remington Navy revolvers, are reported as having been broken up to provide parts to fix other like pattern guns. It is worth keeping this in mind the next time you turn your nose up at a “mixed numbers” gun, as the mixed parts may have been part of post-Civil War government refurbishment.
Within the group of refurbished, “cleaned & repaired” Colt Army revolvers is a smaller sub-set of revolvers that is estimated to include between 1,000 and 1,500 guns that were marked U S on their triggerguard plates, forward of the triggerguard bow. This mark is in addition to the guns showing the usual indications of an arsenal rebuild. Mr. Pate has undertaken a major analysis of some 118 known, surviving examples of these special M1860 Army revolvers and has made some interesting discoveries and drawn some interesting conclusions about these guns. For years, collectors have referred to these guns as having been rebuilt at the Springfield Arsenal. However, based upon Mr. Pate’s research in the arsenal records, he has determined this not to be the case. Rather, based upon his findings, the guns were rebuilt either at the St. Louis Arsenal or in Leavenworth, although St. Louis appears to be the most likely location. Mr. Pate believes that all of the “US” marked examples were rebuilt during the same period of a few months circa 1867-1869 at one of these facilities and has determined that a number of specific features are common to the guns. All bear the US mark on the triggerguard, without “periods” between the letters. The guns usually show at least one mismatched part, often several, but the theory that no regard to matching numbers during the reassembly of the guns is not true, as most show matching groups of parts. The guns typically show signs of having been refinished, with weak markings, polishing marks, particularly a line on the right side of the frame above the hammer screw, as well other indicators of being refinished, even though the guns usually show heavy wear and use after they were rebuilt and rarely retain any finish at all. The guns almost all have barrels that are slightly short of full-length, typically between 1/8” and ¼” shorter than when new. Grips often fit poorly, no doubt due to being salvaged from other guns, thus not matching the grip frame contours of the gun they have been added to.
One piece of collector lore about these “US” marked, refurbished Colt M1860 Army revolvers that Mr. Pate was able to verify was the belief that many of these guns subsequently saw use with the 10th US Cavalry, the of the legendary “Buffalo Soldier” cavalry regiments. Based upon his research, he was able to confirm that a small number of surviving examples that conform to the above criteria are marked on the right side of the triggerguard at the frame: F 10 CAV, indicting use by F Troop of the 10th US Cavalry. To date, only “F” troop is known to have marked the metal of the guns, with arms issued to other 10th Cavalry Troops not receiving these specific markings. However, numerous other arms, as well as accouterments, associated with both the 9th & 10th Cavalry are known with the troop letter and trooper’s number stamped on them; for example, “E 57”. In the case of the revolvers, this mark is typically found on left side of the grip. During the 2nd quarter of 1867 the 10th Cavalry was only equipped with a total of 17 Colt Army revolvers, but by the end of 1870 the regiment was listing 243 in service. These guns appear to be drawn primarily from the group of “Cleaned & Refurbished” Colt revolvers that were stamped “US” on their triggerguards. As such, it appears that the 10th Cavalry received roughly 25% of these “US” marked “C&R” Colt M1860 Army revolvers, with the balance being used to fill out the revolver needs of other western cavalry regiments until they were replaced by the new cartridge revolvers like the Colt M1873 Single Action Army and the Smith & Wesson “Schofield” pattern No3 American revolver.
The US Marked Arsenal Rebuilt Colt M1860 Army revolver offered here is in about GOOD+ condition. The gun is literally a textbook example of one of the “Cleaned & Refurbished” Colt M1860 Army revolvers that saw frontier service from the end of the 1860s through the early part of the 1870s. The gun shows mixed part numbers, as would be expected, but also shows large blocks of matching numbers suggesting that one good gun was made from a couple of less serviceable examples. The triggerguard is numbered 104371, making it part of the 1863 production of Colt Army revolvers, and is correctly stamped with the U S mark that is indicative of these guns. The frame and cylinder arbor pin are all from the same 1863 production gun and are matching, with the complete serial number 104371 on the frame, and the partial number 4371 on the arbor pin. The barrel is 1863 production as well but is mismatched and numbered 129730. The cylinder is mismatched with the partial serial number 2799, making it impossible to know from which contract it was delivered. The cylinder is appropriately sub-inspected as would be appropriate for a military contract revolver with a small H in two places. The grip strap number is illegible from the polishing prior to refinishing, so we cannot determine when it was produced. The grip is weakly numbered in ink on the interior 6762 which might match it to the grip frame. As is so common on all M1860 revolvers, but especially on the “C&R” guns, the wedge is more than mismatched, it is a very old replacement that is likely from the period of use on the frontier. It is a somewhat crudely made by well-fit “local” replacement. As would be expected, most of the markings on the revolver are weak due to the polishing and refinishing process, with the one-line New York barrel address that reads — ADDRESS COL. SAML COLT NEW – YORK U . S . AMERICA — , only partially legible, as can be seen in the accompanying photos. Additionally, the two-line COLT’S / PATENT mark on the lower left side of the frame has been polished away. The polish lines as referenced in Mr. Pate’s book are visible on the frame, particularly the left side through and above the hammer screw and immediately below the recoil shield. The barrel is also slightly short of full-length, as Mr. Pate noted on most of the surviving examples. This suggests the barrels were cut and trued due to muzzle wear. This barrel measures roughly 7 15/16” in length, 1/16” short of full-length, with slightly less loss than the typical the range of being 1/8” to ¼” short given by Mr. Pate. The cylinder is marked COLT’S PATENT No 2799 / PAT. SEPT. 10th 1850 and remains mostly clear and legible, a somewhat uncommon occurrence for these revolvers. The cylinder retains about 40%+ of the original roll engraved Mexican War naval battle cylinder scene. There are areas of scene that remain quite sharp and vivid, while other areas are somewhat fainter and thinner, probably from holster wear and carry. The cylinder does not retain the legend ENGAGED 16 MAY 1848 at the front edge, a mark that is rarely visible on any but the highest condition Colt Army cylinders. There may be the remnants of an alphanumeric issue stamping on the left side of the grip but wear and probably some old sanding have obscured the marking making it illegible and removed any remnants of the cartouche as well. Although no longer legible the size and location of the darkened indentations is consistent with unit marked C&R M1860 Armies that have been observed. The “rack numbering” on the left grip is consistent with other known revolvers issued to both the 9th and 10thUS cavalry.
The gun has a nice, well-used “real world use” look. The metal has a mostly mottled medium gray-brown patina with some spots of darker oxidation and age discoloration. The gun retains none of its arsenal refurbished finish and is simply an oxidized “gray gun”. The metal of the gun is mostly smooth but there are some small, scattered areas of light surface oxidation and minor pinpricking present, as well as some light pitting that is mostly present on the cylinder, particularly around the face and cone recesses. The revolver also shows the scattered impact marks that are typical of a military carried revolver, especially around the wedge slot on the right side of the barrel. The gun shows all the signs of significant use, with heavily oxidized cylinder chambers and cone recesses that show accumulated dirt, debris and moderate pitting. The cylinder retains all of the period cones (nipples) and they remain in good, serviceable condition. The rear of the cylinder retains one of the six safety pins, with the remnants of a couple of the pins, hints of one and no trace of a couple more. The gun is mechanically very good, and times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should, with action remaining fairly crisp. The creeping style loading lever functions smoothly as well, and locks into place when not in use with only minor wobble. The bore of the pistol is about GOOD condition with strong visible rifling. The bore is dark and heavily oxidized with light to moderate pitting along its entire length. There is also a partial pitting ring in the bore, about 2” from the muzzle on the right side, suggesting something was in the bore for a long period of time. All of the screws appear to be original and they all show slot wear that ranged from light to heavy with most showing the expected level of moderate wear one would expect from a gun that went through the Civil War and the early part of the Indian Wars. The one-piece brass gripstrap and triggerguard has a lovely, medium golden patina. The one-piece wood grip rates about GOOD and again, matches the condition of the balance of the gun perfectly; showing wear commensurate to the metal. As previously mentioned, the grip is numbered in ink in the backstrap recess, but since the backstrap serial number is not legible we don’t know if they match. As noted, what appears to be traces of a 9th or 10th Cavalry rack number remain in the left side of the grip. The grip is relatively solid and shows no serious breaks or repairs. A short diagonal crack is present at the lower leading edge of the left side of the grip. The grip does show moderate to heavy wear, in keeping with the rest of the gun and there are numerous scattered handling bumps, dings and mars present. The sharp leading and trailing edges of the grips are chipped and worn as would be expected.
Overall this solid, complete and correct example of a relatively rare “US” Marked, Arsenal Refurbished Colt M1860 Army Revolver. The gun is a very scarce sub-variation of the US M1860 Army revolver. With only between 1,000 and 1,500 of these “US” marked, rebuilt M1860 Army revolvers believed to have been put back into the field after the Civil War, surviving examples are quite rare. Mr. Pate suggests that the overall survival rate of martial Colt Army revolvers for today’s collector’s market is only about 10%, which suggests only 100-150 of these guns are still around today. This one is a textbook example of an arsenal “cleaned & repaired” Colt Army that clearly saw some serious use on the prairie after it was refurbished. The trace rack markings on the left side of the grip are consistent with other known “Buffalo Soldier” issued guns and it is documented that some of these “US” marked, rebuilt Colts were issued to the 10th Cavalry. As such, this is an historically important revolver assembled from US military contract component parts that saw service during the American Civil War and were subsequently rebuilt for post-Civil War service in the west during the Indian Wars. The strong possibility that this is additionally a 10th US Cavalry gun carried by one of the “Buffalo Soldiers” only makes it more interesting and appealing, as the gun represents the story of men who were freed from bondage during the Civil War who only a couple of years later were serving their country in its defense on the western frontier. This is a salty old warrior that saw battle during two great periods of conflict in our country and that would be a nice addition to any US martial revolver grouping and would be really great to add to a late 1860s period Indian War display.