Nicely Priced US Model 1871 Remington Rolling Block Army Pistol
- Product Code: FHG-2301
- Availability: In Stock
The Remington Rolling Block series of pistols used by the US military during the late 1860s and early 1870s are an excellent example of how a military bureaucracy can rarely react to rapid changes in technology and tactics in a way that creates positive outcomes for the soldiers who are under their direction. The end of the American Civil War had clearly indicated that self-contained metallic cartridge, used in conjunction with some form of breechloading system, were the wave of the future for all of the military organizations around the world. What was not immediately obvious to the men of the general staff, many of whom had received their baptism under fire during the age of smoothbore flintlock firearms, was that these weapons would also have to be repeating, and not single-shot firearms. The prejudice of the Ordnance Department and the general staff against repeating firearms had been displayed during the Civil War with the strong resistance to adopting such revolutionary designs as the Spencer and the Henry rifle. While both were eventually acquired in some quantity, particularly the Spencer, the end of the war resulted in an immediate return to the doctrine of single shot long arms to reduce the potential for ammunition wastage by the men. Amazingly, this same attitude regarding repeating handguns was pervasive within both the navy and the cavalry. The navy had long felt that the pistol was of limited utility and was only effective during the boarding of enemy ships. As the boarding of ships had essentially ended for the US Navy with age of armor clad vessels, the need for a handgun for general issue was greatly curtailed. Additionally, the naval doctrine of the period specified that the cutlass or axe was the preferred weapon for boarding parties, not the handgun. The navy also held to same theory as the US Army, that repeating arms resulted in ammunition wastage. With these baselines in place, the navy proceeded to contract for a new pistol in 1865. The gun would utilize the new metallic cartridge ammunition but would be a single shot pistol rather than a revolver. In one swift motion the navy took one step forward towards the 1870s with the adoption of modern ammunition and at least two steps back to the 1840s with the return to a single shot pistol. The gun adopted was the Model 1865 Remington Rolling Block pistol. The gun was chambered for a .50 RF cartridge that was essentially a reduced power version of the .50 RF Government cartridge that had be adopted by the army for use in carbines. The gun had an 8 ½” round barrel and a spur trigger and was a design that was rather quickly found to be lacking. By 1867, a modified version which was designated as the Model 1867 was adopted. Most of the existing Model 1865 pistols were subsequently modified to the new standard. This included shortening the barrel to 8”, altering the pistols to the new .50-25 CF government pistol cartridge and adding a triggerguard. The pistol, based upon the same action that Remington had used to produce a successful series of carbines and rifles, was a simple and robust handgun that offered a significantly larger caliber bullet than the .36 caliber percussion revolvers then primarily in use by the navy. The .50-25 cartridge was loaded with a 300 grain .50 bullet propelled by 25 grains of black powder to a rather slow 600 fps, but still capable of producing about 240 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. This represented about a 25% increase in muzzle energy over a similar .36 caliber percussion cartridge using a conical projectile and about the same muzzle energy as the .44 caliber percussion cartridges then in use.
While it is somewhat understandable that the navy felt the adoption of a metallic cartridge revolver was unnecessary, it is stunning that the US cavalry felt the same way. The general opinion was that the while the revolver had been a crucial weapon during the Civil War, the war had not been a conventional “European” style war. The general staff felt that in the future, most wars would return to that “European” paradigm. In a “European” style war, fought on broad open fields with cavalry serving in traditional heavy and light cavalry roles, a revolver was considered unnecessary. By contrast, the Ordnance Department felt that for those regiments engaged in fighting Native Americans in the west, a revolver was a necessary weapon. However, for all other cavalry regiments it was believed that the saber was still the primary weapon of choice, in the style of European cavalry. In fact, the Small Arms & Accoutrements Board, which had met in St. Louis to evaluate new arms designs in 1870, had noted that “cavalry armed with the saber should have one or two single-barreled pistols as a substitute for the carbine”. The board did go on to recommend that "cavalry armed with the carbine should have a revolver as a substitute for the saber” but it was clear that this was only for “unconventional” warfare, like that being waged against the Indians in the west, and not for a traditional war as fought in Europe. Amazingly, this same thinking would shape European cavalry doctrine through the early days of World War I, when the British finally realized that Hiram Maxim’s machine gun had ended the days of the cavalry charge forever. It is interesting to note that most European nations still considered the saber the primary weapon for cavalry through 1915, and most did not adopt repeating handguns for general issue to all cavalry troops until the late 1870s or early 1880s, instead relegating the revolver in cavalry service to use by officers, NCOs and specialized troops.
With this incredibly backward thinking as their primary motivation, on February 25, 1871, the US Ordnance Department agreed to acquire 5,000 Model 1871 “Army” Rolling Block Pistols from Remington, in exchange for 5,000 used Remington New Model Army percussion revolvers then in storage at various government facilities. The new M1871 pistols were valued at $11 each, and Remington gladly took the New Model Army revolvers in trade, altered them to cartridge and sold them on the civilian market. The Model 1871 Rolling Block Pistol was an improved version of the 1867 Navy model. While it retained the same 8” round barrel and .50-25 CF chambering, there were numerous improvements to the previous design. The grip was redesigned with ergonomic improvements and the addition of a spur or hump at the upper rear of the frame to help control recoil. There were also mechanical improvements to the lock work, the extractor, and the addition of a retracting firing pin. A new front sight blade was included in the redesign as well. The resulting pistol is certainly one of the most elegant and attractive handguns to see US military service, along with being one of the least practical. Like the earlier US Navy variants, the pistol had a blued barrel and a color case hardened frame. The hammer and breech lever were left in the white and many small parts has a yellowish “straw” color as a result of the heat-treating process. A one-piece walnut grip and a walnut forend completed the pistol. Of the 5,000 pistols delivered by Remington to the US military, 1,377 were issued for field testing. However, as the US military adopted the Model 1873 Single Action Army slightly more than a year after contracting for the Rolling Block pistols, the reports from the field certainly found fault in the single shot design and commanders sought to replace the Remington with the new Colt revolver. The M1871 was soon withdrawn from service, despite the generally held belief in the upper echelons of command, that the single shot pistol was still the best firearm for cavalry, who were really supposed to rely on the saber as their primary weapon.
The US Model 1871 Army Rolling Block Pistol offered here is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition and remains in the original .50-25 CF chambering. The left side of the receiver is clearly marked in two lines:
REMINGTON’S ILION, N.Y. U.S.A.
PAT. MAY 3d NOV. 15th, 1864 APRIL 17th , 1866
The left side of the receiver is also marked with the US military sub-inspectors’ initials P and S. The frame and receiver retain about 50%+ of their case colored finish. The right side of the frame retains more vivid color than the left and both sides show significant dulling and fading towards a pewter gray color. The triggerguard, backstrap and gripstrap have dulled and faded from age and use and they retain only traces of their case colored finish. The frame shows some moderate amounts of scattered freckling and surface oxidation, with some lightly scattered pinpricking here and there on the frame. These parts show scattered surface oxidation and discoloration as well, giving the parts a mottled brownish-gray appearance. The barrel retains about 60%+ of its original blued finish, which shows moderate streaky loss, as well as dulling and fading from age. There is additional wear and loss along the contact points and high edges, particularly around the muzzle crown. The barrel shows freckled surface oxidation shot through the remaining blue and some areas have developed a mostly smooth plum brown patina that has mixed with the remaining blue finish. There is a small band of surface oxidation and discoloration on the left side of the barrel, immediately behind the rear sight, which might be carefully cleaned if so desired. The hammer and pivoting block retain some traces of their original arsenal bright polish, with moderate surface oxidation and freckled discoloration from age and use present on these parts. Both of the cross bolts in the frame retain none of their strawed finish and show moderate amounts of freckling and oxidized discoloration as well, much like the hammer and breech block. The metal is all mostly smooth throughout with no real pitting present, although scattered pinpricking is present here and there; primarily on the frame. The bore of the pistol is in FINE condition as well and is mostly mirror bright and retains excellent rifling. The bore shows only some very lightly scattered pinpricking and some light frosting along the length of the bore. The action of the pistol works perfectly and remains extremely crisp and tight with excellent mechanics. The one-piece walnut grip remains in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition as well. It retains a fine and clear script inspectors’ cartouche that reads CRS, for armory sub-inspector Curtis R. Stickney. The forend remains in about VERY GOOD condition. Both parts are free of any breaks, cracks or repairs and remain solid and complete. They do show some moderate wear and scattered bumps, dings, and handling marks as would be expected. There is a minor wear and loss along the sharp upper edge of the forend where it meets the barrel. Although both parts show moderate wear and handling marks, neither shows sanding or signs of abuse.
Overall this is a really solid and nice condition example of a relatively scarce US Martial Pistol from the beginning of the cartridge age and then of the single-shot pistol era. This would be both a nice addition to your Indian War era martial arms collection and a great potential single-shot target pistol or game getter. It would also be an appropriate addition to any collection of 19th century Remington firearms. This is nice gun, priced very fairly and truly is a lot of gun for the money.