Remington, Colt, Starr, Adams – original .44 cal revolvers of the Civil War meet original cartridges (video & article)
Today’s test is special. I have four original .44 calibre revolvers from the period of the American civil war, and I have a near repro of the military cartridges produced in large numbers by J&D. Although most of the revolver makers had recommendations for a charge for their revolvers .44 cartridges were purchased from various sources. Many of the maker even offered their own cartridges, but the cartridge brands were never matched with the revolver brands. Therefore, today I am going to check the performance of these four revolvers with the very same cartridge.
Adopting a military arm is not just about strength and accuracy. Logistics are just as important, like cost, reliability, easiness of maintenance, speed of production. My test will not focus on these aspects; therefore, it cannot be considered complete. Neither I will focus on subjective factors like ergonomics. I would like to exclude the human factor as much as possible, so all revolvers will be shot from the rest. What I would like to check now is simple: which revolver is the most accurate and which is the strongest with the repro of the Johnston & Dow cartridge.
All the revolvers filmed today are original pieces from the American civil war. They were all manufactured during the years of the conflict, and the three American made revolvers actually saw action on the battlefields of North America. All are in excellent shootable condition, and all the bores are good as well. Some better a bit, but altogether they can compete in the same class.
The cartridge and its performance
The cartridge to replicate was the Johnston & Dow combustible envelope .44 calibre revolver cartridge. The bullet mould I used was the excellent Eras Gone mould, charged with 24 grains of 2Fg Swiss black powder. Although the bullet is an exact replica, please note that we do not know the exact force of the original powder charge, so right now we are not able to replicate the exact ballistics of these so-called repro cartridges. My charge is probably a close equivalent, but we never know. The bullet is weighting 217 grain, its diameter is 0.462”. The bullet has a 0.430” diameter heel, so fits easily into the chambers.
I used the ballistic radar to measure the velocity of the projectiles fired from the four revolvers, so we can get a better picture about their performance. An excellent benefit of such device is that it can measure the velocity at different distances, so we can calculate the BC of the bullet. Based on commonly available formula, the BC of the Johnston & Dow bullets is 0.045. This is what we can us for further ballistics calculations.
But let’s start now our little journey!
The Adams revolver
The Adams is a 54-bore revolver as the British called it, meaning that the bore diameter is actually a bit smaller than the American counterparts, it is .442.
Robert Adams patented his first double action revolver in 1851. It was not a copy of the Colt system, as Colt’s patent was still protecting his idea of rotating and locking the cylinders. Adams designed a completely new inner system, that proved to be more advanced. The 1851 model was DA only, but in 1856 Frederick E. B. Beaumont an English-born British officer of the Royal Engineers redesigned the mechanism so it could work in DA and SA mode as well. The British Army adopted the revolver in the same year, later followed by the Dutch and Russian Army as well. Its key benefits were:
- the solid frame, the barrel and the frame are machined from the same piece of metal
- the SA/DA trigger mechanism
- the hammer hits the caps thru a small opening, protecting the mechanism from cap jams
- the rear sight is located on the frame, not on the hammer
Another excellent feature of this revolver is that the hammer is not in direct connection with the hand, so if the hammer is bouncing back during firing, the hand will not hit and wear the ratchet of the cylinder like on Colts and Remingtons.
It’s only disadvantages compared to the American six shooters are that it is actually a five shooter, and the chamber and bore diameters are slightly smaller, rendering the loading procedure harder and slower.
The model became so popular that Adams contracted companies in Liege to produce them under license. The Model 1856 Beaumont Adams revolver was also produced in the US by Massachusetts Arms. 19,000 36 calibre versions were sold to the US Army. The .44 version was purchased only privately, but it definitely saw action in the civil war.
The bore is .457” in the grooves, and 0.442-443” between the lands. The twist rate is progressive with 3 grooves. The mouth of the chamber is 0.464, but it shrinks fast, at 1 cm deep it is already .445”, rendering loading hard.
The average muzzle velocity of the Beaumont-Adams revolver was 166 m/s, with a muzzle energy of 192 J. The extreme spread of the muzzle velocity was 32 m/s.
The Starr DA revolver
Ebenezer “Eban” Townsend Starr was only 17 when he enrolled to the Navy. He served quite few decades and in the time of the Civil War broke out he already retired. Instead of reenlisting, he decided to tool up a factory for arms manufacturing founded with 800,000 USD in New York county. He patented his DA/SA revolvers in 36 and 44 calibre in 1858. This particular piece is a .44 calibre model. He delivered 16,100 pieces to the US Government and sold another 4950 on the open market. The design and the handling were considered too complicated, so in 1863 he patented the SA only version of the revolver.
The calibre of the Starr revolver is actually larger than the normal .44 calibre. The chamber mouth is 0.464” diameter but it is shrinking towards the breech. The land to land diameter of the bore 0,454” but it is 0.479-480 in the grooves. Starr manufactured bullets and cartridges for his revolvers but the US army only purchased 50,000 of them. So technically the Starr revolvers were fed with cartridges designed for Colts and Remingtons.
The average muzzle velocity of the Starr revolver was 157 m/s, with a muzzle energy of 172,5 J. The extreme spread of velocity was 26 m/s.
The Colt 1860 Army
The 1860 Army was born with the intention to produce a revolver with the Dragoon or holster revolver calibre with the weight of the bel tor Navy revolver. The full family included the pocket frame size Police model, the .36 navy calibre New Navy and the .44 calibre New Army. All these models were manufactured from Colt’s new steel type, the silver steel, that received spring tempering. The 1860 Army as we call it today was immediately accepted for service. Approximately 130,000 pieces were purchased by the US Government, and the CS Army also bought a few thousands. Up until 1862, this was the revolver considered best by the Army. Colt was a successful businessman, but his private life was anything close. He died at the age of 47 early in 1862. Deep depression and rheumatism led to his early death.
The bore is 0.456-457” in the grooves and 0.448-449” between the lands. The twist is progressive with seven grooves. The diameter of the mouth of the chamber is 0.457” and it is shrinking towards the breech.
The Colt Army fired the Johnston & Dow bullets with an average of 202 m/s, with an extreme spread of 24.5 m/s. The average muzzle energy was 288 J.
The Remington New Model Army
The Remington company was not focusing on revolvers until 1857, till Colt’s system was protected by law. Colt’s marketing efforts and connections were just not beatable, he was arming the US Army in large scale. Remington received only small contracts, based on his solid frame design, with easily removable cylinder. Colt’s position was rock solid, until the US Government established the Owen-Holt commission to review all government contracts of the Army and Navy. The commission’s main goal was to save money, so it set very strict rules on purchasing. Remington’s .44 calibre revolvers were better and cheaper than the Colt’s. Eliphalet Remington personally met the commission on 24 April 1862, and placed an offer that could not be resisted: 12 USD per revolver with accessories. That was the point when he took over Colt’s government revolver business, supplying probably the best and strongest revolver of the Civil War in large scale to the Army and Navy.
The Remington is a solid frame design. A key feature is the removable cylinder axis pin, allowing the fast disassembly of the gun. Actually, this is the most important part of the paten by Beals dated 1858. The sights are on non-moving parts, also better than on colts, but the internal SA mechanism is a copy of the Colt method. The bore has five grooves, the twist is progressive, faster at the muzzle than at the breech. The land to land diameter is 0.440-441”, the groove to groove diameter is 0.456-457”. The chamber mouth is 0.456-457”, and it is shrinking towards the breech.
The Remington fired the J&D bullet with an average muzzle velocity of 190 m/s, resulting 255 J of muzzle energy. The extreme spread of the velocity was 18,9 m/s.
|Barrel length||Land to land||Groove to groove||Rifling twist||Rifling no||Chamber mouth||Chamber type|
|1856 Beaumont Adams||14.5 cm / 5.7”||0.442-443”||0.457”||progressive||3||0.456-457”||conical|
|1858 Starr||15.3 cm / 6”||0.454”||0.479-480||cca. 1:40”||6||0.464”||conical|
|1860 Colt Army||20.1 / 7.91”||0.448-449”||0.456-457”||progressive||7||0.456-457”||conical|
|1858 Remington New Army||20.2 / 7.95”||0.440-441”||0.456-457”||progressive||5||0.456-457”||conical|
I really have to say that the Colt and the Remington are equal, but we cannot forget that there are important differences in the construction. The Colts can easily lose accuracy if the wedge wears or loosens, and also the rear sight is on a moving part, unlike in the case of the sold frame Remingtons. We must not forget that the Colts jam much easier due to caps falling into the action. So, if we add all this info to the balance, the clear winner of the show is not surprisingly the Remington, but to be honest, I would also carry that colt.
In case of construction the clear winner is the Adams. It’s solid frame with the barrel is clearly the strongest of all. The internal mechanism is ingenious as well. The Starr is a bit overcomplicated and clumsy compared to the other. It is also lacking the fire shields between the nipples. If we add this info to the undersized cartridges, it is easy to understand why so many chain fires occurred with these six shooters. If I was to set up a hierarchy, the winner would be the Adams, then the Remington, then the Colt and at last the Starr. But now I am heading towards the subjective factors, so it is better to stop here. In the next part I do the same comparison with .36 calibre revolvers.
|Revolver||Muzzle velocity (m/s)||Muzzle energy (J)||Extreme spread (m/s)||Accuracy (cm2), best 5 shots|
|1856 Beaumont Adams||166||3.||192||3.||32||4.||243.1||4.|
|1860 Colt Army||202||1.||288||1.||24.5||2.||32.4||2.|
|1858 Remington New Army||190||2.||255||2.||18.9||1.||22.5
Balázs Németh, 2020.