Pale Horse Revelations #19: Remington Revolvers
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." This week we'll return to the general topic of old west era weaponry. Specifically, the Remington-Beals Model Revolvers. Although this weapon sees no action in the novel it is carried (at some point) by two central characters. But beyond its relevance to our story is its historical significance.
The Remington-Beals Model Revolver was designed in 1858 by Fordyce Beals. It was manufactured by Eliphalet Remington & Sons at their factory in Ilion, NY. It was often referred to, incorrectly, as the Model 1858. This misnomer came from the patent markings on the New Model barrels, which read "PATENTED SEPT. 14, 1858/E. REMINGTON & SONS, ILION, NEW YORK, U.S.A./NEW MODEL." It was in production from 1858-1873, although large scale production did not begin until 1861.
At the outset of the American Civil War the Remington was a supplemental, secondary issue sidearm for the Union. This changed after a massive fire at the Colt factory in 1864 made the Colt 1860 Army nearly impossible to get for an extended period of time. As a result, the U. S. government began ordering mass quantities of the Remington. It remained the primary sidearm for Federal soldiers during the Indian Wars that followed the Civil War.
Like the Colt models it supplemented or replaced, the Remington originated as a percussion, or cap and ball, weapon. Also like the Colt, premade paper cartridges could be used to significantly reduce the reload time. However, Remington was the first manufacturer to bring large caliber rimfire cartridges to market in 1868 when they began offering five-shot metallic cartridge conversions of their revolver in .46 rimfire. By paying a royalty to Smith & Wesson, holders of the patent on bored-through cylinders for metallic cartridge use, Remington was able to beat the competition to market by almost two full years.
Remington produced the revolver in three different calibers: the .31 Pocket, the .36 Navy, and the .44 Army. The Army and Navy models were the most popular. The Army model is a large-framed revolver with an 8-inch barrel length. The Navy revolver had a slightly smaller frame and 7.375-inch barrel. There were three progressive models made. The Remington-Beals Army & Navy was produced from 1860–1862. The 1861 Army & Navy was produced from 1862–1863. Finally, the New Model Army & Navy were in production from 1863-1875. All three models are very similar in size and appearance, but there are noticeable differences in hammers, loading levers, and cylinders.
The Remington was an incredibly durable weapon. It's "topstrap" solid frame design made it stronger and less prone to frame stretching than the Colt models of the same era. In 1863 Reminton introduced "safety slots" milled between the chambers on the cylinder. These slots secured the hammer between chambers thereby preventing the firing pin from resting on a percussion cap. This safeguarded against accidental discharge if the gun was dropped, or the hammer struck.
Another advantage of the Remington design was the ease with which the cylinder could be removed. In theory, one could replace a spent cylinder with a preloaded cylinder, significantly reducing reload time and giving them an advantage over an adversary carrying another company's model. It is doubtful, however, that this was a common practice as the military did not issue spare cylinders.
All told, over 230,000 Remington revolvers were produced between 1858-1875. Perhaps the most notable historical figure to make use of this weapon was Buffalo Bill Cody. He carried an ivory handled New Model Army .44 (serial number 73,293) from 1863-1906. This pistol came up for auction in 2012 and sold for a reported $239,000.00.
As mentioned previously, the Remington saw use in the Civil War and the Indian Wars that followed shortly thereafter. In fact, they were used by both sides in those two conflicts. But they also saw widespread use around the world. They were the sidearm of choice for the Hawaiian Kingdom, United Kingdom, Canadians, Australians, French, Russian Empire, Empire of Japan, and Second Mexican Empire. In addition to the American Civil War and Indian Wars they saw significant action in the Fenian Raid, Red River Rebelion, the Franco-Prussian War, the Boshin War, and the Second French Intervention in Mexico. So, as you can see, the weapon's historical significance extends well beyond the American Old West.
We've come to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit about the Remington revolver. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
As a quick reminder, I would love to hear from you, my readers, about topics related to the Old West that you would like to know more about. All you need to do is fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your suggested topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.