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View Full Version : Old, standard load for C&B revolvers? No such thing


Gatofeo
February 19, 2011, 02:25 PM
The February 1975 issue of the American Rifleman has an interesting article on what loads were used in Civil War .36 and .44-caliber paper cartridges for Colt revolvers.
No mention is made of Remington or other cap and ball revolver charges but they were likely identical or nearly so.
No granulation (FFG or FFFG) is noted in the article. Round balls were not used in paper cartridges, but were loaded loosely.
There was a surprising disparity in bullet weights and powder charges in paper combustible cartridges for the Colts, according to the article.

Conical bullets for the Colt M1860 Army .44-caliber revolver ranged from 207 grs. to 260 grs. Powder charges ranged from 17 to 36 grains of black powder.
Conical bullets for the Colt .36 Navy ranged from 139 to 155 grs. Charges ranged from 12 to 21 grains.

Nearly all of these variations are found in prepared, paper cartridges manufactured by private contractors. It appears that U.S. government arsenals made few paper revolver cartridges, preferring to contract this task.
Union Army ordnance manuals of 1861 specify a load of 30 grs of powder with a .46-caliber, 216 gr. conical ball in Colt M1860 revolvers of .44-caliber.
The same manual specifies a .39-caliber conical bullet of 145 grs., over 17 grs. of powder, for the .36-caliber revolvers.

An official Confederate States publication specifies a 250 gr. conical bullet over 30 grs. of powder for the Colt M1860 revolver.
The Confederate specification for the Colt Navy is the same as the Union (.39 caliber conical of 145 grs. over 17 grs. powder).

In the 1860s an average load for the Colt M1860 .44 revolver was 25 grs. of powder with a 146 gr. (about 460" diameter) round ball or a conical bullet of about 230 grs.
The average load for the Colt Navy was 15 grs. of powder with an 81 gr. (about .380" diameter) round ball or a conical bullet of about 146 grs.
Old loadings will occasionally list a 218 gr. conical bullet with a 40 to 50 gr. powder charge. This is intended for the Colt Model 1847 Walker or the later Dragoons, which have a larger capacity than the Colt M1860 .44 revolver.

Of great interest in this article is the apparent dissection of original paper cartridges and the weighing of their powder charge and conical ball weight.
The results follow:

COLT ARMY .44
Hazard Powder Co. - 211 gr. conical / 36 grs. powder
Bartholow's - 260 gr. conical / 19 grs. powder
Johnston & Dow - 242 gr. conical / 35 grs. powder
Unknown - 257 gr. conical / 17 grs. powder
Unknown - 207 gr. conical / 22 grs. powder
Hotchkiss - 207 gr. conical / 22 grs. powder

COLT NAVY .36
Hazard Powder Co. - 141 gr. conical / 21 grs. powder
Bartholow's - 139 gr. conical / 14 grs. powder
Johnston & Dow - 150 gr. conical / 17 grs. powder
Unknown - 155 gr. conical / 12 grs. powder
Unknown - 149 gr. conical / 13 grs. powder

The Dixie Gun Works catalogue recommends loads very closely resembling the above, but with a ball, not a conical bullet:
All .36 caliber revolvers: .376 inch ball over 22 grs. FFFG black power.
.44 Remington and Colt original gun: .453 inch ball over 28 grs. FFFG black powder
.44 Remington and Colt reproductions: .451 inch ball over 28 grs. FFFG black powder
In my own experience, I've obtained the best accuracy in reproduction guns with balls measuring .380 inch in the .36 and .454 or .457 inch in the .44 Remington and Colt. I have never fired an original cap and ball revolver.

In "A History of the Colt Revolver From 1836 to 1940" by Charles T. Haven and Frank E. Belden, the authors list load recommendations from Colt in the 1850s and 1860s.
Haven and Belden note, "FFG black powder is best for the large and medium-size revolvers, and FFFG for the small pocket models, but any grade that is available will work reasonably well."

Gatofeo notes: In my own experience, I use FFFG in my .31, .36 and .44 revolvers with fine accuracy. I don't see much need to use FFG powder in the .36 and .44 revolvers if you can get FFFG.

Colt recommended the following, more than 125 years ago:
1 dram = 27.3 grains (grs.)
.44 Dragoon: 1-1/2 drams of black powder (41 grs.) and a round bullet of 48 to the pound (about 146 grs, which calculates at about .46 caliber) or a conical bullet of 32 to the pound (about 219 grains).
.44 M1860 Army - Powder charge about 1/3 less than the Dragoon, or 27 grains. A conical bullet of 212 grains (33 to the pound) or the same round ball used in the Dragoon above (about .46-caliber or 146 grs. weight).
.36 M1851 Navy - Powder charge of 3/4 of a dram (20 grs.) and conical bullet 140 grs. (50 to the pound ). Or a round ball of 81 grs. (86 to the pound, which would be about .379 or .380 diameter).
.36 M1862 Pocket and Police - Conical bullet over 15 grs. of powder. No weight is given the conical bullet for this model but it's known that it had its own bullet mould, casting a shorter and lighter conical bullet than the Navy .36 revolver.
Presumably, the .380 ball above is used with the same powder charge. In my own 1862 reproduction, I use 20 grs. of FFFG under a .380 inch ball.
.31 Old and New Model Pocket Pistols - Conical bullet of 76 grains (92 to the pound) over half a dram (13.5 grains) of powder, or a round ball of 50 grs. (140 to the pound and about .320 inch diameter).

Gatofeo notes: Present day 0 buckshot measures about .320 inch and makes an excellent ball for the .31-caliber cap and ball revolvers. Cheap too!

.265 M1855 Sidehammer: Ball of 35 grains (200 to the pound, about .285 diameter) or a 55 gr. (128 to the pound) conical bullet. No charge is listed, but I would guess that 10 grains of powder would be correct.

The late gun writer Elmer Keith (1898 - 1984) wrote a book, "Sixguns" in the mid 1950s. In it, he included a chapter on cap and ball revolvers.
Keith learned how to load and shoot these revolvers from Civil War veterans when he grew up in Helena, Montana. In 1912, at the age of 14, he began carrying a Colt 1851 Navy in .36 caliber.

Keith recommended FFFG black powder for the .28 and .31 caliber revolvers, and FFG black powder for theh .36 and .44 guns.
He didn't list loads by weight, but he instructed to pour in the powder until it almost filled the chamber, leaving room for a greased felt wad.
Keith punched felt wads from an old hat, and soaked them in a lubricant made of melted beeswax and tallow.

Gatofeo notes: I use a mix of paraffin, beeswax and mutton tallow. I use canning paraffin, regular beeswax and order mutton tallow from Dixie Gun Works.

This wad was placed over the powder, then the ball rammed down with it until the ball was slightly below flush of the chamber.

Gatofeo notes: I seat the wad as a separate operation, then seat the ball.

Keith noted, "A percussion sixgun thus loaded will shoot clean all day if you blow your breath through the bore a few times after each six rounds are fired. It will also shoot very accurately if it is a good gun.
"I had one .36 Navy Colt that had a pitted barrel, but with the above load it would cut clover leaves for its six shots, at 20 yards, all day with seated back and head rest and two hands used between the knees to further holding," Keith wrote, adding that he later traded it for a modern .38 Special revolver that was never as accurate as that Navy.

So, as far as a "standard load" for the old Colts, there ain't no such animal! The soldiers used what they were issued, and that issued ammunition varied greatly.

Hellgate
February 19, 2011, 09:22 PM
Good post. I've never been able to get more than about 17grs powder under a conical in the 36 navy (cast LEE 130gr conical). I don't see how the Hazard company's 36 cal load could be chambered. One could probably get 21 grains VOLUME equivalent of Pyrodex P into the gun as that powder will compress quite a bit and needs a fair amount of compression to fire consistently.

Raider2000
February 20, 2011, 10:48 AM
Hellgate; I agree, even the Hazzard load for the .44 revolvers is substantial {sp} that it'd be kinda hard to fully get the projectile into the chambers of a 60' Army or NMA but the Dragoon & Walkers wouldn't have a problem.

Hawg Haggen
February 20, 2011, 12:04 PM
I agree, even the Hazzard load for the .44 revolvers is substantial {sp} that it'd be kinda hard to fully get the projectile into the chambers of a 60' Army or NMA

It's only a 211 grainer. I think it's doable. It obviously was with originals anyway.

Gatofeo
March 20, 2011, 12:08 PM
<Gatofeo wears his Necro-Posting Wizard outfit>

"Arise old post and speak to those who seek your knowledge! Arise and answer the recent questions of seekers! Arise! ARISE!"

Muhahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! :D

Bishop Creek
March 20, 2011, 07:14 PM
I'm new here, but a long time pistoleer with cap and ball revolvers. Gatofeo, I seem to recall you posting this info a few years ago on another board; Greybeards or The Frontier Spot? Don't recall now, but I'm glad to see it again as I lost your old post during a computer crash a while back.

I use a similar mix of paraffin and beeswax (haven't tried the tallow mix yet), pour hot mixture into a pie pan to about 1/8'' depth, let it cool then use an empty .45 case to cut out wads. Like you, I place them directly on top of the powder them ram the ball home over it. Works like a charm and I am able to fire off six or seven cylinders full in my '58 Remington before it even begins to show signs of binding. I will admit that I cut grease holding grooves in my cylinder pin which helps too. I just rub a little SPG or Lube 103 on the cylinder pin and then go to shooting.

62coltnavy
March 21, 2011, 01:47 AM
So let me ask this related question. How much compression does the powder need? The first time I loaded up my 61 Navy, I used 15 grains FFFG just like Pietta specified, no wad. The first two times I tried shooting it, the balls kept jamming in the forcing cone. I also noted one day that i could press the ball further down into the chamber with a pencil, suggesting that the powder wasn't compressed at all.

So I increased the amount of powder to 20 grains and added wonder wads over the powder. Now the gun (andits two brothers) shoot flawlessly. I also note that I am indeed getting compression on the powder.

So the question I guess is how hard do I press down on the loading lever--is there a "proper" amount of compression one wants to achieve? Or is this a variable depending on the powder? ON a tangent, I read around here somewhere that having gaps between the powder and the ball could be very dangerous, but I can't imagine why--wouldn't such a condition merely reduce the amount of pressure in the chamber when the gum was fired?

Kadmos
March 21, 2011, 03:23 AM
ON a tangent, I read around here somewhere that having gaps between the powder and the ball could be very dangerous, but I can't imagine why--wouldn't such a condition merely reduce the amount of pressure in the chamber when the gum was fired?

No, the pressure would not likely be reduced.

The danger is that the ball might act something like a bore obstruction and instead of pushing out the ball you may actually split the cylinder or the barrel.

From what I gather it is something like using too greatly of a reduced load with modern powders, the small load in the overly large space can actually create an overpressure.

On a side note, if the balls on your gun were jumping forward you may be using balls that are not large enough, you want to make sure you are shaving a decent ring of lead off the balls when loading

mykeal
March 21, 2011, 05:59 AM
How much compression does the powder need?...having gaps between the powder and the ball could be very dangerous
There are many variables that can affect the result, but in general an air gap between the ball and powder is unsafe and is to be avoided. As kadmos said, it can lead to a serious, even catastrophic, overpressure.

With regard to compression: there is no one 'right' amount. You need to be sure the ball is firmly seated against the powder; beyond that there's no need to use a great deal of force to tightly compress the powder, but at the same time a heavy hand doesn't necessarily hurt anything either (except with the synthetic 777 powder - significant compression using that brand results in very unpredictable, inconsistent results). The key is to be consistent: firmly seat the ball on the powder, using the same technique each time so the results will be predictable.

I suspect the balls you were using were not fully swaged into the chamber, thus relieving the pressure and leading to the ball failing to transition through the forcing cone. Be sure the balls leave a complete ring of lead when swaged into the chamber. A .375 ball is not large enough to ensure a complete seal in at least one brand of .36 cal revolver; a .380 ball may be necessary in those guns.

Doc Hoy
March 21, 2011, 07:23 AM
Gatofeo,

In your post you present Confederate recommendations for loads in the 1860 Colt Army.

Approximately how many 1860s or their equivalent revolvers were officially in service in Confederate units?

Depending upon the answer to this question, I have additional inquiries.

Rifleman1776
March 21, 2011, 08:19 AM
Several thoughts on all above:
Reccomendations from the Dixie Gun Works catalog should be taken only as guidelines. There is much 'information' in the catalog but not all is the best and some may even be unsafe. You still need to use your head and consult with other experienced shooters.
Compressing the load in a C&B cylinder is OK. Methinks the amount of pressure will be limited by possible damage to the loading lever and/or the hinge pin. If you load the cylinder out of the gun just don't use too big a hammer.
Most importantly is to work up loads that work for you. Testing and shooting is the fun part.

mykeal
March 21, 2011, 09:25 AM
Good points, Rifleman1776.

Hawg Haggen
March 21, 2011, 10:27 AM
Doc, the South bought 1,500 before the war. The North bought 17,000 Navies and over 107,000 Armies. None were bought after 63.

maillemaker
March 21, 2011, 11:41 AM
ON a tangent, I read around here somewhere that having gaps between the powder and the ball could be very dangerous, but I can't imagine why--wouldn't such a condition merely reduce the amount of pressure in the chamber when the gum was fired?

I do not understand the exact physics, but here is my educated guess:

First of all, I would think that the pressure at ignition starts high and then reduces as the bullet travels down the barrel. There is probably some ramp-up to peak pressure and then a reduction as the bullet moves.

With a bullet fully seated, this maximum pressure is distributed over a smaller area of chamber. 20,000 pounds per square inch is only a little bit of force over a small area, but can become a large amount of force over a large area. So if there is a gap under the bullet, you have effectively distributed the same amount of pressure over a larger area of the firearm, resulting in the firearm bearing more force.

Another possibility is that the air under the bullet is itself compressible. Perhaps having a larger volume of air results in higher pressures somehow.

Steve

maillemaker
March 21, 2011, 11:48 AM
I use a similar mix of paraffin and beeswax (haven't tried the tallow mix yet), pour hot mixture into a pie pan to about 1/8'' depth, let it cool then use an empty .45 case to cut out wads. Like you, I place them directly on top of the powder them ram the ball home over it. Works like a charm and I am able to fire off six or seven cylinders full in my '58 Remington before it even begins to show signs of binding. I will admit that I cut grease holding grooves in my cylinder pin which helps too. I just rub a little SPG or Lube 103 on the cylinder pin and then go to shooting.

This sounds neat. I have been using the "bore grease" that came with my CVA pistol to just cover the nose of the ball with goo after loading. I like the idea of cutting out little wads.

Do you put all your wads in a little zip-lock bag or something? Do they stick together?

Steve

Bishop Creek
March 21, 2011, 03:25 PM
Yes, I do put the beeswax wads in a ziplock bag. In very warm or hot conditions they are a little tacky so they will stick to each other but are very easy to pull apart. I find using these wads much easier and less messy than either Borebutter or Crisco and much cheaper than Wonder Wads. They also have the added benefit of keeping your pistol well lubed while firing resulting in less binding without the dripping mess.

I have only experienced one chainfire in over 40 years of shooting cap and ball, and that was when I first started out in 1969 and hadn't read or heard about using lube in the cylinders. Little printed info and no interenet in those days! :)

Gatofeo
March 22, 2011, 08:19 PM
Doc Hoy: I have no idea how many Colt 1860s the Confederates used. The specification of 250 gr. bullet over 30 grs. powder was taken from the February 1975 issue of the American Rifleman, as I noted in the beginning of the post.
That article cites, "an official Confederate publication ..."

I haven't purchased Wonder Wads in some time. Not since I found Durofelt on the internet, and bought a sheet of 1/8" thick hard, wool felt that will ultimately provide me with about 8,000 wads -- for about $27 as I recall. Durofelt is a fine company, and offers free shipping within the U.S. lower 48.
Even with a punch factored in, I can make wads for well under 1/2 cent each.

I use a 3/8" inch wad cutter (or hole cutter for gaskets, depending on how you look at it) for my .36 caliber revolvers. For the .44 cap and balls you can use a sharpened .45 Long Colt or .45 ACP case, or purchase a .45-caliber wad cutter from Buffalo Arms, as I did.
Brass cases eventually become dull. The Buffalo Arms cutter doesn't, if you use the end of a small log and cut into its end grain, as I do.

I prefer using wads over straight grease cookies. Force of habit, I guess. But also, I suspect that the hard wool wad helps scrape fouling from the bore as it passes. Purely my suspicion, but since I began using a properly lubricated felt wad I've seen a marked decrease in fouling in the bore.

I can't specify how much pressure to apply when seating a ball, other than to say, "seat the ball firmly on the powder."
However, there is no need to bear down hard on the seated ball; doing so may crush the individual powder kernels and affect its burning rate, which could affect ignition or accuracy.
Myself, once I feel a "grittiness" to the powder under the ball, I stop. I often hear or feel a crunching under the ball, indicating that I've reached the seating limit. You certainly don't need any more than this.
As long as your seating pressure eliminates any possibility of an airspace between ball and powder, you're good.

The airspace between ball and powder may create an unsafe condition. The physics and mechanics of WHY this is true, I don't fully understand. Suffice to say it exists, and has been documented a long time.
It's a puzzlement because you can load a small amount of smokeless or black powder in a cartridge case, load a ball on the end of the case, and fire that ball without a problem. Recreate the same conditions in a rifle or revolver, using black powder with a space between the powder and ball, and pressures soar.
I can't explain it. I just know that leaving a space between powder and ball in a black powder gun can be catastrophic.
When I meet my maker, I intend to ask him why this is so ... sometime after asking him, "Was I just imagining that Wanda Berkowitz came onto me in the high school library, or did I blow a heck of an opportunity?"
A man's gotta have his priorities, ya know ... :D

Doc Hoy
March 23, 2011, 03:50 AM
The reason I asked is because I was curious about official Confederate policy regarding arms acquired through non-official sources.

Your OP made me wonder about two numbers:

1) the actual number of revolvers that were carried by soldiers during the conflict
2) What percentage of those revolvers were officially provided to the combatants.

I think the historians among us have a good handle on how extensively the two governments armed their troops with captured weapons. I am no historian, myself, but my sense is that the Confederacy with its less than optimal manufacturing structure might have been compelled to rely on the practice a bit more than the Union.

That loading recommendation is an interesting bit of history.

The person who wrote the original recommendation (or the member of the Confederate Army who promulgated it to the troops) must have been driven by a perceived need to make the data available. Perhaps he believed that the use of the revolver was more prevalent among the troops than would be indicated by official purchases of the revolver. Prevalent enough that it was worth his time to find and publish the recommendation.

We didn't see the original document and of course it is possible that the loading recommendation for the 1860 Colt was at the bottom of a long list that included every weapon that might be encountered by a Confederate soldier.

My rambling doesn't go anywhere. I was just wondering.

Rachen
March 29, 2011, 05:32 PM
Very interesting thread. I am surprised I didn't come upon this earlier.

I think someone here said that if you use muzzleloaders, then you are a reloader.

With that said, the cap and ball revolver is one of the most versatile weapons out there for the hunter or cowboy. Take the 1858 New Army for example. Loaded to full power with 35 grains of FFFg and a roundball or 190-grain conical, it can take elk and moose at reasonable ranges and will likely stop a bear if such an emergency arises. Load it down to about 25 grains of propellant and you have a load that would reliably dispatch the odd urban criminal or home invader. Now for paper punching at the local range, I wouldn't really need that much power at all.

I heard that many of Nathan B. Forrest's troopers loaded their Colt's Navy and Army revolvers with only a minute pinch of powder because they almost always engaged enemy fighters at arm's reach.

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate defenders often tore apart the paper cartridges of their Enfields and loaded only half the powder into their rifles because the advancing Yanks were so many and so close.

Newton24b
April 3, 2011, 09:08 PM
no offense but ive seen the original packages from online gun collectors. the hazard loads for "army" caliber revolvers seems to have been meant for colt dragoons. just saying.

Hawg Haggen
April 3, 2011, 09:18 PM
During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate defenders often tore apart the paper cartridges of their Enfields and loaded only half the powder into their rifles because the advancing Yanks were so many and so close.

OK so you're gonna have that many bullets flying at you and you're gonna take time to dump a half a load of powder out when you could possibly take out two or three Yanks with a full load? I don't think so.

MJN77
April 3, 2011, 10:30 PM
Quote:
During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate defenders often tore apart the paper cartridges of their Enfields and loaded only half the powder into their rifles because the advancing Yanks were so many and so close.

OK so you're gonna have that many bullets flying at you and you're gonna take time to dump a half a load of powder out when you could possibly take out two or three Yanks with a full load? I don't think so.

Have to agree with the Hawg on that. Sounds a bit too far fetched to me.:confused:

ZVP
April 15, 2011, 12:44 PM
Gatofeo,
Excellent information you put up there! There is a lot of food for thought and thinking about it , when in the heat of battle I doubt much measuring went on...
Government contracts back then must've been as broadly spec'd as they are today, hence the HUGE variations in powder loads and bullet weights. The poor Soldier ultimately paid the price by never knowing which lot of ammo was the best.
I guess when the used to load loose powder, they loaded very heavy and didn't worry about Crisco!
Thanks for that info and thanks to all the other guys also!
ZVP

Hawg Haggen
April 16, 2011, 01:47 AM
I guess they loaded very heavy and didn't worry about Crisco!

They used paper cartridges. The North used arsenal loads. The South used arsenal loads, captured loads, loads taken from dead yanks and loads made by women and kids.

Gatofeo
January 19, 2013, 10:15 PM
NOTE:
THERE IS A MISTAKE IN MY ORIGINAL POST!
It was the February 1972 issue of the American Rifleman that has the article, not the 1975. This recently came to my attention when a cap and ball shooter in France ordered the 1975 issue and there was nothing of the sort in it.
So, if you wish the full article (which really doesn't contain more loads than I've listed) order the February 1972 edition.

Colt's manufacturing used women to assemble its paper cartridges. The famous writer Charles Dickens, wrote of this when he visited the factory in the late 1850s or early 1860s. I can't recall the exact year.
Manpower was short during the war, so I'm sure that contractors used women and children to assemble paper cartridges as well.
Colt's was a very benevolent employer. Employees lived in company housing, were treated very well, had recreational opportunities and were encouraged to expand their knowledge through education or additional training.
Among those who profited from from Colt's encouragement were Mr. Pratt and Mr. Whitney, who went on to design early aircraft engines.
Employing women and children was a common practice. Sam Colt and those who managed his factory after his death recognized that happy workers were productive.
They also recognized that if you created a favorable work environment, word got out and some very talented, innovative and creative people would apply to work there.
Sam Colt may have had an illegitimate son with his brother's wife. His brother may have been convicted of murder and sentenced to execution (he killed himself just before the execution). Sam may have engaged in what we today consider questionable or shark-like business practices -- but the more I read about him, the more I have to admire his treatment of employees.
Getting a job at Colt's Firearms in the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, was a good career move for many.

10851Man
January 20, 2013, 06:17 PM
Interesting load data!!!!!

I'm using Triple 7 so I am dropping everything by 15%.

found Buffalo Bullets 125 grain conicals, wonder what a good start load would be for them?????

Hellgate
January 21, 2013, 12:00 AM
If we're talking 36 cal Navy I'd start with a 15gr load by volume (use a 15gr BP spout). A 18-20 gr load would be a good all around shooting load and 23-25gr by volume will be a nice thumper.