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Old February 19, 2011, 02:25 PM   #1
Gatofeo
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Join Date: October 1, 2004
Location: Remote Utah desert
Posts: 222
Old, standard load for C&B revolvers? No such thing

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.
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