by Kerry Barlow
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Many different pistols, and revolvers or handguns as they were called at the time, were used throughout the civil war by both the North and the South. Sometimes the exact same model and version of a handgun would be used by both sides, or the handgun would be built to specifications set forth by the respective faction. Generally speaking the Confederate troops were always outnumbered by the North in both manpower and available weapons to use.This caused the confederate troops to use as many captured weapons as possible throughout the war. This crossing over of weapons from one side to the other, as well as the actual production of the same model handgun in various styles makes it difficult to specifically say one weapon was used by any one side. If there was any one handgun used the most by Union troops it would have to be the Colt models 1851 and 1860 army versions,as well as the Starr revolver. For the Confederate troops it would again be either the Colt models or the Remington model 1858 revolver.
I wish to point out that the large majority of Civil war soldiers, both North and South would not have a pistol or revolver. These were not issued to the infantry soldier. Revolvers, or handguns were issued to cavalryman, and officers. Some of the Artillery units may have had pistols issued for the gunner. Officers were issued handguns, or would buy their own. Many infantryman would certainly pick up any handgun they found laying around the battlefield, and they would consider it quite a prize. I am sure any soldier that could afford to, would buy their own pistol as well. Pistols would sell for $20-40, or more so this was not an option for many soldiers with not $1 to their names.
A short description of terms may be in order before you actually go to view the specific handgun models. A Pistol is generally used to describe a single shot handgun, having the chamber integral with the barrel. A Revolver would be used to describe a multiple shot handgun. All of the handguns used in the civil war era would fire black powder, and generally all of them used caps to fire the main charge. Caps are tiny objects that look like a small drinking cup the size of a pencil eraser, these are used to fire the main charge of the handgun. Caliber is used to describe how large the bore of the handgun is. The Bore being the hole or tube the bullet/ball is fired from. In all cases I have used the Inch caliber system. A .44 caliber is almost 1/2 inch in diameter. Bullet is a projectile that is oblong with a sharp or pointed end. A Ball is exactly that, a perfectly round ball of lead. Hammer is the item on the gun that would lay under your thumb. You would pull the hammer back towards you with your thumb thereby making the weapon ready to fire. You may also wish to go directly to the glossary of terms, before examining the numerous handguns.
It should be noted that despite the actual model year of the revolver manufacture, the specific model may be, and most often was, produced for a succession of years, and yet was still called the original years model number. For example the colt 1851 navy model was actually produced for many years (from 1850 until 1876.)
These articles are not a definitive text on all of the many handguns used, however, I have attempted to track down as many interesting and note worthy handguns as possible. I am sure there are many historians and collectors that could add to this list and I would be happy to hear from you. I myself have had the opportunity to fire many of the handguns listed here and I hope you will find the descriptions on loading and firing to be enjoyable reading.
The reader should also understand that not all of these handguns are actual civil war era handguns,some of them may be very fine reproductions made by various modern day companies. Where possible I have made every attempt to use photos of actual civil war vintage handguns.
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