Glossary of terms
- Bullet A
projectile that is oblong with a sharp or pointed end.
- Ball Is
exactly that, a perfectly round ball of lead.
- Balls or Bullets: These
could be standard round lead balls or various types of shaped bullets.
Whichever they were they were certainly lethal to anyone that got in there
way. It may be of interest to note that a round ball is not truly round
after it is fired from a revolver. The process of pressing the ball into
the chamber shaves off a tiny ring of lead from the outside circumference
of the ball giving the ball straight sides to it. This helps tremendously
as the ball is fired down the barrel,because the sides of the ball will
now engage the rifling in the barrel creating the characteristic spin of
the ball for accuracy. Round ball is extremely accurate over short ranges
up to 100 yards from a handgun and much further then that from a rifle.
Bullets did not ever seem to have a great advantage over the round ball
except in very long range shooting, however they were still used extensively
during the war.
The extended part of the pistol or revolver that guides the ball and
improves its accuracy. This can be either smooth bore inside or rifled.
- Caliber Used
to describe how large the bore of the handgun is. Measuerd in Inches .44
caliber being almost 1/2 of an inch in diameter
- Capping tool: This
was a special tool used to hold the tiny caps and place them onto the nipples.
It was possible to place the cap on a nipple by hand, however it ran the
risk of exploding the cap, as well as being just plain to difficult to
do with large hands. The capping tool would be designed to dispense 1 cap
at a time.
- Caps: These
were tiny cup like devices the size of a pencil eraser that would explode
when struck hard by the hammer of the gun. One cap would be placed upon
each nipple to fire the main charge of powder. These were a HUGE improvement
over the earlier days of firearms that used a separate tiny charge of powder
in a pan that was ignited by a rotating wheel striking on flint
- Chamber The
opening in the cylinder where the powder and ball are placed to load the
pistol. There could be 4,5,6,or even 9 chambers inside the cylinder. Just
because you have a revolver does not necessarily mean you have a 6 shooter.
Imagine attacking a soldier thinking he had a 6 shot revolver when in effect
he really had a 9 shot LeMat revolver! Don't stick your head up at the
wrong time,the 9 shot revolver would get you. The chamber is also the
place on a pistol where the powder and ball are placed/put into as well.
In this photo a ball can just be seen going into the cylinder,chamber opening.
- Cleaning rod: Used to clean inside
the bore of a handgun to remove powder fouling.Guns needed to be cleaned
after every use because the black powder was very corrosive. Fortunately
soap and water easily removed the powder residue. How often guns actually
got cleaned with constant battle is a good question.
- Cylinder The
actual area of the revolver that holds the bullet,powder and cap.
- Cylinder Pin A round
pin at the center of the Cylinder,and which the cylinder rotates or REVOLVES
around as each chamber is brought to fire. This is why a Pistol is
known to be called a revolver.
- Frame The
part of the revolver that holds the cylinder,trigger,hammer,cylinder pin,
and basically makes the handgun itnto a working weapon. The frame would
be either open or closed.
- Open frame A Colt style would be
open framed, wrapping around the cylinder on only 3 sides.
- Closed frame Wraps all around the
cylinder on 4 sides. Remington style
- Top strap This
is the upper strap or top part of the frame on Remington style revolvers
which gave them much more strength then Colt style revolvers.
- Forming tool: This
was used to create balls and bullets from ingots of lead,which would be
melted over a fire. They came in many different styles and shapes. Some
could make a single ball at once while others would make 6 balls at a time.
You may have heard the term Shot Tower. This was a very high tower that
had a bowl of molten lead at the top of the tower. Lead was poured off
the tower down through its middle section and the falling lead would pass
through a wire screen mesh. This screen was calibrated to be the correct
height from the ground and the correct hole size to produce a perfectly
round ball of lead as it passed through on its way falling to the ground.
The lead would then land in a tub of water on the ground. When the lead
was removed it would be formed in a round ball just the size necessary
for use in a weapon. I myself wonder how well these towers actually
- Gun oil: This
would be used to clean the gun,oil its moving parts and act as a preservative
on the outside to prevent rust.
- Grease: Grease was a safety item and
one of the most critical items for safety that a person firing a revolver
could use. A revolver had a very real possibility of creating what was
called a Chain fire. Multiple cylinders firing at once. As you can
imagine this would not be enjoyable for the soldier firing the weapon.
It was possible in a revolver to fire one shot and have flame shoot back
and work its way down inside the next unfired cylinder, thereby igniting
that cylinders charge, it would most certainly destroy the handgun if not
kill the soldier using it! Grease was placed over the end of each loaded
cylinder, topping off the cylinder and preventing these chain fires from
occurring. A single shot pistol did not have this problem, only having
the one shot at a time. Grease would be some sort of animal fat, most likely
whatever was at hand.
- Hammer The
item on the gun that would lay under your thumb when pulling the trigger.
- Half Cocked
A special position in which the
hammer can be put into to allow loading or dismanteling of the revolver.
The term going off half cocked can be referd to as a loaded cylinder with
the revolver trigger in the half cock position and the hammer slipping,
or gun being dropped and the hammer falls, firing the weapon. This would
never occur in a well maintained weapon it is very diffifult to push a
hammer out of its half cock position. Another anology is loading a single
shot muzzle loading rifle or shotgun, sometimes a soldier may panic, load
his powder and ball, then get surprised or alarmed and leave his ramrod
inside the barrel of the gun. Pulling the trigger he would fire the bullet
and the loading rod from the mouth of the rifle. Disaster at best I would
imagine. Who can say exactly where the term " Going off half Cocked"
came from exactly.
- Loading Lever This was
used to force the lead ball or bullet into the firing chamber. A revolver
would have a loading lever and in almost all cases this lever would be
attached to the handgun permanently.
- Nipple wrench: The
Nipple wrench was used to remove the nipples on the firing chamber. One
nipple was threaded into each chamber of the revolver. The cap would then
be placed over the nipple to fire the main charge.
- Nipple pin: A
nipple pin was used to clear the tiny hole in each nipple. A nipple was
hollow inside allowing the charge from the cap being fired to pass through
the nipple and into the main firing chamber. Sometimes the hole would become
plugged with debris and the nipple pin was used to clean out this tiny
- Pistol A
single shot handgun
- Ramrod The
single shot pistol would use a ramrod to force the ball and powder down
into the chamber. A pistol would have its ramrod kept in a holder on the
pistol but it would not be physically attached so it was possible to lose
a ramrod. And at the worst time I imagine!!!
- Revolver A
multiple shot handgun
- Rifle/Rifling Rifling refers to cutting screw
like threads inside the barrel of a pistol or revolver. This greatly improves
accuracy of the handgun over long distances,because the ball or bullet
will be spun by the rifling as the projectile leaves the end of the barrel.
Many differant thread twists are used depending on many factors.
- Powder flask: This
was used to hold the actual black powder,the early flasks were made from
animal horns. Any style of flask may have been issued to the soldiers,sometimes
formed from actual manmade material or the old standby the animal horn.
- Powder: Black
powder was used extensively in all the early firearms.This powder is different
then todays more modern powder in that it was very smoky and would make
great flames and sparks when it was ignited. This was a disadvantage to
a soldier hiding in the bush's, after the first shot, the enemy would know
where he was from the cloud of smoke around him. Also todays powder explodes
much more quickly then the early black powder generating much higher breech
pressures in the chamber. The two powders are definitely NOT interchangeable.
Don't ever use a modern powder in a black powder firearm.
- Powder charge measure: Powder
had to be measured before it was put in the chamber of the handgun. It
could be measured by weight or by volume. By volume was the most widely
used method,although not as accurate a measurement. The Colt and Remington
style revolvers would use around 30 grains of black powder to fire a bullet.The
special measuring tool would be used to measure the correct amount of powder
poured from the Powder flask. Many times the end of the flask was cut off
to exactly the correct volume length for the soldiers weapon. He would
then simply turn his powder flask upside down,holding his finger over the
open end.Righting the flask again he would now have the exact amount of
powder necessary for that handgun. This would be a much faster method then
measuring every single shot by hand.
- Spur The item on top of the hammer which your thumb would
pull upon to move the hammer aft into firing position. The distinction
is made here because some weapons did not have any spur on the
hammer,for which the thumb would move the hammer. A case in point is the
Tranter Which had no hammer spur.
- Trigger Roy
Rogers horse............ It may have also been something
the soldier put his finger around to fire his weapon????
- Trigger groove
A special groove cut into the cylinder. This was used to place the
hammer into when transporting or carrying the revolver. It allowed a soldier
to load all chambers of his revolver and still be safe if the gun were
dropped. One of the advantages of a Remington over a Colt. Notice the tiny
blue arrow pointing to this special groove.
- Screwdriver and small hand tools: Any
numerous and sundry tools necessary to disassemble a handgun. The Remington
needed a tiny screwdriver to remove its cylinder pin for cleaning. The
Colt models used a wedge which could be driven out with a small stone.
- Shoulder Stock
Attached to a pistol or revolver it was used to improve accuracy of the
handgun turning the handgun into a small rifle