Remington had 3 basic models of handgun that were used throughout the Civil war. These are today all commonly called Remington 1858, however in the civil war era they would be refered to as distinct model types or simply a Remington. Many companies copied the Remington design almost exactly or they changed some minor items to avoid patent infringment.
The term 1858 Remington comes from the fact that Remington purchased the Patent rights to this weapon from Beals in the year 1858.
The Handgun was produced for many years and was still being produced in various styles until 1875. The Barrel was octagon and had an attached loading rod. The cylinders were never engraved as were the Colt models. Sighting was done with fixed sights that had very little modification to them, filing of the groove in the top strap was about all that was possible in the field.
The Remington models were considered some of the finest revolvers of the civil war, sought after by troops of both sides.
The Remington had three large advantages over the Colt style revolvers. It had a solid frame wrapping completely around the cylinder, notice the "top strap", as it is called over and above the cylinder. This gave the Remington models a huge advantage, both in strength of the firearm as well as accuracy over time.
A second lesser advantage was the special hammer groove ground into the cylinder in between each firing chamber on the cylinder. Not all Remington models had this but the large majority did. To use a Colt style revolver a shootist would normally load only 5 chambers of a 6 cylinder gun, this is because the hammer must rest upon a firing chamber of the weapon. If the revolver had all 6 cylinders loaded the hammer would rest upon a live cylinder, if the gun were dropped or fell upon its hammer the gun could fire. The Remington models had the extra notch for hammer placement. This allowed the gun to be fully loaded, all 6 cylinders and still have the hammer placed in between a firing chamber, by placing the hammer into the safety notch. If the gun were dropped the hammer would simply push deeper into the safety notch causing no problems. It is hard to say how definite an advantage this was when a war was being fought. With the enemy shooting at you presumably a soldier would load all 6 rounds no matter the safety issue. Around camp, while traveling and on horseback the extra safety notch would be a definite advantage. Please note there is a minor exception to the above. Some Colts (1860 3rd, Army, IIRC) did have small pins on the rear of the cylinder that fit into a small hole in the hammer for this same purpose. This was not as effective as the Remington system as the pins could be easily sheared off or the hole in the hammer get filled with crud (technical term meaning crud) and allow the cylinder to turn and bring a capped chamber under the hammer. (Thanks to Joseph Lovell for reminding me of this fact)
A third major advantage was in loading and firing the Remington. The Remington and its copies had a very real advantage in battle, because of the following reasons. On a Remington style pistol a soldier could carry with him an extra loaded cylinder with all of its 6 chambers loaded and capped. When his pistol is empty, he can drop the loading lever, slide out the cylinder pin, and quickly pop in a freshly loaded spare cylinder. Then he would slide back in the cylinder pin and snap shut the loading lever. The soldier is now ready to fire 6 more bullets. This entire process can be completed by the author within 5 seconds, I am sure a soldier with practise could certainly do as well or much better! Modern 6 shot revolvers with speed loaders cannot do much better then this. One version of the Remington had a modified cylinder pin especially ordered by the U.S. Government making it difficult to remove. I can only guess that they did not want a soldier dropping the cylinder or gun parts during battle, thereby making the gun useless.
This cannot be done on the Colt style revolvers, because they have a screw holding the pistol together, with a wedge that has to be driven out and then the loading lever has to be pulled out of the pistol and finally the barrel can be removed. In the Colt variations and copies simply reloading the cylinder itself would be much faster.
It is interesting to note the brass frame on the Remington revolvers. This was not originally planned for any aesthetic appeal. It was done because the confederate troops were short on supplies and wished to use the available gun metal (steel) for cannons and other weapons. Brass was chosen because it was more available and still supplied the necessary strength in the firearm. Union troops did not have such a problem so all of their Remington's were produced in steel. If you ever come across an original Remington revolver in brass you will now know the reason.
I have had the opportunity to fire both the Colt model revolvers and the Remington style revolver. As far as accuracy the guns are very similar and this author is certainly not capable of pushing either weapon to its limits of accuracy. Suffice it to say the handguns were certainly both extremely accurate even by todays standards. I do prefer the Remington style revolver for its extra strong top strap and can see how Civil war troops would prefer the handgun for the same reason. I am sure for the short term of the war, ballistics and weapon accuracy would not change greatly between the Colt or Remington models, however if the guns were dropped, laid upon, fallen upon etc I can see that the extra strong Remington would have a clear advantage. If the soldier had access to spare cylinders a Remington model would have a very big advantage as far as speed of loading.
From 1857 until 1860 7,000 copies of three models were produced in .31 caliber, all with 5-shot cylinders, 3 to 4 inch barrels and spur triggers (no trigger guard).
Produced from 1860-1862 this revolver came in an army .44 caliber and a navy .36 caliber version. The Navy had a 7 1/2 inch barrel and the army had an 8 inch barrel. Front sight was a german silver cone. The loading lever was considerd to be a thin web design. It had a high spur trigger. The most distinguishing aspect was the cylinder which did not have any safety notchs. This had a single ear cylinder pin that was designed for quick removal.
Produced from 1862-1863 this variant came as an army model.44 caliber 8 inch barrel and a navy model.36 caliber 7 3/8 inch barrel. It had the same front sight as the Beals model. This model had a high spur trigger. Most early serial numbers do not have cylinder safety notchs,final serial numbers incorporate the new safety notch. Introduced this model is a quick removable Cylinder pin with 2 ears on the pin. The loading lever had a cutout designed to reomve the pin and the revolver had a medium or thicker web design for the larger loading lever.
Produced from 1863-1875 the New model army came in .44 caliber and 8 inch barrel. The navy version was .36 caliber and a 7 3/8 inch barrel. A new front blade sight was added to the army version,the navy version kept the older german silver cone front sight. The New Model Army replaced the easy cylinder removing feature at the request of the Army. Remington now added a low spur trigger. The loading lever was now a large web design. The cylinder pin had 2 ears as did the previous Old model army. More than 130,000 pieces of this Model were purchased from 1863 to 1875.
As far as I can determine this was NOT an original civil war era weapon However I include it here because it is an interesting reproduction handgun. A unique and deadly variation of the standard Remington revolver the Buffalo had the addition of a 12 inch barrel in place of the standard 8 inch barrel. This added barrel length increased the accuracy of the handgun considerably, and it also increased the power of the handgun slightly as well. I myself have fired the standard Remington and the long barrel Bison as well and I can readily attest to the fact that the Buffolo model is a much more accurate handgun. Loading and firing was identical with the standard Remington.