Colt Army Model 1860

Colt Army Model 1860

Colt Army Model 1860
Type Revolver
Place of origin United States
Service history
Used by United States (Union)
Confederate States
Native Americans
Wars American Civil War
American Indian Wars
Production history
Designer Samuel Colt
Manufacturer Colt's Manufacturing Company
Produced 1860 to 1873
Number built 200,000+
Weight 2 lb, 11 oz (1.22 kg)
Length 14 in (355.6 mm)
Barrel length 8 in (203.2 mm)
Height 5.25 in (133.35 mm)

Cartridge Paper-wrapped .44 caliber round and conical ball (paper cartridge), .44 Colt (conversions)
Caliber .44
Action Percussion
Muzzle velocity 550–1000 ft/s (167.6–304.8 m/s)
Effective firing range 50–75 yds (45.7–68.6 m)
Feed system 6 round cylinder
Not to be confused with the 1873 pattern Colt Single Action Army.

The Colt Army Model 1860 is a muzzle-loaded cap & ball .44-caliber single-action revolver used during the American Civil War made by Colt's Manufacturing Company. It was used as a side arm by cavalry, infantry, artillery troops, and naval forces.


The Colt 1860 Army uses the same size frame as the .36 caliber 1851 Navy revolver. The frame is relieved to allow the use of a rebated cylinder that enables the Army to be chambered in .44 caliber. The barrel on the 1860 Army has a forcing cone that is visibly shorter than that of the 1851 Navy, allowing the Army revolver to have a longer cylinder. Another distinguishing feature of the Colt 1860 Army, first introduced on the Colt 1855 Sidehammer Revolver, is the "creeping" loading lever.

More than 200,000 were manufactured from 1860 through 1873. Colt's biggest customer was the US Government with no less than 129,730[1] units being purchased and issued to the troops. The weapon was a single-action, six-shot weapon accurate up to 75 to 100 yards, where the fixed sights were typically set when manufactured. The rear sight was a notch in the hammer, only usable when the revolver was fully cocked.

The Colt .44-caliber “Army" Model was the most widely used revolver of the Civil War. It had a six-shot, rotating cylinder, and fired a 0.454-inch-diameter (11.5 mm) round spherical lead ball, or a conical-tipped bullet, typically propelled by a 30-grain charge of black powder, which was ignited by a small copper percussion cap that contained a volatile charge of fulminate of mercury (a substance that explodes upon being subjected to a sharp impact). The percussion cap, when struck by the hammer, ignited the powder charge. When fired, balls had a muzzle velocity of about 900 feet per second (274 meters/second), although this depended on how much powder one loaded it with.

The unfluted cylinder was "rebated", meaning that the rear of the cylinder was turned to a smaller diameter than the front. The barrel was rounded and smoothed into the frame, as was the Navy Model. The frame, hammer, and rammer lever were case-hardened, the remainder blued; grips were of one-piece walnut; and the trigger guard and front grip strap were of brass while the backstrap was blued."[1]

Colt Army 60, frame with cylinder pin

A distinguishing feature of the Model 1860 was that its frame had no top strap, or no component running above the cylinder. Instead, its strength came from the lower frame and the massive fixed cylinder pin. This made the gun slimmer and lighter than its main competitor, the Remington Model 1858, but with a possible loss of strength. The fixed cylinder pin also meant that the barrel had to be removed in order to remove the cylinder, unlike the Model 1858, which only required you to remove the cylinder retaining pin.


Army 1860 with fluted Cylinder and 7.5-inch barrel serial No. 1158

There are very few variations on the 1860 Army Revolver, but there was limited production of a 7.5-inch barrel model below serial number 3500, and a lightened model with cylinder flutes below serial number 8000.[2] According to importer Cimarron Arms Company, this was called the "Texas Model" because a number of them came into Texas shortly after secession. The goal was to make use of silver spring steel of controlled carbon content and greater strength, but the thinned cylinder proved inadequate and sometimes exploded.(ibid wilson) Fluted cylinders had the patent date of Sept. 10, 1850 stamped in one of the flutes. Rebated cylinders above serial number 8000 were roller indented with a Texas Navy and Mexican battle scene and stamped with COLT PATENT NO followed by the last four digits of the serial number.[2]

Military 1860s had elongated screw lugs on the side of the frame to mount a detachable shoulder stock. Some shoulder stocks were also hollow on the inside and intended to be used as canteens and were, unsurpringly, called "canteen stocks." Stocks were typically made of wood, but other materials were also used, such as pewter in rare examples.


By April 1861, 2,230 of Colt's earliest production went to dealers south of the Mason–Dixon line. The United States Navy ordered 900 fluted cylinder revolvers in May 1861 later issued to ships enforcing the Atlantic and Gulf blockade. United States Army orders also began in May, and 127,157 had been delivered before a 5 October 1864 fire put Colt's factory out of operation for the duration of hostilities.

Model with cylinder flutes.
Model Stock Mounted.
Shoulder Stock Mount and Lugs.


.44 and .36 paper cartridges

Loading is a somewhat lengthy process, with each of the six chambers drilled into the revolving cylinder being loaded from the front, or "muzzle" end. A measured amount of black powder is poured into a chamber. Next a lead ball is placed at the opening of the chamber and seated by firmly pressing it in with the pivoting loading lever which is attached beneath the barrel of the revolver. For sealing each chamber, an over-size 0.454-inch-diameter (11.5 mm) lead ball is trimmed slightly by the rim of the chamber as the rammer forces it inside. Cap and ball shooters also often place a lubricated wad between balls and powder, or, alternatively, pack lard or a commercially-sold bore lubricant at the mouth of each chamber in an attempt to prevent powder in an adjacent chamber from being ignited by when the gun is fired, which is known as a chainfire.

When the Colt Model 1860 was used by 19th century soldiers, they most often loaded the gun using paper cartridges. These cartridges consisted of a pre-measured load of black powder and a ball, wrapped in nitrated paper (paper that had been soaked in potassium nitrate and then dried, to make it more flammable). To load each chamber, one only had to slip the cartridge into the front of the chamber and seat the ball with the loading lever ram. Then a percussion cap was placed onto the raised aperture, called a nipple, at the back end of the chamber.

The Colt 1860 cost approximately $20 per revolver. This was rather expensive during the 1860s, both for the United States Army and private citizens. Colt had been criticized for this high price, and by 1865 the revolver was reduced to $14.50.

The Colt "Army" revolver is to be distinguished from the Colt "Navy" revolver of which there were two models, the octagonal barrel Model 1851 Navy, and the round-barreled Model 1861 Navy, both Navy models being in the smaller .36-caliber. Replica Navy revolvers sold today are often sold in the historically-incorrect .44-caliber; originally, all Navy revolvers were manufactured only in .36-caliber.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Hogg, Ian V. Weapons of the Civil War. New York: Military, 1987. Print.
  2. 1 2 McAulay, John D. "Colt's 'New Model Holster Pistol' In The Civil War" American Rifleman March 2013 pp.52-57
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