May 25, 2014

Weapons of Choice: Remington Model 1858 and 1875

The Remington Model 1858 was a secondary firearm issued by the United States Army of the Union until the Colt Manufacturing Company factory fire of 1864. While it is called Model 1858 for the year it was patented, it was not produced in full scale production until 1861. [Remington: America's Oldest Gunmaker, Roy Marcot Bequette, Primedia 1998]
Because of the Colt company's fire, the Colt 1860 Army was not available for some time, so Remington produced revolvers for the Army that cost 50 cents more than the Colt (today's money would mean the Remington sold for $12 more than the Colt); but those who could afford it remarked that it was durable and the feature of quick reload by switching to another pre-loaded cylinder made it popular. [In book/film, Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood reloads his revolver this way demonstrating common practice during Civil War and after].
Remington Conversion Model, Taylor Firearms
After the Civil War, the Remington 1858 Army revolver saw service in the American West, both as the original percussion model and the new metallic cartridge conversion. Civil War veterans who went out West would have gunsmiths convert their old reliable pistols to the “new” metallic cartridges available in .36, .44, .46 and .45 caliber.
The Remington1858 was used by both the US and Confederate army.
Remington .36 Caliber
The Remington was a single-action, percussion revolver produced by E. Remington & Sons in Llion, New York based on the Fordyce Beals patent. It was a large-framed revolver that was chambered for .44 caliber and had an 8-inch barrel; although a slightly smaller model was produced for the Navy in .36 caliber with a 7.5-inch Beals barrel. The pistol weighs empty at 2-lb, 13-oz.
When the Civil War began, most percussion revolvers were fired with commercial combustible cartridges referred to as paper cartridges, that were constructed of a powder paper envelope glued to the base of a conical bullet. The treated paper was consumed when firing. To load the paper cartridge, one dropped the cartridge with the envelope first into the chamber and seated it firmly with the loading lever until all six chambers were loaded. After all six chambers were loaded, a percussion cap was placed on each of the six nipples at the rear of the cylinder where the hammer struck to fire a chamber. 
To prevent chain firing and reduce black powder fouling, grease was often put into each chamber on top of the loaded projectile. Combustible cartridge (paper cartridges) were pre-greased with beeswax, so the soldier did not have to bother greasing it.
Both US and CSA Army used paper-cartridge pouches like these
Remington percussion revolvers are accurate and capable of considerable power with muzzle velocities in a range between 550 to 1286 feet-per-second; depending upon the charge loaded by the shooter. Combustible (“paper) cartridge velocities range from 700 to 900 feet-per-second depending upon powder quality.
Remington Model 1858, .44-caliber
The Remington revolver's durability is the solid frame design with a topstrap; which earlier models did not have. It was what made it better than the Colt revolvers of the time. The internal action of the Remington is similar to the Colt in construction. The Colt uses separate screws for the hand and trigger, while the Remington used the through-frame screw method.
The Remington-Beals revolver permitted easy cylinder removal for quick reload of pre-loaded cylinders, which was another advantage of revolvers of the time. So, it might have cost more than the Colt, but the Remington 1858 had better features. Cylinder swap took about 12 seconds or less, depending upon the skill of the operator.
For safety, percussion caps were not installed to the quick replacement cylinder until after installation, in case it is accidentally dropped. This safety measure is continued today by cowboy action shooters and black powder firearm enthusiasts.
The only disadvantage over the Colt firearm of the era was that the Remington had a small-diameter cylinder pin that became vulnerable to black powder fouling buildup, making it hard to rotate the cylinder; and more modern black powder increased the fouling residue problem. Colts were less prone to cylinder binding, even with the more modern black powder, because the cylinder pin is larger in diameter and is scored with spiral grooves that collect the majority of fouling.
William F. Cody, commonly known as Buffalo Bill, had an original New Model Army Remington with ivory grips that is part of the Remington Arms Company museum collection. It is on display with a note from Cody:
This old Remington Revolver I carried and used for many years in Indian wars and buffalo killing. And it never failed me.
Cody carried the revolver as a percussion and never converted it to cartridge use, probably as sentiment because he owned cartridge pistols and rifles.
The first Remington offered in metallic cartridge form was in 1868, referred to as the Remington 1868, and it was chambered for .46 caliber rimfire. Remington paid a royalty fee to Smith & Wesson to use the bored-through revolver cylinders used for cartridges. Remington was the first to offer cartridge conversion revolvers and even beat the sales of the Smith & Wesson .44 caliber for two years. Gunsmiths produced cartridge conversions from the cap-and-ball versions in .44-40 and .45 Colt, which became popular in the West. Gunsmiths would buy as many Civil War revolvers as possible, refit and upgrade them for resale. On the average, the revolvers cost $12 to $13, depending how much workmanship was applied. Today replicas cost about $500 to $800, depending once again on the features.
The Remington Arms Company remains one of America's popular firearm manufacturer who still makes its own ammunition as well. Founded by Eliphalet Remington (1793-1861), son of a blacksmith of an English immigrant family from Yorkshire, England. He had three sons who kept the company in the family after their father's death. The business location was selected in an area that became an important trade route in the early United States and thus helped make it a stiff competitor to the Colt Manufacturing company.
Today Remington leads in quality firearms in the American firearm industry, its Remington Model 700 rifle being the most popular despite a recent so-called voluntary recall due to the new variable trigger mechanism. This may stain the company's reputation because it did not recall the rifles for its trigger mechanism problems until several lawsuits involving serious injury over several years. It involved primarily the Walker Trigger and the newer X-model adjustable trigger action. Note that the Walker Trigger is still found in some Model 770/710 rifles.
Remington 1875 Reproduction with antique charcoal bluing - Uberti/Taylor Firearms
This model is the same size as the Model 1858, but was strictly designed for metallic centerfire cartridges and was intended to compete with the famous Colt Peacemaker.
It became a favorite, along with the Peacemaker in the Old West, especially lawmen. Colt had a two-year start before this model was produced; and thus Colt had already secured contracts with the US Army to produce new Army Colts. Remington did, however, procure contracts for 650 1875 models for the Indian police and another 1,000 sold to the Mexican government around 1880. The Egyptian government liked the revolver and requested a contract of 10,000 1875 revolvers, but the Egyptians had still unpaid debts for their contract for Rolling Block rifles. [Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms, 8th edition, Norm Flayderman, 2001; page 145]
During the years 1875 to 1889, 25,000 to 30,000 revolvers were produced in the “new” centerfire cartridges: .44 Remington, .44-40 and .45 caliber. The .45 caliber cylinders were made longer to prevent accidental insertion into a .44 frame. It featured the fluted cylinder, walnut grips, case-hardened hammer and loading gate, a lanyard ring and was available in blued or nickel-plated finishes. The standard barrel length was 7.5-inches, but some were produced with 5-3/4 inch barrels.
In 1888, a Pocket Army model was introduced based upon the 1875.
Remington-Beals Pocket Revolver
Today, these pistols are reproduced by the famous Italian firearm company, Uberti – available in Outlaw, Frontier, and Police models. They are chambered for modern smokeless powder cartridges, available in the traditional .45LC or .357 Magnum, the latter also accepting the .38-Special cartridge. Cimarron Firearms and Taylor Firearms offers these in .45LC, .44-40, and .38-Sp.
In a military or police environment, the semi-automatic pistol is the choice; however, I like the feel of the old revolvers and their reliability and ease of maintenance is unquestionable.
Action cowboy shooting has become a popular firearm sport that includes mounted shooting; which the female gender has come to dominate.

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