Smith & Wesson Revolvers

Gunbroker can be a fascinating place to browse around, in many ways like an online museum. I found a couple of examples of the first cartridge revolvers by Smith & Wesson. These were not by any means the first revolvers but they were the first to use fixed metallic cartridges such as we use now. Everything else at the time was cap and ball.

The first is the S&W Model 1. Originally introduced in 1857, the diminutive Model 1 was intended for personal defense, which may seem strange seeing that it fired only a .22 cal. black powder cartridge. In the Good Old Days, however, medicine was primitive and often all you need do was to wound someone and let nature take care of the rest. If you want to impress someone with your knowledge of firearms trivia, let it drop that that the .22 Short is the oldest cartridge still in general use. That’s right—the Model 1 uses the .22 Short and will even chamber the modern round, although I DO NOT recommend you fire a modern smokeless powder round in an old gun. Made of wrought iron, the design featured a tip-up barrel hinged at the top of the frame (see the other photos). You removed the cylinder to load and empty it. The projection under the barrel is meant to push spent cartridges out of the cylinder. Cartridges were made out of copper rather than brass. Overall it proved to be a good, sturdy design that was unaffected by weather. This particular gun is the 3rd Issue, which means it is postwar production.

The successful Model 1 begat the Model 1½ revolver, which was the same gun scaled up slightly to accommodate a .32 caliber cartridge. It featured an octagon barrel but was still small enough to fit into a coat pocket. By the standards of the time it was a fairly potent weapon.

When war came along Smith & Wesson modified the Model 1½ to the Model 2, often called the Army or Old Army revolver. Although never formally adopted by the military, it was often carried by soldiers from private to general, who appreciated the fact that, unlike a cap and ball weapon, the copper .32 caliber rimfire cartridges were unaffected by moisture. The barrel length increase to 6″ made the gun larger and heavier, but also increased the velocity and stopping power of the bullet. Ambrose Burnside received a handsomely engraved Model 2 as a gift, and I have also seen letters from soldiers describing how they carried them on patrol at Petersburg.

UPDATE: More about the Model 2 here, with info that some 77,000 were produced until 1874, about 35,700 of which were manufactured during the war.

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One response to “Smith & Wesson Revolvers”

  1. RJ Ruble Avatar
    RJ Ruble

    Although the Federal Government never purchased any No. 2 revolvers, the State of Kentucky purchased a small number that were issued to the 7th Kentucky Cavalry.

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