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This article describes the making of a genuine American Southern longrifle. It was made for me by Master Steven Bookout of Toad Hall Rifleshop in 2001 with no modern tools or electricity. The rifle is made the same way as rifles were made 200 years ago.
Published: 28 January 2015 by Øyvind Flatnes.
Use the slider to see the difference between an orgininal Remington New Army (left) and an Uberti replica.
Original Remington New Model Army with paper cartridges and original mould.
A. J. Blue was a cavalry trooper in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865). On this photo he poses with three Remington revolvers and a sabre (Library of Congress).
Solid frame Remington revolvers are often preferred over Colt's open top revolvers.
The rear sight is milled into the top strap.
Seen from above.
Bad guy view.
The chambers are slightly coned to facilitate loading.
The front sight was damaged and has been replaced.
Colt mould (top) and Remington mould.
The moulds have cavities for both round and conical balls. The Remington mould below.
From left to right: Remington bullet, Colt bullet and a modern Lee bullet.
June, 1863: As the American Civil War raged on, a newly made percussion revolver passed the gates of the E. Remington & Sons factory in the small city of Ilion, New York. One of the first of the Remington New Army model, the revolver was purchased by the Union army which had a colossal demand for firearms in the stalemate war against the rebels in the south. Exactly 150 years after the old veteran became mine. Now it was time to bring it back to life.
No one knows who was issued the revolver or whether it saw action the war. The wear on the barrel shows that it has been drawn from a holster a number of times. The filed-down front sight shows that it some point in time has been used by a man who probably knew what he did, but whether it was used by a cavalryman or officer – or even a gunman after the war – will remain unknown.
Remington New Model Army
What we do know is that Remington's New Model Army was among the most popular revolvers in the American Civil War: it was reliable and accurate, easy to load and the cylinder could be removed and installed in a matter of seconds. In the right hands it was accurate up to 50–75 yards, but the Remington and other cap and ball revolvers were mainly used at close range. With the introduction of revolvers the sabre soon became a thing of the past for the cavalry.
Many believe that the correct Remington New Army designation is "1858 Remington". This is however, a common misconception. The year "1858" is indeed stamped on the barrels of the New Army models, but this points back to the basic patent for its predecessor, a quite different revolver patented by Fordyce Beals in 1858. Take a look at the patent drawings which doesn't look very much like the New Army model.
Remington immediately became interested in Beals' revolver, especially the feature that enabled the fast swapping of cylinders. Beals, who was an employee of Remington, introduced a new revolver built on his 1858 patent in 1860. Called the Remington-Beals, this revolver was produced between 1860 and 1862. A new and improved version which is now called Remington Old Army was introduced in 1861, while the New Model Army appeared in 1863 as Remington's answer to complaints from the U.S Army. The differences between the Old and New Model Army revolvers are mainly a fix that prevented the cylinder arbor from moving forward during use. The German silver cone-shaped front sight dovetailed into the barrel was replaced with a fixed pinched steel sight that was screwed into the barrel. Between 1863 and 1875 Remington manufactured approximately 122,000 copies of the New Model Army.
My revolver is more correctly a transitional model that incorporates features from both the Old and New Model Army. The transitional models were early New Army revolvers that had parts from the Old Army production. Mine has the dovetailed cone-shaped sight, but conforms in all other respects to the New Army pattern.
Compared to my Uberti replica the original is 135 grams heavier, the grip is wider and the sights are different. The tolerances in the cylinder and barrel vary as well, as those of the original are slightly larger.
The condition of the revolver is good, but not mint. The barrel has some minor pitting, but is in good shooting condition. In contrast to most replica revolvers, the original Remington revolvers have progressive rifling that starts slowly and gradually becomes faster towards the muzzle. The rifling is also somewhat deeper compared to replica revolvers and originals also have coned chambers. The latter feature makes it easier to load conical balls. During the heyday of the percussion revolver soldiers almost exclusively loaded their revolvers with cartridges. Usually made from nitrated paper, some were made from swine or sheep guts or even tinfoil – all of which contained powder charge and ball. An article on making these cartridges will be published shortly.
Originally the Remington revolvers were sighted in at 75 yards (68.5 metres), and as a result original revolvers shoot way to high at 25 metres. The original sight was filed down and I have replaced it with a new and higher sight with the same profile as the original. Otherwise the revolver is in original condition, except for new nipples, the trigger guard which isn't original and a new cylinder pin.
Bullets and bullet moulds
While my replica Uberti Remington New Army with Lothar Walther match barrel prefers .454" roundballs, the original requires balls of relatively large diameter. The chambers measure approximately .458" in the muzzle, and .464" roundballs appears to produce the best accuracy. A .464" mould is not available off the shelf, but I got one from a small company called Moose Moulds which is located in Pennsylvania, USA. The double cavity mould is made from aluminium and very well made. It's easy to cast with and drops perfect balls. Jeff Tanner in England can make you a ball mould in any calibre as well, including .464", but his moulds do not come with a sprue plate.
A proper conical mould proved even more difficult to obtain. Although Lee makes a round nosed conical bullet mould intended for percussion revolvers, these bullets are not quite similar to those used originally. They are available in two diameters, .450" og .456", both of which are too small for the original revolver.
Pedersoli in Italy offer copies of various types of old Colt and Remington moulds with one roundball and one conical ball cavity. These moulds are available in steel or brass, and are apparantly intended more as decoration items in, for example, cased sets than for shooters. Anyway, the diameter is way too small for shooting; the biggest diameter is as small as .441".
Since I wanted to test a cartridge which was approximately similar to the original cartridges, the problem was solved by getting two original moulds from eBay. One is marked "Colt's Patent" and "44H" and was originally made from Colt's New Model Holster Pistol, better known as Colt 1860 Army. The other is simply marked "S" and is as far as I can determine made for the Remington New Army.
Both moulds cast a roundball a heelbased conical ball with smaller base diameter compared to the rest of the ball, undoubtedly to facilitate loading. The smaller diameter portion easily starts into the chamber and ensures that he ball is aligned correctly before it is rammed down. The paper was glued to the heel base, which leaves the only grease groove exposed outside the paper casing. The conical bullets are almost identical.
|Band diameter||.459" (11.66mm)||.462" (11.73mm)|
|Heel diameter||.441" (11.20mm)||.439" (11.15mm)|
|Length||.700" (17.78mm)||.679" (17.26mm)|
|Weight||217 grains (14.1g)||220 grains (14.3g)|
|Roundball diameter||.460" (11.68mm)||.460" (11.68mm)|
Loading and accuracy
Moose Mould makes .464in roundball moulds.
Loading a conical bullet.
Target shot with original Remington and roundball cartridges.
Two cylinders with the Colt conical ball and paper cartridges.
Target shot with an replica Uberti Remington and roundball cartridges.
Many replica revolvers are made for roundballs only.
Example of an Uberti Remington that cannot be loaded with original conical ball. A workaround is to remove metal from the frame.
Loading a percussion revolver with paper cartridges is simple (that's why we make them!): insert the cartridge into the chamber and seat it with the plunger. Loading all six chambers is incredibly fast, and it is wonderful not having to think about vials, powder measures, fillers and centring bullets. After the cylinder is loaded (and greased if you haven't already lubricated the cartridge), cap the nipples and shoot.
But what about accuracy? Can the conical balls match roundballs? And are paper cartridges more or less accurate than loads that are loaded with loose powder and ball?
The following informal tests are shot using the best hand at 25 metres against a standard UIT 50 metre target, similar to the course of fire in the MLAIC Mariette and Colt competitions. Two cylinders (12 shots) were fired with each cartridge type, with no cleaning between shots. None of the cartridges were lubricated, but I used grease in front of the balls. Prior to each 12 round string I fired one fouling shot from a clean barrel. The weather was nice, approximately 10–11 degrees Celsius in calm, sunny weather.
.460" roundball cartridge
The original Remington revolver was tested with cartridges made from paper templates and dowel from the H & C kit. The cartridges were loaded with 20 grains of Swiss #2 and a .460" diameter roundball from the original Colt mould. The remaining space was filled with semolina. Because of the short overall length of the cartridge I had to remove the cylinder and use an external cylinder press to seat the balls properly. Five of the six shots grouped in a nine-ring sized group, while the sixth hit a little low. The point of impact was generally low because of the new front sight which was intentionally made a little too high so that I could file it down to proper point of impact.
The ignition was perfect and the group size not too bad either. Actually, this was one of the best groups I have achieved with this revolver, but it had not yet been tested with balls over .457". It felt like the charge was hotter than 20 grains, and perhaps the flash paper adds a little power to the charge.
Conical ball cartridge
The next cartridge out was loaded with a conical ball cast from the original Colt mould in front of 20 grains Swiss #2. The air space was filled with semolina. These cartridges were rolled with a homemade dowel which is slightly longer than the brass dowel from H & C.
The accuracy was a bit uneven with the first cylinder. Three shoots grouped in the upper left part of the target, while two shots hit low in the middle of the target. The recoil caused the latch on the loading lever to release from the barrel stud thus causing the lever to drop – similar to the problem often encountered when shooting Walker revolvers. The second cylinder was considerably harder to load, but the group stabilised to he left on the target. Not exactly match quality, but for combat I guess it was acceptable. Eight shots grouped within 13cm (5"), while four fliers destroyed the impression. Perhaps the accuracy would have improved with slightly less powder?
.464" roundball cartridge
The same load was tested in a paper cartridge with .464" roundballs, using the same paper template and dowel as the conical ball cartridges. The recoil was far more pleasant and accuracy improved considerably compared to the conical balls. Due to the high front sight the point of impact was low, but the first six shots grouped close together and would have been well inside the nine ring. Match quality! The next cylinder produced two fliers slightly above the main group; the final group was encouraging with ten out of twelve shots inside 7cm (2.75"). Two more cylinders loaded without paper cartridge with the same load and showed almost identical results.
Paper cartridges in replica Remington New Army
Finally a replica Uberti Remington New Army was loaded with paper cartridges from the H & C kit, also with 20 grains of Swiss #2, but with a .454" roundball. This revolver is sighted in at 25 metres and usually scores 90 to 92 points in a thirteen shot competition (ten best shots counting). The short H & C cartridges caused the balls to be seated far below the chamber mouth. Usually they are seated slightly below. The accuracy of the first cylinder was OK, with two tens. After two cylinders and the ten best shots counting the final score was 89. Not too bad with paper cartridges, but the original revolver and .464" roundballs in a paper cartridge had the tightest group.
As expected the roundballs proved superior to the conical balls, even in the original revolver with original bullets. The difference between accuracy of properly made paper cartridges and loose loads looks to be minimal, but to conclude more tests are necessary.
Use in competition
During the summer of 2014 I used the original Remington in three different competitions: The Norwegian nationals, the Nordic Championships and in a small local competition – none of which rewarded me with any medals. I used the same loads in all three competitions: 20 grains Swiss #2, semolina filler and .464" roundball with soft lubricant in front of the chambers.
In the Norwegian national championships I loaded with loose powder and ball, but struggled with vertical stringing. The vertical stringing was quite OK. I ended up with 77 points and 5th place at 25m and 65 points at 50m.
A month later I fired the same program during the Nordic championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, but this time I used paper cartridges. At 25m I improved slightly and scored 81 points (one 10, two 9, five 8, one 7 and one 6) which secured me the 17th place. At 50m things went really bad, and I finished at 55 points with 9-9-7-6-6-5-4-3-3-3. I was lucky not to finish last because of a Finn who scored one point less than me. This is my all-time low score in competition, being it musket, rifle or handgun, but I was the only one who used an original revolver. The other cowards used replicas.
I repeated the 81 score in a local competition later that fall, this time with loose powder and ball. After the first season with the revolver I'm ready for new challenges. Sometime I hope to break 90 points with the old Civil War veteran. It should be possible once I get to know the revolver better and get the correct height of the front sight.