Samuel Colt's masterful creations, the 1851 Navy and the 1860 Army revolvers, have left an indelible mark in the annals of firearms history. These two revolvers, despite their shared heritage, possess distinct differences, including their design, configuration, caliber, and famous individuals who wielded them. The present article examines these aspects in detail to compare and contrast these iconic firearms.
Design and Configuration
The design elements and configuration of the Colt 1851 Navy and the Colt 1860 Army differ significantly, reflecting their specific use cases and the technological advancements of the time.
The Colt 1851 Navy revolver, introduced in 1850, was a cap-and-ball revolver holding six .36 caliber rounds. Its iconic octagonal barrel was 7.5 inches long. The Navy was typically furnished with a brass frame and a walnut grip, lending to its remarkable aesthetic appeal. Another distinguishing feature was the engraved naval battle scene between the Texas Navy and the Mexican fleet on the cylinder, from which it derived its name "Navy."
On the other hand, the Colt 1860 Army revolver, introduced in 1860, was also a cap-and-ball firearm but was chambered for a more potent .44 caliber round. Its barrel was round and slightly longer, measuring 8 inches. The Army was generally produced with a steel frame, which provided a considerable strength advantage over the brass-framed Navy, and a walnut grip. The Army’s cylinder was adorned with a roll-engraved scene of a Texas Ranger and Indian fight, emphasizing its martial intent.
The usage of the Colt 1851 Navy and the Colt 1860 Army revolvers varied greatly, reflecting their design objectives and the demands of the times they were produced in.
The Navy revolver was primarily intended for naval and civilian use but quickly found favor among soldiers and lawmen. Its popularity soared during the California Gold Rush, where it was often employed for personal defense. The Navy was also popular in the American Civil War, with both the Union and the Confederacy utilizing it extensively.
The Colt 1860 Army, in contrast, was designed with military application in mind. Its .44 caliber chambering delivered a more potent punch, making it suitable for cavalry units. The Army was the primary sidearm for Union forces during the American Civil War, and its reputation as a reliable combat weapon spread far and wide.
Performance and Ballistics
The performance and ballistics of the Colt 1851 Navy and Colt 1860 Army revolvers differ significantly due to the different calibers and designs of these weapons.
The Navy revolver, with its .36 caliber round, fired a lead ball weighing approximately 80 grains, propelled by about 15-20 grains of black powder. The ball's muzzle velocity averaged around 1,000 feet per second, generating about 160 foot-pounds of energy.
Conversely, the Army revolver, chambered in .44 caliber, fired a heavier lead ball of around 140 grains, pushed by 30-40 grains of black powder. This resulted in a muzzle velocity close to 850 feet per second but generated a significantly higher energy level of about 242 foot-pounds, making it more lethal.
The Colt 1851 Navy and Colt 1860 Army revolvers have been wielded by some of the most notable figures of their time.
Famous users of the Navy included "Wild Bill" Hickok, a renowned gunfighter, and Richard Francis Burton, an English explorer. Hickok, known for his quick-draw and
deadly accuracy, purportedly carried a pair of Navy revolvers and used them in the infamous shootout in Deadwood. Burton, on the other hand, carried the Navy during his explorations and praised its balance and accuracy.
The Colt 1860 Army was favored by many prominent figures of the American Civil War, including General George Armstrong Custer. Custer is said to have carried two Army revolvers during the Battle of Little Bighorn. Additionally, the infamous outlaw John Wesley Hardin was known to have used the Army during his violent career.
In conclusion, while both the Colt 1851 Navy and the Colt 1860 Army revolvers stem from the same inventive genius of Samuel Colt, they bear distinctive characteristics that set them apart. Whether it be their design, configuration, use, performance, ballistics, or the famous individuals who wielded them, these revolvers have their unique place in firearms history. Their impact is undeniably significant, shaping the trajectory of handgun development and leaving a legacy that continues to captivate firearm enthusiasts to this day.
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