Introduction to the Dragoon
The Colt Third Model Dragoon, a classic symbol of the mid-19th century American West, has a rich and remarkable history. This robust percussion revolver was both a significant evolution in firearm technology and a central player in the expansion and conflict of its era. This comprehensive examination of the Third Model Dragoon will cover its development, manufacture, and use, as well as its broader historical and technological context.
The Precursor: Colt First and Second Model Dragoon
The story of the Colt Third Model Dragoon must begin with its predecessors. After Samuel Colt's patent for a revolving cylinder mechanism in 1836, he founded the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in Paterson, New Jersey. The first product, the Colt Paterson, was well received for its innovative design but struggled commercially, leading to the company's bankruptcy in 1842.
Undeterred, Colt formed a partnership with Eli Whitney Jr., son of the inventor of the cotton gin, to manufacture the Whitneyville-Hartford Dragoon pistol. This second attempt had a more robust design, a product of lessons learned from the Paterson's fragility. Its design changes included a heavier frame, a square back trigger guard, and a second barrel latch for increased stability.
The Development of the Colt Third Model Dragoon
The Colt Third Model Dragoon, which entered production in 1851, emerged from Colt's ongoing commitment to innovation and improvement. It incorporated feedback from soldiers using the Second Model Dragoon in the field. The most noticeable change from the second model was the round trigger guard, replacing the square back design. Other tweaks included a strengthened loading lever latch and a streamlined cylinder.
This model is sometimes known as the "Model of 1851" and is one of the most powerful black powder revolvers developed. The .44 caliber six-shot revolver was designed to be carried in saddle holsters and was frequently used by dragoons – soldiers trained to fight both on foot and horseback – from which it derived its name.
Manufacturing and Output
Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, based in Hartford, Connecticut, was the primary manufacturer of the Colt Third Model Dragoon. Samuel Colt had founded this new company in 1847, with the production of the First Model Dragoon. By 1855, Colt was operating one of the world's most advanced armament factories.
Between 1851 and 1861, approximately 10,500 units of the Colt Third Model Dragoon were produced. Each revolver was handmade, requiring careful craftsmanship and quality control. Production ceased as the civil war began and the advent of cartridge ammunition rendered the Dragoon's percussion system obsolete.
Usage and Adoption
The Colt Third Model Dragoon was primarily used by the United States and its territories. It was instrumental in the US-Mexico war, various conflicts with Native American tribes, and the early stages of the Civil War. It was also adopted by the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement entities.
Internationally, a small number of Dragoons were used by the British in the Crimean War and sold to Russia. However, the bulk of Dragoons served in North America.
Ammunition and Performance
The Third Model Dragoon used a .44 caliber round ball or conical projectile and a percussion cap to ignite the black powder charge. The power of the Dragoon was significant for its time, with a muzzle velocity around 1,000 feet per second. Its range was equally impressive, with an effective range of over 100 yards, a long distance for a handgun of the period.
The Dragoon's heft, combined with its significant firepower, made it an effective weapon for mounted soldiers who could handle the weight and required stopping power against both
opposing cavalry and infantry.
The Colt Third Model Dragoon was one of the most powerful pistols in use during its time, but it wasn't the only one. The United States also used various other pistols, including the Colt 1851 Navy and the Remington New Model Army.
The 1851 Navy was a smaller, more manageable .36 caliber weapon, favored by many due to its balance and reliability. The Remington New Model Army was a direct competitor to Colt, also a .44 caliber and widely used during the Civil War.
Britain, an ally of the United States, mainly used the Adams Revolver, a double-action .44 caliber revolver, while France used the Lefaucheux M1858, a 12mm pinfire revolver.
During the Crimean War (1853-1856), Russia, an adversary, used the Lefaucheux-Francotte M1854, another pinfire revolver, while their traditional single-shot percussion pistols were slowly phased out.
The Colt Third Model Dragoon marks a crucial period in the development of firearms. It is an embodiment of the relentless progression in technology and manufacturing that characterized the mid-19th century. Its power, robustness, and advanced design for its time make it a fascinating study for those interested in the history of firearms and the American West.
This revolver represents a time when individual craftsmanship and industrial manufacturing started to blend. Its legacy continues in the modern firearms produced by Colt's Manufacturing Company, ensuring the Dragoon's place in the annals of firearm history. This transition from black powder, single-shot pistols to revolving cylinder designs set the stage for the future evolution of handguns and the eventual development of modern cartridge ammunition.
In conclusion, the Colt Third Model Dragoon, like many pieces of technology, is a product of its time. Its existence and use provide valuable insights into the needs, skills, and challenges of the era in which it was produced. It's a testament to the innovative spirit of Samuel Colt and his unwavering commitment to the improvement and evolution of firearm technology.
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