Original U.S. Civil War Colt New Model 1855 .56cal Military Revolving Rifle Serial 2963 - Made in 1861
Original Item: Only One Available. These are extremely rare, and this is the first example of a Colt Revolving Rifle that we have ever had! This is also only the second revolving rifle of any type that we have seen! While hand held revolvers caught on in a HUGE way, the same could not be said for the revolving rifle. They remain an interesting footnote in firearms history.
The Colt New Model Revolving rifles were early repeating rifles produced by the Colt's Manufacturing Company from 1855 until 1864. The design was essentially similar to revolver type pistols, with a rotating cylinder that held five or six rounds in a variety of calibers from .36 to .64 inches. They were mainly based upon the Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer Pocket Revolver developed by Elisha K. Root. Colt revolving pistols and rifles were attractive mainly because of their high rate of fire. They were used to a limited extent on the Pony Express, and made a brief appearance in the American Civil War. However, the rifles were generally disliked by soldiers, and were ultimately discontinued due to serious design flaws. These included both the difficult reloading and cleaning process, as well as the propensity for the revolving rifles to "cook off" or "chain fire", resulting in serious injuries or even death.
This is a wonderful example of a Colt New Model 1855 "Root" Revolving Military Rifle, in the larger .56cal chambering, with a 5 shot cylinder. It has the correct full length stock and cleaning rod of the military rifle, and originally had sling swivels, however they were ground off at some point during the rifle's history. It definitely shows signs of cleaning and wear from its long life, but still presents beautifully.
The top of the cylinder strap still has the correct Colt address marking:
COL. COLT HARTFORD CT. U.S.A.
The patent markings on the left side of the frame have unfortunately been worn away from over a century of careful cleaning. It still has the serial number 2963 marked on the bottom of the cylinder as well as on the trigger guard tang, which indicates manufacture in 1861. Colt records list two "1855 SIDEHAMMER (ROOT MODEL)" entries, the first of which is the Model 1855 Revolver, and the second is the Model 1855 Revolving Carbine & Rifle.
Condition of the rifle is just lovely, with the metalwork showing an aged brown patina, and traces of the original case hardening in places. The stock is also quite attractive, with a lovely red brown color, and only light wear. As far as we can tell, the rifle functions well, cycling well through all 5 chambers, with good cylinder movement and indexing. The "Sidehammer" revolving action can get worn, however we have not detected any issues. The loading rammer is functional as well. We checked the bore, and it shows strong lands and grooves, with a bit of past oxidation from the corrosive black powder used.
A fantastic opportunity to pick up an extremely rare revolving rifle in great condition. Chances like these do not come by often at all!
History of Colt Revolving Rifles:
Revolving rifles were an attempt to increase the rate of fire of rifles by combining them with the revolving firing mechanism that had been developed earlier for revolving pistols. Colt began experimenting with revolving rifles in the early 19th century, making them in a variety of calibers and barrel lengths.
Colt revolving rifles were the first repeating rifles adopted by the U.S. government, but they had their problems. They were officially given to soldiers because of their rate of fire. But after firing six shots, the shooter had to take an excessive amount of time to reload. On occasion Colt rifles discharged all their rounds at once, endangering the shooter. Even so, an early model was used in the Seminole Wars in 1838.
In March, 1836, Colt formed the Patent Arms Company and began operation in an unused silk mill along the banks of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey. His first product was a ring-lever revolving rifle, available in .34, .36, .38, .40, and .44 caliber, in which a ring located forward of the trigger served to cock the hammer and advance the cylinder for each shot. This was soon followed with a revolving pistol. These five-shot "Paterson" revolvers featured folding triggers, and were available both with and without loading levers in .28, .31 and .36 caliber.
Patent Arms produced smoothbore revolving carbines and shotguns. The outbreak of war between the U.S. government and the Seminole tribe provided Colt with his first break. Seminole warriors had learned that soldiers were vulnerable while reloading their single-shot firearms, and they developed a tactic of drawing fire, then rushing the temporarily defenseless soldiers and wiping them out before they could fire a second volley. Colt's revolving rifles were quite effective against this, and the army purchased his products for use by troops in the Florida campaign.
In 1855, with his Model 1855 patent, Colt introduced a spur-trigger revolver that featured a fully enclosed cylinder. These handguns were officially named Sidehammer revolvers, but they also were known as "Root" revolvers after Elisha K. Root, who at that time was employed as Colt's factory superintendent and Chief Engineer.
Based on the Sidehammer design, Colt produced the Sidehammer Model 1855 rifles and carbines for military and sporting use, as well as a revolving shotgun. In failing health, Colt expanded his factory on the eve of the Civil War, and began production of a new, lightweight .44 caliber Army revolver, followed a year later by a .36 caliber Navy version.
This was produced in a rifle version as well as a shortened carbine. In 1855 it became the first repeating rifle to be adopted for service by the U.S. Military, but problems with the design prevented its use until 1857. The principal problem was that gunpowder would sometimes leak from the paper cartridges in field conditions, lodging in various recesses around the firing cylinder. Hot gas leaking from the gap between the firing cylinder and the barrel would ignite this powder, which would in turn, ignite all of the powder in the chambers waiting to be fired. This is known as a "chain fire" and was a relatively common failure with early percussion revolving firearms. When this happened with the Colt Revolving Rifle, a spray of metal would be sent forward into the left arm and hand of the user.
A distrust in the weapon developed as a result. Commanders attempted to get around the problem in a number of ways. The rifle had to be properly and thoroughly cleaned, since sloppy cleaning would leave residue behind that would increase the risk of a chain fire. Some commanders instructed their men to fire the weapon only while supporting it directly in front of the trigger guard or by holding the lowered loading lever, which moved their left hand out of the path of danger during a chain fire. Other commanders instructed their men to load only a single chamber, preventing any chain fires from occurring. Loading a single chamber at a time also reduced the weapon to a single shot weapon, and effectively defeated the entire purpose of having a repeating rifle.
Year of Manufacture: 1861
Ammunition Type: Cap and Ball
Barrel Length: 31 1/4 inches
Overall Length: 49 1/4 inches
Action: Single Action
Feed System: 5 Shot Revolver
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