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455 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The February 1975 issue of the American Rifleman has an interesting article on what loads were used in Civil War .36 and .44-caliber paper cartridges for Colt revolvers.
No mention is made of Remington or other cap and ball revolver charges but they were likely identical or nearly so.
No granulation (FFG or FFFG) is noted in the article. Round balls were generally not used in paper cartridges, but were loaded with loose powder.
There was a surprising disparity in bullet weights and powder charges in paper combustible cartridges for the Colts, according to the article.
Conical bullets for the Colt M1860 Army .44-caliber revolver ranged from 207 grs. to 260 grs. Powder charges ranged from 17 to 36 grains of black powder.
Conical bullets for the Colt .36 Navy ranged from 139 to 155 grs. Charges ranged from 12 to 21 grains.
Nearly all of these variations are found in prepared, paper cartridges manufactured by private contractors. It appears that U.S. government arsenals made few paper revolver cartridges, preferring to contract this task.
Union Army ordnance manuals of 1861 specify a load of 30 grs of powder with a .46-caliber, 216 gr. conical ball in Colt M1860 revolvers.
The same manual specifies a .39-caliber conical bullet of 145 grs., over 17 grs. of powder.
An official Confederate States publication specifies a 250 gr. conical bullet over 30 grs. of powder for the Colt M1860 revolver.
The Confederate specification for the Colt Navy is the same as the Union (.39 caliber conical of 145 grs. over 17 grs. powder).
In the 1860s an average load for the Colt M1860 .44 revolver was 25 grs. of powder with a 146 gr. (about 460" diameter) round ball or a conical bullet of about 230 grs.
The average load for the Colt Navy was 15 grs. of powder with an 81 gr. (about .380" diameter) round ball or a conical bullet of about 146 grs.
Old loadings will occasionally list a 218 gr. conical bullet with a 40 to 50 gr. powder charge. This is intended for the Colt Model 1847 Walker or the later Dragoons, which have a larger capacity than the Colt M1860 .44 revolver.
Of great interest in this article is the apparent dissection of original paper cartridges and the weighing of their powder charge and conical ball weight.
The results follow:
Hazard Powder Co. - 211 gr. conical / 36 grs. powder
Bartholow's - 260 gr. conical / 19 grs. powder
Johnston & Dow - 242 gr. conical / 35 grs. powder
Unknown - 257 gr. conical / 17 grs. powder
Unknown - 207 gr. conical / 22 grs. powder
Hotchkiss - 207 gr. conical / 22 grs. powder
Hazard Powder Co. - 141 gr. conical / 21 grs. powder
Bartholow's - 139 gr. conical / 14 grs. powder
Johnston & Dow - 150 gr. conical / 17 grs. powder
Unknown - 155 gr. conical / 12 grs. powder
Unknown - 149 gr. conical / 13 grs. powder

The 2003 Dixie Gun Works catalogue recommends loads very closely resembling the above, but with a ball, not a conical bullet.
All .36 caliber revolvers: .376 inch ball over 22 grs. FFFG black power.
.44 Remington and Colt original gun: .453 inch ball over 28 grs. FFFG black powder
.44 Remington and Colt reproductions: .451 inch ball over 28 grs. FFFG black powder
In my own experience, I've obtained the best accuracy in reproduction guns with balls measuring .380 inch in the .36 and .454 or .457 inch in the .44 Remington and Colt. I have never fired an original cap and ball revolver.

In "A History of the Colt Revolver From 1836 to 1940" by Charles T. Haven and Frank E. Belden, the authors list load recommendations listed by Colt in the 1850s and 1860s.
Haven and Belden note, "FFG black powder is best for the large and medium-size revolvers, and FFFG for the small pocket models, but any grade that is available will work reasonably well."
Gatofeo notes: In my own experience, I use FFFG in my .31, .36 and .44 revolvers with fine accuracy. I don't see much need to use FFG powder in the .36 and .44 revolvers if you can get FFFG.
Colt recommended the following, more than 125 years ago:
1 dram = 27.3 grains (grs.)
.44 Dragoon: 1-1/2 drams of black powder (41 grs.) and a round bullet of 48 to the pound (about 146 grs, which calculates at about .46 caliber) or a conical bullet of 32 to the pound (about 219 grains).
.44 M1860 Army - Powder charge about 1/3 less than the Dragoon, or 27 grains. A conical bullet of 212 grains (33 to the pound) or the same round ball used in the Dragoon above (about .46-caliber or 146 grs. weight).
.36 M1851 Navy - Powder charge of 3/4 of a dram (20 grs.) and conical bullet 140 grs. (50 to the pound ). Or a round ball of 81 grs. (86 to the pound, which would be about .379 or .380 diameter).
.36 M1862 Pocket and Police - Conical bullet over 15 grs. of powder. No weight is given the conical bullet for this model but it's known that it had its own bullet mould, casting a shorter bullet than the Navy .36 revolver.
Presumably, the .380 ball above is used with the same powder charge. In my own 1862 reproduction, I use 20 grs. of FFFG under a .380 inch ball.
.31 Old and New Model Pocket Pistols - Conical bullet of 76 grains (92 to the pound) over half a dram (13.5 grains) of powder, or a round ball of 50 grs. (140 to the pound and about .320 inch diameter).
Gatofeo notes: Present day 0 buckshot measures about .320 inch and makes an excellent ball for the .31-caliber cap and ball revolvers. Cheap too!
.265 M1855 Sidehammer: Ball of 35 grains (200 to the pound, about .285 diameter) or a 55 gr. (128 to the pound) conical bullet. No charge is listed, but I would guess that 10 grains of powder would be correct.

The late gun writer Elmer Keith (1898 - 1984) wrote a book, "Sixguns" in the mid 1950s. In it, he included a chapter on cap and ball revolvers.
Keith learned how to load and shoot these revolvers from Civil War veterans when he grew up in Helena, Montana. In 1912, at the age of 14, he began carrying a Colt 1851 Navy in .36 caliber.
Keith recommended FFFG black powder for the .28 and .31 caliber revolvers, and FFG black powder for theh .36 and .44 guns.
He didn't list loads by weight, but he instructed to pour in the powder until it almost filled the chamber, leaving room for a greased felt wad.
Keith punched felt wads from an old hat, and soaked them in a lubricant made of melted beeswax and tallow.
Gatofeo notes: I use mutton tallow myself, available from Dixie Gun Works.
This wad was placed over the powder, then the ball rammed down with it until the ball was slightly below flush of the chamber. Gatofeo notes: I seat the wad as a separate operation, then seat the ball.
Keith noted, "A percussion sixgun thus loaded will shoot clean all day if you blow your breath through the bore a few times after each six rounds are fired. It will also shoot very accurately if it is a good gun."
"I had one .36 Navy Colt that had a pitted barrel, but with the above load it would cut clover leaves for its six shots, at 20 yards, all day with seated back and head rest and two hands used between the knees to further holding," Keith wrote.
"For its size and weight nothing is so deadly as the round ball of pure lead when driven at fairly good velocity," Keith wrote. "Maximum loads give these slugs fairly high velocity from a 7-1/2 inch barrel gun.
Keith knew two Civil War cavalrymen who had seen an enormous amount of battle in the Civil War. Major R. E. Stratton fought in the Confederacy's 1st Texas Regiment. Samuel H. Fletcher fought in the Union's 2nd Illinois Cavalry.
"Both Maj. Stratton and Sam Fletcher told me the .36 Navy with full loads was a far better man killer than any .38 Special they had ever seen used in gun fights," Keith wrote.
"Maj. Stratton said that for a man stopper he preferred the round ball with chamber full of FFG to the pointed conical bullet," Keith wrote. "Sam Fletcher also told me he preferred a pure lead round ball in his Navy Colts with chamber full of black powder, to the issued conical ball load.
"Fletcher claimed the round ball dropped enemy cavalrymen much better and took all the fight out of them, whereas the pointed bullet at times would only wound and leave them fighting.
"Fletcher stated, however, that when foraging and shooting cattle for meat, the pointed bullet was the best for body shots that had to be taken where penetration was needed. But that on all frontal shots on beef, the old round ball was plenty good and would reach the brain --- even on bulls.
"Major Stratton claimed that while the big Dragoon was slower for quick-draw work, once you had it in your hand it was the best cavalry pistol of all," Keith wrote. "It would drop a horse as easily as a man with its .45-caliber round or conical ball and 50 grains of FFG black powder."
Interesting stuff, no?

406 Posts

This information closely approximates my favorite loads of 20gr fffg for .36 and 25gr fffg for the .44 Colt. I use 30gr fffg for my Remington. I get great accuracy with these loads. I've also theorized that the shape of the round ball was a better manstopper than it was given credit for in modern writing. The round profile is closer to a wadcutter than it is to a conical. With the .36 and about 1000 fps, it should make itself felt rather dramatically!

Dan c

739 Posts
The round ball doesn't get much respect, mostly from people who have been looking at the ballistic charts rather than shooting. While I am a novice pistolero, I have a lot of experience hunting big game, with modern firearms and with black powder. Using black powder, I have never used anything but round ball. I have gotten into arguments with guys on other forums who are telling me how ineffective round balls are. One guy stated that on deer, round balls have a one in four failure rate, and that a .54 round ball would "go splat" against the ribs of an elk. It turned out this character had never hunted with black powder, but he had read about it.
Having killed 40+ deer with a 30-06, I am continually amazed at what a devastating deer killer the round ball is. I have used the .50 to take 13 big game animals. If there is a one in four failure rate, then my next four or five shots will fail, because I have made 100% kills with the patched round ball.

455 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I have recovered a number of .36-caliber balls from my Colt 2nd generation (circa 1981) 1851 Navy. All of them fired with 24 grs. of FFFG, for a full load.
Many flattened to the size of a nickel. Occasionally, one was recovered that was almost unchanged from when it left the barrel.
A number of shooters don't realize that the round ball placed in the mouth of a revolver chamber isn't round after ramming it firmly onto a powder charge.
Its shape may best be described as half an orange placed against half a grapefruit, flesh-to-flesh.
The resistance of the powder, and the softness of the lead, cause the rammer to form the ball into this shape. It leaves the barrel in this configuration.
This shape is, I believe, the unintentional granddaddy to the modern semi-wadcutter shape.
It doesn't have the semi-wadcutter's length, for good ballistic coefficience, but it certainly has the full diameter shoulder that cuts a clean hole.
See for yourself. Shoot at a double or triple thickness of cardboard stapled to a scrap of wood and you'll see the classic, clean "wadcutter" hole.
The soft lead, and this shape, are responsible for the stopping power all out of proportion to the velocity and weight of the round ball in a cap and ball revolver.
As cited above, Civil War veterans noted the excellent stopping power of the .36 Navy. On paper, the Navy's 80 gr. ball at 1,000 feet per second doesn't look like much.
But it's commonly known --- in horrific examples --- that a pure lead bullet (round or conical) tends to flatten when striking bone and heavy muscle.
This caused devastating wounds in the American Civil War.
These terrible injuries led to the formalized rules of war that banned the use of lead bullets and mandated that the lead be enclosed in a harder, metal jacket that wasn't so prone to flatten or fragment upon impact.
This was seen as humane. Actually, I find it disturbingly ironic that flame throwers, jagged shrapnel, bombs designed to castrate or wound and bullets designed to tumble in flesh are not banned.
The lead ball is not NEW, SEXY, MODERN, BONE-CRUNCHING, FLAT-SHOOTING and all the other adjectives that advertising agencies attach to the sabots and non-traditional conicals.
But only the ill-informed would say that the round ball, propelled by a hefty powder charge, is ineffective.
Those that spurn the round ball for elk, moose, black bear and other large critters conveniently forget that for 350 years North American hunters used nothing else, with devasatating effect.
If I hunted elk, I'd probably use a traditional conical bullet in my .50-caliber muzzleloader, for a little extra edge in energy.
But if all I had were lead balls, I wouldn't feel undergunned. On the contrary, I'd feel a greater link to those who now reside in the Happy Hunting Grounds.
Similarly, I'd never intentionally choose to have a cap and ball revolver in my hand if my life were threatened by an aggressor. But I certainly wouldn't throw it away.
A .36 or .44-caliber ball, placed in center mass, would surely be effective. Millions of people --- good and bad --- have been killed with the modest lead ball from a black powder revolver.
I'd surely love to see the look on the coroner's face when he finally grasped that flattened lead ball with forceps, pulled it from the corpse, and muttered, "What the ...?"

234 Posts
I agree, I have printed posts I consider informative and useful and file them in a three ring binder. This is one that has been in there for a while. A few years ago, when I first started shooting Cap and ball, some friends and I did an experiment. We fired a .454 ball on 25 grains of fffg black powder at 7 yards into 5 Kansas City phone books. We followed this with a 9 mm into the same amount of phone books. I don't remember what type of bullet the 9 mm had, but it penetrated nearly 2 books with devastating results. The lead ball was stopped by the 4th book, we recovered the ball and it was definitely flat on one side and seemed to have gotten progressively flatter as it passed through the books. I was very impressed by the penetration. These guns are very effective. I did read that one reason they were so effective was they would essentially crush bone as they passed through the body and medicine of the 19th century was limited, so if you were shot in the arm, it came off, if you were shot in the leg, it came off, anywhere else, and you were out of luck. My grandfather was born in 1900, his grandfather and great uncle both fought in the war. His grandfather would never talk about it, his great uncle wanted to talk about nothing else, he had ample opportunity sit and talk about it as he lost his leg in 64 at Nashville with the 122nd Illinois Infantry. I doubt it was to a pistol shot, but the weapons were devastating to be sure.

304 Posts
Great post. My great-great granpa fought for the losing side in the War and carried two Colt 1860's - probably scrounged from a battlefield. I have one of them with mold, cap box, etc. The mold throws a round ball and a conical. I also have a couple of paper cartridges with conical attached. The powder fell out years ago so I can't measure the charge but the paper is still attached to the bullet. Granpa enlisted in 1862 and mustered out in 1865 then returned to Texas. In 1866, he killed two men and wounded a third with his pistols. These men were apparently outlaws with bad intentions who accosted him and his wife in a river bottom near their home. Family history does not record how many shots or what projectile was used but the fight ended quickly. The third attacker was hanged later after a very short trial in town.

171 Posts
Hey Wooldridge, what 's this loosing side stuff, our side didn't loose , we are just taking a break.
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