The Evolution of Remington's Cap & Ball Revolvers

by Tom Ball (Sesech)

OK fellows, I'll give a short "primer" on cap and ball revolvers, Remington's in particular..........Colts in general.

The first large-framed revolvers made by E. Remington & sons were based on "Beals" 1858 patent, collectors call these first revolvers "Beals" models. About 2,000 were made in the army model, and slightly more in the "Navy" model. The army was .44 cal, with an 8" barrel while the navy model was in .36 cal with a 7 3/8" barrel. They differed quite a bit from the "New model 1858" Remington repros we commonly see today.

First of all the loading lever was more squared off, and the round part longer. The "web" portion being shorter. The hammers had higher "spurs", and the metal on top of the frame just behind the hammer was about a quarter inch longer. The frame came all the way back to the end of the barrel, so no barrel thread were showing. They all also had German silver cone-shaped, dovetailed front sights. They did not have "safety notches" in the cylinder, otherwise, looked very similar to the modern reproductions.

Now Remington decided to improve upon the design, and came out with the Model 1861. This did not happen overnight, as there were many "extra" parts, and guns evolved into the 61 model.

Basically, on the earliest 61's, the only differences were the loading lever, and cylinder pin. They were made so that the cylinder pin could be withdrawn without lowering the lever. Certain government officials didn’t think that that was such a good idea, as only a tiny flat spring up under the barrel at the frame held the pin in. Almost all were returned to the factory, and a screw was inserted into the loading lever to block the withdrawal of the pin unless the lever was lowered.

I happen to own a real minty one, very early, where this modification was NOT performed, so there may be more out there like it.

During the year of 1861/62 other changes were being made. The hammer was given a shorter spur so a person with a small hand could cock it more easily. The frame was cut out in the rear near the face of the cylinder, exposing barrel threads, I presume to help overcome the effects of fouling. The safety notches were added to the rear of the cylinder, and the 61 style of loading lever was done away with.

Again all these changes were not done overnight. So many guns are encountered with some changes and not others. Sometime during the run of 61 models they even changed the direction of twist in the barrel. Early guns had left hand twist, so the inertia of the bullet going down the tube tended to unscrew the barrel. I know it's happened to me. So they kept exactly the same style of rifling, i.e. five groove gain twist, but reversed direction so that the inertia of the bullet tended to tighten the barrel. One of the last things to go was the dovetail front sight.

By the time all these changes were made, they actually had a "new" gun, so therefore, they called it the New Model 1858. Reverting back to the original "Beals" Patten, some of the early new model 1858's had the dovetail cone type sight from the factory, so the last real change was the steel blade that screwed in. About 100,000 of the new models were made, and around total of 30,000 Beals, and 61 models; this includes Navies of all types.

Now, Colts on the other hand, never came with dovetail front sights unless requested. Many variations of Colts exist, as Colt did a lot of "custom" work for people with individual ideas.........and one of the usual additions was a silver or brass blade front sight set in a small dovetail on the Navy and Army sized guns. Usually these are seen on presentation pieces, or guns with engraving. I have photos of nice Navies and Armies, silver-plated and engraved with factory dovetail front sights. So my friends, to rule that a modern repro with a dovetail front sight as "modern" is silly. It is NOT adjustable, unless a drift pin and hammer is also attached to the gun on a chain to "adjust" it with........then well maybe....

I know I've run on and on, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart, an I feel the need to try and explain some things that many may not be aware of,,,,,,,,,,,thanks y'all SECESH

Note: Secesh was none other than the (sadly) late Tom Ball who was likely the best Remington gunsmith to the N/SSA.