During the last years of the American Civil War up to the 1880’s firearm users had to deal with the transition from cap n’ ball to cartridges. The 44 Henry served throughout the war in small numbers and was popular as it had a tremendous advantage of 15 shots versus about 2 per minute for the average muzzle stuffer. But this was at ranges no more than about a hundred yards where as the US Springfield and CSA’s Enfield could project lead accurately out to and a bit beyond 300 yards. The only other significant combat weapon introduced was the Spencer. For personal protection Smith & Wesson’s No. 1 revolver in 22 short and the 32 caliber S&W No. 1 ½ where the cartridges of choice.
Transitioning from Black Powder Rifle Cartridges
From 1866 onwards, the Army was armed with Spencer’s and trap door conversions of the Springfield in .50-70, a much more powerful round than the anemic .56 caliber of the Spencer. With introduction of the Sharps, Remington rolling blocks and some other assorted single shots that ruled the roost from the mid 1860’s to the early 1870’s the rifle world was rapidly evolving to and embracing the cartridge, most were in centerfire as well.
Rimfire Cartridge Conversions for Revolvers
But sidearms where different. There the rimfire cartridge conversions reigned supreme for nearly a decade. Both the Colt and Remington revolvers had a bore that approached .45 caliber and required a .454-inch ball, the same as .45 calibers are defined today. Thus, these early conversions where chambered for the .46 Short rimfire cartridge. Early on the only way ensure fast reloads was to carry a spare and loaded cylinder. The Remington excelled at rapid cylinder changes, while the Colt was as handy at the cylinder change. Cavalry on both sides adopted the revolver many carrying three or more. One on the side, and two on saddle holsters. Eighteen shots or so without having to reload in hit and run tactics common to cavalry operations. Those with rifles tended to be dragoons, basically mounted infantry, like the cavalry you see in the westerns. As for as the .36 Colt Navy the cartridge was the .38 Short. Many of the conversion calibers like the .46 and .38 Short were still loaded up to 1940.
Centerfire Conversion Cylinders
Then it began to change. Smith & Wesson introduced their No. 3 revolver in .44 American and a bit more powerful .44 Russian. In 1873 Winchester introduced two rounds, the .44-40 and the less popular .38-40. These were adopted by Colt who also introduced the .45 Colt followed by the shorter .45 S&W. These were all centerfire, reloadable and more powerful than their rimfire cousins. Though the .45 Colt, sometimes called the .45 Long Colt to distinguish it from the S&W round in military usage, never transitioned to rifles is was none the less a superior round for sidearms. The .44-40 was a bit more useful in rifles, though a lot of Colts where chambered for it. This allowed the frontiersman a single round for accurate rifle fire out to about 100-150 yards and a side arm good for about 50 feet with the same cartridge. Cowboys and desperados seldom had need for the ranges offered by the Sharps and other single shot rifles of the era.
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This transition to cartridges is intriguing mostly because so many of the interim rounds were rimfire cartridges.
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