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Post Civil War Rimfire VS Centerfire Ammo; Conversion from Cap ‘n Ball to Metallic Cartridge

Many years ago, following the Civil War, progress from cap and ball to metallic self-contained cartridges began to progress from military to civilian use at an increasing pace. S&W already had the .22 short with bored through cylinders and held the patent, bought from Rollin White who invented it. They held the corner on the patent. Remington negotiated with Smith & Wesson for rights and began to manufacture conversions to metallic cartridge of their 1858 revolvers. The cartridge chosen was the .46 Short Rimfire (long and extra longs followed for rifle use). Why .46? Well the revolvers had a nominal 0.440-inch bore, but the groove depth were 0.006-0.007 inch, making a bore of 0.451-0.454. The original ball diameter was 0.457 inch. What is interesting this the diameter of the bullet used in in .45 Colt. The answer was the .46 Short, with up to 26 grains of FFFg black powder (Winchester load). This was used not only in the Remington but Colt conversions as well.

Post Civil War Weapons

For the average cowboy the cost of a new Colt in 1873 was more than he made in a month. Because of this many continued to carry the cap ‘n ball revolvers of the Civil War and early models. As time progressed many of these were converted to cartridge use. The .46 Short was designed in 1868, and quantities started to hit the shelves shortly after. In considering rimfires of the era we will remember that the .44 Henry was introduced pre-Civil War and was following during the war with the 56-50 Spencer. Both survived to post Civil War days and where quite popular on the western frontier. A lot of gun carriers had a rifle, but there was a relative few who carried side arms. This was mostly due to cost, but the rifles of the era were more accurate than what the average shooter was with a handgun. Most of the Henry’s and Winchester’s were self-defense rifles chambered for essentially handgun cartridges with minimal effect against deer sized game. Many used surplus Civil War muzzle loaders for hunting, and even the pro-hunter used a heavy single shot rifle like the Sharps, Ballard, Remington and single shot Winchester. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Winchester 1876 and the .45-75 chambered in that gun that the repeater rifle was capable of being a viable all game hunting rifle.

Centerfire .50-70 Govt

Most cartridges introduce prior to the 1870’s where rimfire. One of the exceptions was the centerfire .50-70 Government that served in Springfield cartridge conversions and was the official US Army caliber from 1866 to 1873. This cartridge soldiered on in civilian usage with ammo available clear through to 1940. It is making a comeback in Cowboy Action Shooting.

Centerfire VS Rimfire

The problem is that rimfire cartridges are single use and cannot be reloaded. For the period cartridges were relatively expensive and the later Boxer primed centerfire were more popular as they can be reloaded and cheaply because the case is a primary cost, brass is expensive. Of course the practical side is that the brass was the only practical recoverable component, but reloading could shave of the price of new cartridges by 1/3 to ½ the cost. By 1871 most new cartridge introductions were centerfire with Boxer primers. There were many rimfires in this era but the .46 played a pivotal roll in the conversion from cap ‘n ball to metallic cartridge.