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Old 11-08-2005, 06:20 PM   #1
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cap and ball revolver ballistics

A question was raised about cap and ball revolver ballistics. The natural inclination is to look at the gelatin penetration and other technical data. Fortunately, common sense shows us a simpler way to analyze the question.

Three cap and ball revolvers have probably been used more than all others combined. These are the .44 Colt Walker, .36 1851 Colt Navy and the .44 1860 Colt Army percussion cap revolvers.

In general, .36 caliber muzzleloading revolvers are comparable to .32 ACP and .32 S&W Long hollowpoint cartridges. In like fashion, .44 and .45 muzzleloading revolvers are comparable to .38 S&W Special, .38 S&W Special +P, or 9mm Luger hollowpoint cartridges, depending on the maximum charge. The reason for these comparisons is because the roundball's low sectional density makes it behave like an expanded hollowpoint. The bullet weight, muzzle velocity and muzzle energy of the cap and ball revolvers is comparable in each comparison, too.

In actual use, roundballs exited the "shootee" a much lower percentage of the time than did bullets, due to the roundball's lower sectional density. This often occurs because the ball strikes bone and cannot perforate it.

This could easily turn into an academic debate, were it not for the Civil War. While the Union cavalry fought primarily as a "mechanized infantry", the Confederate cavalry fought in a guerrilla, hit-and-run manner. Lacking the large numbers of repeating rifles fielded by the Union, the Confederate cavalry extensively used cap-and-ball revolvers. Revolvers saw use in the Union Army primarily in the hands of officers. Confederate cavalry troops typically carried four to six loaded cap-and-ball revolvers. Two were carried on the belt and two (sometimes four) were carried on the horse. Yes, they really did hold the reins in their teeth while riding and shooting. Teenagers, Jesse and Frank James, rode and fought this way as two of Quantrill's Raiders (Confederate).

Although the .36 revolvers were successful, most Confederate cavalry troopers came to favor captured .44 1860 Army revolvers. After the War, retired Union officer "Wild Bill" Hickock used .36 1851's and Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin used .44 1860's, just to name two.

Side Note:
The Southern / French Le Mat was a treasure, too, but hard to come by. The Le Mat was invented by Dr. Jean Alexander Francois Le Mat of New Orleans. Le Mat and P. G. T. Beauregard first attempted to manufacture the Le Mat revolver in the South. It didn't work out, so they had it made in France. The magnificently designed Le Mat consisted of a 9 shot .42 calibered cylinder rotating around a short .63 (~20 ga.) shotgun barrel.

People have taken deer with .44 and .45 cap-and-ball revolvers, but I don't recommend it. Interestingly, as a teenager, I met a pizza restaurant manager from New Jersey who had shot an armed robber with a .36 1851 revolver. Why an 1851 .36 revolver? Because a cap-and-ball revolver was the only handgun he could legally have in his NJ business at that time. Now, even cap-and-ball is restricted there. He told me that he fired one shot when the robber was distracted and it was enough to stop the modern-gun armed robber.
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Old 11-08-2005, 08:23 PM   #2
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Joined: Jun 2004

Posts: 3,467

G-BULLET! that was a pretty cool postin',,,MY HAT IS OFF! UNTO YOU ,SIR!

b.t.w.[?} have YOU ever "caught" the movie with 'dennis hopper' titled

"MAD-DOG-MORGAN",,,anyway[a strange movie] at the end,,,,he's drunk as a 'LORD' with ABOUT [42] PISTOLES STRAPPED TO HIS ASS!
Old 11-08-2005, 11:30 PM   #3
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@tGBullet thx for the intersting answer
Old 11-09-2005, 11:31 AM   #4
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Joined: Oct 2003

Posts: 1,690
Much appreciated, brass. No, I haven't seen "Mad Dog Morgan".

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