Book Review—The Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver

posted on October 4, 2019

Author Charles W. Pate has again provided the gun collecting community with another remarkable tome, this time on the most popular revolver of the Civil War era, and—in this reviewers opinion—the most beautiful handgun ever made.

Pate's earlier works (U.S. Handguns of World War II, 1998; Smith & Wesson American Model in U.S. and Foreign Service, 2006 and U.S. Military Arms Inspector Marks with co-author Anthony C. Daum, 2016) set the format for an intense volume on the literally amazing story of how the most popular revolver of the Civil War era not only came into being, but how it was manufactured, sold and used.

10 years in the writing, seven weeks of which were spent with the gracious and talented staff of the Colt Archives, Pate has compiled an easy to read and understand narrative of the Colt New Model Army revolver (NMA), meticulously researched with over 1400 footnotes. Few authors in the gun world today make as extensive use of the records held at the National Archives (NARA) as Pate does.

Pate served for 20 years as a U.S. Army officer, and spent another 16 in private industry, where he developed an interest in research and writing. In 1977 Pate teamed up with the late Frank Mallory to scour the NARA for records and serial numbers on issued military firearms, creating the immensely valuable Springfield Research Service. No writer in this field knows the NARA as well as Pate does, with the possible exception of George Moller (American Military Shoulder Arms, 1993 & 2011)

The years spent researching in the NARA and Colt stacks pay off in a huge way with this volume. Hundreds of original letters and dozens of military contracts see the light of day here, for the first time since Samuel Colt actually authored them. The story they tell is full of interesting twists and turns that kept this reviewer on the edge of his chair for hours. Pate starts off telling just how Colt got started in the gun business in 1836, going from rags to rags and then finally to riches with the introduction of the NMA. One of the hidden gems of research Pate uncovered is that Colt's death in 1862, and a devastating factory fire two years later were not the reasons the US government ceased purchasing the NMA in November 1863, having acquired over 130,000 NMA revolvers.

Tales of how Colt sold NMA's south before and during the war, as well as how his pricing schemes drove the chief of ordinance to distraction, are brimming with screenplay-worthy conflicts of interest and influence peddling.

Using nearly 9,000 surveyed examples of the NMA to draw information from, Pate has established five different models and covers the unique features of each in great detail. Concluding chapters delve into cased and embellished examples, including a key to deciphering all of the numerous inspector and sub-inspector marks found on the guns, as well as post-war conversions and rare prototypes.

If you have even the slightest interest in Civil War firearms, this $66 volume will be an interesting read and a must-have book for those that collect this most ergonomically beautiful of all U.S. sidearms. Check it out on

Additional Reading:
The Guns of Manassas, 1861
The Guns of Gettysburg
Colt 1860 Army Richards "Cartridge Conversion" Revolver


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