The revolvers and longarms in use by the United States military prior to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 were divided proportionately between Northern and Southern states. The majority of these weapons were older designs manufactured by Colt’s and E. Remington & Sons in the 1850s, and as such, former Federal troops who had taken an oath to the Confederate States of America and President Jefferson Davis, (the former U.S Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce and U.S. Senator from Mississippi ¹), were mostly armed with Colt 1851 Navy or Remington’s .44 caliber Army or .36 caliber Navy models, and older .44 caliber Colt Dragoons. Colt’s latest model, the 1860 Army, which would become the new standard issue Union sidearm, was not in general use when the Civil War began. There had been issues with the early fluted cylinder design and changes were being made to the Army model’s cylinder between July and September 1861, although a number of the guns, issued in pairs with a single, detachable shoulder stock, were already in use by U.S. Cavalry troops. The South had also procured 1860 Army models, the last 500 shipped from Colt’s to Richmond just three days after the Confederate attack on Ft. Sumter.
Arming A Nation
As a nation, the new Confederacy, comprised of 11 mostly agricultural states, was simply not the equal of the industrialized North when it came to manufacturing firearms. Thus the issue that faced Jefferson Davis and his generals in the summer of 1861 was that there simply were not enough arms or regular soldiers in the South to fight a war. Volunteers filled out the ranks, but weapons were another issue altogether. By 1862 Davis appealed to the patriotism of anyone who could contribute to the production of guns to arm its regulars and volunteer forces.
Among the handful that quickly came to the aid of the Confederacy was Samuel Griswold, owner of a large cotton gin mill. Working with Arvin Gunnison, who had begun making revolvers for the Confederacy in 1861 at a pistol factory in New Orleans, Gunnison converted his mill in Griswoldville, Georgia, into an arms factory and established Griswold & Gunnison Company in 1862. The Griswold was based on Sam Colt’s 1851 Navy and the general design of the .36 caliber revolver was copied, however, with none of the fine attention to detail that had been the hallmark of the Hartford percussion pistols. The Griswold & Gunnison cylinder was similar to Colt’s and the frame, made of brass, rather than steel, featured a rounded triggerguard like the third model 1851 Navy. Earlier first and second model Colt Navy revolvers had a squareback triggerguard, the later fourth model a larger, more ovoid triggerguard. All three designs were eventually copied by Southern armsmakers.
Griswold & Gunnison, like many quickly organized Confederate armsmakers during the war, was plagued with material shortages and appealed for help from Richmond. The Confederacy asked that churches donate their steeple bells for arsenal purposes and those bells allowed Griswold and other Southern gunmakers to continue production throughout the early years of the war. Griswold & Gunnison continued to manufacture guns, reaching a total of around 3,700 by November of 1864, when the factory was razed during the Battle of Griswold Station². A fine reproduction of the Griswold & Gunnison revolver is made today in Italy by F.lli Pietta.