The Colt Model 1855 Revolving Rifle was a revolver-rifle hybrid designed and manufactured by Colt. The Model 1855, as the name suggests, entered production in 1855, although Colt had produced revolving rifles prior to this point, most of the production worked towards the design of the 'Model 1855'.

Design Details[edit | edit source]

The Model 1855 was effectively a revolver, attached to a rifled barrel and stock. The single action mechanism was taked from the Colt Model 1855 "Root Revolver" as it was the most advanced, Colt made, mechanism at the time the Model 1855 was designed despite the fact it remained effectively a percussion lock mechanism. The cylinder contained either five or six chambers, depending on the calibre the Model 1855 was bored for.

The barrel was given a very simple rifling pattern consisting of a seven progressively deeper grooves with a twist rate of 1:40, similar to the Springfield Model 1855 Musket. The barrel was available with a choice of lengths (15in, 18in, 21in or 24in) and could also have a bayonet lug fitted to attach a sword bayonet. This lug doubled as the front sight on Model 1855s fitted with bayonets.

The Colt Model 1855 "Root Revolver" the basis of the Revolving Rifle.

Like the Model 1855 "Root Revolver" the Model 1855 Revolving Rifle was made with a solid frame, meaning that the cylinder would be loaded from one side. Underneath the barrel is the loading lever (designed by Elisha K. Root) which compacts the bullet and cartridge in the cylinder chamber. Some examples lacked this feature and were instead given a ramrod which clipped to the underside of the barrel.

Ammunition[edit | edit source]

The Model 1855, despite being released in an era where the Minie Ball was fast becoming the ammunition of choice, fired the comparatively inexpensive lead musket ball. The size of the musket ball used with the Model 1855 could be from one of three calibre sizes: .36in, .44in or .56in in diameter. A paper cartridge contained the propellent, whilst a percussion cap was used to provide ignition.

Depending on the calibre used the cylinder capacity varied on the Model 1855. Those Model 1855s that were chambered for the .36in or .44in musket ball had a cylinder capacity of six shots, whilst those with .56in calibre had a cylinder capacity of five shots.

Usage[edit | edit source]

The Model 1855, upon its official release in 1855, was one of the most advanced rifles in the world. Its main competetors, the Pattern 1853 Enfield of British origin and the French Minie Rifle, remained muzzle loaded percussion lock rifles with a capacity of only a single shot. The Model 1855 had the advantage of a five or six shot capacity meaning a greater rate of fire (at the expense of a greater reloading time) as well as the fact that the musket ball was by far the most popular and easy to obtain ammunition in the 1850's.

Yet the Model 1855 did have problems, mainly concerning to its safety. No safety mechansims existed in the 1850's, therefore once the Model 1855 was loaded it was ready to fire. The use of blackpowder made the Model 1855 particularly dangerous as the proximity of the cartridges in the cylinder meant that the discharge of one cartridge going off could easy set all the others off at once, buring the users hand as molten lead (which would have had no where to go) would be fired from the cylinder onto the user's supporting arm.

The Smith & Wesson Model 320 Revolving Rifle, perhaps the only contemporary design to the Model 1855.

Later Smith & Wesson, Colt's major rivals in the US both at the time and in modern times, introduced their own revolving rifle, the Model 320. This rifle also combined a revolver with a rifle, however it also used metallic cartridges, which were immune to potential chain firings. Yet, the Model 320 still suffered from missfirings of blackpowder residue, which also burned the shooter's arm.

Pony Express[edit | edit source]

The Pony Express, a postal service that ran from Independence to Santa Fe via Missouri, was defended by eight men armed with Model 1855 revolvers and Revolving Rifles. When the Missouri government was questioned over the real ability of these men defending the route the government responed with "These men are ready in case of attack to discharge 136 shots without having to reload".

American Civil War[edit | edit source]

The Model 1855 in carbine format

Despite the potential problems (which would be the ultimate cause of the Model 1855 disapperance from military use in the 1860's) the US Government ordered 765 Model 1855s, in both rifle and carbine form. These would be shipped to the Southern States and ultimately used by the Confederacy in the American Civil War. The Union States would then order themselves over 4,400 Model 1855s during the conflict.

The 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry would be the most famous users of the Model 1855, where the single regiment defeated a Confederate force during the Battle of Chickamauga. The Confederate forces were convinced they were firing against an entire division of the Union army, not a single regiment, so great was the volley of fire that the Model 1855 produced.

Post American Civil War[edit | edit source]

The eventual removal of the Model 1855 from service coincided with the invention of the "Trapdoor" Springfield Rifles produced by Colt's rival the Springfield Armory. This, combined with the various safety concerns that had plagued the Model 1855's entire service life, would ultimately see the American government sell the Model 1855 for 42cents, a huge reduction form the original US$44 asking price.

The Model 1855 would also, in part, inspire the creation of the Colt 1873 Buntline, the famed long barrel revolver used by Wyatt Earp and Bat Materson. Like the Buntline, the Model 1855 is, in modern times, an incredibly rare firearm with remaining numbers thought to be well under 100.

Resources[edit | edit source]

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