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Colt Model 1855 Revolving Carbine Six-Shot Revolving Cylinder Carbine (1855)

Authored By Captain Jack | Last Updated: 11/23/2013

The US government purchased over 4,400 Colt Model 1855 revolving rifle carbines in the American Civil War.

The Colt Revolving Rifle of 1855 - aptly named the "Model 1855" - was an attempt to provide the repeating action of a revolving within a shortened rifle form known as a "carbine". Carbines were typically shortened-barrel forms of longer rifle counterparts and were suitable for use by mounted troops or second-line infantry and is a firearms term still in use today. The Model 1855 brought all of these qualities together in a handy, albeit less-than-perfect, product under the Colt product brand.

The Model 1855 became in three distinct caliber forms: .36, the .44 and .56. Additionally, the rifle could be manufactured in four distinct barrel lengths: 15-, 18-, 21- and 24-inches. If the selected caliber was the .36 or the .44, a six-shot cylinder was included. If the caliber of choice became the .56, only a five-shot cylinder was available. Regardless, combining the repeating action of the revolver, accuracy of a rifle and an ammunition supply greater than that of any musket (which were typically single-shot affairs), the operator of a Model 1855 held a distinct advantage on the battlefields of his day.

Externally, the Model 1855 was a departure from the rifle-muskets then in use and more a glimpse into the world of firearms that would make up the "Wild West". The gun sported a round barrel set within a metal frame. The cylinder was fluted and set within a closed-frame design. The firing action was of percussion and operated via a hammer fitted along the right side of the body. The trigger was set under the rifle-style hand grip and protected within an elegant oval trigger guard. The stock was curved at the butt to accept a shoulder when firing from this position. In all, the Model 1855 was a pleasant design made up of metal and wood and offering clean lines typical of Colt products.

The Model 1855 was adopted by the US Army in 1855 but full-scale use would wait until 1857 due to issues with "cook off" of the chambered ammunition. After the firing of a cartridge, a great deal of hot gas was naturally generated in and around the ammunition cylinder. The would settled in the various parts of the chamber. As gunpowder was, of course, subject to such heat, this residual gas could make its way into the remaining chambered rounds effectively setting those off unintentionally. The rounds would fire straight out of the cylinder itself, hitting whatever lay before them. If one takes the time to think how an operator of a rifle may be holding a two-handed weapon, one would quickly realize that the arm used to support the forward portion of the weapon would be in immediate danger of getting caught in the path of the remaining, and now ignited, bullets. This could lead to disastrous consequences for the Model 1855 operator. As such, the weapon quickly earned a bad reputation.

The issue was so apparent that special instruction would have to be issued to operators of the gun. This included using the weapon with only a single round chambered, in effect defeating the purpose of five or six ready-to-fire chambered cartridges. Another method involved the operator holding the weapon with his supporting hand close to the trigger group and out of the range and path of any misfiring cartridges. It would seem that the Model 1855 could be as dangerous to its user as it was to a given target.

Regardless, the weapon's use persisted to an extent. Sources state that some 4,435 to 4,712 rifles were purchased by the US government for use in the American Civil War. The capacious ammunition supply no doubt added much needed repeating firepower to forces of the North, outgunning the already limited Southern soldiers. The rifle proved quite deadly in skilled hands and, needless to say, the weapon earned the respect of Confederate forces despite the weapons limited existence. Well known actions involving the Model 1855 included the Battle of Chickamauga.

The success on the field did not directly relate to success on the market for Colt. The revolving rifle's safety was reevaluated by US military personnel to which a group decided against keeping the weapon in inventory or adding to the existing stocks. The rifle was therefore dropped from service and many examples were sold off at bargain prices. Such ended the legacy of the Colt Model 1855 revolving rifle. Its 4,400-plus production total and its use in the Civil War do, however, make this carbine a very rare and special firearm to obtain today.

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Specifications for the
Colt Model 1855 Revolving Carbine
Six-Shot Revolving Cylinder Carbine

Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Colt Armaments Manufacturing Company - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1855

Overall Length: 0 mm (0.00 in)
Barrel Length: 609.00 mm (23.98 in)
Weight (Empty): 0.00 lb (0.00 kg)

Caliber*: .36; .44; .56
Action: Percussion
Feed: 6-Shot Revolving Cylinder (.36 / .44) 5-Shot Revolving Cylinder (.56)
Sights: Rear and Front

* Listed caliber(s) for firearms may be model dependent if more than one model type/chambering was produced. Always consult official manufacturer's information or a licensed dealer.

Model 1855 - Revolving cylinder; available in .36, .44 and .56 calibers; barrel lengths of 15-, 18-, 21- and 24-inches available; 5-round or 6-round cylinder depending on caliber.

United States