The Colt Model 1848 "Dragoon" (meaning "Dragon" in French) was another design by famed American gunsmith Samuel Colt and went on to become one of his most successful revolver designs of the period. The Dragoon line spawned from a previous Colt design intended to fulfill a US Army requirement for their U.S. Mounted Rifles brigade - these elements given the European title of "Dragoons" - soldiers trained to fight on horseback or on foot with equal lethality. This revolver design became the massive and powerful black powder, six-shot, .44 caliber, single-action Colt Walker of 1847. While presenting a solid firing platform, its sheer size and reliability limited its popularity, reach and production. This made the more compact Model 1848 "Dragoon" a viable transitional replacement as it proved a lighter gun, featured a shorter cylinder assembly and an improved loading lever. During its production life, the Colt Dragoon became a popular gun with military and civilians alike and was produced to the tune of some 18,000 to 20,000 from 1848 to 1860 in the United States (both from private and government contracts and sales) with an unknown number produced in Europe through the London Armory between 1851 and 1855.
The Model 1848 appeared on the scene just as America's war with Mexico was drawing to a close (1846-1848). Too late for use in that conflict, the Dragoon was put to good effect in the ensuing American Civil War (1861-1865) as both military and civilian forces alike treasured the man-stopping qualities and accuracy of the weapon along with its compactness, handily able to be held in a belt or holster. As with most memorable weapons in history, it was the actual war that inevitably wrote the legacy of the Dragoon line for Samuel Colt.
The Colt Dragoon featured a single-action firing mechanism optimized solely for .44 caliber ammunition. The ammunition was loaded across six cylinder chambers and actuated by way of percussion caps. The percussion cap replaced the 200-year old method of the flintlock and many flintlocks were simply converted to percussion cap firing during the period. The Model 1848 appeared in three recognized production forms known rather simply as the Dragoon "First Model", "Second Model" and "Third Model". Differences between the First and Second Models were minimal with the most obvious being the shape of the notches on the cylinder (oval on the First and rectangular on the Second). Some 7,000 First Models appeared (1848-1850) and 2,500 Second Models then followed. Early Dragoons featured the V-type mainspring but these eventually gave way to a flat leaf mainspring design. The Third Model proved the most distinct in that it offered up an optional attachment in the way of a shoulder stocks and some added folding leaf sights. The Third Model also was designed with a rounded trigger guard as opposed to the "square-back" types found in the preceding Dragoon designs. 10,000 Third Model Dragoons appeared from 1851 to 1860. All Dragoons inherited the integrated loading cut-outs for simpler seating of the percussion caps from the larger Colt Walker. Its cylinder also featured an engraving of a battle scene and was unfluted (i.e. smooth).
The Model 1848 "Baby Dragoon" was a lighter Dragoon form produced by Colt for the civilian market. It was a five-round percussion design in .31 caliber. Production of this type totaled 15,500 units made from 1848 to 1850 in 3", 4", 5" and 6" barrel lengths. Despite their being made for the civilian market, these weapons were also used in the American Civil War.
The Colt Dragoon line was eventually replaced by the Colt Model 1860 revolver. Nevertheless, the original proved a favorite among its users, so much so in fact, that the weapon continues to fetch top dollar in today's collector market with model differences playing a very important role. Non-firing and firing replicas are still made available.