COLT M1851 HARTFORD NAVY REVOLVER SN# 96549 (1860)
Really nice Colt Hartford .36 cal Navy Revolver SN#96549 which would be an 1860 production with a strong association to the Confederacy. The gun has an overall pleasing patina and has never been cleaned. Great Hartford Barrel Address as well as Colt Stamp on left side of frame. Has nice sharp edges and a good bit of original finish left on its brass handle and trigger guard. All matching numbers including the wedge.. Still has lots or original Navy Battle scene and a really good Colt and serial number stamp on its cylinder. Bore and rifling are in good shape and the gun has perfect mechanics and could be used in service today. Walnut grips are in good shape with the usual bumps and bruises from service. It does have a small section missing from the toe on each side but they fit the gun perfectly.
To some, this is just a Colt 1851 Navy Revolver but what makes it interesting is its place in U.S. history. This gun was built during a political storm and fallout from the presidential election of 1860. During this time, eight of an eventual eleven states would secede from the United States in an attempt to establish "The Confederate States of America". To do so, Southern states began to aggressively arm themselves for what was thought would be a short and successful war to break away from the Union. This Colt was built inside the five month window between Abraham Lincoln's presidential win (Nov. 1860) and the beginning of the Civil War (April 1861). The following table lists the dates of secession:
Date of Secession
December 20, 1860
January 9, 1861
January 10, 1861
January 11, 1861
January 19, 1861
January 26, 1861
February 1, 1861
April 17, 1861
May 6, 1861
May 20, 1861
June 8, 1861
In the year 1860, Colt produced 5,000 Model 1851 Navy Revolvers from the serial numbers 93,000 to 97,000. The serial number of this gun is 97,367, putting it in the last several hundred manufactured by Colt in the year 1860, probably just after Lincoln's victory in November. This one fits right between a Colt 1851 Navy we recently acquired from an old estate in South Carolina in the 96,000 range and another 1851 in the 97,000 range that was found in Savannah in the late 1960's
In addition to these guns, Springfield Research also lists a Colt Navy, serial number 96,498, issued to "MCCLELLAN TRP TENN CAV CSA" on a muster roll dated August 25, 1861. Another '51 has recently turned up in the 94,000 range with an inscription to the 3rd Alabama Cavalry.
The sizable portion of the Colt 1851 Navy revolvers mf'd in the 90,000 to 100,000 serial range are believed to have shipped to the South in the months prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Unfortunately, the shipping records for much of the 1851 production were lost in the 1864 fire that destroyed most of the Colt factory. The records that did survive start at 98,000 and they run up to 135,000. This leaves a small window of just about 2,000 Model 1851's built in the early part of 1861 (before the war begins) that can letter with the possibility of shipping to Confederate territory. There are far more Southern Colts prior to this range...they just can't be documented. Here is the good news! Hartford Navies in the 90,000 range are a BARGAIN for collectors wanting to own a Confederate handgun. A Colt documented as shipping South through Colt records is usually going to cost a collector $10,000 and up these days. A Confederate-made copy of a Colt such as a Leech and Rigdon or Griswold...$15,000 and well beyond...an imported Lemat Revolver...often $9,000 and up..and a London Armoury-made Kerr Revolver usually runs $4,000 and up. These Hartford 1851 Navies still turn up throughout the South in well-used condition with heavy patina from hot humid climates, but because no shipping records exist they usually sell for very little more than a standard Colt Navy.
The Hartford Barrel Address: Even in early 1861 as the talk of war enveloped the United States, it was no secret that Sam Colt had been selling his revolvers to the South in the year prior to states seceding to join the newly formed Confederacy. To compound his gaining resentment in the North, it was also revealed that Colt had been charging his Southern customers less than what he was selling revolvers for in the North. As a result, newspaper articles in the New York Times, New York Daily Tribune, and the Hartford Daily Courant branded Colt as a "Confederate Sympathizer". Colt later countered these charges by forming and arming a regiment of sharpshooters for the state of Connecticut. However, Colt was later dismissed from duty due to health reasons. During this time, Colt's health dramatically declined as he worked long days with little to no sleep. He passed away in early 1862 leaving more questions than answers regarding his "Southern" sympathies but his fame, philanthropy, and his inventions have far overshadowed his colorful and checkered past. Today, the only physical evidence we see of Colt's Southern shipments are the number of Colt 1851 Navies, 1849 pocket revolvers, and the occasional fluted Model 1860 Army that still turn up here in the South with these Hartford barrel addresses. The vast majority of percussion-era Colts are marked "NEW YORK" (Colt headquarters and business address) but collectors have noted that his guns manufactured from sometime in 1859 up to mid-1861 abruptly change to "Hartford"; his factory location.The reason for this change has never been concretely established but it's hard to ignore the timing. New York City was regarded as the center of the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War. With many of Colt's orders now shipping to the pro-slavery South in anticipation of a conflict, it seems logical that the "NEW YORK" stamping was not well received by many of Colt's customers residing below the Mason-Dixon line. Hence, the change to the factory address in Hartford...or so goes the theory. Whatever the case, one cannot ignore the incredible timing of the introduction of the Hartford markings and its abrupt disappearance in April 1861 once the Civil War began. From there, Colt's primary sales were to Unionists in the North who were going off to fight the South. The Colts made from 1859 to early 1861 with the Hartford barrel address occupy a small but fascinating window in United States history when even manufacturers had to tread lightly over how they labeled their products so as not to offend Southern and Northern customers over the slavery issues of the day.
Once the war began in April, 1861 and the South's ability to purchase weapons from the industrialized North quickly came to an end, the newly-formed Confederacy had to turn to Europe to supply the majority of weapons; the largest of which was Great Britain. For this, the South was short-sighted in assessing what it would take to fight a major conflict. But by 1861 logic, the commonly held belief was that the war would be over in a few short months. Of course, this little squabble turned out to be far more costly than anyone could have ever imagined, costing the lives of over 600,000 soldiers combined. The Colts that shipped South just prior to the war became as important as they were irreplaceable. These Hartford Colts often endured a long and very hard service life.