Colt M1873 Revolver

This page is provided for those aficionados of Theodore Roosevelt who are interested in the arms issued and used by US forces and the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War. While it is not a complete history, this page will provide a good basic reference on the Colt 1873 .45 caliber revolver and its ammunition.

Missing or unknown data is marked as "n/a." If you can supply any of the missing data or confirmed corrections please email me by clicking here.


| The Pistol | The Ammunition | Ballistics |


The Pistol

The famous Colt Peacemaker was the issue sidearm of the US Army until 1875. Chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge it was noted for its reliability and legendary "stopping power."  Its major drawback was that it was slow to reload. It was replaced as the "issued" revolver in 1875 by the break-top S&W Shofield revolver.  While .45 caliber pistols were "officially" replaced by the 1889/1892/1894/1895 double action .38 caliber revolvers in 1892, in fact the .45s continued in wide spread use for many years.  Historical records seem to indicate that the revolver with which the Rough Riders were armed was the Colt Peacemaker with the 5 inch barrel, many of which were arsenal converted to the 5" version from the 7" version,  but doubtless there were plenty of the 7 inch barreled models in use during the Spanish American War as well as the S&W Shofield.  Interestingly, LTC Roosevelt carried a Colt 1895 .38 caliber revolver in combat in Cuba, that had been recovered from the battleship Maine.

While the design is a classic and I think it is one of the most attractive pistols ever made, the grip design is difficult for most people when it comes to recoil control

M1873 Colt Single Action Army
This is a Colt 1873 (SN 3491) that was given to the owner of the W. J. Frierson Meat Market
in Tampa, Florida by then LTC Roosevelt in exchange for goods purchased.
 Photo by current owner who wishes to remain anonymous, and is used with permission.

 

Colt M1873 Single Action Army Pistol
Barrel
(in)
Weight
(oz)
OAL
(in)
Adoption date Miscellaneous
5.5 39 11 c. 1873 Cylinder rotates CC
Bbl has a 1:18 twist
Also issued in 7.5" barrel

Ammunition

Two ".45" loadings were available for use during the Spanish-American War. While the Colt M1873 was chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge (sometime erroneously referred to as the .45 Long Colt) and that ammunition was available, the issue ammunition for military .45 caliber revolvers was actually the .45 S&W Shofield which had a case about .15" shorter than the .45 Colt. The .45 Colt ammunition fired a 250 gr round nose lead bullet at about 850 - 950 f/s while the .45 S&W fired a 230 gr round nose bullet at about 770 f/s. While the S&W round would properly chamber and fire in the Colt revolvers the longer Colt round would not fit the .45 Shofield revolver. Both cartridges had an enviable reputation as a "stopper."

.45 Caliber Revolver Ammunition Basic Specifications
  .45 Colt .45 S&W
Weight of loaded ball round n/a n/a
Cartridge Case Brass inside primed or Boxer
primed (M1873)
Brass or tinned brass inside
primed or Boxer primed
(M1882)
Cartridge Case Length 1.26" 1.10"
Bullet Material 1:16 tin-lead 1:16 tin-lead
Bullet length n/a n/a
Bullet Diameter .454" .454"
Bullet Weight 250 gr 230 gr
Powder Charge 40 gr black powder. Known to
have been loaded with both
black or semi-smokeless
powder after c. 1908.  A 45 gr
black powder loading was also common
28 gr black powder. Known to
have been loaded with both
black or semi-smokeless
powder after c. 1908.
Muzzle velocity 850 f/s (40 gr)  955 (45 gr) 770 f/s
Penetration n/a n/a

 

.45 Long Colt cartridge drawing (3k gif)

Note: The .45 S&W was basically the same as above
but had a case approximately .15" shorter.

 

.45 Colt Cartridge Issued Variations
Cartridge Identification Miscellaneous Information
Ball RN lead bullet Flattened nose
Blank Shellacked card wad in case mouth  

 

.45 S&W Cartridge Issued Variations
Cartridge Identification Miscellaneous Information
Ball RN lead bullet Flattened nose
Blank Shellacked card wad in case mouth  
Dummy Wooden bullet the same shape as
the ball round
"Bullet" extends to base of case

Ballistics

The .45 Colt cartridge has always had an enviable and proven reputation as a "stopper" as did the .45 S&W. The ballistics below are based upon a sight height of .75" and a G1 ballistic coefficient of .138 for the Colt bullet and .126 for the S&W bullet.

.45 Caliber Revolver Comparative Ballistics
  .45 Colt .45 S&W
Range Velocity
(f/s)
Energy
(ft lb)
Trajectory
(in)
Velocity
(f/s)
Energy
(ft lb)
Trajectory
(in)
0 850 401 -.75 770 303 -.75
25 828 381 750 287
50 808 362 -2.4 731 273 -3.1

The table below shows the Hatcher "Relative Stopping Power" index for several comparative rounds as well as the .45 caliber Colt and S&W loads. While this is not an exact statistic it does help to put things in perspective.

Cartridge Hatcher RSP*
.380 ACP 95 gr JHP @ 900 9
.38 Long Colt 148 gr LRN @ 760 11
9 mm 124 gr FMJ RN @ 1150 13
9mm 147 gr JHP @ 950 15
.38 Special 158 gr LRN @ 790 13
.38 Special 158 gr LSWC-HP @ 915 18
.357 magnum 125 gr JHP @ 1400 20
.40 S&W 180 gr JHP @ 950 25
.45 ACP 230 gr FMJ RN@ 850 28
.45 ACP 230 gr JHP @ 850 35
.45 Colt 250 gr LRN @ 850 38
.45 S&W 230 gr LRN @ 770 32
* Modified "short form"

The wound profile below, of the .38 Special 158 gr lead round nose at 755 f/s, is typical of the wounds made by round nose, non deforming pistol bullets. Bullets of this type usually exhibit tumbling during their travel. Depending upon conditions, the bullet may end up nose or base forward. Whether or not the bullet tumbles depends upon its center of gravity and its specific nose shape. "Round nose" bullets that have a flat on their nose tend to stay point forward and not to tumble and the .45 Colt and S&W rounds would probably not tumble normally due to their flattened nose but no rounds were available for testing. Penetration in that case would probably have been in the 55 cm to 65 cm range, similar to the .45 ACP round and the permanent cavity a straight .45 caliber hole.

38 / 45 RN Wound profile (15k jpg)


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References

History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition, Vol. I: 1880-1939, by F.W. Hackley, W.H. Woodin, & E.L. Scranton, Macmilin Co., New York, 1967


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Updated 2018-01-29