Notes from the Archives
Appeared March 1998, Bullet 'N Press©
The Smith & Wesson
Number 2 Army In The Civil War
By Charles Pate
The following article is an abstract
a book on Smith & Wesson Military Firearms being written by Charles
W. Pate. This book will cover the period from the Civil War through the
Viet Nam War. Although significant material on the period up through
War I is available, documentation on later arms is quite limited. Input
from readers to this author on military Smith & Wesson arms from
post World War II period would be most welcome. Charles Pate may be
by U.S. mail at: PO Box 6322, Falls Church, VA 22040, or email
At the time the Civil War started, Smith & Wesson was the only authorized manufacturer of revolvers employing a bored-through cylinder, a feature which was required in order to efficiently use modern cartridge ammunition. Since 1857 the firm's only production firearm had been the diminutive Model 1 revolver in .22 rimfire caliber. While the market was good for its .22 caliber pocket pistol, S&W recognized its limitations early on and wanted to answer the growing demand for a larger design with the advantages of the Model 1. Their solution to this demand was a scaled up version of their latest .22 caliber revolver, the Model 1 Second Issue. The new .32 caliber revolver was called by the factory the Number 2 or Belt Pistol. Perhaps due to its use in the war, collectors have since named this revolver the Model 2 or, more commonly, the Number 2 Army.
The Number 2 is a tip-up, spur trigger, 6 shot revolver. It was made of forged wrought iron and was designed to fire a cartridge known today as the .32 Long Rim Fire The barrel is hinged at and has a fastening catch on the bottom strap. To load the revolver, one tips the barrel up, removes the cylinder and loads it, and then returns the cylinder to the frame. To remove spent cartridges, one removes the cylinder and punches them out, one by one, using the rammer pin located under the barrel. A notch cut in the rear of the cylinder stop, which is mounted in the top strap, serves as the rear sight. The cylinder stop was held in place by two pins until about serial number 3,000, at which point a third pin was added. This change from two top strap pins to three was the only significant change during its production.
A great many of the orders S&W received during the Civil War came from soldiers or men soon to be soldiers. Those looking for dependable protection could do no better than the Number 2 Smith & Wesson which could be loaded quickly with waterproof metallic ammunition and was of a size suitable for the belt or a small holster. Cooper & Pond, a large New York dealership, attempted to obtain an order for the Number 2 from the Army during the war. In a November 6, 1863, letter to Captain Balch of the Ordnance department in Washington, D.C., Cooper & Pond stated they were sending an example of the Number 2 to the Ordnance Department and requested an opinion of its merits for military use. They reportedly were prepared to supply several thousand revolvers if requested. Unfortunately, the Army's response has not been found, but since no orders materialized, we can only assume the federal government had no interest in obtaining this revolver. Perhaps the small caliber was objectionable. At that time, the Army had, or had on order, a sufficient number of handguns. Another likely reason for the Army's lack of interest would have been the need to procure special ammunition for the revolvers, resulting in additional expense and complication of the supply system. Whatever the reason, others, including many individuals and one state, felt differently.
It is generally acknowledged that a significant number of individually purchased Number 2s saw service, sometimes quite active service, in the Civil War. However, because they were purchased in this way, little documentary evidence is available. Little information was retained at the factory, primarily correspondence, and no serial number records. To quote John Parson's authoritative study of early Smith & Wesson pistols, which is based on these correspondence files:...Its [the Number 2 revolvers] popularity with Union soldiers was not limited to officers. Thus Charles Scarrett of the 16th Kentucky Volunteers wrote that his pistol had killed two rebels...Corp. J.O. Sherwin wanted a dozen for his company in the 83rd Illinois, and William H. Golder sought six for his friends in the 8th Iowa Infantry. ...Within a single month in 1864 requests for price lists came from the 126th Illinois at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the 3rd Wisconsin Veteran Volunteers at Atlanta, the 115th Ohio at Murfreesboro, and the 38th US Colored Regiment at Bermuda Hundred. Capt. Frederick Livermore, Massachusetts Volunteers, wrote "most of our officers have your make." Capt. H.L. Wheat, 11th Missouri Cavalry, considered the Number 2 the "best belt revolver I have yet seen" as did Major D. Frazar, 13th New York Cavalry.
Individually purchased Number 2 revolvers were used by a wide variety of people, privates to high ranking officers (one of whom was later elected President of the United States), scoundrels to heroes. The lowest serial number of these revolvers noted by the author is serial number 283. This revolver is a 5" blued pistol with approximately 30-40% finish remaining. It is inscribed in script on the backstrap "F.A. Bushee." Francis A. Bushee was born in Lawrence, Mass. on August 7, 1840. His father died when Francis was 13 and at the age of 14 he went to Lowell to work in the textile mills. While he had to continue working in order to help support a widowed mother, he apparently obtained a good education, judging from his well written letters in the pension files. He had been working at a mill near Springfield (the city where the pistol was manufactured) for approximately five years and had achieved modest success when the war started. He joined Company F, 1st Mass. Cavalry, on September 5, 1861, and served with that unit until his death. After surviving numerous major battles, Private Bushee was killed during Sheridan's cavalry thrust toward Richmond on May 11, 1864, in Ashland, Va.
Serial number 5335 is a 6" blued revolver with a good bit of blue, shows some wear and has a lanyard ring on its butt. This revolver is attributed to Washington M. Postley, who joined the 78th New York Infantry Regiment as First Lieutenant and Adjutant on May 17, 1862. He was quite a character. He went AWOL and was charged and found guilty by court martial but the records of the conviction were lost so he was returned to duty. Shortly thereafter (July 1863) he resigned. He returned to his home in New York City and married in 1864, but apparently deserted his wife after about six years together. After his death (April 21, 1910), she filed for the $2.00 per month pension he had been receiving, stating "...he had a violent temper and never supported me. For a few months after he left me he called occasionally to see his children and then never came again."
In stark contrast to Postley, a hero owned serial number 18552, a silver plated 6" pistol engraved on the backstrap "Capt. Gerard Reynolds, 11th Pa. Cavalry." Reynolds apparently was a capable and brave leader, being cited for gallantry in action. He was killed in action near Roanoke Station, Va., on June 25, 1864. Sergeant Nelson M. Ward attempted to recover Reynolds' body for approximately twenty minutes under intense enemy fire. Finally, when he could not, he removed Reynolds' personal effects, including this pistol, and returned to friendly positions. Ward's heroic action earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Last to be mentioned here is the Rutherford B. Hayes revolver, serial number 22592, which is a blued 6" pistol. Hayes served ably in several capacities throughout the war, including brigade and division command, and was promoted to Brig. Gen. in January of 1865. No information is available on when, where or how President Hayes acquired his Number 2; however, inventory records state the pistol is now in the collection of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library, Fremont, Oh.
It is impossible to say how many Number 2s saw service in the Civil War, but it is reasonable to assume that a significant percentage of the approximately 40,000 produced during the war years did. The great majority of those used by the military were individually purchased arms. Not all were, however, and in addition to these privately purchased arms, there is one documented official state issue of the Number 2.
In 1862, the large Cincinnati dealer B. Kittredge and Co. ordered 2600 Number 2 revolvers. While it is certain that some of these weapons were sold to individual soldiers, the author believes Kittredge probably had a numerically more significant customer in mind when the order was placed. John McAulay, in his research at the National Archives, had discovered the State of Kentucky obtained 731 Number 2s from Kittredge between August 1 and September 8, 1862, and another two revolvers on May 11, 1863. Kentucky paid Kittredge $13.75 for each revolver. Based on the number of revolvers issued, the state apparently purchased additional revolvers, but the total and the source from which they were obtained are unknown.
Most, if not all, of the revolvers used to fill the Kentucky order were almost certainly under 10,000 in serial number. Kittredge may have acquired some Number 2s before the order for 2600, but the author believes most of the 1862 Kentucky revolvers came from this Kittredge order. According to Parsons, these 2600 revolvers were marked with the dealer's name. However, it appears that only some of these Kittredge Number 2s were, in fact, marked by the factory. Factory marked Kittredge Number 2s are quite rare. One Number 2, serial number 7493, has been reported to have Kentucky provenance and it does not have the Kittredge marking. This suggests that not all of the revolvers shipped for the order of 2600 Number 2s were marked with the dealer's name. All of Kentucky's Number 2 revolvers are thought to have been issued to the 7th Kentucky Cavalry. Mustered into federal service on August 16, 1862, at Paris, Ky. The 7th Kentucky Cavalry was issued 690 Wesson carbines, 600 U.S. altered muskets, and 736 Smith & Wesson Number 2 revolvers. Seventy thousand rounds of Number 2 ammunition were issued at the same time. Only two weeks after being mustered into federal service, the 7th Kentucky participated in the August 30 Union defeat at Richmond, Ky. The Union suffered over 5000 casualties, including 4300 captured. In this battle, the 7th had five killed, 25 wounded and 238 captured. Undoubtedly, the 7th lost many of their Number 2 revolvers in this battle. The 7th went on to some notable engagements, including Wilson's raid into Alabama and Georgia in the spring of 1865, and was mustered out of service on July 10, 1865.
It is believed that the 7th Kentucky was the only unit officially issued Number 2 Smith & Wesson revolvers, at least in significant numbers. No federal issues are known to have occurred. The federal government did sell a total of seventeen as surplus between June 1871, and October 1874. These were most likely guns which had been captured from the Confederates. It is interesting to note that McAulay found the sale prices to be as high as $15.25 each! The diversity of surviving examples can make this pistol the subject of a substantial collection, especially if the collector includes engineering variations, finish, barrel length and historical association as criteria. In this respect, a word of caution is advised. When collecting Kittredge or inscribed pistols, especially those associated with historic figures such as Civil War soldiers, one would expect to pay a premium over what the same pistol would otherwise cost. One should also expect to encounter dishonesty. If you question your own judgment as to the originality of the piece, it would be wise to consult one or more experts in that area of collecting.
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