This is a very interesting and historic 4th Model Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver that was carried by Major General Benjamin Butler's orderly in 1864 during the Union Army's push on Richmond at the Bermuda Hundred. This story of this Colt starts at the beginning of the Civil War. The serial number is in the 108,000 range which dates its production to mid-1861 which is prime real estate for Navy Revolvers that were purchased by the Union, the Confederacy, and privately for soldiers headed off to fight in the war. According to the research we have on this weapon, it is believed that this Navy was originally purchased by the War Department from commercial dealers in New York during the summer of 1861. At that time, the US Army had officially adopted the Model 1860 Army in .44 caliber as its primary weapon over the Colt Model 1851. However, reality was that during the first year of the war, there were simply not enough of the new Colt Model 1860 Army Revolvers available to equip the thousands of men joining regiments each week to fight for the Union. The need for revolvers was especially acute with cavalry service which relied upon heavily upon this type of weapon. So with over 100,000 Colt Navy pistols in existence at the beginning of the war vs. about 5,000 .44 Armys (half of which were in the South), chances of finding a Union cavalryman at the beginning of the war with an 1851 Navy were a lot higher than one having a Model 1860 Army.
Unfortunately, few records were taken and/or have survived that could provide information pertaining to the issue of these revolvers but what we do know has come largely from records found at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Forty years ago, a man named Frank Mallory, who was researching Springfield Krag Rifles at the National Archives stumbled across thousands of serial numbers. Realizing the importance of this information to historians and collectors, he began recording this information and started a company called Springfield Research Service. Prior to his death, Mallory put out a newsletter as well as a periodic compilation of his research which came out in four books from around 1983 to 1999. Mallory provided some cursory information with the serial number such as the date and unit to which a weapon was issued. For a fee, the service would go to the archives and research a specific serial number for you. Out of 200,000 Navy's produced from 1850-1873, there are approximately 1,100 entries for 1851 Navy Colts which is pretty slim pickings. Although we've come close on a few occasions, as of this date, this is the only 1851 Navy we've ever found that is listed in serial numbers of U.S. Martial Arms by Springfield Research. It has an exact match for a record in the National Archives. Specifically, this information was found on page 121 of volume 3 which came out in 1990. The entry stated that in 1863, a record was made that this Colt Navy was issued to someone in Company A in the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry. This was quite exciting for us but the looming question was quickly followed by who? What was his name, what happened to him, etc? This was back in 2009. At the time, this gun was in a dire state of neglect and our main focus was centered around getting this Colt healthy again. More on this later. The next hurdle was finding someone who could go down to the archives and pull the record. A couple of years ago while attending the Baltimore Arms show, I ran into Mr. Charles Pate, who is currently writing a highly anticipated book on the Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver. Following in Mallory's footsteps, Mr. Pate ran Springfield Research for several years but has since retired. I showed him the Colt and following a conversation, he agreed travel to National Archives and locate the record of the specific soldier this revolver was issued to. What he turned up was far more interesting than I could have ever imagine. We received the following letter from Mr. Pate dated April 4, 2013:
Dear Mr. Wilburn:
Regarding your request for information on Model 1851 Colt Navy revolver serial no. 108390, please be advised that the records of the Army Adjutant General's (AG) office show that this arm was used in Co. A, 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry, during the Civil War. The records of that company show that a Colt Navy revolver with this serial number was issued to Sergeant Charles G. Van Schuyver.
Sergeant Van Schuyver was born in Rochester, NY, and was a 29 year old printer when he enlisted as a private in June 1861. He was 5'9 1/2" tall and had a dark complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. Apparently a good soldier, by 1 October he had been promoted to sergeant. His record shows no disciplinary actions and few absences due to illness. In addition, he was chosen for recruiting duty and also served as orderly for Major General Butler. It should be noted that in April 1862, Sgt. Van Schuyver lost the first Colt revolver he had been assigned and was initially charge $40 for it, but the charge was subsequently reduced to $24. As noted on the Descriptive List card in his record, a copy of which is enclosed, Van Schuyver was also issued carbine number 2591 (a Sharps & Hankins). Sgt. Van Schuyver mustered out of service at the end of his enlistment on 16 July 1864. I noted that he applied for and received an invalid pension in 1894 (application number 1313825 and certificate number 1083763) that that file should provide additional information about his life after the war.
Major Hagner of the U.S. Army Ordnance department purchased these Colt Navy revolvers from New York dealers in August 1861. The issue information on revolver no. 108390 was from late 1863, but Sgt. Van Schuyver probably was issued the pistol shortly after the loss of his first revolver. The inventory of the company's revolvers containing this serial number was found in the Company and Regimental books of the 3rd New York Cavalry, which are presently stored in the National Archives under Record Group 94, Entry 112. The specific mention of this revolver was found in the Descriptive Book for Company A.
Charles W. Pate
All I could say was "Wow!" Thank you very much Charles for your incredible research. In addition to the letter, Mr. Pate also provided us with a copy of Van Schuyver's service record from his enlistment in 1861 to his honorable discharge three years later while serving as General Benjamin Butler's personal orderly in the summer of 1864 at the Bermuda Hundred as the Army of the James, commanded by Butler, was attempting to press on Richmond from the east while Grant attacked it from the west. The 3rd New York was originally sent to Washington DC in 1861 before being transferred to the Carolinas where it operated mostly in the eastern tidewater regions of North Carolina. This unit saw almost constant action fighting in small engagements and conducting raids on Confederate points of interest.
Overall Condition grades to NRA Antique Good with the metal turned to a mostly light gray to brown patina. This revolver shows a great deal of wear as it basically saw four years of cavalry use in an active theatre of the Civil War. Still, the COLT'S PATENT on the left side of the frame is legible. The barrel address is a little light but still good and legible. When we found this revolver, there was a dovetail at the rear of the barrel where there had once been a rear sight installed. The slot went through the last letter of the address and the dash that followed. We had this area professionally repaired and had the missing letter "A" in AMERIC"A" and the dash "---" line restored. We also had the mechanics rebuilt so that the cylinder would index and lock properly when the hammer was cocked. The walnut grips have a few repaired chips and are a little undersized at the corners of the straps from wear. Solid overall. The serial numbers are matching on the frame, barrel, trigger guard, backstrap, and arbor pin. The cylinder is barely legible and appears to be mismatched. There are no numbers on the loading lever or the wedge. Mismatched cylinders on Colt Revolvers from the Civil War is quite common. Last year, we saw a Sharps and Hankins Cavalry Carbine that was ID'd to the 3rd New York Cavalry in Van Schuyver's Company. It too, also had a few mismatched components. The brass gripstraps have numerous dings and scratches. We believe that part of Van Schuyver's name may still be on the bottomstrap but most of it has either been worn away or removed by the next soldier it was issued to. There is also the name "John C H Jackson" punch dotted onto the backstrap . We know that Van Schuyver was issued this Colt in 1862 following the loss of his first revolver. Prior to that date, it was likely issued to someone else...perhaps a comrade who was killed or wounded and had already left the regiment. Just as Van Schuyver left in July of 1864 after his three year enlistment expired, this revolver was most likely issued to another soldier following his departure. While we can find no listing of a "John C.H. Jackson" having served with the 3rd New York Cavalry, we did find a Private Charles H. Jackson with the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. At the end of the war, this unit was consolidated with the 3rd New York in July 1865 before mustering out later that year in November. There are also three distinct notches below the name.
On a sidenote, there is an equally interesting part of this who story regarding fate of Van Schuyver's Sharps and Hankins Carbine, SN# 2,591. As the records state, he was also issued a carbine. Incredibly, this carbine still exists and not only that, there are two photographs of it on page 79 of Civil War Sharps Carbines and Rifle by Coates and McAulay, copyright 1996. Van Schuyver's Sharps carbine appears to be as equally worn as his Colt Revolver. We also found it listed in a James Julia Auction from 2003.
This is one of the more exciting Colt Revolvers we've had in recent years.