When would a soldier "cap" their pistol?

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Eterry

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Back to the OP, nearly all single shot pistols were carried in pairs in a set of holsters affixed to the saddle, not the soldier. Even after revolvers can into their own they were still issued in pairs in saddle holsters. I can easily see a single shot being loaded, capped, and placed in its holster on the horse until needed. I think they'd use the half cock, and remember the handgun was and is a Defense Weapon, for Offense you had a carbine.

Somewhere along the way the big wigs decided to issue closed top belt holsters and revolvers. Again, a Defensive weapon. So the soldier would load all chambers and cap them, and hope they never needed it.

Soldiers moved in large groups, with Drs, wagons, and a defense weapon, all reasons why 6 rounds makes sense to me.

The cowboy had no back up, no Dr handy, no wagon to carry him back to post. And they used their pistols Offensively. They used open top holsters more prone to AD's. There a dozen things a cowboy did daily that could cause an AD with 6 loaded Chambers. Saddling up is one I've seen personally cause an AD and a hospital run.

To paraphrase John Wayne," load 5, but if your stomach tells you to load 6, do it."
 

windini

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My previous alternative History conjecture aside, I imagine the situation varied quite a bit depending on the individual and his situation and experience.

How did the half-cock notch come to be? Was it a holdover from flintlocks, designed into the "new" percussion locks to facilitate loading, or introduced as a safety measure that was also a loading convenience? (This is a serious question; I do not know.)

As with modern times, the ... er, mental mettle of individuals likely varied quite a bit. Let's face it: some undoubtedly learned from the experience of their fondly-remembered friends. "Poor ol' Tom! Guess I won't cap mine until after I climb o'er that there fallen tree."
 

Tom A Hawk

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If the revolver had only five chambers loaded, the five loaded ones would have been capped after loading all five. It wouldn't be good to try capping them right when the enemy initiated contact. Of course, the Remington could have all six chambers loaded and capped because it had notches between the chambers so the hammer wouldn't rest over a cap.
Remingtons had notches and Colts had pins between the chambers for safety but the primary overriding concern was firepower. There is no need to over "analyse" this...
 
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Whitworth

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In cowboy days 5 rounds were chambered in a SAA for a simple reason. Accidental discharge caused by a blow to the hammer with it's fixed firing pin. Ever think of a stirrup accidentally falling down after being tossed up to chinch the saddle. Stirrup falls down, smacks the hammer on a loaded chamber and you are shot in the leg. YBLMV (Your blood loss may vary)
 

Malamute

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Capped and hammer eased down on the cap. Really and truthfully all of these questions are easily answered by common sense. I get a kick out of most people honestly believing that in the 1870s and 80s people walked around with their Colt SAA loaded with 5 rounds and the hammer down on an empty chamber. :doh:
Im curious of your information source saying it was common or universal to carry the SAAs fully loaded, as Ive seen a fair amount of information stating they commonly did carry them with 5 rds.

One book* in particular mentioned that when the SAA came out, people were carrying them fully loaded and the hammer in the "safe" notch, but that there were a number of known instances of people having them discharge when something hit the hammer spur or the gun was dropped, the source seems to indicate that the percussion guns were carried fully loaded, and with the hammer between the chambers on the pins that were provided on the Colts, and generally without incident. The unintended discharges, and some ending up shot in the leg as a result started the habit of generally carrying with 5 rds. This was said to be in the mid 1870s after the SAAs started showing up in more numbers for civilian sales (first year or twos production mainly went to military contracts). Wyatt Earp also mentions it in written piece, I believe associated with sales of the Savage pistols in the 1920s, as well as other writers in the early 1900s mentioning it as the old habit, Elmer Keith being another writer mentioning it in the 1930s as being told him by older men that it had long been the common method of carry.

I commonly fully load my Colts type percussion revolvers and have never had one turn to a live chamber when holster carried, though I did have several instances of Colt SAAs carried with the firing pin down between the rims of 44 spl and 45 Colt shells turning and the pin resting on a live primer before I decided I wasnt quite as clever as I thought. One of the holsters I used was a snug fitting half flap that entirely precluded anything snagging the hammer to allow the cylinder to turn.


*The book mentioned may be either Firearms of the American West Vol II by Garavaglia and Worman, or Guns of the American West by Joseph Rosa. Both books relying/quoting heavily on period writings and information. Both have excellent information on a variety of old arms and their use at the time.
 

desi23

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Single shot pistols were capped when loaded and carried with the hammer in the half cock position. In saddle holsters for soldiers, naval issue pistols often had belt hooks to be carried on the person.

When the revolver became standard issue there was concern over safe carry and being able to get full use out of the multi shot design. The standard practice (as several have stated) was to cap after loading, no one was going to be fiddling around trying to cap the gun when it was needed to be used. Colt installed safety pins that the notched hammer face fit over, a single pin on the first models, later one between each cylinder. Remingtons first models reportedly had no safe way to carry a fully loaded gun. From what I've read the cylinder safety notches were introduced after the government buyers complained about the guns being unsafe to carry fully loaded even though carried in full flap holsters (which did provide some degree of protection to the hammer). Various means were tried by other makers, most notably Manhatten Fire Arms added a second set of locking notches to allow the hammer to be locked in between chambers. Most of this is covered in various collectors books on the weapons of the era.

People of the era were familiar with firearms accidents (often reported in local papers of the day) and most probably appreciated the efforts by the manufacturers to provide a safe(er) way to carry their firearms. The military had enough to worry about accident wise and also wanted guns that could be safely handled and put into use quickly. While there are always some with a cavalier attitude about safety most people wanted to avoid accidental discharges (especially considering the state of medicine then) while still having guns ready for use. The habit of leaving one chamber empty cannot really be traced down to it's time of appearance. Could well have been the result of using old worn guns, the lack of a secure way to lock the hammer between chambers on the newfangled cartridge guns, some people having more caution than others, hard to say at this time. The designs of the later cartridge revolvers were more limited in being able to lock the cylinder between chambers and the tiny safety notch on the hammer wasn't very strong. The empty chamber may well have become a more common carry then with it being retroactively applied to the older cap & ball guns (which some people continued to use for years) just for greater safety.
 

Red Owl

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I've changed my thought, yeah the hammer was probably lowered down on the cap.
 

Packrat

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I bet let softly down on the cap, keep it from falling off.
Falling off a horse might strike the cock just hard enough to set off the cap, but all and all not very likely.
Should you needs pistol NOW you didn’t want to stop to cap or discover your cap had fallen off
There are plenty of examples of the casualties of the pioneers having firearms accidents. I believe it ws one of the major dangers of emigrating next to getting run over by your wagon
 

JCKelly

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Only thing I've read was that in the 19th century accidents of all kinds were basically regarded as "Sxxx happens"
The Allen & Thurber pistols, both 'pepperbox" and single shot, I understand to be some of the most commonly carried pocket arms in the USA. So you reckon anyone carried them loaded but uncapped? "Wait a minute Sir, until I cap my pistol before you try to rob me?" I am certain they were carried ready for instant use. This single shot ,36 cal. gun below was mfg by Allen & Thurber in Grafton, Mass 1837 - 1842. The danger was recognized and I believe one of the A&T pepperboxes was made with some safety device for a shot while but it did not prove popular. Hey, - "Sxxx happens", whether working on the rail road or just walkin' around.

1633530429099.png

This one below is really safe to carry, fully loaded. 32 caliber
1633531240495.png

One reason it is hard to find old pepperbox pistols with much original finish is that they were CARRIED, not kept in a case..
 

MrMackc

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since I am older than dirt, I keep every pistol, revolver, rifle and shotgun fully loaded in the cabin, wagon, and scabbard, for daily carry I keep only 5 of six loaded and capped, if I need more than 5 shots, i carry two or three revolvers, a derringer, and a boot knife, You never know if you may ride into an ambush out there on the freeway or Farm to Marker road.. T.I.C. maybe.......
 

TrapperDude

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Remingtons had notches and Colts had pins between the chambers for safety but the primary overriding concern was firepower. There is no need to over "analyse" this...
Your statements are factually correct but not responsive to the OP's original question. There was no over analysis.
 

Tenring

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I saw Matt Dillon do it that a way, Pard, But seriously I think they capped and lowered and that was that, and if it was not discharged in a while due to wet conditions they probably just pulled the charge and reloaded like we would to day, they were no different from us just stinky .
 

Tenring

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And I am pretty Dam Sure not one soldier went into battle with load 5 and skip one . Not with my life give me every shot…..
 

Crow-Feather

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I'm thinking of one battle when the Rebs made a surprise attack on the Union flank. They say hundreds of officers died while trying to cap their pistols.
 

Tom A Hawk

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Your statements are factually correct but not responsive to the OP's original question. There was no over analysis.
The point being, they were capped at loading and kept that way. We should avoid the application of current day paranoia to 19th century common practice.
 

TrapperDude

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The point being, they were capped at loading and kept that way. We should avoid the application of current day paranoia to 19th century common practice.
So, we concur. 👍 Whether it was five of six or all six chambers loaded, the loaded chambers were all capped after being loaded.

Regarding your last point, I only think a controversy exists as to capping extra cylinders held in pouches. Most people here would probably cap the loaded chambers of an installed cylinder if they carried defensively. I sure would--especially with my 1858.
 

Tom A Hawk

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So, we concur. 👍 Whether it was five of six or all six chambers loaded, the loaded chambers were all capped after being loaded.

Regarding your last point, I only think a controversy exists as to capping extra cylinders held in pouches. Most people here would probably cap the loaded chambers of an installed cylinder if they carried defensively. I sure would--especially with my 1858.
Perhaps we watch too many Clint Eastwood movies. I am not aware of any historical references to the carrying of extra loaded cylinders. Those who depended on percussion pistols often carried multiple loaded and capped pistols.
 

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