Reloading Cap & Ball Revolvers

Cap and ball weapons were all “the thing” during the Civil War and later—right up until Smith & Wesson’s patent ran out on the bored-through cylinder and Samuel Colt could get in the self-contained cartridge game. Numerous models of cap and ball revolvers were produced until 1873.

In past blogs, I’ve discussed the limitations of a cap and ball weapon because it can’t be reloaded quickly. A muzzle-loaded long gun gives you one shot. A cap and ball revolver with six shots is just that—six shots. Your hero won’t be reloading it while running from the bad guys or riding to the rescue. Keep reading and you’ll understand why.

Unlike a modern cartridge, where the bullet, powder and primer are enclosed in a brass case, reloading a cap and ball revolver takes 6 steps for each chamber. That’s six steps times six chambers to fully reload a revolver.

I took most of these pictures of my friend and fellow cowboy action shooter, Major Misalot, reloading his cap and ball revolver cylinder. The reloading can be done while the cylinder is in place on the revolver, too.

The loading is done in reverse order of the firing process, from the barrel side of the cylinder:

1. Add powder

powder

 

 

 

 

 

metering flask

 

In the above picture, Major Misalot used a reloading “station”. Another cowboy friend “Noz” used a metering flask to measure the powder for each cylinder. He put his index finger over the hole at the top, tipped the flask upside down and back upright to measure out the correct grains of powder, then poured the powder into a chamber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Place a lead ball on the powder in each cylinder

place ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Ram the ball home, all the way down into the chamber. Major Misalot used his modern reloader, but there is a ramming rod under the barrel of the revolver. The revolver is held muzzle up, the rod is firmly pressed into the chamber then the cylinder is rotated until all six lead balls have been rammed into place.

ramming

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Grease the cylinder to prohibit chain firing – where the burning powder from one shot ignites the others in the cylinder = obviously not a good thing!

grease

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Cap the nipple (think blasting cap here)

capping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

capper

 

Another method to “cap” the chamber is to use a capper, a spring-loaded brass disc that presents the cap. Above, Major Misalot hand capped his. Noz uses a capper. On every stage of our 12-stage shoot, Noz pressed a cap into position six times then went back over all six chambers to be sure the caps seated properly. Then he loaded his second gun.

After all that, the revolver is finally ready to fire.

With practice, it doesn’t take all that long to reload a cylinder, but you really can’t pour powder, ram a ball, cap the nipple and grease the chamber at a gallop. I can certainly see why many who relied on a cap and ball revolver carried fully loaded spare cylinders.

And, just to remind you that someone shooting black powder can’t hide…

smokin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy

www.TracyGarrett.com

Tracy Garrett
History, Texas, cowboys, horses—these are a few of Tracy’s favorite things. Check out her westerns at www.TracyGarrett.com.

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Tracy, what a great blog. I love the way you outlined, even with pictures, each process. It’s fantastic research that I’ll sure mark and keep to save me time one of these days. You always come up with some truly fascinating blogs. Big Texas hugs, Phyliss

  2. Tracy – I had no idea all the steps necessary to make a gun fire at this time in history! I figured it was this way with rifles–but not six-shooters! Hollywood sure has got it wrong it seems.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful post!

    1. Kathryn, that’s why the cartridge was such an amazing invention. Stuff six of them into the cylinder and you’re done. Much easier to transport, too, because rain can’t get to the powder.

  3. Tracy this is fascinating to me. For those of us who are novices, I for one appreciate these step by step procedurals with pictures and directions. I’m very visual, so SEEING it done is much easier for me to remember and identify with than just being told how it’s done. Thanks so much for this!
    Cheryl

    1. You’re welcome! I’m grateful to Major Misalot and Noz for showing me because I learn better that way, as well.

  4. Hi Tracy! Very interesting. But that process was very complicated and slow. A man could get shot and killed while he’s trying to load his weapon. That’s one reason I’ll probably never write earlier than the 1870s. I wouldn’t be able to understand how to load the gun, much less describe it.

    But you did an excellent job!

    1. Linda, that’s why our hero would always carry extra cylinders. They can be safely transported until capped, then they are volatile. So they had to be extra careful. Still, they wouldn’t go off until struck by the hammer of the revolver, so it could be done.

  5. Love it!!!!! As you can see if you go to the website you will know why. If interested my other website is greenesgunshop.com. And am working on an art website that you may find interesting. Thanks again for such a great read,

    1. I’ll be over to poke around, Claudette.

  6. Terrific explanation with pictures! Some years back, I was looking for this very thing to help me with a scene where my bushwhacker is in a cave reloading cylinders. Gosh, your pictures would’ve made my life (and his) so much easier!
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Haha, EE Bueke! Please tell him I’m sorry. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. My dad was a Civil War re-enactor for years. I have seen him go through this process many times, for his revolver and his rifle. It is amazing how fast someone can get with practice.

  8. Very true, Shirley. Noz had his two revolvers loaded almost as fast as I did–and I’m using cartridges.

  9. An informative post as usual. I never knew the steps involved. Greasing is something neem
    I never considered greasing the chambers to prevent misfiring.

    Sounds like a delightful read.

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