Reloading a Cap and Ball Revolver

revolverIn past blogs, we’ve talked about 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 cap and ball 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






lead ball


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








3. Ram the ball home, all the way down into the chamber. Major Misalot is using his modern reloader, but this can be done using the ramming rod on the revolver, as in the picture to the right. The rod is firmly pressed into the chamber then the cylinder is rotated until all six lead balls have been rammed pushed into place.

ramming rod









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!





Cap nipple


5. Cap the nipple (think blasting cap here)






NOW its 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…









Her Christmas Wish in “Wishing For a Cowboy” Anthology – available now from Prairie Rose Publications.

Wishing for a Cowboy-sm

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20 thoughts on “Reloading a Cap and Ball Revolver”

  1. Okay, Tanya, that process is way too complicated for me. I can just imagine a character trying to load one of those babies while riding a horse. Disaster! Thanks for sharing, and reminding me why I’m happy I was born in this modern era. I would have never been able to defend myself on the range.

  2. I did find … like you said Tracy … mention of cowboys who would load several cylinders and carry them with him, so they could take out the whole revolver when it was empty and snap in the new fully loaded revolver. I think they said that took…the fastest time…twelve seconds to reload.

    But then you had to buy the extra cylinders and money was always tight. And you had to hope you didn’t shake up that cylinder in your pocket while riding at a full gallop and shake the cap/powder/ball loose so it was all still packed tight.

  3. Wow! This is amazing. I’d always read about it but nothing made sense to me. This does. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like to have had nothing better when in tense situations with people shooting at you. By the way, what years was this revolver used?

    Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving, Filly sister!!

    Keep your powder dry and your back to the wind.

  4. Mary, with the chambers grease, the ball shouldn’t shake loose. They’re pretty well packed in there. But the grease is messy, as you can see.

    Bigger concern is, once the nipples are capped, it doesn’t take much to fire the gun.

  5. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I have friends and family who shoot black powder guns and have fired one but the guys always reloaded it for me. I would never have survived the Civil War as I was just too slow at reloading!

  6. IF you’re writing about the west in 1873 or later, your heros could use the Colt Peacemaker, the gun that won the west. It was the workhorse cartridge fired pistol for that time. My hubby is a black powder shootist. He’s hunted deer with a Hawkin longrifle for years. He’s just starting in long range black powder rifle target shooting (600 yards). Very complicated process. He’s casting his own bullets. Yuck.

  7. Thanks for another informative post, Tracy.
    My son has a flintlock black powder rifle. He also loads cartridges for himself and friends. My husband has a black powder fifer, but he hasn’t done any hunting with it yet, and will most likely have our son load the cartridges for him.

    We have been to quite a few reenactments Civil War, War of 1812, Revolutionary War, and mountain men/western. When you have battlefield firing, especially when they add the cannons, you can barely see across the field for all the smoke. I haven’t tried shooting a black powder gun, but next time they site the guns in I might just go along and try it.

  8. Wow, that looks like a lot of skill. I’m afraid if I was trying to reload, I’d get all thumbs, drop an important part AND “shoot my foot off”!! LOL :):):) Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. Patrica, you should go along sometime. Its quite an experience. And see if you can talk them into a night shoot. The fire that explodes out of the barrel when the weapon is fired is quite a sight.

  10. Tracy this is great information. Fortunately my heroes are in the 1880s and can use cartridges … but you’ve helped me realize they would have learned on these cap and ball revolvers. That would be a good way to explain why their aim is so good … they really wouldn’t have wanted to waste a cap and ball shot 🙂


  11. Tracy, We have been to night time battle reenactments and seen the flash of the rifles and the cannon. Impressive.

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