Specializing in Authentic Civil War Artifacts
  • Savage "Navy" Pistol

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    Savage “Navy” Pistol - Inventory Number: HAN 091

    Serial number 3,813

    The Savage Navy Model, a six shot .36 caliber revolver, was made from 1861 until 1862 with a total production of only 20,000 guns. This unique military revolver was one of the few handguns that was produced only for Civil War use. Its design was based on the antebellum Savage-North "figure eight" revolver.

    These .36, six shot revolvers also had a reputation for being very temperamental mechanically during the period of use, and finding one that is in perfect mechanical working order today is quite difficult. This pistol is mechanically excellent and functions exactly as it should in every way. As is typical of Savage Navy revolvers, the gun is serial numbered on the frame, under the grips. In this case the serial number is under the right grip, on the right grip frame and is 3,813. The matching serial number is present on the bottom of the barrel (this requires the removal of the cylinder arbor pin and loading mechanism to see). The top strap of the revolver is clearly marked in three lines:



    JANUARY 10 1859. MAY 15 1860

    The markings are often light on these revolvers, so it is nice to see one where they are deep and very clear. As has already been mentioned, the action of the revolver works perfectly, with a pull of the ring handle beneath the trigger indexing the cylinder to the rear, rotating it and locking it into position and cocking the hammer. A single pull of this lever prepares the six shot, .36-caliber (hence the name “Navy”) revolver, to fire. The metal is almost entirely smooth and with only some light scattered areas of very minor pin-pricking and peppering, most of which is located on the cylinder around the cone seats and on the top strap around the hole through which the centrally slung hammer engages the percussion caps. The cones (nipples) are all in wonderfully crisp condition and show none of the battering that is typically encountered on these pistols. The gun also retains the original tall brass cone shaped front sight, which is still full height. This is nice as the sight is typically worn down to a bead or missing completely. All of the edges of the metal are still very sharp and crisp and the bore is in good overall condition. The two piece grips are very nice with one small chip on base of left grip. They show minor wear and handling marks and bear the original owners initials “M.R.”.

    The Savage “Navy” self-cocking revolver is one of the weirdest, most recognizable and possibly most ungainly handguns of the Civil War era. The .36 caliber, 6-shot revolver had a 7” octagon barrel and a unique action. The gun featured a unique ring shaped cocking lever inside, the heart shaped trigger guard, which was used to advance the cylinder and cock the hammer. The shooter could then fire the gun with the traditional trigger. The gun was the final version of a family of self-cocking revolvers that were built upon the “Figure-8” design of JS North. Beyond its unique action, the gun was revolutionary in that is was a “gas seal” revolver. The cylinder moved forward when the action cocked, and a recess in the chamber mouth engaged a tapered forcing cone at the rear of the barrel. The effect was a gas seal between the chamber and the barrel, which practically eliminated the loss of gas and pressure from the usual gap between the barrel and cylinder. This meant that the gas from power charge was more effectively converted into propulsion for the bullet and increased its velocity for a given powder charge, over convectional revolver designs. This innovative design would not be revisited on a widespread basic for a military revolver until the adoption of the M1895 Nagant by the Russian military. From the very beginning the revolver had been intended as a martial arm by its inventors and manufacturers, and significant effort was put forth in the years preceding the war to obtain a US military contract for the innovative, if somewhat cumbersome revolvers. With the coming of the Civil War, the need for revolvers outweighed any misgivings that the military may have had about the design, and the coveted contracts were almost immediately forthcoming. The state of Massachusetts procured 285 of the Savage revolvers early in the conflict. Additional arms were sold to military outfitters and arms retailers like Schuyler, Hartley & Graham and William Syms & Brothers. Both of these companies sold Savage Navy revolvers to the US government during early 1862, for as much as $25 per gun. The Savage Revolving Firearms Company secured the first US military contract, directly with the US government on October 16, 1861. This contract called for Savage to deliver 5,000 pistols between October 1861 and March 1862 at the price of $20 per revolver. Another contract was received from the government in November of 1861 to supply an additional 5,000 revolvers, at $20 each, between November 1861 and May of 1862. Savage completed their initial contract in a timely fashion, but had trouble delivering the guns from the second contract on the agreed to schedule. The second contract was temporarily voided by the Ordnance Department, but after negotiating with Savage, an agreement was reached where the 4,500 outstanding guns from that contract would be delivered at the lower rate of $19.00 per pistol. The deliveries under the second contract were completed by July of 1862. Of the approximately 20,000 Savage “Navy” models produced during the Civil War the US Ordnance Department took delivery of 11,384 of the guns, and the Navy took delivery of 1,126. The balance of approximately 8,500 guns were offered for civilian sale, although most those revolvers no doubt ended up seeing action during the war as well. The pistols saw significant field service during the war, and were issued to at least 26 US cavalry regiments and were listed among the arms of some half dozen or more Confederate cavalry regiments. US volunteer cavalry regiments that were issued Savage Navy revolvers included the 6th, 10th & 13th Illinois, the 5th & 15th Kansas, 11th Kentucky, the 3rd, 4th & 7th Missouri, 7th New York 3rd Ohio, 7th Pennsylvania, 1st & 2nd Wisconsin, 1st Vermont and the Potomac Brigade. The revolvers were also issued to the 1st through 9th Missouri State Militia Cavalry. The two regiments who carried the most Savages on their ordnance rolls were the 4th Missouri State Militia Cavalry with 714 and the 2nd Wisconsin with 400. Confederate cavalry units that listed the Savage Navy among their arms were the 11th Texas, 7th Virginia, and the 34th & 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalions. After the war the Ordnance Department disposed of the Savage Navy revolvers rather quickly. They sold some 773 during 1866 at prices varying from $1.50 to $3.45 each. During 1875 they sold some 3,951 for prices as low as $0.35 to as high as $.058 each; a far cry from the $19 to $25 each they paid during the war years.

    This gun is very nice condition overall and had wonderfully crisp action.


    Inventory Number: HAN 091 / Sold