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By John Dugan


Traitor
or Capitalist?



An Inscribed Colt
Model 1860 Army
from a
Shipment of 500
to Richmond, Virginia,
on April 15, 1861



by Tom LoPiano

From "Man at Arms Magazine"
Written by Tom LoPiano (December, 2008)
Photographed by James Kritz

The introduction of the Colt Model 1860 Army revolver marked a new chapter in the evolution of the Colt firearms empire. Colt had been quite successful during the peaceful 1850s. Not only did he have established military business, but he also had profitable private sales of the 1851 Navy revolver, as well as the Pocket Model 1849. But by 1860, the product line needed an overhaul if the company was going to continue moving forward.

A major improvement in steel making was the key factor to Colt's development of a new Army revolver. The new material was known as "Silver Spring Steel," and because of its features, the four-pound, two-ounce Dragoon was replaced by the two-pound, eight and one-half ounce Model 1860 revolver.

After attempts failed to lighten the current dragoon models by machining off metal (as evidenced by existing "prototypes" still housed in the Colt factory collection at the Museum of Connecticut History in Hartford), the Model 1860 was created by adapting the .36 caliber Navy frame to accept a rebated cylinder of .44 caliber. The rear section of the new cylinders was the same diameter as the Model 1851 Navies, but the forward section was larger to accommodate the .44 caliber chambering. Adding a "creeping" loading lever and long grip to a new, streamlined, contoured-barrel design made the New Model Army a distinctive and attractive new addition to the Colt line. The New Army offered superior ballistics as well (in handling a greater charge) due to the increased strength and temper of metal. Also, its lighter weight and improved balance enabled the 1860 to gain quick acceptance by the U.S. Ordnance Department. Over 127,000 of these Armies would be produced for use by the military during the Civil War. However, before Colt could fully tool up for his first large military contract for the 1860 Army, and while working with government inspectors "in-house" to ensure acceptance of the new design, Colt sought to cash in on his new product by supplying some of his existing "Southern" dealers with the Model 1860 product first.

One of the major variations that occurred during the 1860's developmental period was the "fluted" cylinder Army. No doubt a further attempt at streamlining the weight of the new revolver, a small number of early 1860s were produced with fluted cylinders (referred to in the Colt records as the "cavalry" model). A barrel length of TA" was standard for the early dragoon models, but some 8" barrels were produced at the tail end of the 3rd Model dragoon production. The Army preferred the longer length, and it was permanently adopted with the government contract.

This period in the Model 1860's development coincided with a failure of political efforts to avoid the Civil War. Capitalizing upon the resulting demand for weapons, Colt took advantage of the South's early preparation for the war by making some of his first shipments of the 1860 Army to known dealers and/or agents in the southern states. These sales were completely legal, because the South had yet to secede. Indeed, the nation had pulled itself back from the brink of rebellion so many times during the prewar years that an actual armed conflict seemed unimaginable to many observers, perhaps Colt included. Colt's otherwise staunch support of the Union would seem to indicate that his motives were driven by profit rather than treasonous impulses.

Known shipments of the Model 1860 Armies (approximately 2,230) were made to a number of Southern dealers between December 1860 and April 1861, as follows: December 27, 1860, 300 to Gov. Wm. Brown of Georgia; January 15, 1861, 50 to Wm. Sage, Charleston, South Carolina; 160 to Wm. Martin, Natchez, Mississippi; 240 to H.D. Norton & Bros, (prior to April 16th), San Antonio, Texas; and 1,100 to Kitteridge & Folsom (up to April 9th), New Orleans, Louisiana. William B. Edwards, in Civil War Guns, states that these arms that were shipped south were under serial number 3,000 (fluted Army 1860 models) and are considered to be secondary Confederate arms.

However, there were early problems with the design of the 1860 Army's fluted cylinders, and before April 1861, at least one dealer, H.D. Norton, had returned 120 of his 240 Colts to Hartford citing "burst cylinders." A March 25, 1861, letter to Colt informed them that "with the cylinder burst...It blew out at the place in the cylinder where the catch enters... the thinness of the cylinder here has often been urged as an objection to them and if many of them do it they will not sell at all." Colt, not desiring to create alarm in the marketplace (or even worse, jeopardizing his large government contract with "bad press"), wrote to Norton "we will repair or replace these arms immediately." Replacement Armies with rebated Army cylinders were apparently sent. It is possible that he used the same policy for problems that occurred on weapons sent to the other dealers, but there are no known letters to that effect.

This brings us to the specimen that is the subject of this article. This Colt 1860 Army, serial number 224, was acquired years ago from an old Colt collector who obtained it from the estate of a widow in the Midwest. Showing use and wear consistent with its early issue, it was obviously one of the early Colt Armies that went to a Southern dealer (most likely Norton in Texas), and was then returned to Colt for "repair or replacement" because of the fluted cylinder. It was equipped with a standard replaced Army cylinder. By this time (April, 1861), Colt had received many Model 1860s back from the H.D. Norton shipment. Also, Colt had already amassed a number of "inspected" rebated cylinders accepted by the U.S. Ordnance Department, since inspectors were already "in-house" at Colt (and at nearby Hazardville at Colt's Powderworks contractor) approving arms and gunpowder for the military contract yet to be filled. The cylinder on the revolver in question is numbered 224 and has government proof marks on it. It has an early V'/z" barrel, the carryover from the dragoon model. The specimen also has the elongated "Army" grips and is a 3-screw type (not cut for shoulder stock).

What is most significant is that the "silvered" backstrap of this specimen carries a finely executed inscription reading, "Presented to D.T. Williams by the/State of Virginia April 22, 1861". Early Colt researchers John Parsons and Herb Glass, Sr. had noted from the Colt factory records that serial number 224 was one of two shipments totaling 500 armies shipped to Peter Williams & Co. on April 15th, 1861 – 3 days after the start of the Civil War! It was shipped via Adams Express to Richmond. Model 1860s in this shipment were found carrying serial numbers from as low as serial number 161 to as high as serial number 1,812.

Given that Colt already had business dealings in the South (noted by John Parson's uncovered facts of earlier Colt 1860 shipments to southern dealers) and the fact that news of the Confederates' bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12th moved slowly, certainly worked in Colt's favor. With the news of the outbreak of the Civil War in that second week of April 1861, it would appear that he "rushed" the shipment of Colts to Richmond. This is evidenced by a number of discoveries.

Months later, Union authorities, suspecting Colt had sympathies with the South or perhaps just being jealous of Colt's business success, condemned the Colonel before Congress for dealing with the enemy when it found evidence that this shipment had been made. Speaking "for the record," Colt flatly responded that after the start of the war, shipments to the Southern states ceased, and he never took another order for arms going to the South – a "carefully" chosen statement as the order appears to have already been placed before Congress declared war on April 15th – the very day of the Colt shipment to Richmond. In the early war confusion caused by hostilities in the South, and over when the war "officially" began, it appears that Colt ensured he would fill his customer's order before war prevented him from doing further business.

Regarding the inscription on serial number 224, the question arises as to who was D.T. Williams, what was his apparent relationship to Peter Williams &. Co. and what is the significance of the presentation inscription.

Research at the Richmond city archives revealed no mention of a Peter Williams or Peter Williams Company in Richmond during the war. However, in the Confederate Archives in Richmond, there was a record found of a David T. Williams who was a "commission merchant" and a "broker." Searching through the newspapers of the era from wartime Richmond also revealed a significant notice (Richmond Examiner, April 23rd, 1861), which states "The State Authorities seized 500 Army revolvers belonging to Williams, Peters & Co. on Sunday (April 21st) at Adams express office...the State will take these."

Additionally, the minutes of the "Ordinance of Secession Convention" in Richmond on April 22, 1861, reveal that "A certificate was granted to Mssrs. Williams, Peters & Co. that five hundred revolvers which were intended for the government of the Confederate States had been detained by the Governor for the use of this State and that the State will be responsible for them... Ordered that the five hundred pistols [Revolvers] belonging to the Government of the Confederate States which had been detained by authority of the Governor be restored to R.H. Gayle the agent of that government. Williams & Co. will be paid of course."

In the early days of the war, with "states' rights" the paramount political rallying cry of the day and the "provisional" Confederate government still not being fully set up in Richmond, it makes sense that these arms were claimed by the state and not the new Confederate government. This also raises the question as to whether David T. Williams (or Williams, Peters & Co.) were just commission brokers who sold the arms to the highest bidder or was Williams or the company an "agent" for the new Confederacy.

No records have been found indicating that they were regularly involved in the arms trade. This is partly confirmed by a notice in the Richmond Daily Dispatch (Dec. 5, 1861) announcing the dissolution of the partnership between Williams, Peters 6k Co. of Richmond and Peters, Williams & Co. of Lynchburg. Their business is described as the "purchase of State and Government Stocks and Bonds, and all securities usual to the market, on commission. GOLD, SILVER AND UNCURRENT MONEY bought and sold on liberal terms..." The principals were listed as D.T. Williams of Richmond and S.T. Peters of Lynchburg. Williams notifies the public that he will continue operations in Richmond at their old stand at No. 164 Main Street opposite the American Hotel.

This information as to the identity of David T. Williams as a merchant/broker, the existence of the partners Mssrs. Williams, Peters & Co., (a.k.a. Peters, Williams & Co.) and a lack of any information as to the existence of a Peter Williams surely conclude that the Colt record books simply used the Lynchburg version of this partnership's name. This ties in perfectly with the shipment of 1860 Armies to David T. Williams in Richmond.

Further research into Williams, Peters and Co. also revealed some important information. Mr. D.T. Williams was a prominent commission merchant in the City of Richmond during the Civil War period, with his offices located at No. 5 Shockoe Slip. Mr. Williams lived on South Third Street in the area known as Gamble's Hill, and his widow continued living there until about the turn of the century. His business was situated in the wharf area along the James River in Richmond. As commission merchants, the company no doubt used the waterways to ship and receive goods, which would be vital to maintaining its business in Richmond and to the rest of the South. This address is significant in that examining a map of wartime Richmond reveals that this address is located immediately alongside the location of the famous Tredegar Ironworks (and the J.R. Anderson Co.) – armorers to the Confederacy.

The Tredegar Iron Works was the premier iron foundry in the Confederacy. The site is now the location of a museum called The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. The foundry was named in honor of the town of Tredegar, South Wales, which was also the hometown of Rhys Davies, the man originally in charge of constructing the facility in 1833. It is significant that there is mention of D.T. Williams as a broker in the Analey Davies papers in Richmond. In 1841, the owners turned over management to a 28-year-old civil engineer named Joseph Reid Anderson. Anderson acquired ownership of the foundry in 1848, did work for the United States government, and by 1860 became a leading iron producer in the country. The company produced about 70 steam locomotives between 1850 and 1860. Tredegar Iron Works supplied high-quality munitions to the South during the war. The company also manufactured railroad steam locomotives, made the iron plating for the first Confederate ironclad warship, the CSS Virginia, and was credited with the production of approximately 1,100 artillery pieces during the war, which was about half of the South's total domestic production of artillery between the war years of 1861-1865.

Additionally significant is the fact that in the author's past research into the collection of Samuel Colt's personal papers (housed at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford), there was reference to an April 8, 1861, letter from J.R. Anderson, president of the Tredegar Ironworks, to the Colt Company. The letter is signed by Brig. General, C.S.A., J.R. Anderson (of Anderson & Co.) to Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. from Richmond, Virginia, dated April 8, 1861. The headed stationery reads "Tredegar Iron Works".

The letter reads:
In your letter of 9th Feb. to us you say: "we could furnish you at once with 250 of our new model Army of Holster pistols and at the rate of say $300 per week from this time forward, if desiredprice $25 each - less 10% discount. Enclosed please find price list for our arms and cartridges. If you will give us an order for 500 of them we will give you a commission of 2½% on the net amount of the bill". Please inform as whether $25. less 10% or $22.50 apiece is the price you charge to parties who buy direct for their own use, or whether that price is confined to parties buying to sell again.

This letter is quite interesting as it undoubtedly pertains to the exact shipment going to David T. Williams. Whether the shipment was originally intended for Anderson & Co. – who would be the Confederate States' largest armorer (and, as a contractor, in reality an arms "broker" to the State of Virginia or the Confederacy) – is moot. The fact that Williams, Peters & Co. actuated the order with Colt is of no doubt. Whether he was a "secret agent" for the fledgling Confederacy or the "go between" between Tredegar and Colt is speculative – although believable, as Colt certainly began dealing with Williams prior to February 1861. Tredegar may have been offered the arms by this wealthy commission agent, and perhaps a shrewd Anderson may have wished to "go around" the would-be arms broker Williams and purchase directly from Colt. However, since the order was shipped to Williams, and the State of Virginia paid Williams, it is likely that the price was clarified, the order quickly shipped, and this was the exact order of 500 Armies that was shipped through Adams & Co. and "seized" by the Confederate authorities.

One question remains unanswered. It is not known whether Colt was actually paid for this shipment of revolvers. There exists no record of receipt in factory ledgers showing payment for the shipment, not even in the newly discovered business ledgers acquired in 2007 by the Museum of Connecticut History. It would appear that Colt would have sent an agent along with the shipment to assure payment. If so, did it get too "hot" for Colt on the receiving end of the shipment? What about D.T. Williams? Was he there to receive the order and did he have trouble with agents of the Provisional Confederate government?

What, then, about the individual David T. Williams as far as his personally presented Colt is concerned? What significance do he and his revolver have?

Records of Confederate enlistments in the State Archives in Richmond reveal that David T. Williams (besides owning a company) is known to have enlisted in the 1st Virginia State Reserves, July 1st, 1863, and soon received a promotion to Sergeant. The unit was also known as the First Battalion, 2nd Class Virginia Militia, City of Petersburg and was assigned to the Department of Richmond, in the Army of Northern Virginia. Its duty was in local defense in Richmond and environs, and at Belle Island, guarding prisoners. Sergt. Williams is known to have seen action during the Petersburg Siege in June 1864 and specifically in the defense of Fort Gregg April 2nd, 1865, where the garrison of 250 men held off almost 5,000 Northern troops (in the 3rd Battle of Petersburg) preventing the fall of Richmond on that day. Many of the garrison did not survive the night, and Petersburg fell, as did Richmond the following day.

Certainly, David Williams carried this revolver if in service at Petersburg in 1864 and also at Fort Gregg. He may possibly have been one of those captured when his battalion manned the fortifications during that battle. Or was he also present during the last days of the Confederacy in Richmond, when the militia, along with office workers, manned the city defenses? Or was he with the unit of 250 Tredegar "guards" made up of factory workers who defended the factory (saving it from destruction) while a good portion of Richmond was destroyed when the Confederacy's capital fell on April 2nd, 1865? If so, did he use this Northern-made revolver and turn it against the North's own soldiers. The Tredegar Ironworks and his business were located at the foot of Gamble's Hill, within sight of his home at the hill's peak on 3rd Street. Williams would literally have been fighting for his "house and home."

After the war, there is little known about David T. Williams' activities except that he sold his business assets to satisfy debts owed. The company was sold to William T. Sutherlin, a prominent citizen of Danville, Virginia. The City of Danville was the last seat of the Confederate government, for only eight days, April 3-10, 1865. Danville's quartermaster, Major William T. Sutherlin, offered his home to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government. Davis occupied an upstairs bedroom, and the Confederate cabinet met in the Sutherlin dining room. Davis delivered his final proclamation to the Confederate nation from that home on April 4th, 1865. All assets of the Williams, Peters & Co. were sold to Sutherlin in 1867, but his house and furniture on Third Street in Richmond were retained by Williams' widow, and she continued to live until the turn of the century in this, the wealthiest section of the city on Gamble's Hill.

So how historically significant is this revolver? In a letter to the author from R.L. Wilson, he states that Colt 1860 Army serial number 224 "is a uniquely important and historic artifact..-the D.T. Williams revolver's inscription indicates that it was a gift to him from the State of Virginia. As such the revolver appears to be the only known example of such a presentation Colt inscribed from that State."

In light of the circumstances leading up to this final shipment to Richmond of the 500 Colt Armies, how should we perceive Sam Colt as far as history is concerned? Was he a shrewd businessman...or a traitor to the North? In the longsimmering political turmoil of the late 1850s and early 1860s, and with uncertainty about the opening of the conflict mixed with the slowness of communications, Sam Colt no doubt knew how to capitalize on this opportunity for business. On the other hand, he also must have imagined what impact his arms would have when he shipped these 500 revolvers to Richmond and then actual hostilities commenced on Virginia battlefields.

Did Sam have a conscience? If he did, it apparently did not cloud his ability to conduct business. More believable is the theory that Colt was first and foremost a "capitalist" and not a traitor. He was always quick to use his "Yankee ingenuity" at every turn to gain a profit. That is how he built his have defended these shipments, because Sam Colt died early in the war. If there were lingering questions about his motives and actions, the answers died with him.


Bibliography:
    R.L Wilson, Book of Colt Firearms. 1993.
    Mitchell, James L, Colt: The Man, the Arms, the Company, 1959.
    Edwards, William B, Civil War Guns, 1962.
    Parsons, John E., Samuel Colt's Own Record, 1947.
Other Documents Referenced:
    Colt Historical Department, Colt Firearms Co., Hartford, October 2007, Colt factory letter on shipment of 1860 Colt SN 224.
    National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C. Military Service File David T. Williams.     Parsons, John E., "New Light On Colts". 1956. Uncovered Colt Ledgers.
    Original letter from J.R. Anderson to Samuel Colt. April 1861, derived from the Joseph Laico Collection Sale 8243 from Christie's New York. (COLT, SAMUEL) Anderson, Joseph Reid. May 12, 1999. (Author's collection).
    Letter of Provenance, February 1998 by R.L. Wilson, Hadlyme, CT, 5 pp.
    Washington-Lee & Associates, Fairfax, Va., 1998 (Research 1st Va. Reserves)
    Colt Patent Firearms Mfg. Co., Hartford, January 1963 Information on Colt shipment of SN 224, R.H. Wagner.
    Herb Glass, Bullville, NY. Letters re: Colt Factory Records Feb. 1963 & March 1963.
    Parsons, John E., April 1962 re: Colt factory ledgers.
    Richmond Daily Dispatch, April 23, 1861. Newspaper record shipment of 1860 Armies.
    City of Richmond, CW Centennial Committee, January 1962. Letter re: D.T. Williams.
    State of Virginia, Executive Journal, Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 1861, Microfilm #63-1454. Minutes of Ordinance of Secession Convention, Mon., April 22, 1861. Re: Acquisition of 500 - 1860 Armies.
    Clerk's Office, Chancery Court, City of Richmond, March 1962. Re: bankruptcy and Deeds to property D.T. Williams.
    Museum of Connecticut History, Business Records of Colt's Patent Firearms Mfg. Co, Hartford, CT, Journal A, 1856-1863; pg. 356. Accession *2007.323.3.


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