Author Topic: Revolver firing in the Civil War  (Read 32823 times)

Offline Navy Shooter

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Revolver firing in the Civil War
« on: November 15, 2012, 10:53:25 PM »
I read on the internet http://civilwarhandgun.com/load.htm, that in loading revolvers, specific commands were given, and the soldiers would load their revolvers in sequence.  But I can't find anywhere that describes how they were fired. 

I also read that the holster would typically be on the right side, but the pistol would be butt forward. The pistol would be grabbed with the left hand, and then transferred to the right.  But I have no idea if this is correct, though I have seen photos where the pistols were butt forward.

But am also assuming that these things may have changed over time, may have varied from North to South (or South to North, depending on your personal history, I've got history on both sides), and may have varied depending on which part of the service you were in (infantry, cavalry, artillery...).

Also, is there any information on how shooting was taught on horseback?  Or what stance was taught for shooting (one hand, two hand, shoulders square to target, standing, prone, etc.)   I'm assuming that shooting stances have changed over time, and perhaps with the weights of the weapons.

So if anyone can shed light on this, I'd appreciate it.  Especially if there are military manuals on this, it would be great.
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Offline Frenchie

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2012, 12:34:58 AM »
Yo, shipmate. Manuals I can't help with as I'm not aware of any. Those commands for loading and firing a revolver are quite naturally similar to the nine times or steps in loading and firing a rifle musket. Thanks for that link, by the way, it's interesting.

As for our comrades in the Army, the majority of handguns were carried by cavalrymen. As their main weapon was the sabre, which was carried on the left side and grasped and drawn with the right hand, they carried the pistol on the right side, butt forward so as to grasp and draw it left-handed. Infantrymen weren't issued revolvers, and would have tossed them into the bushes after the first day's march in any case. Artillery drivers, the only mounted men in light artillery batteries, were issued revolvers, theoretically for shooting wounded or panicked horses.

Officers of all branches were left to provide their own sidearms and carriage for same, which was often a sword (carried mainly as a badge of authority), and if they opted for the extra weight and encumbrance of a firearm, it was like as not a small pocket model such as the Colt Pocket Model of 1848 or 1849, or a Smith & Wesson .22 caliber. I've read the main purpose of the pistol was not as a short-range weapon of last resort, but to prevent a battlefield surgeon from lopping off an injured limb.  

Our shipmates used different, minimalist holsters, called "frogs". These only had to secure the revolver, not also protect it from the elements. These were worn on the right side, butt to the rear. If revolvers, cutlasses, pikes, etc. were issued to repel boarders, the belt, cartridge box and frog were sometimes not bothered with, as more pressing matters were usually at hand.

Now, nothing I've just said should be taken as being engraved in stone - one thing you can probably count on is that every one of the preceding "rules" was broken many times.

Training in shooting from horseback - I dunno (we need a "shrug" smiley). The most common shooting stance was one-handed, lateral (turned to the side) while standing erect. Of course, this was formal shooting or a dueling posture. In combat, you could expect to see just about anything, I suppose. I've drilled in repelling boarders while facing square to the rail, but I had a cutlass in my right hand and a revolver in my left.

Well, that's about all I can say with any real authority, and as I said, don't take it as Gospel. One of the cool things about reenacting the Navy is that you can get away with a wide variety of weapons and accoutrements, as long as they fit with the period and geographical area. Infantryman, on the other hand, is a breeze because you just do what you're told, it takes no thinking at all. ;D
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Offline Books OToole

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2012, 09:36:11 AM »

As for our comrades in the Army, the majority of handguns were carried by cavalrymen. As their main weapon was the sabre, which was carried on the left side and grasped and drawn with the right hand, they carried the pistol on the right side, butt forward so as to grasp and draw it left-handed.

 ;D

Actually from what I was told by my cavalry friends (I was Infantry), the left hand is only used for one thing:  The Reins.That makes the, butt forward holster on the right hip, a twist draw with the right hand. [By the time that revolvers were being used the swords were largely ignored.}


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Offline Sir Charles deMouton-Black

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2012, 10:01:25 AM »
Military arts have a very old tradition;  I'm sure that the sergeants of Alexander the Great were teaching pike drill BY THE NUMBERS.

There are several very good reasons for this;
- Recruits come from varied backgrounds and must be thoroughly trained
- Soldiers MUST act together and in a predictible manner in battle
- Soldiers are scared and want to do the natural thing - GTFOOT - so they must be drilled and disciplined to act together and in a predictible manner
- Soldiers are tired and hungry and would rather sleep and/or eat - so they must be drilled and disciplined to act together and in a predictible manner

Virtually all military endeavors are taught BY THE NUMBERS so that they act together and in a predictible manner whether they are scared, tired, or hungry.  If they vary from their training the sergeants will scream at them, and the corporals beat them and the officers give a speach to motivate them.  All of which the soldier will regret so he must DO IT BY THE NUMBERS!

Whether each act was counted out, even silently would depend on what was going on at that particular time but the act would be done correctly as they were taught to do it - BY THE NUMBERS.
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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2012, 10:21:37 AM »
Sir Charles,

Here here! on the officer's lectures ... I would rather have a pummeling from a non-com than endure an officer's lecture!

TTFN,
My moniker is my great grandfather's name. He served with the 2nd Florida Mounted Regiment in the Civil War. Afterward, he came home, packed his wife into a wagon, and was one of the first NorteAmericanos on the Frio River southwest of San Antonio ..... Kinda where present day Dilley is ...

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #5 on: Today at 04:41:45 PM »

Offline Frenchie

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2012, 10:38:46 AM »
Actually from what I was told by my cavalry friends (I was Infantry), the left hand is only used for one thing:  The Reins.That makes the, butt forward holster on the right hip, a twist draw with the right hand. [By the time that revolvers were being used the swords were largely ignored.}


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True, my learned friend (how are ya, by the way?). I wanted to talk about that and other things, but I've been trying to reduce my tendency to go on and on and on... and it was getting very late as well. Besides, I knew anything I missed or glossed over would be picked up by you and the other gents.  :)
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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2012, 10:42:03 AM »
Actually from what I was told by my cavalry friends (I was Infantry), the left hand is only used for one thing:  The Reins.That makes the, butt forward holster on the right hip, a twist draw with the right hand. [By the time that revolvers were being used the swords were largely ignored.}


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So much so that if I remember correctly, it was called the Cavalryman's draw?

TTFN,
My moniker is my great grandfather's name. He served with the 2nd Florida Mounted Regiment in the Civil War. Afterward, he came home, packed his wife into a wagon, and was one of the first NorteAmericanos on the Frio River southwest of San Antonio ..... Kinda where present day Dilley is ...

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Offline Trailrider

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2012, 10:59:14 AM »
It is true that the cavalryman's saber was worn on the left side, and, naturally, drawn with the right. The pistol (revolvers were called "revolving pistols" was worn butt-forward on the right side, but NOT generally to be grasped with the left hand, as that hand was to hold the reins while mounted. There were several reasons for the style of holster positioning the gun butt-forward: the angle of the holster on the belt is more comfortable with the 7-1/2 - 8 inch barrels of the various revolvers in use (both Federal and Confederate).  The butt-forward carried permits drawing the gun with either hand, the twist or "cavalry" draw being the method most commonly used, especially while mounted. This style was carried forward from the time of the adoption of belt-worn guns (as opposed to pommel-mounted holsters generally used with Walker and Dragoon Colt's revolvers), and lasted until the adoption of the M1911 semi-automatic pistols. Of course, some officers and perhaps irregular enlisted might purchase their own guns, and adopted non-regulation carry (butt-rear) holsters.

Be cautious, however, about identifying the type of carry shown in some photos. Because the photographic processes of the times reverses the image, many subjects slid the holsters around to their left side, so the gun was butt-rear. After the photo was taken, the holster would appear to be butt-rear on the RIGHT side! (See "The Left-handed gun", Billy The Kid's photo, with his "left-handed" Winchester '73!)
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Offline litl rooster

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2012, 07:43:15 AM »
Actually from what I was told by my cavalry friends (I was Infantry), the left hand is only used for one thing:  The Reins.That makes the, butt forward holster on the right hip, a twist draw with the right hand. [By the time that revolvers were being used the swords were largely ignored.}


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Offline Navy Shooter

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2012, 09:52:56 AM »
Yo, shipmate. Manuals I can't help with as I'm not aware of any. Those commands for loading and firing a revolver are quite naturally similar to the nine times or steps in loading and firing a rifle musket. Thanks for that link, by the way, it's interesting.

Thanks for your feedback Frenchie.  Also appreciate your sense of humor.  :)

I dug around on the internet some more, and found another manual, http://ehistory.osu.edu/uscw/library/books/carbine.cfm. It's called "MANUAL OF ARMS FOR THE SHARPS RIFLE, COLT REVOLVER AND SWORDS (1861)
The Volunteer's Manual No. 1" 

A couple notes of interest:
  • Three quarters of this manual is about carbines, about one quarter about revolvers.  Since a lot of the infantry apparently threw away their revolvers, maybe that makes sense...
  • There are only two paragraphs about swords.  How to carry one, and how to salute with one.  I suppose if you salute wrong with a sword, someone gets a nasty gash.
  • There is almost nothing about stance, except at point LIII (Aim), where they mention the soldier should extend their right arm.

It's got a lot of detail, I'll be digging into it.  Thanks again for your info.
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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #10 on: Today at 04:41:45 PM »

Offline S. Quentin Quale, Esq.

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2012, 03:26:32 PM »
I read on the internet http://civilwarhandgun.com/load.htm, that in loading revolvers, specific commands were given, and the soldiers would load their revolvers in sequence.  But I can't find anywhere that describes how they were fired. 

I also read that the holster would typically be on the right side, but the pistol would be butt forward. The pistol would be grabbed with the left hand, and then transferred to the right.  But I have no idea if this is correct, though I have seen photos where the pistols were butt forward.

But am also assuming that these things may have changed over time, may have varied from North to South (or South to North, depending on your personal history, I've got history on both sides), and may have varied depending on which part of the service you were in (infantry, cavalry, artillery...).

Also, is there any information on how shooting was taught on horseback?  Or what stance was taught for shooting (one hand, two hand, shoulders square to target, standing, prone, etc.)   I'm assuming that shooting stances have changed over time, and perhaps with the weights of the weapons.

So if anyone can shed light on this, I'd appreciate it.  Especially if there are military manuals on this, it would be great.

1.  I'm sure that soldiers of the day were trained to do things "by the numbers."  That's been the way of things since before the rise of Sparta.  I read the link and there are some errors in it.  I'll not address them generally as I'm short on time.  Remember, though, that while infantry fought in line formation and did things "by the numbers" cavalry did not.  They would maneuver and attack in a line formation but once the charge was complete it was a "melee" with each trooper engaging the enemy as they could.  If the charge was a saber charge I doubt pistols would have been drawn.  If it were a pistol charge then the weapon would have been fired dry and then the trooper would either withdraw to reload or draw his saber and carry on.  Reloading in the middle of melee was probably a "non-starter."

In some units troopers carried more than one pistol, obviating the need to reload.  It was also possible to carry a spare cylinder, making reloading a much simpler and quicker task.

While mounted you file the pistol either to the side or extend the arm straight forward.  This is so that you don't shoot your own horse in the head (which happened more than once, including to George Custer).  In the days of single shot "horse pistols" a line of troopers would ride towards a line of enemy infantry and, at a short distance, stop, turn left, discharge the pistol to the right, then retire to reload and do it again.  With a revolver, the troopers could empty their weapons and then either withdraw to reload or, if the infantry had broken, draw sabers and attack.

If you were engaging enemy cavalry you had an option to use the pistol or the saber.  During the ACW there were actually very few classic "cavalry fights."  Most cavalry on both sides functioned as "mounted infantry" (sometimes called "dragoons").  Prior to the widespread use of rifled muskets cavalry could engage infantry under the right circumstances, but once the infantryman could "reach out and touch" his opponent at 300-400 yards the smart cavalry officer declined the charge option and looked for some other way to engage the enemy.

2.  The holster did carry the pistol "butt forward" and might, at one time, have been because it was "blade in right hand and pistol in left."  But for a horse soldier it was "reins in left hand and weapon in right."  That weapon could be a blade, pistol, or even a lance.  Reloading on horseback would have been an interesting drill, but a good rider on a well trained horse could do it.  The Army carried the revolver butt forward through WWI.  IIRC a "butt rear" holster for the revolver was issued in 1942.  Some traditions die hard.   ;)

3.  Gunbreaking a horse is an interesting drill and there are many ways to do it effectively.  The best way I've found is to have a group of broke horses mixed with green horses and exercises are performed.  The greenies see the broke horses are not concerned and the calm spreads.  It's putting the horse's herd mentality to work for the rider.  Again, you fire to the side (ideally at 2-3 o'clock position when engaging to the off side).  When firing to the on-side (across the body) you'll be engaging in the 10-11 o'clock position.  Again, you NEVER fire over the horse's head.  If they raise their head at the wrong time you'll join the infantry the hard way!!!   ;D

Go to the U.S. Cavalry Association website http://www.uscavalry.org/ and click on "Photos."  There you will find both historical photos and a number from the modern National Cavalry Competition.

SQQ

Offline WaddWatsonEllis

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2012, 04:08:05 PM »
Hi,

I forgot who made the comment about length of sword, but it brought back a memory .... I went to a military high school, and our platoon sergeant was so tall in my junior year that they could not find a sword long enough .... he cut the bottom of his right ear almost off ... and since I was in the front part of my company, I didn't know if it until we were given "Fall Out" and he passed out from lack of blood ....

But he was back at the school by that night ... and since we didn't have a dress parade (with swords) for a week, he took his place on the next Saturday pass-in-review complete with too short sword ...  but he never cut himself again ....
My moniker is my great grandfather's name. He served with the 2nd Florida Mounted Regiment in the Civil War. Afterward, he came home, packed his wife into a wagon, and was one of the first NorteAmericanos on the Frio River southwest of San Antonio ..... Kinda where present day Dilley is ...

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Offline US Scout

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2012, 07:52:36 AM »

  • There are only two paragraphs about swords.  How to carry one, and how to salute with one.  I suppose if you salute wrong with a sword, someone gets a nasty gash.



Many years ago when I was OCS, I was one of our officer candidate company officers, the adjutant to be exact.  Each Friday we held a parade, with the "officers" carrying swords.  Our company commander had a real problem finding his spot and usually ended up standing too close to me, who stood behind him on his left.  Several times my sword just missed him as it came up from the salute.  One day I felt a small tug as I brought the sword up but not seeing any obvious wounds didn't concern myself too much.  However, as we left the parade our commander referred to his watch, but as he swung his arm up the watch fell off.  I'd cut completely through the leather strap without leaving a mark on him.  From then on he always made sure he stood where he was supposed to.

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Offline Pitspitr

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2012, 08:31:40 AM »
From then on he always made sure he stood where he was supposed to.
I suppose some people just need a gentle...or not so gentle reminder of where to stand. If you have ever noticed the scar on my forhead you'll know why I never stand very close when someone is golfing. It's amazing what waking up in a puddle of your own blood does for one's caution....but I digress.  ::)

SQQ I really enjoyed your post. It never ceases to amaze me the lessons one learns when one actively "lives" history rather than just reads about it.

In respect to teaching by the numbers; in coaching it is said that during a game players will fall back to the level of their training, meaning that when the body starts running on addrineline you do things from the habits learned in practice, not what you know is best. When my Dad taught me to shoot he told me to take a deep breath and hold it before squeezing the trigger. Now I know I should exhale and I've been trying to form new habits, but yesterday after shooting my deer (with a M-1898 Springfield Krag-Jorgenson BTW) I realized I'd been holding my breath.  :-\
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Offline St. George

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2012, 09:54:03 AM »
I might take a moment to point out that the Infantry didn't 'throw away their revolvers' - that'd be damned nearly impossible to throw away something that they weren't issued.

Infantry fought with their Rifle and Bayonet - the revolver and sword was carried by an Infantry officer, so he could better direct combat operations on the field without being encumbered. (For a contemporary view - see 'Gettysburg' and look at Chamberlain during the famed 'Bayonet Charge'.)

Cavalry fought with Carbine, Saber and Revolver - usually dismounted - and it was Confederate cavalry who were fond of multiple revolvers - not Federal Cavalry - the Federal trooper had a functioning supply system.

The revolver was holstered butt-forward on the right side to be drawn with the right hand - the saber on the left for the same reason - reins were held in the left.

Events at Yellow Tavern, Brandy Station, et al - were the free-wheeling, mad affairs of clashing horses and steel and revolver reports - but massed Cavalry engagements were, on the whole - somewhat rare, since Cavalry's role on that battlefield, as those that followed - was 'reconnaissance' - despite what J.E.B. Stuart thought it was at Gettysburg, since he thought it was about press coverage and was dead wrong.

Cavalry acted as the 'eyes and ears of the Commander' and patrolled, picketed, harassed and such - and being a Cavalryman was glamorous and exciting in the eyes of pretty much everyone - besides, it beat walking.

Infantry, on the other hand - wasn't glamorous, but it was sure effective, and made the Federals into a killing machine.

That small handbook is to train recruits in the Manual of Arms - it's not a 'Small Arms Firing Manual'.

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Cavalry Tactics
« Reply #15 on: November 18, 2012, 10:11:58 AM »
Hi,

My great grandfather was in the 2nd Fla Cavalry ... and from what I have read and researched, I have to agree wholeheartedly with St Charles.

For the most part, Cavalry was used for scouting and spying ... during a battle, at least on the Confederate side, they were more used as mounted infantry, being instructed to lay their horses down and use them as a cover to fire from ...

Also, Cavalry enlisted on both sides were not issued revolvers ... most were gotten as 'battlefeld donations'...

I wonder how many cavalryman became infantry because of those tactics ...

TTFN,



Reenacting as my great grandfather during a Veteran's Day celebration at the old Sacramento Cemetery ...
My moniker is my great grandfather's name. He served with the 2nd Florida Mounted Regiment in the Civil War. Afterward, he came home, packed his wife into a wagon, and was one of the first NorteAmericanos on the Frio River southwest of San Antonio ..... Kinda where present day Dilley is ...

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Offline S. Quentin Quale, Esq.

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #16 on: November 18, 2012, 11:30:06 AM »
I would agree with the above except that in the American Cavalry the revolver was an issue item.  This, by the way, was a marked difference between American and European cavalry.  In Europe (with the possible exception of the Russia) revolvers were not issued below the NCO level.  Their primary weapons were the carbine, saber, and lance.

A difference between Union and Confederate Cavalry was often that the Union had an effective industrial base and supply system and the Confederacy did not. 

Another issue is likely the "lay your horse down and fight from behind it" thought.  This did happen, particularly if the the troopers got caught in open country.  But no cavalryman worth his salt wanted to lose his horse.  On the Confederate side they supplied their own mounts (and if the mount were lost in the line of duty they were either compensated or a new one was issued).  Most of the time, on both sides, if the troop dismounted the horses were linked together in threes and a fourth man retired behind the fight with the horses.

SQQ

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #17 on: November 18, 2012, 11:47:33 AM »
Hi,

I did not divulge my sources because it was so long ago that I read them .... (heck, the could have been yesterday ... *S*).

I will research and give the particulars later ...

TTFN,
My moniker is my great grandfather's name. He served with the 2nd Florida Mounted Regiment in the Civil War. Afterward, he came home, packed his wife into a wagon, and was one of the first NorteAmericanos on the Frio River southwest of San Antonio ..... Kinda where present day Dilley is ...

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Offline Navy Shooter

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #18 on: November 20, 2012, 08:32:35 PM »
Military arts have a very old tradition;  I'm sure that the sergeants of Alexander the Great were teaching pike drill BY THE NUMBERS...

Virtually all military endeavors are taught BY THE NUMBERS so that they act together and in a predictible manner whether they are scared, tired, or hungry.  If they vary from their training the sergeants will scream at them, and the corporals beat them and the officers give a speech to motivate them.  All of which the soldier will regret so he must DO IT BY THE NUMBERS!

Whether each act was counted out, even silently would depend on what was going on at that particular time but the act would be done correctly as they were taught to do it - BY THE NUMBERS.

Well, per your note above, they even loaded their revolvers BY THE NUMBERS.  Also, as per some notes above, the left hand was used almost exclusively for the reins, so that in the 'MANUAL OF ARMS FOR THE SHARPS RIFLE, COLT REVOLVER AND SWORDS (1861)', rather than referring to a cavalry soldiers left arm, the manual refers to their 'bridle-arm'.  They do mention in loading that they use both hands, which seems pretty necessary.   :)   However, they may have done things which seem contrary to what is commonly re-enacted. 

In part XLII of the manual, http://ehistory.osu.edu/uscw/library/books/carbine.cfm it states that 'The pistol should be worn on the left side, in front of the sabre-hook.'  To draw the pistol, the right hand was reached across to unbutton the 'pistol-case', and remove the revolver.  It sounds like it may be common in re-enacting to have the revolver on the right hand side.  If this manual was used in the Civil War, this may be an error in re-enacting.  I went through the motions they mention for loading, and having the revolver on the left side, with other items (caps and ammo) on the right, and it seems to be convenient.  It also means you don't have to awkwardly remove the revolver from the right side, with your right hand, if it is butt forward.

I'm guessing that this is the way they were taught, and for the most part, how they also used the revolver.  Just a thought.  And yeah, I'm guessing when they used other methods, they got a beating, and a speech...
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Offline WaddWatsonEllis

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Re: Revolver firing in the Civil War
« Reply #19 on: November 20, 2012, 11:49:14 PM »
Hi,

Although I find nothing about standard dismounted cavalry using the horses as shields, this paper is a nice summary of 'Civil War' Cavalry tactics ...

http://www.cincinnaticwrt.org/data/ccwrt_history/talks_text/starr_cavalry_tactics.html

TTFN,
My moniker is my great grandfather's name. He served with the 2nd Florida Mounted Regiment in the Civil War. Afterward, he came home, packed his wife into a wagon, and was one of the first NorteAmericanos on the Frio River southwest of San Antonio ..... Kinda where present day Dilley is ...

"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." John Wayne
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