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Less Common Guns

in the Civil War

Starr

The three models of revolvers made by Starr make it cumulatively the third most productive pistol manufacturer of the Civil War.  Starr made about one-tenth as many revolvers as Colt, and about one-fifth as many as Remington.

The initial Starr model revolvers in both 44 Army and 36 Navy size were double action.  That is, instead of cocking the hammer manually and then squeezing the trigger to shoot, the hammer is cocked by pulling the trigger and the gun fires at the end of the trigger pull.

The internal parts of the original Starr are distinctly different looking upon disassembly then similar parts from a Colt or a Remington (which are very similar internally).  The part that rotates the cylinder (called the "hand") is noticeably more robust looking in the Starr, but just as susceptible to the small spring breaking--maybe more so.  The part that holds the cylinder in place for firing (called the "bolt") is a less robust design in the Starr, and the way the cylinder is caught by the bolt to stop a vigorously rotating cylinder in rapid fire isn't completely reliable.  A reader asks for more on this.

Decades later both Colt and Smith & Wesson made double action revolvers where (with practice) the last movement of the trigger could be held momentarily to take an aimed shot for accurate shooting.  A gunsmith's private hunch is that the double action Starr never achieved down range accuracy, may have become unsafe when fired rapidly, and the mechanism proved unreliable in the field.

About half way through the War, the Federal Army called it quits on the Starr double action.  Starr was asked to make its 44 Army revolver in single action, which they did.  More 44 Starrs were made in single action with an 8" barrel then in double action with a 6" barrel.

The inventor, Eban Starr, also made his revolver for quick changing of the cylinder.  There is no center pin, as there is in a Colt or a Remington.  The Starr's frame is hinged at the bottom front, and the frame opens at the top back.  When the frame is opened, the cylinder is free to fall out.  A new one easily drops into place with a front projection on the cylinder quickly fitting into a recess in the frame.

Total production of the Starr is about 47,500, of which only a few thousand were made in 36 "Navy" caliber.  About 23,000 of the 44 double action and about 32,000 of the 44 single action were made by Starr.  Like all of the lesser known companies making guns in the Civil War, the Starr firm failed financially quickly after the War.

The Starr is loaded with loose blackpowder and a bare bullet referred to as "cap and ball," or with paper cartridges. Loading a cap and ball revolver is from the front of the cylinder.  It is fired with percussion caps. Misfires in cap and ball revolvers were more common than in the subsequent metallic cartridge guns.

Both single and double action Starr revolvers are available as a modern made replica, including from Dixie Gun Works.

For more information, consult "Flayderman's GuideTo Antique American Firearms" by Norm Flayderman, Colt Conversions by Bruce McDowell, and there is a particularly good webpage on the Starr with more photos.

Technical Information

Length 11 and 14 Inches
Weight 2-3/4 pounds
Caliber (original version) 44 (.451")
Bullet Weight 138 grains
Power Charge 33 grains
Muzzle Velocity 725 feet per second
Muzzle Energy 160 foot pounds

More About Civil War Guns

 

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Emory Hackman

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