Shooting the Rogers & Spencer Percussion Revolver

BACKGROUND

The Rogers & Spencer Percussion Revolver was originally manufactured in Willowvale, NY about 1863-65. In January 1865, the United States government contracted with Rogers & Spencer for 5,000 of the solid frame pistols. Delivery on the contract was made too late for war service, and the entire lot was sold as scrap to Francis Bannerman and Son in 1901. Bannerman then sold the pistols throughout the first quarter of the 20th Century. Many original Rogers & Spencer revolvers are seen today in excellent, near mint condition.

The Rogers and Spencer Army Model Revolver was actually an improvement of earlier pistols produced by the firm - the Pettingill and Freeman revolvers. The Pettingills were produced in the late 1850's and early 1860's, and were double action revolvers. The Pettingills were ahead of their time, being designed as hammerless pistols, which were popular in the last decade of the 19th Century, but certainly too avant garde for Army purchasers. The Navy Model was a .34 caliber, of which less than 1,000 were produced. The Army Model was a .44 caliber, and only about 3,400 were produced in the early 1860's. The Freeman Army Model Revolver was a solid frame .44 caliber pistol with a round 7 1/2" barrel, of which 2,000 are believed to have been produced in 1863-64, and in appearance the Freeman resembles a Starr Revolver.

The Rogers & Spencer is an improved Freeman, with a less severe grip style, a heavier frame and a stronger octagon barrel of identical 7 1/2" length. Interestingly, the Rogers & Spencer design is eligible for N-SSA competitions because the contract was consummated before the end of hostilities.

The current reproduction of the Rogers & Spencer Army Model Revolver is produced in Italy and available from several merchants who deal in blackpowder pistols.

SHOOTING

The Rogers & Spencer is a heavy framed pistol capable of providing excellent service for many years. My own Rogers & Spencer was purchased from Dixie Gun Works at the end of Ronald Reagan's second term, and still works like a clock. The Rogers & Spencer has the largest chamber capacity of any .44 caliber blackpowder revolver on the market, but you don't need all that much powder to break clay pigeons and shoot paper.

I tested several loads that are popular at the Pistol Range at Ft, Shenandoah and elsewhere. A lot of R&S shooters like to shoot 18 grains of FFF blackpowder. Still others prefer a little bit more push, and shoot 20.5 or 21 grains of FFF. More than a handful go to the bench with a lighter load for 25 yard work, and shoot only 12 grains of FFF blackpowder. Loads in the 12 to 15 grain range are based on the old "10 percent rule," where the weight of the propellant is equal to ten percent of the payload. I prefer a heavy load of FF blackpowder in my Rogers and Spencer, and a favorite load of mine is 28 grains of FF blackpowder.

The chart below provides the technical data for all four loads tested. The information was gathered using two different cylinders for the Rogers & Spencer, so I have confidence that the average velocities are in the neighborhood where a Rogers & Spencer will push a .454 round ball.

LoadAverage VelocityStandard DeviationGroup Size# of hits 4" circle
12 gr FFF430.216.4940 sq.in.4
18 gr FFF614.117.9421 sq.in.5
20.5 gr FFF624.718.4148 sq.in.5
28 gr FF711.319.8242 sq.in.4

I look for three things in a pistol load - consistency, group size and number of hits in a team size target circle, about 4 inches. Group size is computed with a square, and is the product of the width times the height of the group. The results are listed in the chart above.

Naturally, these loads are starting points for your own load development, and point of impact and group size with each individual Rogers & Spencer are certainly as important as velocity and standard deviation. If you like a light load, the 12 grains of FFF is certainly capable, and if you want to impress the team shooting four positions on either side of you, the 28 grains of FF is a real wave maker.

The problem with shooting reduced target loads in a percussion revolver is filling the empty space in the cylinders. Blackpowder is NOT like smokeless powder, and an airspace underneath a roundball is an invitation to trouble. Additionally, the closer the ball is to the end of the cylinder, the less sizing occurs in the chamber. Some chambers are tapered, and the lower you seat the ball the more reduced the ball gets, and it might not engage the rifling in the barrel when fired. The answer, then, is an inert filler that will compress the blackpowder back by the nipple and keep the ball up near the barrel. I use time-tested Cream of Wheat for my filler material, and it works just like we want. It doesn't weigh much, so it won't effect ballistics, and it doesn't combust when exposed to the fire of the discharge.

I load the blackpowder charge, then place a WonderWad on top of the powder. Seat the WonderWad with a dowel or pencil, then pour in enough Cream of Wheat to fill the cylinder within 1/4" of the top. When you seat the ball, the charge will compress. The WonderWad behind the Cream of Wheat helps clean out the barrel each shot.

A loading tool, as seen in the picture above, is a real handy tool to have when revolver loading. It will help you seat each ball equally, which will result in consistent performance of whatever load you eventually pick. Anyone handy with tools could work one up, but I got mine for $19.99 from Cabela's catalog (item no. XL-21-3433, Cabelas, One Cabela Drive, Sidney, NE 69160, 1-800-237-4444, www.cabelas.com).

CLEANUP

After shooting the Rogers & Spencer, remove the wooden grips and place in a pail of hot soapy water. After a short soak, use your pistol cleaning kit and .45 bore brush and clean the barrel and each cylinder. Pulling the cylinder is an easy task. Rotate the loading lever retaining screw, just under the lever in front of the cylinder, one-half turn. Now, by dropping the loading lever and pulling the cylinder pin forward, the cylinder is freed. Placing the revolver on half-cock makes the job easier. Try to wipe off all of the surfaces while the pistol is still warm from the hot bath, and apply a light oil liberally. Use a bore mop to get down in each cylinder and clean thoroughly. Any extended use, more than the 18 rounds of a Team Match or 20 rounds of 25 and 50 yard individuals, may require a disassembly and cleaning and oiling of all internal parts, which is a good annual task anyway.

I hope to see everyone at the 101st National Skirmish from May 17 through 21, and wish all of our readers a successful summer of skirmishing. Until the next time, promote safe sport shooting, shoot safe and have fun.

2000 by Tom Kelley

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