Since the advent of firearms around the 14th Century, every gunmakers dream has been to increase the firepower of their guns. With the invention of the revolver in 1836 by American gunsmith Samuel Colt, the dream was beginning to be realized.
Not happy with the six shots that the Colt revolvers offered, many other gunsmiths adapted the revolver theme to accommodate more bullets and in 1864 a Frenchman by the name of Eugene Gabriel LeFaucheux devised a revolver that fired no less than twenty shots.
It is quite intimidating looking down the over and under barrels of a twenty shot revolver, even by today's standards with Smith & Wesson's seven and eight shot revolvers, this Lefaucheux was well before its time.
Eugene Lefaucheux's twenty shot revolver had a caliber of 7mm and utilized a pinfire cartridge. The pinfire cartridge was actually invented by Eugenes father, Casmir, in 1823, and was patented in 1835. The pinfire cartridge was years ahead of Samuel Colts cap 'n' ball revolvers and in the 1800's pinfire cartridges were seen as a modern marvel of gunsmithing technology.
Pinfire inventor, Casmir LeFaucheux. 1802 - 1852Pinfire cartridges have a small firing pin sticking out of the side of the base of the cartridge and when the hammer falls on it, the pin drives in and ignites a small integral percussion cap and consequently fires the bullet. Pinfire cartridges are all but obsolete today, having been extensively replaced by the more reliable and easy to mass produce center fire cartridge, with the primer fixed into the dead center of the base of the cartridge.
Below is shown the pinfire cartridge, the firing pin is noticeable protruding out of the base...
The pinfire system worked very well and the LeFaucheux twenty shot revolver was quite successful in its day. Although not exceedingly powerful or overly accurate, during the American Civil War 1861 -1865, there was a rush for these " modern " cartridge revolvers. Solely due to its firepower capability and the rapid way of loading it. Basically, the pinfire cartridges were way more superior than the cap n ball revolvers of the day.
The only downside to the pinfire cartridge was the fact that a cartridge could be fired simply by sharply knocking the pin in...whether is was loaded into the revolver or not! Also the ammunition was strictly " special order " and was not initially easy to get hold of, hence many soldiers hung on to their Colts and Remington's.
THE ROARING 20's...
As I have always stipulated on my firearms pages, the combat soldier will rally after any firearm that offers maximum firepower, as the soldier with twenty rounds will always fare better than the soldier with only six. But the ammunition has to be readily available or the deals off!
The LeFaucheux had a barrel length of 4¾ inches and weighed just over two pounds when empty and just under two and a half pounds when fully loaded. The revolver was also configured with a triple action trigger mechanism, a design from 1862 that Eugene LeFaucheux incorporated.
Most revolvers are a single or double action, this is the more common configuration for the way revolvers trigger mechanisms operated. In this case the LeFaucheux twenty shot revolver had a double row of firing pins cut into the hammer, as seen in the image below. This was to enable each cylinder to fire separately, i.e. twenty trigger pulls to fire twenty rounds. The firing order was outer -inner - outer - inner and so on.
The revolver was loaded and unloaded the same way as the majority of single action Colt revolvers, by opening a gate on the right side of the frame. Of course the gate on the LeFaucheux twenty shot was quite wide as it had to accommodate the extraction and loading of a double stack of cartridges.
Below is shown an image of the gate on another LeFaucheux pinfire revolver, for illustration purposes as this is a five shot revolver. Nice clear image of a pinfire cartridge being loaded though! Incidentally, the gate was of course closed after loading the gun, it also stopped the cartridges from falling out!
The shell case extractor rod, as seen below, was fixed to a
swivel hinge mechanism that allowed the rod to be swung into two
positions, first for the inner cylinder (default position) and
second for the outer cylinder. It was quite an
ingenious solution to the problem of extracting the shell cases from this
unique double stacked cylinder system.
When Casmir LeFaucheux died in 1852, his son Eugene inherited all the patents and rights of his fathers work and inventions. Eugene continued work with the pinfire system and it was in 1864 that he devised the twenty shot revolver to use the new cartridges. Over five years he also developed two military service revolvers, the Model 1853 and Model 1858. These successful revolvers were adopted by the French army and other countries such as Egypt, Russia, Italy and Spain.
ENTER THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Eugene LeFaucheux could not have devised his twenty shot revolver at a more opportune time, as American Union and Confederate armies were crying out for as many additional arms and ammunition as they could get. Henceforth America became LeFaucheux's biggest customer.
Both the Union and Confederate armies were equipped with a mixture of Colt, Remington, Patterson, Starr and other American guns but they needed to supplement their armorys. The Union army were perhaps better equipped than the Confederates but they still yearned after LeFaucheux's pinfire revolvers to compliment their arsenal. At this time in history, the pinfire cartridge was one of the most modern firearms innovations ever.
American revolvers were all basically of the old cap 'n' ball variety, they were indeed tried and tested weapons, but their greatest disadvantage was that they were slow to reload.
Cap 'n' ball revolvers had to have the charge of powder, ball (bullet) and percussion cap (primer) loaded individually. The loaded cylinders were then greased up to keep them waterproof, prevent chain ignition and to keep any dirt out. In comparison the pinfire was a sealed unit comprising all the components in one, so they were much faster to load and more reliable.
Then we must consider the impact that a revolver that could fire twenty shots must have had on the battlefield! It had the ability to fire three times the amount of bullets than a Colt and then some!
The Union armies ordnance department initially ordered thirteen thousand five hundred LeFaucheux M1853 and M1858 .44 caliber pinfire service revolvers in total. They first saw action on September 28th, 1861. In the later part of 1864 the Union government personally bought over fifty LeFaucheux twenty shot revolvers and thousands of rounds of 7mm pinfire ammunition from New York guns importer Hermann Boker & Co.
Below is seen the six shot, single action .44 caliber, LeFaucheux, M1854, pinfire revolver. This revolver was very popular during the American Civil War as it was quick to reload and reasonably accurate. In fact there were said to be more LeFaucheux revolvers in use during the conflict than American Colt, Remington, Patterson, Starr and Sharps revolvers.
Below is shown the improved LeFaucheux M1858 six shot, double action .44 caliber, pinfire revolver. These revolvers were in high demand during the American Civil War and soldiers and officers on both sides would privately purchase them for their own personal use.
It was recorded that U.S Army Colonel Schuyler was so impressed with LeFaucheux revolvers that he placed an additional order for a further twelve thousand revolvers. Indeed the LeFaucheux M1858 revolver was so popular that Colonel Schuyler ordered them directly from LeFaucheux himself at his main factory in Leige, Belgium.
Colonel Schuyler also ordered some two hundred thousand rounds of pinfire ammunition to accompany his new revolver order. It was realized that they could not rely solely on ammunition import for these revolvers, so American gunmakers Sharps & Co were approached to make the ammunition under licence from LeFaucheux who held the patents. Sharps & Co eventually manufactured over one million rounds of pinfire ammunition, to say they couldn't make them fast enough would have been an understatement.
The Confederates are said to have bought just over five thousand LeFaucheux revolvers and as their C.S.A dollars were not a recognised currency outside the southern states of America, they traded in cotton, textiles, gin and other goods for the revolvers.
With most of the soldiers in the Civil War using muzzle loaders, single shot breach loaders and cap 'n' ball revolvers, all of LeFaucheux's revolvers were yearned for. As stated they may not have been as powerful or robust as a Colt for example, but they were quicker to load and in 1864 a twenty shot revolver was an unprecedented and unheard of firepower capacity.
Imagine fighting in the battle of Gettysburg and having a single shot, breach loading rifle (as many did) and the guy standing next to you is sending an almost constant barrage of shots over to the enemy! It is however true that several thousand Union soldiers actually used a Henry .44 caliber rimfire repeating rifle.
The Henry rifle housed a fourteen shot tubular magazine but it was not everyone who had these expensive rifles as they were not official army issue, they were bought privately. Below is shown the Henry repeating rifle, it fired a relatively underpowered .44 rimfire cartridge at a muzzle velocity of 1,100 feet per second was accurate up to three hundred yards and deadly up to seven hundred yards.
For those not familiar with guns, please don't confuse the .44 caliber of these Civil War guns to that of a .44 Magnum...they are two entirely different rounds.
Which ever way you regard pinfire ammunition, LeFaucheux's name must surely go down in history as one of the greatest gunsmiths and ammunition innovators of all time.
THE GREAT PRETENDERS...
Below is seen another gun makers variation of the LeFaucheux twenty shot revolver. Whereas the cyclinder has been drilled from a single billet of steel and then engraved. The cylinder is unfluted, this gives the cylinder more strength to be able to fire higher power loaded bullets. There was also a welcome trigger guard attached to the frame.
At present I am not sure of the actual maker of this rather obscure revolver, although I feel that it may be another gun from the LeFaucheux stable.
Below is yet another variation of the Lefaucheux twenty shot revolver, I am judging that it is one of Lefaucheux's twelve shot, long 9mm caliber revolvers that I understand he also devised. The caliber of this revolver should not be confused with modern 9mm parabellum semi-auto cartridges.
The LeFaucheux twenty shot revolver obviously made an impact with other gunmakers and one gunmaker in particular made a decent version of LeFaucheux's original twenty shot revolver. Below is shown this other twenty shot revolver, manufactured by HDH Henrion, Dassy & Heuschen in Liége, Belgium, between 1910 and 1930. This revolver had a caliber of .25 S&W (6.35mm) and was similar to the LeFaucheux in that it had two over and under barrels that were both 4⅝ inches long.
The HDH twenty shot revolver was a double action gun and used modern centerfire cartridges, not the old pinfire ones as in the LeFaucheux gun. The HDH was of better manufacture and quality than the LeFaucheux, was quicker to reload and had a trigger guard with second finger rest for better support and grip.
There was an knurled button on the left side of the frame and when this was depressed downwards it allowed the revolver to be " broken open " for loading and unloading as seen in the image below.
The cylinders where staggered in the same configuration as on the LeFaucheux revolver and it fired them in pretty much the same order with a double firing pin hammer. The HDH revolver also fired the bullets off in the same order of outer row - inner row - outer row - inner row etc. The images below show the open cylinder on the left and the double firing pin hammer on the right, which is cocked and ready to fire.
The cylinder actually revolved eighteen degrees (18x20=360 degrees) for every pull of the trigger to align the next shot with the hammer. When the outer row cartridge was fired, the lower firing pin fell into a slight recess in the cylinder and visa versa. This was to prevent the firing pin from becoming damaged by hitting the steel plate.
Usually, when the firing pin falls onto the primer, the primer absorbs the impact and hence never damages it, so the recess's in an offset twenty shot revolver are very important. The LeFaucheux revolver would also have employed a similar configuration to save its firing pins from becoming damaged.
The HDH revolvers caliber of .25 S&W does not elevate the firepower above that of diminutive, as the .25 S&W is a very underpowered round. HDH probably tried to resolve this by offering the same pistol in a sixteen shot version that fired the slightly more powerful .32 S&W (7.65mm)
Either way, as I have said on other web pages about these small caliber, high capacity guns...it doesn't matter if the caliber is small, because twenty bullets hitting somone wouldn't do them much good. A salvo of .25 caliber bullets would indeed kill them, so therefore they are still qualified and classified as lethal weapons.
For modern day shooters who fancy owning and firing a pinfire revolver, they may find the ammunition very hard to come by as it is no longer manufactured.
However, those shooters who are adept at reloading their ammunition may be pleased to learn that they can actually reload pinfire ammunition. It is a bit of a headache and is rather technical to do, but it can be done and reloading kits are available from antique firearms specialists.
An example of the reloading dies for pinfire ammunition are shown in the image below. As stated, its apparently quite a complicated affair but would add interest and intrigue to the real pinfire firearms enthusiast.
The 7mm twenty shot revolver and M1853 are highly collectable and sought after, excellent examples can fetch around six thousand dollars.