Samuel Griswold was born December 29th, 1790, in Windsor, Connecticut. In 1835, when he was fortyfive, Griswold purchased five thousand acres of land in Jones County, ten miles south of Macon in Georgia.
On this land he built several buildings including a soap, candle and cotton gin factory along with employees dwellings, a church, a post office and a general store. He suitably named this new township Griswoldville. Note: A cotton gin is a machine that separates cotton fibers and not an alcoholic drink.
Arvin. W. Gunnison (1824-1882) originally manufactured guns in New Orleans, Louisiana and when the city fell to the Union army in 1862 during the American Civil War (1861-1865) He quickly relocated and settled in Griswoldville. He met up with Griswold and they both transformed the cotton gin factory to make revolvers at the behest of the Confederate Ordnance Department, who put in an order for as many revolvers as possible.
Griswold and Gunnison decided to replicate the Colt Navy 1851 model as it was easier to manufacture than the popular Remington 1858. At first glance the Griswold and Gunnison below could be mistaken for Colts original as seen beneath it. Of course, the Colt was of a much more superior quality.
The big differences between the Colt and their own design was the forging and machining of the frame and trigger guard out of solid brass instead of graded and case hardened steel as Colt had done. The reason for this was not an aesthetic one but instead out of necessity, because there was a shortage of graded steel in the Southern States.
The cylinders on many Griswold and Gunnison revolvers were cast out of iron and as the original gun below testifies, it promoted rust. The metal was not even chemically blued a treatment that acts as a rust inhibitor, but just left in their bare metal state.
Almost all Griswold and Gunnison revolvers have a slight pinkish coloration in the brass, this is because they mixed in a large copper content to make the available metals go further and make more guns. Confederate weapons manufacture was limited to many of these factors during the Civil War and they actually did rather well to produce weapons in any great quantity.
Also the barrel was cylindrical as opposed to Colts distinguished hexagonal design, this was fabricated this way as it was easier and less time consuming to produce. The barrel housing lug was made in two versions, a rounded type and one that had a more octagonal top.
They were .36 caliber cap and ball, black powder revolvers equipped with accurate seven and a half inch barrels, with the smooth well finished grips made from walnut. Even with often limited resources, Griswold and Gunnison still did their best to produce quality revolvers and consequently they were all marked with a serial number along with assembly numbers, inspectors stamps and benchmarks for quality control.
As stated previously, the cylinder and indeed the barrel and housing was made of iron instead of graded steel. It was a process called twisted iron, in that iron bars were heated up and twisted to strengthen them, which leaves small twist lines visible on almost all Griswold and Gunnison cylinders.
The barrel was rifled with six clockwise twisting grooves, with more tightness in the amount of twist in the latter half of the barrel. The hammer had a roller kingpin, and the cylinder, surprisingly, was over engineered with six integral safety pins unlike the Colt that only had the one.
The serial numbers were stamped with large individual digits, and are to be found on the barrel lug, the cylinder and either left or right on the frame. Some Griswold and Gunnison revolvers have been noted to be absent of any numbers, whilst others have numbers stamped in front of the trigger guard similar to the Colt.
There are also secondary numbers and several cryptic marks with reversed or doubled initials stamped on many parts...such as the frame that the grips attach to as seen in the image below.
The same " XX I " markings can sometimes be found etched onto the under-lever loading ram.
Overall the Griswold and Gunnison revolvers were of good quality bordering on quite decent, considering the lack of materials and skilled workers but they were only able to produce between three thousand six hundred and three thousand seven hundred revolvers during their three years output.
Historic research reveals that Griswold and Gunnison supposedly employed about twenty negro slaves who worked in the gun factory, but my indepth research has shown that they were actually paid a fair wage and were treated the same as the other workers.
Producing firearms is a skilled business, so it can be reasonably assumed that all the workers in the Griswold and Gunnison workshops were men that had acquired skills in metallurgy, precision engineering and ballistics.
Below is seen a modern day inert copy display piece made by Denix, its a nice, fairly accurate copy, that I have mounted on my wall above my PC.
When brass was not available then Griswold and Gunnison made the frame out of pure iron or an iron alloy as their 1864 revolver illustrates below. However these are extremely rare and the only other examples were discovered in the ruins of the old factory.
Times sure were hard for the Confederates, they lacked the materials, the skills, the know-how and indeed the money to produce top quality revolvers like Samuel Colt did in the Northern States of the Union. However, this did not stop them from producing a revolver that was of good quality, reliable and accurate.
Griswold and Gunnison revolvers were sold to the Confederate Army for the extortionate price of forty dollars each. I say extortionate, as Samuel Colt was selling his top quality 1851 Navy revolvers for a reasonable thirteen dollars and seventyfive cents each. Stack em high, and sell em cheap! Whereas a good wage in the 1860's was around fifty to seventy dollars a month, Wild Bill Hickok for example earned one hundred and fifty dollars a month plus expenses as a Sheriff in the 1860's.
Obviously Griswold and Gunnison had never heard of fair trading standards, recommended retail price or followed any modicum of business and marketing strategies.
It all came to an end though when on November 22nd, 1864, Griswoldville was attacked by detachments of the Union army led by Brigadier-General Charles C Wallcut. The Griswold and Gunnison factory along with all the other factories were burned to the ground, set alight by men of the 3rd Cavalry Division under Brigadier-General Judson L Kilpatrick.
This was during Union Major-General William T. Sherman's famous March to the Sea the name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign. This began when Sherman's sixty thousand troops left the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, on November 15th and fought their way across land. They totally destroyed everything in their path to eventually capture the port of Savannah on December 21st.
Below are two inert replica display pieces made by Denix that are readily available off the internet and are ideal as wall hangers or desk ornaments. They do not fire and cannot be made to fire but they do have fully functional working parts.
They serve as a safe but honest historical reminder of Griswold and Gunnison's attempt to copy the Colt, and arm the Confederates during the bloody cauldron of death that was the American Civil War. Both the brass and iron framed models are represented.
The hammer can be cocked, the cylinder revolves and the under barrel ram rod also works like the original. The grips are made of wood whilst the rest of the gun is made from various metals, they also have the right weight to them. These Denix revolvers are a great way to educate people on how these old cap n ball revovers functioned.
I hope you have enjoyed this page on the unique and lesser known but widely used Griswold and Gunnison revolver, as it held an interesting and somewhat serious part in American history, defending the Southern States from "Northern Yankee Aggression."
Page created September 22nd 2009. Updated August 25th 2012