top of page
  • Writer's pictureT. Logan Metesh

Smith & Wesson During the Civil War

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

You don't have to be a brilliant economist to understand the correlation between an increase in firearms production and a wartime economy. Let's take a look at how this played out for Smith & Wesson during the Civil War (1861-65) and the impact it had on both their arms and ammo production.

Smith & Wesson's first really successful firearm was a seven-shot revolver that fired .22 Short rimfire cartridges. With bullets weighing a mere 29 grains on the heavy end, it was (and still is) an anemic round, at best. Nonetheless, plenty of Civil War soldiers carried the gun as a privately-purchased sidearm for one big reason: convenience.

What the rounds lacked in power, they made up for in quick and easy reloading when compared to their cap-and-ball counterparts. Having a .36 caliber Colt 1851 Navy is better in terms of stopping power, but it's just a brick if you don't have time to reload it.

That's why the S&W Model 1 revolver sold like gangbusters. Between 1857 (Smith & Wesson's first full year of production) and the end of the Civil War in 1865, the company had produced 166,677 revolvers, 86,823 of them being the Model 1.

Civil War, Smith Wesson, revolver
Civil War soldier armed with an S&W Model 1 revolver

That breaks down to 18,519 revolvers per year, or 50 revolvers per day if they were operating all 365 days in a year.

Smith & Wesson Model 1

Even more impressive than the number of revolvers that Smith & Wesson made was the amount of ammo that they produced for said guns. In the same time period, they churned out a whopping 43,732,260 self-contained metallic cartridges!

That's 4.8 million rounds per year, or 13,312 per day if they were operating all 365 days in a year! Breaking it down further, that's 27.7 rounds per minute for an entire 8-hour shift!

Of course, wartime production numbers don't last forever. When hostilities between North and South came to an official end in April 1865, there was considerably less need for arms of all kinds, and the Smith & Wesson Model 1 was no exception.

As a result, demand for their revolvers dropped off dramatically in the years immediately following the Civil War. The company went from 50 guns per day to 10-15 guns per month.

Think about that for a second: a "good month" was now just 15 guns! They went from demand being 50 guns per day during wartime to less than one gun per day during peacetime. It's almost hard to believe such a dramatic change.

Luckily for Smith & Wesson, there's always another military enemy and hostilities on the horizon...

Enjoy this content? Consider supporting my work by becoming a patron through Patreon.

Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.


bottom of page