Spiller & Burr CSA Revolver

In 1861, with very few resources, the Confederacy attempted to arm itself. Several armories and factories were created in the South to help meet these needs. Created at the suggestion of the Confederate government, the Spiller & Burr factory rose in Richmond, Virginia, from the conglomeration of two wealthy Virginia gentlemen, Edward N. Spiller and David J. Burr; one small arms expert, James H. Burton; and high hopes and dreams.

Shortly after getting started, the factory that created the pistol known as the Spiller & Burr moved from the Confederate capital to Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, the company encountered difficulty producing the revolvers in quantity due to a shortage of labor and problems raw materials. Before General Sherman arrived in Atlanta, the factory was sold to the Confederate government and moved to the Confederate States Armory in Macon, Georgia, but Sherman's march through Georgia imposed even more problems. The factory ceased production at war's end with slightly more than 1,500 revolvers fabricated, fulfilling only one tenth the number called for in the original contract.

This factory tried to overcome the South's industrial deficiencies, and almost succeeded. To survive, a factory needs workers, materials, machines, and money. The factory had some difficulties in procuring the necessary materials, but mainly suffered from the threat of invasion and the lack of an adequate workforce. It had many of the ingredients necessary for success but suffered from the untimely misfortunes of war. Ironically, the war provided both the impetus for its creation, yet eventually led to its demise. But Southern factories created during the Civil War, like this one, had an impact. The South was affected by this new industrialism, both during and after the war.

A Brief History of the Revolver

Established by Lt. Col. James H. Burton  at the request of the Confederate Chief of Ordnance, the private manufacturing firm of Spiller & Burr set out to manufacture 15,000 revolvers over two and one half years for the Confederate cavalry. All three of the principals involved, James H. Burton, Edward N. Spiller, and David J. Burr, stood to profit enourmously if successful in their venture into arms manufacturing that would "be purely southern in its character." Each man would have profits in excess of $116,000 with very little starting capital needed and just two and a half years of time invested. The contract between Spiller & Burr and the Confederate States of America stipulated that the firm would be paid between $25 and $30 (1861 CSA dollars). The contract called for a .36 calibre Navy revolver, Colt's model. Colt's Navy revolver had been adopted by the Confederate government as a standard revolver, but James Burton felt another type of revolver was superior to Colt's.

 Burton selected the Whitney revolver, Second Model, First Type as a model arm for Spiller & Burr. Burton based his decision on the merits of the arm's performance, stability, design, and ease of construction. The arm was a descendant of Eli Whitney, Jr.'s .36 caliber, single action, percussion revolver, which was patented in 1854 as U.S. Patent No. 11,447. This model was in production at the Whitneyville factory outside of New Haven, Connecticut in 1861.

The Whitney revolvers (above) were probably the first solid frame pistols to go into full production. The gun had a 7-5/8 inch, blued steel, octagonal barrel that was screwed into the frame. A portion of the thread of the barrel was exposed at the breech as a result of an opening in the frame. A brass pin was attached as a sight. The barrel was rifled with seven lands and grooves. The loading lever was held adjacent to the barrel with a spring and ball type catch. The rammer entered the frame, which had been angle cut to allow insertion of powder and ball. The grip straps were integral with the frame and held black walnut grips. An oval capping groove was cut out of the right recoil shield. A rearsight groove was cut in the top strap. A thumb bolt was located on the left side, which when turned properly would allow the removal of the cylinder axis-pin. The hammer, cylinder axis-pin, and trigger were all rotated on axes created by individual frame screws. The cylinder axis-pin, which was inserted into both ends of the frame, held the 1-3/4 inch long, six shot, steel cylinder suspended in its proper position. The nipples, or cones, were set at a slight angle to the chambers. The oval trigger guard was made of brass. The pistol's length from the end of the backstarp to the muzzle was slightly more than thirteen inches, and each weighed about 2-1/2 pounds.

SPILLER & BURR REVOLVER. SN 345 Pictures here
       Burton adapted this pattern in its entirety except for a few minor substitutions. Due to material shortages, the Southern Whitney differed in two ways. Brass was to be substituted for iron in the fabrication of the lock frame, and iron was to be substituted for steel in the fabrication of the cylinder. Strength was added to the iron cylinders by heating and then twisting the round bars of iron. This process prevented any single chamber from being in parallel alignment with any fault lines in the bar iron. Even though brass was the metal used for the lock frame, the Southern Whitney was to be electroplated in silver. This electroplating made the Confederate copy look very similar to the original Whitney Navy revolver. Also, Burton proposed to round off the muzzle of the barrel instead of manufacturing sharp edges like the model. An example of a first model Spiller and Burr (above) shows a striking resemblance to the Whitney model, as illustrated above.

SN 190/387. Cal. 36.
This scarce low serial numbered Spiller & Burr revolver is accompanied by a great Confederate flap holster and roller buckle belt.
This gun was once in the collection of Fred Edmunds and he states in his accompanying letter as follows:
"David J. Burr, of Richmond, Virginia, was an enterprising gentleman whose company had built a locomotive (1836) and a steam packet named the "Gov. McDowell", which navigated the James River and the Kanawha Canal (1842). In 1880, he is listed as a commission merchant in Richmond. Also a commission merchant but established in Baltimore, was one Edward N. Spiller. Being of strong Southern leanings, Spiller moved to Richmond in 1861, where he joined forces with David Burr and a Lt. Col. James H. Burton, to manufacture revolvers for the Confederacy. James H.. Burton was born in Virginia and was educated in Pennsylvania, apprenticed in a Baltimore machine shop, and in 1844, went to work at Harper's Ferry Arsenal where he became a foreman a year later. He was a mechanical genius: he then became a master armorer (1854). He became chief engineer of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England, where he remained until 1860 when he returned to Virginia, and was commissioned Lt. Col. in the Ordnance Dept., and placed in charge of the Virginia State Armory. Upon the capture of Harper's Ferry by the Virginia Militia, Burton took charge of the removal of the rifle and musket-making machinery to Richmond. Muskets were made there for a short time by the State of Virginia under Burton's supervision, before the machinery was "loaned" to the Confederate Government. Spiller, Burr and Burton became partners, with the latter securing a contract with the Confederate Government for the manufacture of 15,000 revolvers (navy size). The contract date was Nov. 30th, 1861, but was renegotiated and made anew March 3, 1863, for the same 15,000 revolvers. The pistol factory was removed from Richmond to Atlanta in May of 1862. Falling far behind in production, the Confederate Government bought out Spiller & Burr near the end of 1863, and moved the operation to the Macon Armory, with Burton commanding. The manufacture of pistols continued without a break in serial numbers. Production continued in fits and starts from August, 1864, on through the following months until mid-November when, because of enemy operations, a move was made to Columbia, S.C. After that time, some pistols were assembled from parts, and some small parts were made until near the end of the war. The Spiller & Burr revolver was copied from the US Model Whitney Navy, which was made in New Haven, Connecticut. The Whitney, of course, had an iron frame, while the Spiller has a brass frame, backstrap and triggerguard. Most Spiller parts have serial numbers, although such numbers are often omitted from the loading lever assembly. Spiller frames are generally stamped with a "C.S." (sometimes on the right side, sometimes on the left, sometimes upside down!). Less than half of the Spillers noted have serials on the cylinders. Examination, Description and Authentication of Spiller & Burr #190 The overall look of Spiller # 190 showa a pistol with an even brownish patina: a most pleasing appearance and an expected one for an original untampered-with specimaen. The one-piece solid brass frame, backstrap and triggerguard show a most pleasing patine, as does the upside-down "C.S." stamped at the lower left side portion of the frame. Barrel is 6 and 7/8 inches long in its entirety, and protrudes 6 inches from the frame, which is the correct length: it has its original brass post front sight in excellent condition. The octagon barrel is correctly crowned at the muzzle. The serial number 387 is stamped on the bottom flat of the barrel about an inch form the frame. The barrel is 100% original Spiller & Burr and stamped with the correct dies. The triggerguard-plate, which fits into the frame, is also made of brass, and is stamped 190 at the front, as is the bottom right inside surface of the frame. The same 190 is stamped at the inside left surface of the backstrap where it meets the butt. The usual brass casting flaws are evident on the inside surfaces of the backstrap. There is an "E" stamped on the inside surface of the forward portion of the backstrap. The serial #190 is stamped also on the bottom outside surface of the buttstrap. The original iron pin which functions as a stabilizer for the grip halves, is present. As is often the case with Spillers, the original mainspring is thin at the base and has an iron wedge in place as a stabilizer filling in the cut-out in the frame. Some Spillers have wider main-springs. The original walnut two-piece grips have some dongs and minor dents, but fit perfectly, showing surprisingly little shrinkage. They are most attractive with their brass escutcheons and iron screw holding them in place. "190" is pencil;ed-in on the inside of the left grip. The unnumbered original cylinder shows a most pleasing patina which matches perfectly the remainder of the gun: it is in excellent condition with its original percussion nipples intact. Also original in every respect, but unnumbered is the loading lever assembly, very similar to the Whitney revolver, from which it was copied, of course, but far more crudely made and finished: unnumbered loading lever assemblies in Spillers are often observed, prompting many collectors to question their originality and giving rise to the suspicion of replacement. More often than not, such feelings are unwarranted. The loading lever assembly has the same pleasing patina as does the original hammer (both having originally been casehardened). Loading lever catch is original and inlets into the barrel precisely. In so far as it is possible to determine, all screws appear to be original. CONCLUSION Spiller & Burr #190 is an excellent example of one of the rarest Confederate manufactured handguns. It is in original untouched condition, having an aged patina overall. Pistol #190 was one of the 700+ guns made and assembled at the Spiller & Burr Atlanta factory before the operation was taken over by the Confederate Government and moved to Macon in late 1863, where some 600+ or - (more) were made or assembled. The observation that the serial number 387 appears on the bottom of the barrel, rather than the #190 serial on the remainder of the gun, should not be of any concern, for the reason that it is a Spiller barrel: its numbers are Spiller dies: post front sight and loading lever catch are original Spiller manufacture. The undersigned ahs observed at least twelve other Spillers where the barrel was stamped with a different number than the remaining parts. For example, one which readily comes to mind is Spiller #548, an excellent original Spiller which has its barrel stamped "488" with the large Spiller dies. Her again, #548 has its original barrel with its crowned muzzle: post front sight and loading lever catch are original. The reason for this mis-numbering? Possibly occurred at the time of assembly, either by mistake or because correctly-numbered barrel was defective. Another theory: Correctly numbered barrels might not have passed inspection and were discarded. Remember, serial numbers were only important to the Confederate gun makers to aid them in fitting together the various parts: function was their goal. Thus, Spiller & Burr #190 takes its place as being one of the approximately 1300 revolvers made by that company, joining the small overall production of what are considered to be the primary Confederate handguns: Griswold & Gunnison, 3600: Leech & Rigdon, 1500: Rigdon & Ansley, 900. A grand total 7306! With the high mortality rate of Confederate handguns, combined with the hard use they generally received rendering most in poor condition, Spiller #1990 is truly a collector's Treasure! Frederick R. Edmunds Curator Gettysburg, Pennsylvania December 1, 1998". CONDITION: Metal surfaces gray with scattered pitting. Loading assembly is possibly replaced since there are no serial #s. Brass is patinaed with scattered scratches and nicks. Stocks are well fit and exhibit scattered scratches and dings.  Holster & belt are solid & sound with some crazing to the holster and new black dye added to flaked areas. 4-32947 JS509 (20,000-25,000)

Cal. 36.
Spiller & Burr standard model revolver with "CS" stamped on left side of frame. SN occurs on bbl, frame, trigger guard, and inside stocks. Interesting is that inside the left stock is nicely scratched the name "John H. Fowler, 1888". The right stock is similarly inscribed "J. H. F. / Elkton / MD". I don't know who Mr. Fowler is, but it would be interesting to know his story. Inside of frame is also marked with a cryptic letter "M". This is an attractive specimen of the popular Atlanta & Macon made, brass-framed, Confederate revolver. Mr. Michel’s Notes State: “The partnership of Edward N. Spiller and David J. Burr produced their first revolvers at an Atlanta factory and then at Macon, Georgia. Total production was approximately 1,250 revolvers. This revolver is serial number 345 and is stamped “CS” on the left side of the brass frame. The serial number appears under the barrel, at the top of the grip frame, inside the trigger guard, and inside the wood grips. The inside of the left grip is inscribed “John H. Fowler 1888” and the inside of the right grip is similarly inscribed “JHF / Elkton Md”.” PROVENANCE: Ben Michel collection. CONDITION: Bbl is brown with scattered pitting. Hammer & cyl are also brown with scattered pitting. Loading assembly appears replaced and is smooth and brown. Mainspring appears replaced. Right stock has about a 1" x 1/2" chip repaired and a much smaller chip opposite it. 4-31352 JS107 (12,000-15,000)

SN 67. Cal. 36.
This rare, early serial numbered Spiller & Burr is marked “CS” on right side of frame, and “Spiller & Burr” is stamped on top bbl flat. SN is found on bbl, cyl, frame, and base pin. Loading assembly must have broken on this gun, and the soldier continued to use it by improvising a solid end where loading assembly once was. Stocks, when removed, have a date, a name, and other barely discernible writing. Further research may ascertain identity from these markings. CONDITION: Metal surfaces are gray/brown. Brass has been cleaned and has numerous scratches and dings. Stocks are dented, with several cut notches in each, and a 1” x ½” sliver is missing from toe of left stock. Cyl appears to have old repair which is pitted and rusted. Action does not work. Triggerguard is not serial numbered and is probably from a Whitney. 8-76223 JS229 (12,000-15,000)