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
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.
SPILLER & BURR REVOLVER REVOLVER WITH HOLSTER
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)
SPILLER & BURR REVOLVER. SN 345.
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
SPILLER & BURR CONFEDERATE REVOLVER.
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)