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Thread: what kind of sidearms were popular with Civilians? iam building a outfit

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2012

    Default what kind of sidearms were popular with Civilians? iam building a outfit

    Iam currently building a outfit based on that of a male southerner who lived in a city that was ransacked by the union army but is now a refugee (a wounded veteran of a earlier war) and was wondering what sort of sidearm would be appropriate.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    New Madrid Missouri


    No sidearm would be appropriate. You might get yourself in trouble with Federals you run into if you are carrying one. But, if you really want to carry one, it would probably be one of the smaller pocket sized weapons and not a Navy or Army revolver. Small caliber pinfires, derringer or pepperbox type pistols. Or, older single shot pistols. I think the key to the impression is mainly to stay away from military issued weapons.
    Michael Comer

  3. #3



    Without creating too much of a Fiction to try to justify some pistols- such as having taken an "X" from a dead cavalryman as an Easy Out...

    In brief and to over generalize...

    IMHO, one could work from two considerations:

    1. What is the socio-economic class of your impression or persona? Meaning if you are too far down the class ladder who may not have been able to afford the luxury of a pistol (one could cost 1/3 to a 1/2 or more a month's pay for a working class laborer). Or you may have sold it to buy food for a starving family. Or, if not so low, you could afford to have made a purchase of the latest revovlers from a gun shop or direct factory order. Or rich enough to have afforded a dueling pistol set. Etc, etc.

    Plus, an armed refugee could be a "bushwhacker."

    2. IMHO still, one area would be "personal protection" type single shot pistols- large numbers of cheaper single barrelled and double barrelled percusion revolvers were made and iported after the 1830's-1840's. They continued on in the form of quality single shot pistols in pocket and vest pocket sizes such as Deringer's derringers and their clones. (Booth used one in 1865).

    Single shot pistols were in decline, due to the rise of the era of C & B revovlers such as small "pocket" pistols such as the Colt M1849 or M1855 Colt-Root revovler. And to some extent by the rise of "belt" revolvers such as the "navy" models that could be had with shorter than normal barrels to make sitting easier and the revovlers easier to conceal.

    In my biases, I would avoid the large and heavy "horse" pistols such as Colt or Remington "army's" or Colt "Dragoon's" as they are large and more "martial," unless youo go with the fiction of taking one frrm a dead cavalryman.

    And a bias still- I would suggest avoiding the cheaper, low end, modern creations of derringers such as the "New Orleans Ace," "Gambler," "Twister," or "Snake Eyes" types that are fun but not much like anything historical and would, IMHO, detract from a good impression and a Believeable Image.

    Again, being "brief.."

    In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt

    Not a real Civil War reenactor, I only portray one on boards and fora.
    I do not portray a Civil War soldier, I merely interpret one.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Burke, VA


    I checked in my wife, Virginia's, book Historic Accounts which is a searchable database for the ledger from a general store in Halifax County, VA. The dates on the ledger were January 1, 1859 through November 1861. There were lots of percussion caps, powder, and shot sold. Sometimes the caps would specify pistol caps. But the following were specific items purchased during the almost three years of the ledger:
    - 1 Whitney Repeater
    - 1 single barreled gun
    - 2 boxes Colt's pistol caps (only these two and the Ely caps specified the model of firearm)
    - numerous boxes of pistol caps, usually 10 cents to 13 cents a box
    - 3 boxes Ely caps. These were 63 cents a box
    - 1 Sharp's pistol
    - 4 double barreled shotguns
    - 2 single shot guns

    So it seems another protective firearm might be a shotgun although that would be a bit hard to conceal. There was a lot of shot sold by the pound.

    Sorry I can't provide any more specific information but I don't think the store owner realized how valuable his ledger would be 150 years later.

    Michael Mescher
    Michael Mescher
    visit us at:
    Ragged Soldier Sutlery

  5. #5


    Investigate the "Lieber Code of 1863" Note section IV, numbers 81 and 83 on partisans and scouts... and how badly it can go when it's your word against an officer. Also note that clothing supplied to the Confederate army at times resembles the sturdy, work-worn garments favored by Southern working class men.

    As Mr. Schmidt suggests, your best protection is plausible deny-ability.

    Hatchet, Saw, Hammer, Ice Pick... you're not armed, you're working... until you need to make a point
    Hunting Knife, Fishing Knife... also reasonable "tools" until an attitude adjustment is needed
    Last edited by Elaine Kessinger; 09-21-2012 at 08:54 AM. Reason: including link might help... doh!
    -Elaine Kessinger

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2006


    If you have to carry a pistol,try getting a single shot boot pistol.It would be fairly cheap enough so that one could afford it,yet it would also be able to provide some sort of protection.It doesn't have the range as say a revolver,but it's better than nothing,and it could easily be hid in the vest pocket,trousers waist band (I advise not hiding it there),possibly in a top hat,or in the boot.I would honestly advise you though to get a decent boot knife to carry.It would be justified for both everyday use as well as protection,and you'd be less likely for the military to bother you about it.Plus if you're doing an early war CS impression,it would be good to carry.
    Cullen Smith
    South Union Guard

    "Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore always carry a small snake"~W.C. Fields

    "When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey; and when I drink water, I drink water."~Michaleen Flynn 'The Quiet Man'

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Rancho San Rafael, Republic of the Pacific


    There is no such thing as an armed civilian near a military camp. Knives, axes, and hatchets are about all you should be carrying.
    Andrew Grim
    Monte Mounted Rifles, Monte Boys
    Mess of Myself
    Occasional 7%er

    "Los Angeles at the close of the Rebellion was the most vindictive, uncompromising community in the United States" Horace Bell

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2012


    As a "special"artist for the London Illustrated News,I carry a 32 cal.Very small,and conceals well under my frock coat.Its just there,I dont flaunt it.Its non-firing,and only a repro,but it is good conversation,and is documented.Example:Alfred Waud.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007


    Agree, no hand gun would be most appropriate. The pistol packing civilian gunfighters were largely in the post-bellum American western frontier. These were close range self-defense weapons, expensive to purchase and not always reliable. Shotguns on the other hand...
    Craig L Barry

    Author: The Civil War Musket: A Handbook for Historical Accuracy

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Clermont County Ohio


    So what would your take be on Eastern Ky. and the mountain regions? Seems civilians had to be armed to a point to live at times. I would think they would certainly have shotguns, squirell guns, and other fouler style long guns, but other than hunting or traveling, they would be at home and handy. However, a town under military control, might be another matter.....



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