Firing and shooting an antique firearm is different then today’s handguns. The blackpowder handguns create a great deal of smoke and flames when being fired due to the nature of black powder. At night, actual flames and gouts of sparks may be seen bursting forth from the end of the barrel. Much smoke is generated after each shot, and after only six shots are fired, the shooting area will be covered in a layer of sooty smoke. The smell of burned powder hangs in the air, and it is certainly obvious that a weapon has been fired. Occasionally a piece of a cap will fly backwards and strike the shooter in the face or body. The cap is not dangerous, it is like a tiny piece of sand hitting you, but it is something interesting to have happen. The sound of the gun being fired is not quite the same as a modern handgun. It is more of a loud boom then a sudden crack that a modern high-powered handgun would make. Nevertheless, it is recommended to wear earplugs and safety glasses when shooting. After I have shot 36 or more rounds from revolvers, my hand will be covered in black soot, and grease. If there is not much wind, there will be a definite cloud of grayish soot hanging in the air. Sometimes smoke can be seen curling from the barrel of the gun after it is fired. Those old spaghetti westerns with the hero blowing smoke from the end of his pistol are correct.
Certainly more precautions must be taken when using black powder revolvers or single shot pistols. The soldier would know and be trained in the weapons use. The majority of these precautions are directly related to the loading of the revolver or single shot pistol. Black Powder firearms, both revolvers and single shot weapons used caps to fire the main charge. It is routine to have a problem with these caps’s. A cap may not fire, or it will become loose on the nipple. Firing a shot may then cause the cap to fall off. Even worse is when a fired nipple becomes loose, and jams the cylinder. The revolver will now not rotate to the next cylinder to fire. A soldier would have to dig the jammed cap out of the gun. Normally the cap jams between the back of the cylinder and the body of the gun. These are all concerns a soldier would need to be aware of. The black powder handgun could be fired easily with one hand, especially the .44 caliber Colts and Remington.
Black powder does not explode as quickly as modern powder causing more of a very fast push then a sudden kick and explosion. Anyone attempting to fire any weapon should also have guidance and training before attempting to shoot a gun on their own.
The Walker Colt, Dragoons and Harper’s ferry horse pistols certainly would have a pretty good feeling of power with them, simply due to the nature and size of their powder charges and bore diameter.
The large majority of early revolvers had what is called a single-action cylinder. This meant that to rotate the cylinder the hammer had to be drawn aft to the full-cock position and then the trigger pulled to fire the handgun. Revolvers that are more modern use a double-action system. Pulling the trigger will rotate the cylinder, move the hammer aft and then release the hammer, thereby firing the weapon all in one action. Some of the early civil war vintage revolvers were double action, but they were not sold in large quantities. The Starr and Kerr were some of these double-action revolvers.
The black powder handguns were very accurate even by today’s standards and certainly were a contributing factor in deciding the wars outcome. If the ball did not hit its target it was never a fault of the handgun but a fault of the soldier. Most likely, those soldiers that missed often were not around to talk about it. Accuracy of 12 balls inside a 2-inch circle at 25 yards is possible for these fire arms.
The Harper’s ferry horse pistol, Walker Colt and Dragoons pack a very hefty punch. Even today, these revolvers would be considered magnum capability, and certainly, the LeMat nine shot revolver, around a central shotgun barrel would have been a formidable weapon.