When the U.S. military adopted the Colt double-action revolver with swing-out cylinder in .38 Long Colt (LC) in 1892, it soon became apparent the cartridge was weak. Although it took a war for the U.S. Government to realize the ballistic deficiency of the .38 LC cartridge, troops in country had a shorter learning curve. The Spanish-American War only lasted a little over three months in 1898, but the .38 Long Colt again showed it lacked stopping power. Troops were dissatisfied with the .38 LC cartridge’s performance. During the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) widespread accounts from the battlefield told of enemy combatants who were shot numerous times in vital areas with the .38 LC only to keep fighting. The military’s quick-fix solution was to take out of mothballs the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver in .45 Colt. The Cimarron U.S.V. Artillery recreates these storied Colt SAA revolvers that put firepower back into the hands of U.S. troops at the turn of the 20th century.
Between 1895 and 1906, the U.S. Government had Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and the Colt factory in Connecticut rework more than 16,000 Colt SAA Cavalry revolvers. Some of these old SAA wheelguns had seen about 20 years of hard service during the Indian Wars, while others were in storage and had never been used. The U.S. Ordnance Department specified that the used guns be reworked by Colt and the guns in storage be reworked by Springfield Armory. Original Artillery models, specifically those reworked by Springfield Armory, have mismatched serial numbers as Springfield disassembled the guns and grouped similar parts together. Since no effort was made to keep serial-numbered parts together, the government saved some money on the cost of the refit. The letter from the U.S. Ordnance Department stated: “It is intended to shorten the barrels of all the .45 caliber Colt’s revolvers on hand to a length of 5.5 inches [Cavalry models had 7.5-inch barrels] as provided for the 250 revolvers which you have been directed to prepare and issue to the batteries of light artillery….” This is how the reworked SAA handguns became known as Artillery models, as the refurbished guns were to be issued to artillery troops.
In 1898 the first U.S. Volunteer (U.S.V.) Cavalry was formed under the command of Theodore Roosevelt. This group was made up of cowboys and trained at Camp Wood, Texas. Roosevelt had specifically requisitioned the Colts for his troops, who would become known as the Rough Riders. They carried the Artillery model during the Spanish-American War and used them during the battles of San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill. Later in 1899 during the Philippine-America War, the SAA pistols saw additional service. Troops needed firepower to deal with Moro tribesmen intoxicated on narcotics, which led the tribesmen to believe they were invincible. They wielded spears and bolo knives and worked themselves into such a frenzy that U.S. troops found the stopping power of the .45 Colt was the only solution in hand-to-hand combat — the .38 LC wouldn’t do the job. Eventually, the U.S. Government began a search to find a new cartridge that performed more like the .45 Colt, which would eventually lead to the 1911 pistol chambered in .45 ACP.
To recall this history, Uberti manufactures the U.S.V. Artillery revolvers to Cimarron’s specifications. Three exteriors are offered: a case-hardened finish and standard blue finish—just like it came off the work bench at Colt or Springfield Armory at the turn of the century—or what Cimarron calls an original finish that is weathered and looks as if it was well-used at both the battles of San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill.
The heft and balance of the Cimarron is pure Colt SAA. The barrel is 5.5-inches long, just like the U.S. Ordnance Department specified. The six-groove rifling is 1:16 with a right-hand twist.
Any SAA revolver purist will appreciate the sound the Cimarron makes when the hammer is cocked back: four distinct clicks. The fit and finish is attractive. The hammer and frame have swirling case-hardened colors, while the grip frame, cylinder, trigger guard, and barrel are blued. The one-piece walnut grip is smooth and fits the grip frame well. A facsimile of the Army’s Ordnance Inspector, Rinaldo A. Carr, cartouche—RAC—is on the right side of the grip. Carr originally stamped his mark on the grip; Cimarron engraves it with a laser.
The U.S.V. Artillery has authentic features just like first-generation Colt SAA revolvers, including the round, bullseye-style ejector-rod head, which is a circular disc with a hole in the center. Later versions had a smaller ejector-rod head that was radiused. Collectors call these ejector-rod heads half moon or crescent ejector heads. Another nod to first-gen authenticity is that the cylinder pin is retained by a screw in the front of the frame. A latch button is found on newer SAAs instead of the screw. The firing pin is the type found on second generation and newer SAAs. The edges of the trigger guard are broken so it feels smooth as you take it out of the holster.
I found a period flap holster that was put into service with the Cimarron Artillery. The holster is full leather with a half flap, just like the original standard-issue U.S. Army holster. The brown leather is embossed with an oval “US”. It takes four-inch belt loop and leg tie down. Since the service revolver at the time was the Colt New Army—the revolver chambered for the .38 LC—the same holsters were no doubt put to use by troops. The U.S.V. Artillery has a beveled cylinder, which means the sharp outer edge of the cylinder is knocked off so the revolver is easier to holster. I left the Artillery in the holster for a week so the leather would form to the revolver. I finished the rig with a 2-inch-wide Hunter Company western cartridge belt that holds 25 rounds. The holster and belt color did not match exactly, but that is how I imagine some of the Rough Riders were equipped.
The revolver disassembles like original first-gen SAAs manufactured between 1876 and 1890. A screw retains the cylinder pin. Later designs used a horizontal latch that is pressed to remove the pin. With the gun unloaded, place the hammer at half cock and open the loading gate. Unscrew the cylinder retaining pin located at the front of the frame then pull the base pin out from the frame. The cylinder revolves around the base pin. Then remove the cylinder from the right, or loading gate side, of the frame. Reassemble in reverse order and make sure the base pin snaps back into position. The base pin is fully in position if you can depress the base pin catch. The Artillery uses a cylinder pin bushing, which is in place to ease operation with black-powder loads. Black-powder loads can soot up a revolver’s cylinder and bind it. The bushing gives another bearing surface so the revolver’s cylinder is more likely to rotate after repeated firings.
The U.S.V. Artillery is a natural pointer. The effort needed to cock the hammer was just right, not too difficult, not too easy. The trigger broke cleanly at 2.5 pounds.
The U.S.V. Artillery (or any traditional SAA) should not be carried with all six chambers loaded. To avoid an accidental discharge, rest the hammer on an empty chamber in case the revolver is dropped. Even a drop from hip height is enough to cause the firing pin to hit the cartridge primer and fire the round. Easing the hammer down to half cock—the revolver’s only safety mechanism—I loaded the Artillery by dropping the first cartridge into a chamber then skipping the next chamber and filling the remaining chambers. This procedure is best practice, allowing a shooter to rest the hammer on an empty chamber.
I shot the pistol with three factory loads, including Federal 225-grain semi-wadcutter hollow points, Winchester 250-grain lead flat-nose cowboy loads, and Ultramax’s 200-grain RNFP. At 25 yards, the sights were properly regulated, which means everything in a fixed-sight revolver. Regulated sights means a shooter does not need to compensate to hit the desired point of impact. The rear sight is a “V”-shaped groove milled in the top of the frame, and the front sight is a thin, rounded blade. The Winchester and Ultramax cowboy target loads offered low recoil and averaged about 3-inch 5-shot groups. The hot Federal cartridges were more of a hunting and self-defense load and averaged groups of 1.75 inches. Upon firing, the Federal ammo curled the Cimarron in my hand without transferring recoil. So I fired accuracy groups with a two-hand hold using a rest. Most shooters from that time period used one hand, so at 12 yards and with one hand, I thumbed back the hammer as fast as I could and keep all shots on paper. One head shot, four center of mass.
Unloading an SAA can be a chore, but the U.S.V. Artillery’s cylinder chambers aligned with the loading ramp and empty cases fell out of the chambers. Some empties need a nudge from the ejector rod.
The U.S.V. Artillery is easy on the eyes, and with the big-bore .45 Colt cartridge, there is no doubt why the U.S. Government went to this round when its soldiers needed stopping power.
|Cimmaron U.S.V. Artillery Single-Action Revolver|
|Barrel Length||5.5 inches|
|Caliber||.45 Colt (aka .45 Long Colt)|
|Overall Height||5 inches|
|Overall Length||11 inches|
|Overall Width||1.625 inches|
|Weight Unloaded||37.28 ounces|
|Sights||Fixed blade front sight; v-notch rear sight receiver|
|Grip||One-piece smooth Walnut|
|Finish||Blue, as tested|
Cimarron U.S.V. Artillery Range Performance
- Velocity measured 15 feet from the muzzle by a ProChrono digital chronograph.
- Accuracy reflects five-shot groups at 25 yards.
|.45 Colt Load||Velocity||Average
|Federal Champion 225-gr. SWHP||816 fps||1.75 inches||0.75 inches|
|Winchester Cowboy Action Loads 250-gr. LFN||636 fps||3.50 inches||2.88 inches|
|Ultramax Cowboy 200-gr. RNFP||758 fps||2.86 inches||2.75 inches|
Have you shot the Cimarron U.S.V. Artillery? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section.