Recently, our Gunsmith Shop received a 1943 Military issues Colt M1911A1-U.S. Army for some minor restoration and cleaning. Without question, the most famous United States military handgun of the 20th century. This firearm was carried throughout the Pacific by Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd E. Barron. Read his incredible story, told by his son, Rex Barron.
“My father, Lloyd E. Barron, was a big man – standing tall at 6’3″. He was handsome with a profound bass voice. He played football at Gettysburg college and studied chemistry while there. He was also part of the ROTC program.
In 1941, the war came to America during WWII. My dad was called, and spent three years with the 43rd infantry pushing the Japanese army island to island, back towards the homeland. He participated in many campaigns. Among them, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, earning a silver star, a bronze star, and a purple heart along the way. He carried the scar on his thigh from a bullet from a Japanese machine gun that was (fortunately), firing erratically. His men loved him and were honored to serve with him.
My father left the military a Lieutenant Colonel. When he returned home, he saw his three-year-old son for the first time. He and my mother eventually had two more sons. He retired after working for forty years at DuPont. We lost my dad in 1988, at the age of 75.”
As early as December 1861, it had become clear to both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis that the Union and the Confederacy would need to import longarms and revolvers from Europe in order to equip the tens of thousands of volunteers fighting on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Although the need was far greater for the Southern states, where arms-making was no a widespread industry, even in the more industrialized North the burden of war wold soon outstrip production.
In 1862 President Lincoln commissioned Marcellus Hartley, a partner in the New York firearm-importing firm of Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, to supply the Union with French Lefaucheux revolvers and ammunition. The Lefaucheux was to become the fourth most commonly used revolver in the American Civil War, surpassed only by the Colt, Remington and Starr percussion pistols.
More Than a Decade Ahead of American Makers
By the mid 1840’s, rimfire cartridges were already in use throughout Europe, and by 1854 the first center-fire ammunition had been developed – thus the Europeans were more than a decade ahead of American armsmakers. There was, however, a third type of metallic cartridge, the pinfire, invented in 1843 by French gunmaker Casimir Lefaucheux. His innovative design, which used a small brass pin protruding from the cartridge to ignite an internal primer cap, was so well-received throughout Europe that by the late 1840’s, armsmakers were manufacturing revolvers, rifles, and even shotguns to work with a variety of Lefaucheux pinfire ammunition. The pinfire was an ingenious design; the spent cartridges could even be reloaded.
Although Lefaucheux died in 1842, his son Eugene continued his father’s work and in 1854 patented his own invention: the bored-through cylinder. He received his French patent on April 15, 1854, a full year before American Rollin Whit’s U.S. patent for the same design, By 1857, when Smith & Wesson introduced its first .22 rimfire revolver, the Massachusetts armsmaker had purchased the rights to the White patent, thus giving S&W the exclusive right to manufacture revolvers with bored-through, breechloading cylinders in the United States. This would prove to be a great impediment to arming the North, as White and S&W aggressively litigated every patent infringement, putting several small U.S. armsmakers out of business during the war.
Since S&W was years away from designing its first large-caliber cartridge revolver and was effectively preventing any other U.S. manufacturer from making them, between 1862 and 1865 the Union and Confederacy imported thousands of Lefaucheux revolvers. The U.S. Ordnance Dept. purchased 1,900 pinfire revolvers through Hartley and another 10,000 under direct contract during the war. The Confederacy followed suit, as well as purchasing pinfire versions of the Sough’s most powerful revolver, the nine-shot LeMat, manufactured in France and Belgium.
The Ordnance Men
On the Union side, Marcellus Hartley handled the majority of requisitions for imported firearms. A key figure in American industry (importing pinfire arms and ammunition before, during and after the war), Hartley was also responsible for establishing the Union Metallic Cartridge Co., one of only three American firms known to have manufactured and marketed pinfire ammunition in any quantity. UMC eventually became one of America’s most important ammunition manufacturers.
Immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Jefferson Davis sent Capt. Caleb Huse on a mission to Europe to evaluate the purchase and importation of arms for the Confederacy. At the start of the was thousands of Southerners went into battle with little more that an issued musket, if one was available, and a single-shot flintlock or percussion pistol – arms that had been out of date since the Mexican-American War of the 1840’s. This is not to say that Southern states did not manufacture guns; quite the contrary. Southern gunmakers were very skilled but more accustomed to handcrafting sporting rifles, fowling pieces, and dueling pistols. They were disinclined toward mass production; that had always been the work of Northern manufacturers, such as Colt’s and Remington.
Before the was there had been many retailers such as Mitchell & Tyler, Kent, Paine & Co., and Samuel Sutherland in Richmond, Va; Hyde & Goodrich in New Orleans and other prestigious firms across the Sough that imported fine pistols and longarms from Europe, thus the Sough was, by nature, more accustomed to foreign-made arms.
The Union’s Cartridge Confusion
European-made pinfire cartridges were designated in millimeters, which, for the U.S Ordnance Dept., already burdened with far too many different guns and caliber at the start of the war, made the pinfire cartridges a considerable issue to sort out. The French- and Belgian-made guns were made in an assortment of chamberings including 7 mm, 10 mm and 15 mm. The 12 mm (roughly a .44) was among the most commonly used, although more exotic Belgian pinfire revolvers with as many as 20 chambers in a massive double-stacked cylinder were chambered in 7 mm and 10 mm.
It is interesting to note that payments for guns procured in England by the Confederacy were often made in trade for cotton because Confederate currency had so little value outside of the Southern States. Cotton was a badly needed commodity in Great Britain, which gave the South an advantage in purchase negotiations. By early 1863, Caleb Huse, promoted to the rank of major by Jefferson Davis, had shipped thousand of British, French and Belgian pinfire revolvers and long arms to the Confederacy, thus becoming a pivotal figure in the Civil War. An 1851 graduate of West Point (seventh in his class) he served at West Point from 1852 to 1860 when he was appointed commander of cadets at the University of Alabama.
At the start of the war he resigned his position to join his former West Point commandant, Robert E. Lee, in support of the Confederate cause. Though he first served in the Army, his knowledge of firearms made him a perfect choice for Ordnance.
Living until age 74, Huse was one of the oldest Civil War veterans. He died on March 12, 1905 at his home in Highland Falls, N.Y. After the war he founded the Highland Falls Academy, also known as “The Rocks,” a military preparatory school designed for young men who planned to attend West Point. Among his early students was a young soldier named John J. Pershing.
The guns imported from England, Belgium and France, both before and during the war, played a significant role in not only arming the Confederacy, both the Union as well. One could say that the British and the French were dispassionate, openly selling arms to both sides. While that is certainly one view, Samuel Colt (as well as other Northern armsmakers who were still delivering guns to the South at the beginning of the war) would have simply considered it good business.
A good gunsmith may not be part of your shooting gear, but it’s certainly an essential component to keeping your shooting life smooth-running and fully functional. From critical repairs and precision help updating and accessorizing to annual detailed cleanings of your firearms, a gunsmith can ultimately be a key factor in keeping a fine shooting firearm from turning into a paperweight or museum relic. But just as you wouldn’t trust your important car or home repairs to just any random person, you should do a little homework before your gun breaks or you need help mounting a sight, rail, stock or other item before a hunting trip or shooting outing. It’s not enough that a guy (or girl) calls themselves a gunsmith and works in a gun shop; you’ll want to be sure they have the right skills and can perform the work you need with your specific firearm(s).
Specific gunsmithing experience is just as important as knowing how to use a wide range of tools. You’ll find that the best gunsmiths are real craftsmen, and they’re proud of their handy work. That’s another important quality to look for when selecting a gunsmith. A common mistake (and sometimes very costly) is to select a gunsmith just because he lives nearby. It’s far better to select someone that has earned a good reputation doing the specific type of gunsmithing that you’re looking to have done.
Ultrasonic cleaners have been around for a number of years and have increasing uses in the firearm industry. Ultrasonic cleaners are used by ammunition re-loaders at home, major manufacturers and everyone in-between. Their primary use is to clean gun parts using ultrasonic technology in a solvent mixture. Here at Calibers, we use our ultrasonic to clean customer’s firearms as well as our rental firearms. The ultrasonic cleaner reaches places that are difficult to clean despite the firearm being completely stripped. Complete dis-assembly is required for proper cleaning to ensure all liquids are dried out before detailing and reassembling the firearm.
Stop into our gunsmith department to get your firearm cleaned by our state-of-the-art crest ultrasonic cleaner. We can accommodate barreled actions and parts up to three feet. Our biodegradable solvent is used to clean parts made out of a variety of materials. The most common materials include steel, aluminum, plastic, and brass. Factors that need to be considered for how often a gun needs to be cleaned include but are not limited to: number of rounds fired, conditions of range, weather, humidity, ammo used, and time in storage. The more often a firearm is cleaned the better the performance you can expect to see from it.
Keep shooting, keep your guns clean, and stay safe.