The “Belt Pistol” Era

By 1850 Colt finally brought out a revolver actually called a “belt pistol” meaning it was supposed to be worn on one’s person. Today, that one is known as the Model 1851 or the Navy Colt. Its caliber was called .36 but ball size was 0.375" because back then a weapon’s caliber was rated by the barrel’s bore, not its groove diameter. A 0.375" round ball weighs about 80 grains and a 25-grain blackpowder charge from a ’51 Navy or its successor, the Model 1861 could push it to about 900 to 1,000 fps. Black powder quality varied immensely in those days. That’s about equal to one of today’s .380 autos. Jesse James took a body hit from a .36 caliber revolver fighting as a guerilla in the Civil War and carried the ball until his death in 1882.

Even the hidebound U.S. Army thought .36 revolvers were a bit weak and therefore decided to switch to .44s when Colt managed to make one light enough for belt carry. That was the Model 1860, which was rivaled by Remington’s Model 1858 in popularity during Civil War combat. Their 148-grain 0.457" round balls might hit 800 fps, which would give them just a mite more striking power than one of today’s 148-grain .38 Special wadcutter target loads.