Starrs Old and New

In June's column, as part of my primary source mini-series, I dealt with a report on the availability of the original Starr Double action revolver in New Orleans prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Since then, I have been informed of another segment of the Starr story courtesy of reader Steve Peterson, an assiduous Mississippi researcher. Steve reminded me that an advertisement from The New Orleans Picayune advertising Starr revolvers was reproduced in Louis A. Garavaglia and Charles Worman's outstanding work, Firearms of the American West, 1803-1865 (Albuquerque, NM, Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1984). If you have any interest in the firearms of the Civil War and/or the old West, by the way, Garavaglia and Worman's work is essential for your personal library.

The Picayune advertisement, dating from February of 1861, advised that O. S. Jennings, 20 Camp Street, New Orleans, had "Starr's Patent Self-Cocking and Hair Trigger Navy Pistols" for sale. These guns were, no doubt, the .36 caliber double action Starrs with cylinders half an inch longer than the later .44 caliber models. About 3,000 of these revolvers were made between 1859 and late 1861.

The currently available Starr reproductions by Pietta are copies of the later .44 caliber double and single action guns, and there are several thousand of them in the hands of reenactors and shooters by now. Consumer reviews were initially mixed, as is often the case with a new product rushed on the market to meet a swelling demand. Steve Platteter, a reader who is an active Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) participant with Civil War era cap and ball guns, bought a Starr from Cabela's when they first appeared on the market. After firing a couple of cylinders full of ammunition with excellent accuracy results, the gun "froze" on him and he returned it to Cabela's. A replacement revolver produced the same results and he returned that gun as well.

With Steve's experience in mind I asked Dixie Gun Works representatives at last October's N-SSA Fall Nationals if they had had any Starrs returned due to malfunctions. They stated that they had not, but advised that many if not all of the Starr reproductions needed a period of "working in," including the double action example they had at their booth, which worked fine when I tried it but which had been very stiff the previous spring. Most Dixie Starr sales have been to reenactors, not shooters, so they had not had any accuracy reports back from the field, at least as of last October.

Despite his experience, Steve Platteter, remembering the accuracy he had from his gun before it froze, just couldn't stay away from the Starr for long. While visiting the Cabela's store in Minnesota in June he spotted a used single action Starr at a bargain price and couldn't resist the urge to buy. He used the gun in a CAS shoot shortly afterward, with a 30 grain charge of FFG, Wonder Wad and a .454 ball and reported "no malfunctions or failures to fire" during the match. According to Steve, the gun pointed well and he had no problems hitting targets at CAS ranges.

The N-SSA Nationals are always a good place to talk Civil war guns with friends old and new, including those met on the Internet. Jeff Barnes, a Whitworth fan with whom I have exchanged emails, stopped by with his rifle and its new scope and mount. Lacking a Davidson side mount or the funds to have one custom built, Jeff used a basic muzzle loading rifle 'scope mount available from Dixie Gun Works and had it finished and installed by John Zimmerman, who performed his usual fine gunsmithing on the project. As the photo with this column indicates, the mount certainly looks neat and Jeff reports that it works quite well.

Among the new sutlers at the Nationals was L. E. Hull of Naval Ordnance Works and Foundry (Route 32, Box 919, Shepherdstown, WV 25443). Mr. Hull, who set up a display table along the road down near the main bridge over Back Creek to the range, runs a bullet casting and swaging business and has some interesting products in his line, which includes projectiles for just about everything that shoots. I found his .69 caliber minie balls, which run .685 in diameter, of great interest. They are swaged, which provides great consistency, and, unlike some swaged Minies offered for sale a few years back, they have lubrication grooves like the originals. If a minie style bullet does not have lube grooves, it has to be patched with lubricated paper or it will foul a gun in short order. I have a bag of Naval Ordnance Works .69 Minies at hand, and hope to get out to the range with my rifled Model 1842 soon to try them out. A report will be forthcoming.

2000 by Joe Bilby

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