Pietta Dance Revolver
By: Derek Landers
Derek Landers looks at a replica Dance Brothers Revolver from Pietta
The Italian company of Pietta continue to produce reproductions of some of the more unusual American revolvers of the nineteenth century, including a number that were used and manufactured by the Confederate States during the American Civil War. One such offering is their copy of the Dance Brothers’ Army revolver.
There can be little doubt that in 1861 when hostilities between the North and South began, that the Confederate states were ill-equipped in the arms and munitions stakes to take on the might of the Union army. The major arms manufacturers were all based in the North and the Rebel forces had to contend with weapons they had on hand, those they could import through an ever increasing Union blockade, the few that they could manufacture and, as the War went on, those they captured through victories on the battlefi eld. That they held on for four long years is testament to their determination and bravery against superior opposition.
By the time the War began the Colt 1851 Navy revolver had been in production for over ten years and was widely used throughout the North American continent. Little wonder then that when the Southern arms factories started production of military pistols, the ’51 Colt was used as a basis for many models.
The firm of J.H. Dance & Bros., made up of four Dance brothers and their cousin, operated a small machine shop in Columbia, Texas on the banks of the Brazos river. When war was declared they decided to turn their shop over to the production of pistols for the Confederacy, although none of them had any experience of arms manufacture and they received no fi nancial inducement from the Confederate government.
Strangely, when this decision was made, the four brothers promptly enlisted in the 35th Texas Cavalry, leaving the running of the new “factory” to their cousin and Jesse & Samuel Park, two Columbia brothers who worked at the shop. In May of 1862 three of the Dance brothers left the Army and returned to work at the new pistol factory, leaving James Henry to serve as a lieutenant in the cavalry, where he obviously used his infl uence to have a further two dozen or so soldiers from the 35th assigned to work at the factory. Contracts with the Confederate government refer to ‘Messrs. Dance and Park’, so the aforementioned Park brothers were obviously more than mere workmen at the plant. In the early part of 1864 the government purchased the Dance & Park operation and the machinery was moved to the Confederate Ordnance Works at Anderson, Texas but the relocation took time to complete and by June of that year only forty six pistols had been produced. The Dance brothers were the fourth largest manufacturers of handguns for the Confederacy but even so their total production was no more than around five hundred pieces. Of these about seventy fi ve percent were the larger .44 calibre revolvers and the rest were .36 calibre. The majority of these pistols were issued to Texas cavalry units, among them the 35th (Brown’s Regiment) and the Graham Rangers. The fi nal shipment of Dance revolvers was received at the Ordnance Depot in Houston on April 18th, 1865. The box was shipped containing twenty five pistols but when it arrived five were missing.
The standard Dance revolvers are perhaps the most easily recognisable of all the Colt clones produced by the various confederate manufacturers. With very few exceptions they were produced without recoil shields on the frame behind the cylinder. Speculation is that this was done as a cost saving and ease of manufacture exercise with another suggestion that the availability of thicker steel precluded the machining of the shields. Whatever the reason I could not help wondering about the consequences of a chain fi re with one of these pistols, as the percussion caps on adjacent chambers to the one ignited by the hammer would be blown backwards. Holding the pistol at arm’s length it is not diffi cult to imagine where those caps would go, a thought not lost on me when I fi red it for the first time!
The Pietta reproduction
Pietta have done a very good job of recreating this pistol with one glaring design error on the example here. They have fi tted the wrong trigger guard to this pistol, although the illustration in their catalogue shows the correct one. One possible explanation is that this pistol is an over-run from a special order from the USA, which is the biggest customer for the Italian reproductions and can thus order whatever confi guration they want. As with the originals they have used a barrel based on Colt’s Dragoon revolvers, being part octagonal and part round, and they have seemingly taken the squareback trigger guard from their reproductions of a Colt Dragoon, whereas the original Dance revolvers had round guards. As this pistol will presumably appeal to those with an interest in historical accuracy I hope this is a one-off that has slipped through the net.
That aside, this pistol is finished very well. All metal edges are well defi ned and the metal-to-metal fi t is good. There are a couple of places where the walnut stock is maybe not as good a fi t to the frame as it could be but nothing that is not seen on many other reproductions. The blue/black on the barrel and cylinder is well done and the rest of the metal shows some nice case colours, darker on the rammer than the frame. The spring on the rammer latch is stronger than most pistols of this type but that is not a bad thing as it is unlikely that this rammer will come loose during shooting. Sights are the usual Colt-type set up with a notch in the top of the hammer for a rear and a tapered brass blade at the front.
As usual with most Pietta revolvers, the barrel wedge was hammered in as far as it would go making it extremely tight. I have made myself a small tapered brass punch to try and minimise the damage when removing these wedges. The cylinder was also a very tight fi t on to the arbour - I felt this was advantageous as it would cut down on the fouling which builds up around the arbour and prevents the cylinder from rotating freely - but came off without any use of force. The barrel to cylinder gap also showed very tight tolerances, measuring at around .0010”. To round things off the timing on this pistol was as good as it gets, with the cylinder locking up as tight as the proverbial bank vault. The above mentioned cylinder arbour had a Colt-type spiral grease groove, a feature found on original Dance revolvers.
The straight walled cylinder has chambers that are around 0.2” shorter than a Remington New Army revolver but I was still able to comfortably get 27 grains of fi ne black powder behind the grease cookie and the .454” lead ball. The balls were a good fi t, mostly shaving off a thin ring of lead, but the grease cookies, as well as their lubricating properties, served as a second line of defence against the dreaded chain fi re mentioned earlier. In the event I need not have concerned myself as the pistol performed almost faultlessly throughout the day. The only minor hiccough was a fragment of broken cap which fell into the hammer slot in the frame and caused one misfi re. This was the only cap that actually broke up so I feel the fault was with the cap rather than the pistol.
I know one or two shooters who place the thumb of their shooting hand on the back of a revolver’s recoil shield to help steady the gun during recoil. Obviously this is not possible with the Dance but although this is not a particularly heavy revolver, felt recoil was fairly mild so the lack of the shield would not be a problem.
For fans of the Confederacy, and they are numerous, the Dance revolver, albeit with the correct trigger guard, will be a change from the ubiquitous Colt Army and Remington New army offerings. It is a well made and nicely finished pistol that is just that little bit out of the ordinary.
Note: In March the American auction house of James Julia sold an original Dance Bros. revolver for $48,300 GM
|Model||Dance Brothers Army Single Action revolver|
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