Remington .44-Caliber New Model Army

The History Of One In 230,000

This U.S. Government-issued Remington New Army revolver was found near Will’s house while
out digging a drainage ditch. The other artifacts all came from the surrounding area as well.

First Lieutenant Theophilus Millhouse was most thoroughly miserable. He had been born and raised in Connecticut where the world was cool and brisk. This August day in Mississippi in 1864 the humidity was so thick you could rip off a chunk of air and gnaw on it.

Millhouse answered to Brigadier General Andrew Jackson Smith. They were pushing south from Holly Springs past Abbeville toward Oxford. The war criminal Nathan Bedford Forrest had been up to mischief and General Smith purposed to teach the rebels a lesson not soon forgotten.

They found the town of Oxford devoid of men of military age. Grant and Sherman had been here two years prior and used the university as a field hospital. Grant had ridden his horse through the front doors of the Lyceum, the administrative building anchoring the University of Mississippi.

This day Lt. Millhouse and his men were in a foul temper. Word had just arrived of a cavalry attack by Forrest’s troops on their base of supply in Memphis. Clearly outwitted, Smith and his men vented their frustrations on the pastoral little Southern town.

At Smith’s behest Millhouse had his rampaging bluecoats fire the courthouse, the square and the surrounding homes. The weeping of the rebel women could be heard above the crackling flames. Once the center of the town was fully involved the Federals retraced their steps north. When marching abreast in the little community of Abbeville near Hurricane Creek a symphony of shots rang out from the adjacent wood line.

A modest contingent of rebel Infantrymen got off several volleys supported by a pair of field pieces before melting into the dank surrounding swamps. When the smoke cleared Lt. Theophilus Millhouse lay in the hot Mississippi ooze, his glassy eyes staring lifelessly toward the blue heavens. His men pressed on for Holly Springs, further driven in their mission to find Forrest.

This old Remington combat pistol is in surprisingly good shape
considering how long it languished in the hot Mississippi soil.

Buried Treasure

A gun buddy named Jeff Houston was running a backhoe improving the drainage of a piece of Mississippi woodland. He took big scallops of earth and set them aside, cumulatively enhancing the local hydrology. One chunk of dirt seemed peculiar. Shutting down his machine he pulled the massive clod apart with his hands until it yielded a bounty.

The pistol was clearly a .44-caliber Remington New Model Army, a common issue handgun among Federal troops during the American Civil War. The brass trigger guard is remarkably well-preserved. The barrel was trying to dissolve but the iron frame fared a bit better. The stocks are completely gone. Despite a cumulative 155 years hidden underground, this heavy Union combat pistol remained in surprisingly good shape.

Jeff cleaned the weapon but left it otherwise untouched as he dug it out of the ground. The gun now occupies the position of honor on the wall of his superb full-service Oxford gun shop titled, appropriately enough, Rebel Arms. When first I saw the gun hanging in the shop I sensed a story in need of telling.

The steel has suffered tremendously but the brass bits look almost new.

The Remington New Model Army

Remington-Beals Model Revolvers were 6-shot percussion pistols produced by Eliphalet Remington and Sons starting in 1861. These heavy .44-caliber handguns were typically, somewhat inaccurately, called 1858 Remingtons after the patent date stamped on the barrels. The Remington competed with the 1851 Colt Navy and cost some 50 cents more per copy, about eight bucks today. The top strap securing the upper portion of the frame made it a much more robust design.

Most of the New Model Army revolvers sported 8" barrels. Trivial differences in hammers, cylinders and loading levers characterized various production runs but all of these guns were mechanically similar. While Jeff’s government-surplus pistol will never again burn powder, Dixie Gun Works will hook you up with a simply splendid facsimile that most certainly will.

This modern replica (above) from Dixie Gun Works is a spot-on reproduction of the 1864-era original.

Yet More Civil War Imagery

Dixie Gun Works offers a bewildering array of reproduction rifles and pistols all at reasonable prices. Such guns typically sell for less than their fixed ammunition counterparts and, in the free states at least, ship straight to your door without the hassle of a Federal Firearms License. I built my New Model Army from a kit.

These kits require a modest modicum of mechanical aptitude to complete. The barrel and rammer assembly are polished and blued from the factory. However, the frame and trigger guard are left as rough castings. To finish out the gun, you smooth up the unfinished areas with a sanding drum and wire wheel on a Dremel tool and shape the furniture to fit. I used a fiber-reinforced cutoff wheel sparingly to knock down the major casting flashes and gnarly bits.

You could successfully undertake the whole project with hand tools and elbow grease, but a Dremel tool and bench sander make it much easier. Take your time and the end result is showroom gorgeous.

Once you have the build complete it is time to take the old girl out for a spin. The sights are typically set for 50 to 100 yards so most of these old guns shoot a bit high at 25. The built-in ramrod is effective and easy to use. Clean up everything when you’re done lest the corrosive nature of black powder reduce your spanking new smoke pole to scrap.

First step is to completely disassemble the pistol. Snapping a picture or two on your phone aids in reassembly.

Now Back to 1864 …

My corner of Mississippi is awash in military history. I live about 12 miles from Oxford. Local lore has it when General Smith was approaching, one of my then-neighbors hitched up his wagon and made the day-long trek behind a mule to the Oxford square. He loaded up the land records from the courthouse and relocated them back to his root cellar. Smith’s men subsequently burned the courthouse and surrounding area to the ground.

Despite being unable to carry the booty, drunken federal troops nevertheless ransacked the community. An inebriated Union cavalryman stole a skeleton from a local physician’s office and rode about town with the macabre thing held aloft in a terrifying display. The unbridled orgy of drunken violence earned BG Smith the sobriquet “Whiskey” Smith he carried with him for the rest of his days.

This local man who had secured the land records owned slaves. After the war his slaves killed both him and his wife and fled. Family members who later went through the home securing their possessions found the land records in the basement. This is purportedly the only reason land ownership in Lafayette County, Mississippi, can be traced before the Civil War.

Dixie Gun Works can hook you up with a splendid replica of the
Remington New Model Army. This one started out as a kit.


Right down the road from where I sit comfortably typing these words, Americans slaughtered Americans, each side believing their cause to be righteous and just. Thorny issues of slavery and states’ rights drove the carnage, and a generation was sacrificed to the cause. It is attributable solely to God’s Providence we not only survived but prevailed.

Oxford, Mississippi, is my little corner of heaven. We enjoy a deep, rich history, a storied Southern university, a thriving ammunition plant and the best food and friendliest people you’d ever want to meet. We also have a splendid gun shop called Rebel Arms.

If ever you’re passing through the area, Google Rebel Arms and go say hi to Jeff. The Remington New Model Army he found while out digging a drainage ditch is displayed prominently on the wall. Some 230,000 of these old guns rolled off the line during the Civil War.

Historical records document but a single Federal KIA during this minor skirmish near Hurricane Creek in 1864. Apparently my buddy Jeff found his pistol.*

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