Old South Military Antiques

Alabama Cavalry C. L. Dragoon Revolver
Item #: OS-6581






The Colt Third Model Dragoon Revolver, serial number 17235, marked "C.L. Dragoons” shown here was presented to, and carried by, a member of the most elite Escort & Courier Company in the Confederacy; the Crocheron Light Dragoons.

Only eight men ever reached the rank of full General in the Confederate Army, yet the men of the Crocheron Light Dragoons served as personal guard, escort and couriers for three of the eight. The Courier and Escort service required men of the highest intellectual attainment in order to clearly and concisely relay information to and from members of the Confederate high command. They had to adhere to the highest standards of fidelity to the cause of the South, as they were continually entrusted with the most important and, as such, the most valuable information passed between Confederate Generals. It was necessary that they have the fleetest horses, the finest military appearance as circumstances would allow, and finally a bravery and determination to succeed that would allow no impediment to forestall them in carrying out their missions. I once read of a courier who during the Overland Campaign, seeing that the shortest route to the officer to whom he had to deliver his orders was to ride right straight between the lines of the contending armies, though the lines were only a hundred yards apart. He made his gallant ride, to and from in full few of both armies. He was fired at coming and going by nearly every Yankee on the line without receiving a wound. Upon his completion of the perilous ride he was cheered by both Rebs and Yanks alike for his bravery.

Walter Anderson, Jr., and his cover article in the January, 1991 Gun Report, for the first time revealed the history of this remarkable gun to the collecting world.

A synopsis of the article is that Ben McCullough arranged to purchase 600 Colt revolvers for the State of Alabama, which the Governor used to present each commissioned officer of the early Alabama companies. Four officers with the Crocheron Light Dragoons were presented a Colt Navy by the Governor of Alabama. There were also over 100 Colt 3rd Model Dragoon Revolvers given to the men of the Company, purchased by John Jay Crocheron. In honor of their benefactor, they named their company after him.

The following history of the C.L. Dragoons Third Model Dragoon Revolver is from Mr. Anderson’s Article:

"By 1860, after 12 years of production, the popularity of Colt's 3rd Model Dragoon revolver was waning. Colt began to ship his New Model Army revolver, known today as the Colt Model 1860 Army, in October of 1860. This new revolver was superior because it fired a .44 caliber bullet and weighed 40% less than the old dragoon. An examination of the Colt revolver purchases by the U.S. Government from April 1861 to March 1866 confirms that the Army considered the 3rd Model Dragoon an obsolete weapon after the introduction of the New Model 1860 Army revolver. Only fourteen 3rd Model Dragoons were purchased during this time in contrast to 129,145 Model 1860 Army revolvers purchased during the same period. Although the Northern market for the 3rd Model Dragoon had dried up, demand for any type of weapon continued to outstrip supply in the South. Not surprisingly, some of the obsolete inventory that had begun to accumulate at Colt's factory and his northern dealers began to find its way south.

The Northern blockade of the port of Mobile was not 100% effective and blockade running supply vessels were still able to enter the harbor. Since arms and military equipment were high profit items for the blockade runner, weapons and equipment were available in Mobile at exorbitant prices. For example, biographical records show that Colonel Zach Deas outfitted the 23rd Alabama Infantry in Mobile at the same time the CLD's were in Mobile trying to find cavalry weapons. Deas purchased 800 Enfield rifles for $28,000 in gold from his own funds. This amounted to paying $35 apiece for what was, outside of the South, a $16 gun.

Although no records can be found of the CLD's weapons purchase in Mobile, several facts suggest that Smith armed his company in Mobile in early January, 1862 with 3rd Model Dragoon revolvers run through the Northern blockade. First, a Colt factory letter, obtained by Herb Glass, Jr., states that a "C.L. Dragoons" marked 3rd Model Dragoon, serial #16577, was 1 of 16 shipped to New York dealer Cooper and Pond on December 15, 1861. Second, surviving Confederate States of America ordnance records show that Capt. Smith first began drawing quantities of all types of military equipment on January 14, 1862 and in particular, one of the January 14th requisitions was for 2000 rounds of Colt pistol cartridges.

Since the 3rd Model Dragoon, serial #16577, from Cooper to Pond ultimately wound up in CLD hands it would appear that this revolver and, probably a quantity of Cooper and Pond’s obsolete stock of 3rd Model Dragoons’, were run through the blockade into Mobile and were subsequently purchased by the CLDs. Supporting this conclusion is the fact that six other surviving "C.L. Dragoons” marked 3rd Model Dragoons also originated from Cooper and Pond. Since cartridges were first requisitioned by the CLDs on January 14, 1862, it appears that these guns had been acquired by the CLDs sometime before January 14, 1862.

The author has been able to locate 12 "C.L. Dragoons" marked 3rd Model Dragoon revolvers. The first muster roll of the CLD's for the period ending December 31, 1861, shows that the company consisted of 105 enlisted men and 4 officers. Assuming that a 3rd Model Dragoon was purchased for each enlisted man, the survival of 12 of 105 3rd Model Dragoons would mean an 11.4% survival rate. This rate could reasonably be compared to the survival rate of the heavily used, and highly tracked Colt Walker model (Of the 1100 models manufactured, there are approximately 170 known survivors in collections today, which represents a survival rate of 15.4%). With the exception of the "C.L. Dragoons" marked Navy, the only guns that have been found with the "C.L. Dragoons" marking have been Colt 3rd Model Dragoons. This one model of marked guns, coupled with the reasonable 11.4% survival rate, supports the theory that all of the 105 enlisted men were armed with 3rd Model Dragoons rather than a mixture of guns.”

The Crocheron Dragoons were organized by its commander Robert W. Smith in Dallas County, Alabama. It was named after a prominent planter of that area Mr. John J. Crocheron, who purchased arms and equipment to outfit the company. The Crocheron Light Dragoons became a company in the 3rd Alabama Cavalry, known as Holloway’s Independent Scouts. After spending time on guard duty around Mobile and Pensacola they were selected by General Braxton Bragg to be his escort & courier company. They served as escorts and couriers for Bragg at Corinth, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. They remained as his escort company as long as he was commander of the Army of Tennessee. After Bragg’s departure both Generals Johnston and Hood selected them to remain as escorts. They were still officially part of the 3rd Alabama Cavalry but on detached duty. After General Hood was relieved, they were again selected by General Johnston to be his escort. They continued in this capacity until they surrendered with him in North Carolina.

Serial number 17235, shown here, is one of the 17 known Third Model Dragoon revolvers stamped "C.L. Dragoons" on the left top flat. The revolver is in very good condition and all the serial numbers match (no number on wedge). All of the mechanics are perfect. The revolver is cut for the shoulder stock and the "ear” screws are still intact.

At only 17 examples known extant, this is one of the very rarest of Confederate revolvers, and it is in beautiful condition. Though not Confederate manufactured, the C.L. Dragoon revolver is Confederate purchased, marked and Confederate Cavalry used from first to last. The gun and its history are stellar. Flawless! $21,000.00

For your further enjoyment the complete version of Mr. Anderson’s fascinating article is copied below.

The "C. L. Dragoons"

By: Walter Anderson, Jr.

This article will focus on the hand engraved marking "C. L. Dragoons" found on certain Colt revolvers. To date, most authorities have attributed the marking to indicate "Connecticut Light Dragoons." In the fall of 1989, a Model 1851 Colt Navy revolver with the "C. L. Dragoons" marking and the name "S. McIver" scratched into the undeniably authentic patina of the brass butt strap was offered for sale in Norm Flayderman's catalog. This is the first time a person has been connected with the "C. L. Dragoons" and McIver's name provides a historical link to an Alabama Civil War cavalry company. The following will trace the history of the men and arms of that cavalry company, the Crocheron Light Dragoons.

The Men of the Crocheron Light Dragoons

When Northern forces captured Ship Island off the Mississippi coast in 1861, the port city of Mobile feared imminent Union invasion. Since most Alabama volunteers for the Confederacy had been transported to the front in Virginia, only a few raw troops, commanded by Brigadier General Jones M. Withers remained in Mobile. Worried city officials appealed to Alabama Governor A. B. Moore for additional troops to protect the coast. Although Moore received letters weekly from citizens throughout the state offering companies strictly for service along the coast of Alabama, the only way Moore would accept a "state service" company was if the company provided their own arms.

While most Alabamians were loyal to the Confederate cause, many Alabama men felt obligated to fight only for the State's defense. For this reason, some citizen groups and even wealthy individuals willingly financed the private arming of companies for state service. One such individual, Robert W. Smith, wrote Governor Moore from Selma, Alabama, on October 26, 1861, and offered a company, "for coastal service for 12 months". Smith, orphaned at age 17, left Virginia in 1834 and set out for Alabama to make his fortune. He joined the "Montgomery True Blues" in 1835 and served in the Seminole Wars. In the Mexican War of 1846, he attained the rank of Lt. Colonel with Colonel Jones Withers' 1st Alabama Regiment. He accumulated a fortune in excess of $200,000 as a Mobile commission merchant in cotton bagging and rope from 1846 until his retirement in 1858 at age 37. He then moved to his cotton plantation at Pleasant Hill, just south of Selma. (By comparison, the average non-slaveholding farmer in the South had a net worth of $500. Samuel Colt, considered one of the wealthiest men in the North, was worth more than $335,000 in 1854.)

While awaiting his commission from the Governor, Smith recruited men throughout the Dallas County area. When Smith’s commission arrived in early November General Withers sent boats up the Alabama River to transport Smith’s company to Mobile. The original muster roll, Dated November 21, 1861, Mobile, Alabama, shows that each of the men furnished his own mount. None of the men had suitable arms, however, because Governor Moore had purchased or confiscated all arms throughout the state during the spring and summer of 1861. Smith planned to purchase arms upon arrival in Mobile from the only remaining arms source, the blockade runner.

Smith was capable of using his own funds to arm his company, but a prominent Dallas County planter, John J. Crocheron, wanted to help support the Southern cause. Crocheron who had come to Alabama from Staten Island, New York around 1820, was one of many French Huguenots to settle on the Alabama River below Selma. He built a magnificent plantation, "Elm Bluff", on the east bank and by 1860, had amassed over $125,000 from his warehouse business and plantation. During his years in Dallas County he was active and influential in politics. John Crocheron was 65 years of age when the war began and was too old for active service. He had never married and had no sons to fight for the South. In fact, his only living relatives were "Yankees" in New York. Funding the purchase of arms was the only contribution he could make to the South that he had come to love. Therefore, Crocheron's funds were used to purchase revolvers for Smith's men in Mobile in January 1862. Each revolver was hand engraved on the left top flat near the breech end of the barrel with the inscription "C. L. Dragoons." (This is not correct, only the Navy Models were hand engraved, the Dragoon revolvers were stamped) By January 14, 1862, the well-armed and drilled cavalry company, now named the Crocheron Light Dragoons (or the CLD's) joined other recently formed companies protecting the nervous citizens of Mobile.

After 2 months of leading the CLD's on routine scouting patrols of the Dog River area of Mobile Bay, ambitious Capt. Smith was growing restless with camp life. In March of 1862, Brigadier General Braxton Bragg passed through Mobile from Pensacola en route to his new command in Corinth, Mississippi. Smith offered the CLD's as personal escorts and couriers to the General, who immediately accepted. In offering the CLD's for service with Bragg, Smith disregarded the fact that the men had enlisted for one year of State service, and apparently hoped the men shared his desire to see more action. In his memoirs, Sketch of the Crocheron Light Dragoons, Sergeant Ben Reynolds recalls the evening Smith explained to his company what he had done. Smith asked for all men willing to go to the front with him to ride 6 paces forward. Only about 10 of the 109 men rode forward! Smith exploded with anger and although he had acknowledged the fact that the men had enlisted for State service, said he would be damned if he would not take the whole company to the front. Orders were issued and the CLD's followed Bragg to Corinth that same month. After arriving in Corinth, the CLD's were engaged in early April at the bloody Battle of Shiloh. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, states that Bragg singled out his escort company and Capt. Smith in particular for "personal gallantry and intelligent execution of orders, frequently under the heaviest fire ... ". The day following the battle, Smith was promoted from the CLD's and appointed Civil and Military Governor of Corinth. The company was reorganized without Smith in Tupelo in June of 1862. Most of the company re-enlisted at this time for the duration of the war, but in response to Smith’s involuntary placement of them in Confederate service outside of the state, they voted all other original officers out and elected a school teacher from Selma, Edwin M. Holloway, as Captain.

Holloway, who was originally from Massachusetts, attended West Point but never graduated. He served as an engineer in the Mexican War and was chosen Captain because he was the only other man in the company, other than Smith and the ousted officers, who had previous military service. The CLD's, along with four other independent companies of cavalry, became the 3rd Alabama Cavalry. The CLD's, now called "Holloway's Company of Independent Alabama Cavalry", remained on permanent detached duty from the 3rd Alabama and continued as escorts and couriers for Bragg, in the Battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. Samuel B. McIver, whose name is scratched in the butt strap of the "C. L. Dragoons" revolver referred to in the beginning of this article, was living in Dallas County, Alabama when Smith formed his company in November of 1861. Instead of joining Smith, however, McIver chose to muster into Company I, 2nd Alabama Cavalry formed by his brother, Capt. Alex M. McIver in March of 1862. Over time, McIver advanced from private to the rank of sergeant. In March of 1864, at Madison Station, Mississippi, Sgt. McIver was detached indefinitely because of a disabled horse. By April 30th he had found a good mount and transferred to Holloway's company (the CLD's), near Chattanooga. Since there were no openings for a sergeant in Holloway’s company, McIver joined as a private.

When General Joe Johnston replaced Bragg after Chattanooga, Holloway’s company continued for him in the same capacity. When Confederate President Davis, impatient with Johnston's tactics replaced him with Hood, the CLD's remained as Hood's escort at the Battle of Atlanta. Hood's army, all but destroyed by General Thomas at the Battle of Nashville, was again returned to the command of Joe Johnston who then fought Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas. On March 4, 1865, McIver was furloughed with acute cystitis and he returned home to Selma. A little more than a month later, on April 28, 1865, Holloway's company along with the rest of Johnston's army surrendered and were paroled at Greensboro, N.C.

The "C. L. Dragoons" Marked Colt 3rd Model Dragoon Revolver

By 1860, after 12 years of production, the popularity of Colt's 3rd Model Dragoon revolver was waning. Colt began to ship his New Model Army revolver, known today as the Colt Model 1860 Army, in October of 1860. This new revolver was superior because it fired a .44 caliber bullet and weighed 40% less than the old dragoon. An examination of the Colt revolver purchases by the U.S. Government from April 1861 to March 1866 confirms that the Army considered the 3rd Model Dragoon an obsolete weapon after the introduction of the New Model 1860 Army revolver. Only fourteen 3rd Model Dragoons were purchased during this time in contrast to 129,145 Model 1860 Army revolvers purchased during the same period. Although the Northern market for the 3rd Model Dragoon had dried up, demand for any type of weapon continued to out stripped supply in the South. Not surprisingly, some of the obsolete inventory that had begun to accumulate at Colt's factory and his northern dealers began to find its way south.

The Northern blockade of the port of Mobile was not 100% effective and blockade running supply vessels were still able to enter the harbor. Since arms and military equipment were high profit items for the blockade runner, weapons and equipment were available in Mobile at exorbitant prices. For example, biographical records show that Colonel Zach Deas outfitted the 23rd Alabama Infantry in Mobile at the same time the CLD's were in Mobile trying to find cavalry weapons. Deas purchased 800 Enfield rifles for $28,000 in gold from his own funds. This amounted to paying $35 apiece for what was, outside of the South, a $16 gun.

Although no records can be found of the CLD's weapons purchase in Mobile, several facts suggest that Smith armed his company in Mobile in early January, 1862 with 3rd Model Dragoon revolvers run through the Northern blockade. First, a Colt factory letter, obtained by Herb Glass, Jr., states that a "C. L. Dragoons" marked 3rd Model Dragoon, serial #16577, was 1 of 16 shipped to New York dealer Cooper and Pond on December 15, 1861. Second, surviving Confederate States of America ordnance records show that Capt. Smith first began drawing quantities of all types of military equipment on January 14, 1862 and in particular, one of the January 14th requisitions was for 2000 rounds of Colt pistol cartridges.

Since the 3rd Model Dragoon, serial #16577, from Cooper to Pond ultimately wound up in CLD hands it would appear that this revolver and, probably a quantity of Cooper and Pond’s obsolete stock of 3rd Model Dragoons’, were run through the blockade into Mobile and were subsequently purchased by the CLDs. Supporting this conclusion is the fact that six other surviving "C.L. Dragoons” marked 3rd Model Dragoons also originated from Cooper and Pond. Since cartridges were first requisitioned by the CLDs on January 14, 1862, it appears that these guns had been acquired by the CLDs sometime before January 14, 1862. The author has been able to locate 12 "C. L. Dragoons" marked 3rd Model Dragoon revolvers (see chart #1). The first muster roll of the CLD's for the period ending December 31, 1861, shows that the company consisted of 105 enlisted men and 4 officers. Assuming that a 3rd Model Dragoon was purchased for each enlisted man, the survival of 12 of 105 3rd Model Dragoons would mean an 11.4% survival rate. This rate could reasonably be compared to the survival rate of the heavily used, and highly tracked Colt Walker model (Of the 1100 models manufactured, there are approximately 170 known survivors in collections today, which represents a survival rate of 15.4%). With the exception of the "C. L. Dragoons" marked Navy, the only guns that have been found with the "C. L. Dragoons" marking have been Colt 3rd Model Dragoons. This one model of marked guns, coupled with the reasonable 11.4% survival rate, supports the theory that all of the 105 enlisted men were armed with 3rd Model Dragoons rather than a mixture of guns. Why then, does one Navy appear in this group of 12 "C. L. Dragoons" marked 3rd Model Dragoon revolvers? The answer is that the Navy was originally an officer's gun.

The "C. L. Dragoons" Marked Colt Navy Revolver

In the latter part of 1860, before gun shipments to the South were halted, Governor Moore purchased 600 Colt Navy revolvers for the State of Alabama. In appreciation of this purchase, Sam Colt presented an inscribed Navy, serial #95844, to Governor Moore in December of that year. Early in the Civil War, Governor Moore typically issued each officer of an Alabama formed company one of these Navy revolvers. The author can document more than 25 officers in 10 different companies that received Colt Navies from Governor Moore. The author has also examined a Navy that Pickett family documents show as being passed down from Captain A. H. Pickett, 3rd Alabama Infantry. This is very likely a gun issued by the Governor since the Pickett Navy is only 958 digits lower than the serial number of the Navy presented to Governor Moore. The C. L. Dragoons" marked Navy, serial #94981, is also most certainly a Navy issued by Governor Moore to one of the officers of the CLD's, as it is just 863 serial digits below Governor Moore's Navy and 95 digits above the Pickett Navy.

The 3rd Model Dragoon revolvers were inscribed to indicate company ownership and to honor the CLD's benefactor. Probably all of the CLD officers also had their state issued Navies marked with the company's name. The "C. L. Dragoons" Navy is hand engraved with the same abbreviations in the same location on the barrel flat as the 3rd Model Dragoons. While the 3rd Model Dragoons are all hand engraved in block capital letters, the Navy model is hand engraved with italic capital and lower case letters, indicating a distinction between the two models. The engraver would have probably made this distinction between the officers and enlisted men’s guns and this would account for the enhanced engraving on the Navy. While there is little question that the CLD Navy was an officer's gun, there is the question of: How did an officer's gun end the war in the hands of Private McIver? The answer is that the officer's gun stayed in the CLD unit after the officer left and was eventually passed down to McIver.

When the CLD's reorganized in Corinth and voted out their old officers, the ousted officers resigned from the company and returned home. These officer's guns belonged to the State of Alabama and were probably collected and reissued within the CLD's. The South faced such an acute shortage of weapons that it is highly unlikely that any officer or enlisted man would have been allowed to leave military service without turning in their weapons. Apparently someone else must have used this officer’s gun after the officer left the CLDs and then it was issued to McIver when he joined the CLD's in the spring of 1864. The fact that McIver obtained the "C. L. Dragoon" marked Navy would seem to indicate that when he was discharged from the 2nd Alabama Cavalry for want of a horse, he also had to leave his weapons with the 2nd Alabama. When McIver became ill and was given sick leave on March 4, 1865, he apparently took his CLD Navy with him, because he was expected to return. Just over one month later, on April 9, General Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia and McIver never returned to service.

Conclusions

The unraveling of the provenance of the "C. L. Dragoons" marked Navy provides important new information regarding Colt firearms history and opens new areas for research and collecting. The link to the Alabama Cavalry unit adds a new dimension to the roll Colt firearms played in arming Southern forces. It also opens a previously unexplored area in collecting "Alabama guns". Most importantly the history of this gun conclusively ends longstanding speculations about the meaning of "C. L. Dragoons".


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