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The Griswold and Gunnison Revolver of the
Confederate Army

Photo of a Griswold replica made by Pietta

The Griswold and Gunnison revolver, known simply as the Griswold, became one of the most famous firearms made for the Confederate Army and today is one of the rarest. Flayderman notes that few handgun makers in the south equaled the Griswold in quality and none exceeded its production, even though Griswold and Gunnison made only 3,700 (see reference at end of the article.)

At the start of the Civil War, the Confederacy found itself at a distinct disadvantage since almost all of the large firearm manufacturing plants were located in the northeast part of the country. Not only were those plants in Union territory, but the large steel mills were also there. The Confederacy offered interest-free loans and other incentives to anyone willing to set up firearm manufacturing operations in the south to supply the Confederate Army with the weapons it needed.

Samuel Griswold and Arvin Gunnison decided to respond to the offer. Griswold had moved from Connecticut to Clinton, Georgia in 1820 and established the first iron foundry in Georgia. He had additionally started the Griswold Cotton Gin Company in Clinton that had grown into one of the largest producers of cotton gins in the country used for cleaning cotton. He moved his foundry and cotton gin factory to land he had purchased to be close to the railroad and, in addition to the foundry and cotton gin factory, he built a sawmill, gristmill, and soap and candle factory. Together with his own home and a few others in the area, he established the village of Griswoldville, Georgia near Macon, Georgia. According to the noted Confederate arms historian, William A. Albaugh, III (see reference at end of the article), Griswold decided in 1862 to convert his cotton gin factory into a pistol factory knowing that his cotton gin would not be in demand during the war.

Arvin Gunnison had begun manufacturing pistols in New Orleans but left the city as Union forces moved towards and captured New Orleans in the spring of 1862. He moved his pistol manufacturing operations to Griswoldville to join Griswold who was planning to obtain a contract to supply the Confederacy with revolvers. In July of 1862, they began producing their first "Confederate brass-framed Colts," the name originally given their handgun. In August, they passed inspection by the Confederacy and were given a contract to produce as many revolvers as possible. They were only one of three southern manufacturers to take advantage of the Confederacy contract, but they were the most successful.

The Griswold copied the Colt 1851 Navy model (see photo of the Griswold at the beginning of the article). Like the Navy Colt, the Griswold featured a 36 caliber, 6-shot round cylinder, percussion cap and ball revolver and had a Dragoon type 7˝-inch barrel with six twisting grooves (see Flayderman reference below). The barrel was part octagonal and part round at the muzzle whereas the entire barrel of the Navy Colt was octagonal.

Largely due to the steel shortage in the south, the Griswold had a brass frame and trigger guard as opposed to Colt’s case hardened steel. Albaugh noted that Griswold and Gunnison, like other Confederate firearm manufacturers, had to use whatever metal became available to them. Brass was almost equally hard to acquire. Albaugh further describes the patriotic appeal made by the Confederacy to local churches which were asked to "loan" their church bells to the Confederacy, and churches did so knowing that their bells would be melted down to make guns for the Confederate Army.

In most cases, the Griswold “brass” is actually steel with a high copper content that gives the frame a rose tint. Typically, the Griswold cylinder was made of twisted iron instead of steel since twisting the heated iron bars strengthened the iron. Flayderman notes that the twist lines on the cylinder help identify the revolver (see reference). The cylinder had six safety pins compared to one in the Navy Colt. The cylinder was not blued to inhibit rust, however, and the iron in the cylinder did rust. It can be finally noted that the Griswold was manufactured in two models: the first had a round barrel housing while the housing on the later second model was octagonal.

An interesting footnote is that a Georgia historical marker at the site of the Griswold factory states that the pistols were manufactured at a cost of about $50. Albaugh's sources, however, indicated that Griswold and Gunnison first sold their revolvers to the Confederacy for $40 but later were given $50. It is unlikely that the Griswold was ever sold at a loss. The Navy Colt, it can be noted, sold for under $15 each.

Union forces destroyed the Griswold and Gunnison pistol plant in November 1864 during the first battle of Sherman’s march to the sea. Griswold and Gunnison started over again but with a much smaller operation that continued until April 1965.

The article began with the claim that the Griswold is now one of the rarest of Confederate firearms. Only a few originals remain, many with broken parts. In poor condition, a Griswold might bring $25,000 at auction. An unconfirmed report, however, was that a Griswold in excellent condition brought an auction price exceeding $1 million.

Note: This story was published in the The Cowboy Chronicle , June 2012, pages 26-27.

References used in story:

  • Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms...and their values by Norm Flayderman, Gun Digest Books, 9th Edition, 2007.

  • Confederate Handguns by William A. Albaugh, III, Hugh Benet, Jr., and Edward N. Simmons, Bonanza Books, 1963.