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By the late 1840s, Colt had procured sufficient government contracts to begin expansion into other markets. Most cap-and-ball revolvers were heavy dragoon types when Colt introduced its first revolver with civilian buyers in mind. The .31-caliber Baby Dragoon was a downsized version of its larger brothers but lacked the convenience of an integrated loading lever.
Colt introduced an upgraded version in 1849 that had a loading lever and weighed only about 1.5 lbs. - almost a third of what some larger dragoon models weighed. Though far from compact by today's standards, the Colt Model 1849 was groundbreaking at the time because it was the first civilian side arm that could be carried with practicality in a holster, coat pocket or belt.
In spite of lacking serious stopping power, the Colt Model 1849 was wildly popular and became the best-selling Colt revolver of the 19th century. Production began in 1850 and continued until 1873. After 23 years of constant production, nearly 325,000 had been made in various configurations that included five- and six-shot models, and versions with 3", 4", 5" and 6" barrels.
At the onset of hostilities in the Civil War, the Colt Model 1849 saw widespread use by volunteers on both sides. This is thought to be due to the large number of the guns in civilian hands and the ease with which they could be carried. It's also known that the gun was carried by many in the Confederate Partisan Ranger units such as those led by John Singleton Mosby that were effective in tying down Federal forces behind Union lines in northern Virginia in the last two years of the war.
The capture of Union Gen. Edwin Stoughton was one of Mosby's most famous exploits. According to various accounts, Mosby took a small group of raiders to Fairfax where Stoughton was staying the night. A clever ruse resulted in Mosby finding the general sound asleep face down. Mosby raised Stoughton's nightshirt and slapped the man's bare bottom at which point the general roused and found himself staring into the barrels of revolvers held by Mosby and his men (it's not known how many of the revolvers were Model 1849s). Mosby asked the startled Stoughton, "General, have you ever heard of Mosby?" "Yes," the general replied, "Have you captured him?" "No," answered Mosby, "but he has captured you." The raiders also stole a number of Union horses. It is said that when President Lincoln was told what happened he remarked, "I can always make more generals, but I cannot make more horses." Stoughton was not highly regarded by his men, his peers or his president.
Cabela's offers a fully functional replica of the Civil War era Colt Model 1849 revolver made by Pietta. It's a .31-caliber five-shot version with a blued 4" barrel, case-hardened frame and walnut grips.
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