Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Confederate Kerr Revolver

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Confederacy's, primary purchasing agent in England, Caleb Huse, engaged the London Armory Company to produce all of the Kerr’s Patent revolvers that they could for delivery to the South. It is believed that nearly all of the London Armory’s output of Kerr revolvers from April of 1861 through the close of the Civil War were produced on contract for the Confederacy. However these weapons had to pass through the Union blockade and the number that actually reached the Confederacy is unknown.

Based upon the extant examples with Confederate provenance or marks, which exist in the 1,500 to about the 10,500 serial number range, about 9,000 pistols were produced and shipped to the South during that time. (although a handful of legitimate CS inspected Kerr’s do exist in the 7XX to 1,5XX range).
To date, at least three separate Confederate government contracts have been identified for the purchase of Kerr revolvers. Two were army contracts, and one was a 1,000-gun contract for the Confederate Navy, dated August 6, 1861.
Many of the army contract Kerr revolvers were financed through the Charleston, SC based firm of Fraser, Trenholm & Company and delivered by their subsidiary John Fraser & Company. A minimum of 3,160 Kerr revolvers were delivered directly to Confederate arsenals by Fraser. In addition to the 3 government contracts, an unknown number of Kerr’s Patent revolvers were acquired speculatively for sale privately.
As a result of the contracts, London Armoury Company became almost completely dependent on sales to the Confederacy. The company would dissolve in the Spring of 1866, only a year after the end of the war.

The five-shot Kerr revolver, while appearing to be a double-action handgun, is actually a single-action revolver that requires thumb-cocking for firing, but pulling the trigger would rotate the cylinder. This was a byproduct of the cylinder locking system, which relied on a pivoting arm that was actuated by the trigger. This arm locked the cylinder in place when the gun was fired. This was very different from the standard spring-loaded cylinder stop found in frames of most American made revolvers. This system also eliminated the need to machine stop slots in the cylinder, as the rear face of cylinder was where the arm locked it into position.

The Kerr also featured a unique, frame mounted cylinder arbor that was removed from the rear of the pistol (much like on the Colt side hammer, aka “Root” designs), instead of the more common location at the front of the cylinder. This made the pistol easier and safer to manipulate when the cylinder had to be removed from the pistol.