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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I got to thinking, what 45 Colt ammunition was used at TBTLBH.


Archeological surveys recovered both 45 Colt and 45 Schofield artifacts.
  • July 23rd, 1873 - Military 45 Colt SAA Order Contract Signed
  • Oct 1873 , by this date, the 45 Colt ammunition was loaded with only 30gr of BP with the 250gr bullet…before anyone (even the 6th and 10th Cav Units) were issued their Colts (Nov 28, 1873).
  • Nov 28, 1873 - Of the first 8,000 SAA’s ordered and shipped to Springfield, Mass, (shipped and received in Lots of 1,000)…
  • Dec 19th, 1873 - sn#'s 200 to 1,222 received , sn#s 1,224 to 2.336 received by the 6th and 10th Cav Units.
  • Jan 31st, 1874 - The 7th Cav Units received sn#'s 4,516 to 5,521 , of which only 755 were issued at that time.
  • Thru August 1874 - the 45 Colt ammunition was loaded with the 250gr lead with 30gr of powder.
  • 1875 - Winchester’s 1875 catalog shows the 45 Colt with a centerfire case …not found at TLBH that I know of…this rules out civilian purchase or theft of civilian ammunition by the Warriors.
  • By 1875, Colt/Schofield cases used 28gr of powder with a 230gr lead bullet.
  • June 26, 1876 - The BTLBH took place...nearly two years between these two dates.
So between August 1874 and July 1876 (nearly two years), it looks like the 45 Colt cartridge (30gr of BP and a 250gr bullet) was still widely used and in great supply during TBTLBH.
Does it appear that the 45 Colt cartridge was not phased out, although unintentional, until after the beginning of the end of the Frontier?
Can anyone add the Schofield information that could be missing?

It would appear that during the archeological surveys,
  • 37 45 Colt cartridge cases recovered matched 31 revolvers used
  • 12 revolvers used at Custer Battlefield and 19 used at the Reno-Benteen defense line
  • Of those, 66 bullets were recovered as well
Of the longer Colt cases and shorter Schofield cases recovered, there is no mention of the Schofield revolver being used and the cases listed on the chart are not differentiated.
  • Twelve Colt cartridges found at Custer’s battlefield were unfired
  • Eleven fired cases
  • Twenty-nine hollow bases bullets, thirteen deformed by impact and four found with bone fragments imbedded in the lead.
The Reno-Benteen area yielded
  • twenty eight unfired cartridges
  • twenty-five fired cartridge cases
  • thirty-one hollow base bullets
  • six solid based bullets.

A single Schofield case was mentioned to be found (photographed) and matched the “firing pin” markings of one of the Colt revolvers…which was the same marks as found on other Colt cartridge cases used by the same Colt revolver.
 

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Take aways: First, with 37 empty .45 Colt cases that meant each cartridge case was individual manually extracted from a revolver. This is a slow situation and indicates they had time to do this and reload, some may never had a chance. Second, while the Schofield was no longer in the inventory, it is likely they were issued leftover ammunition for the Colts. Or, third, there were privately owned guns which used the Schofield cartridge not recorded at the time of the action. Fourth, we know that some civilians were armed with Colt SAAs and officers purchased their own guns. It is likely they obtained ammunition from the supply stores. Last, you could expect a lot of Colt bullets went home with the Indians to the burial grounds. While it is generally believed that only around 30 Indians were killed, I find this lacking in credibility.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Take aways: First, with 37 empty .45 Colt cases that meant each cartridge case was individual manually extracted from a revolver. This is a slow situation and indicates they had time to do this and reload, some may never had a chance. Second, while the Schofield was no longer in the inventory, it is likely they were issued leftover ammunition for the Colts. Or, third, there were privately owned guns which used the Schofield cartridge not recorded at the time of the action. Fourth, we know that some civilians were armed with Colt SAAs and officers purchased their own guns. It is likely they obtained ammunition from the supply stores. Last, you could expect a lot of Colt bullets went home with the Indians to the burial grounds.
A few takeaways from the takeaways....but good thoughts either way
  • The 45 Colt bullets found with bone fragments were at "grave sites" leading me to believe that it could have been bones from soldier that carried it....suicide or maybe wounds inflicted by Indians after acquiring the revolvers during the spoils
  • Too many scenarios to try and figure out how many shots made by each of the revolvers used.
  • It is my understanding (always subject to change) that the Shorter Schofield cartridges did not phase out the 45 Colt cartridges until the late 1878ish or early 1881ish, the schofield cartridges entering as early as 1875ish.
  • Civilian 45 Colt cartridges were of the centerfire type according to Winchester's 1875 catalog.
 

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As far as the time line is concerned: A few years does not seem excessive for any transition period between ammunition types. The frontier army used very little ammunition, training and practice was uncommon, and a decision by the manufacturer or the quartermaster dept. at headquarters back east in favor of a change would not lead to throwing out the “old stuff” out west.

Some tangential remarks while we’re on the topic:
One cannot draw direct conclusions from the absolute number of bullets and casings found, since in the century between the battle and the detailed archaeological surveys a lot of battle artefacts undoubtedly walked off with souvenir hunters, and ammo would be a prime object for that.

However, one can still get meaningful results from RELATIVE quantities, as you would expect the various caliber numbers to disappear at about equal ratios over time.

What struck me back when I read through the dig analysis of the LBH battle site for the first time was the significant lopsided ratio of carbine vs. handgun ammo components, something like 10 to 1 in favor of the carbines if I remember correctly.

This supports what is now the most likely scenario for the end on Custer Ridge: The companies fought with their carbines as units on skirmish lines, but once the Calhoun position collapsed after the aborted charge down the ravine, everything disintegrated into a running melee and troopers were overtaken and clubbed down as they ran every which way with no place being safe. Relatively few ever got a chance to draw their revolver, and it was over very quickly.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
This supports what is now the most likely scenario for the end on Custer Ridge: The companies fought with their carbines as units on skirmish lines, but once the Calhoun position collapsed after the aborted charge down the ravine, everything disintegrated into a running melee and troopers were overtaken and clubbed down as they ran every which way with no place being safe. Relatively few ever got a chance to draw their revolver, and it was over very quickly.
That is my analysis too! I mapped out the recovery areas and the maps make for a good analysis of the possible timeline and movement directions and skirmish locations. The 44 Henrys played a major roll whether folks wont to accept it or not. The small hill northeast of the Calhoun area is not dubbed "Henryville" for nothing. The following map is from the Archaeological surveys (not mine).

World Handwriting Map Font Schematic
 

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And a few photos for those who never made it out there on a visit, grave markers are where they were buried,( mostly where they fell):
Brown Sky Natural landscape Grass Horizon

River crossing area:
Brown Sky Plant Natural landscape Tree

View towards Indian encampment area, graves on this side of the river:
Sky Plant Natural landscape Tree Grass
 

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Keep in mind when ammunition orders are placed, they are generally very large orders. Given the small size of our Army, and the fact that there was so very little marksmanship training given to riflemen, I can only assume it was worse for handguns. The battles they were in during the frontier were very small in the grand scheme of army battles. No 20 division offensives, etc. So it makes sense that it would take several years to work their way through supplies of ammunition before the change was complete.

I had an uncle who joined the Army around 1964. He was into machineguns so he paid attention to little things. He said most of the .30-06 ammunition he shot in training had WW2 headstamps. He said one belt he fired in a 1919 had 1919 headstamps.
 

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I think it is important to keep in mind the Winchester 1866 used the Henry cartridge, as did pistol conversions, such as those US issued to the 7th Cavalry. Interestingly, they had at one point 58 nickel plated S&Ws.
 
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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
I think it is important to keep in mind the Winchester 1866 used the Henry cartridge, as did pistol conversions, such as those US issued to the 7th Cavalry. Interestingly, they had at one point 58 nickel plated S&Ws.
Awesome information. Who at the battle of the little bighorn has the S&W's?

According to archaeological data, only three 44 S&W's were represented by the discovery of 4 cases and 9 bullets vs 31 Colt 45's represented by the recovery of 37 cases and 66 bullets.
 
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