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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a question posed to me by my son's friend who works for an historical trust and is very active in re-enacting and guns of all eras. It as to do with stopping power of cap and ball vs. .38 Long Colt rounds. It started with me telling him about the Army adopting the .38 round and abandoning the .45 revolver with the 1892 revolver.


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Thank your dad for the information. Alot of this now makes sense to me. The one thing I find amusing is that the regular army specifically requested the .45 caliber in the 1860s only to dismiss it thirty years later. I would be curious to know if the navy, that had requested the .36 during the Civil War, had conducted any tests on that weapon in regard to 'stopping power'? Also, when the military converted to the cartridge over the cap and ball, did that by itself diminish 'stopping power' by a quicker velocity in regard to travel speed? In short, were the smaller caliber black powder cap and ball revolvers (specifically .36s) better at 'stopping power' due to their lower velocity of travel than a similar sized (.38 metal bullet fired from a smokeless cartridge
 

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I am no expert, and this subject could fill a book, but here's a thumbnail sketch: According to Haven and Belden, in 1850 the U.S. Ordnance Department measured "stopping power" by the penetration of boards placed 1" apart and fired at from a distance of 16 yards.

My references do not address the trials that took place prior to the adoption of the New Army and Navy, but I assume they were similar. Incidentally, the .38 Colt service cartridge was not metal, but round nosed lead. As a result of it's lack of stopping ability, in 1904 the War Department convened the Thompson-La Garde board which did extensive research on livestock and cadavers to predict the lethality and stopping power of all the military handgun cartridges. As a result, the .38 was abandonded for the .45.

If your son's friend does a search of the Ordnance Board from the period he is interested in, he may find their reports to Congress. They were quite involved, even back then.

Somewhere, we lost our way with the adoption of the 9MM, but that's another topic /forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif.
 

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i too am no expert, however I think the idea of the change wasn't due to stopping power as apposed to quick reloading, reloading on the fly, all weather durability, accuracy, effective range (point target and area target), and carring capability.

If we look at the change as purely "stopping power", I would say the ball may actually stop a man better......saying that, I also think people commonly misunderstand "stopping power" with "penatration".

Was the ball lead as well? I think the expansion (degradation) rate of the ball as compared to the bullet would best tell us which one transfered energy best, thus stopping a human.

Edit to say: We now have compressed, tungstun, powder bullets in 9mm config that actually have better "stopping power" than .45 ACP in 230gr. ball due to transfer of power over a greater surface area.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the replies. I've always wondered myself why the Navy went for the .36 cap and ball instead of the .45 like the Army. Was it due to the less weight of the frame?
 

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I don't think the Navy used the 36 cap & ball. Colt's 36 cap & ball was referred to as the navy because the cylinder was roll pressed with a naval scene from the Mexican American War, not because of any connection with the navy. The US navy was using a large bore single shot percussion lock pistol. They continued with the large bore single shot concept into the breech loading era.

The cap & ball revolver was often loaded with a pure lead ball, no hardening agents added. At the velocities in question, pure lead makes an excellent expanding bullet. The breech loaders had bullets cast from lead with tin or other hardening additives and they did not expand very well. Thus, caliber for caliber, the cap & ball revolvers probably did have a little better stopping power than the early breech loaders.
 

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[ QUOTE ]

The cap & ball revolver was often loaded with a pure lead ball, no hardening agents added. At the velocities in question, pure lead makes an excellent expanding bullet. The breech loaders had bullets cast from lead with tin or other hardening additives and they did not expand very well. Thus, caliber for caliber, the cap & ball revolvers probably did have a little better stopping power than the early breech loaders.

[/ QUOTE ]

Thats what I was thinking......

Bullets/balls are kinda like sky-diving.......its not the volocity that kills you, its the sudden stop! /forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
This makes sense to me too. I was wondering if any tables existed to show ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle for cap and ball loads.
 

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good question. There use to be an AWESOME ballistic website / table that had almost every cal. / gr. and then all the popular makers........

This site even showed different tests at different angles and all sorts of crap........if you weren't really into it, you'd get a headache. /forums/images/graemlins/crazy.gif
 
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