Uberti (Remington) 1858 New Model Army .44 Revolver
By Chuck Hawks
A. Uberti, Srl., founded in 1959, is not a traditional name in U.S. firearms history. However, the Italian company that bears Aldo Uberti's name has been carving out a reputation for producing "the best" reproduction firearms for over four decades. Uberti first produced cap-n-ball revolvers, and that is how they made their reputation, but has since expanded into producing cartridge revolvers, single shot rifles, lever action rifles, and miniature arms as well.
Aldo (known as "Renato" to his family) Uberti was incarcerated in a concentration camp during the Second World War, but emerged to become a successful gunmaker, businessman, and family man. "Let's not limit ourselves," this exceptionally intelligent and wise man would say. He combined a love of nature, history, and the American West with his innate perfectionism to produce the finest, historically accurate, replica cap-n-ball revolvers in the world. Aldo died in his sleep in 1998. A. Uberti Arms was passed on to his two sons.
For most of the time since its founding, Uberti Arms guns have been distributed by a variety of importers, but it is now part of the Benelli, USA group of companies and is imported and distributed directly. This is a better system that allows the US consumer access to factory trained technicians and genuine Uberti replacement parts. The future looks even brighter than the past for Uberti Arms.
Remington introduced their New Model Army .44 revolver in 1863. It was an improved version of the earlier Remington-Beals and Remington Army revolvers of 1860, 1861 and 1862. The basic patent for all of these was issued in 1858. This is how the model later became known as the "1858" Remington New Model Army. Remington never used 1858 in the revolver's nomenclature.
The .44 New Model Army revolver became known for its power, superior accuracy and strength. In many ways (but not all) it was superior to the Colt revolvers of the era. It was widely used and highly prized, especially by knowledgeable pistoleros, during the American Civil War. Remington produced over 125,000 New Model Army .44 revolvers, making it the second most common revolver of the era (after Colt).
The design of Remington's New Model Army featured a steel, one-piece frame and grip frame, unlike the separate grip frame of Colt (and the much later Ruger) single action cap and ball revolvers. For superior accuracy, the barrel is screwed firmly into the frame, as with a modern single action revolver. (The barrel of contemporary Colt cap and ball revolvers was not fixed to the frame and had to be removed from the frame for cleaning or to get the cylinder out of the frame.) Removing one screw allows the brass trigger guard of the New Model Army to be detached from the bottom of the frame, giving access to the lockwork from the bottom. The long, flat mainspring is contained within the butt, and there is a mainspring tension screw in the front face of the grip frame. The trigger and bolt spring is a twinleaf flat spring located directly under the trigger guard and held in place by a single screw. Two traverse (left to right) screws hold the internal parts in place. The New Model Army's lockwork is simple, tidy, and well designed.
The cylinder is removed by placing the hammer in its half-cock position and then lowering the loading lever about 45 degrees; thus freeing the head of the cylinder pin but keeping the ram clear of the cylinder. Pull the cylinder pin forward until it clears the cylinder. The cylinder pin is retained in the frame, so it cannot be dropped or lost. With the cylinder pin free from the cylinder, the cylinder can be rotated out of the frame to the right, the same direction it rotates when the revolver is cocked. The cylinder is replaced by reversing the process. Care must be taken, especially when replacing the cylinder, because while the bolt is completely withdrawn by placing the hammer in the half-cock position, the hand is not. The cylinder must be replaced from the right side of the frame, and rotated to the right as it is inserted. That way the hand is pressed into the frame by the ratchet at the rear of the cylinder as the cylinder slips into the frame.
The design of the Remington New Model Army was quite advanced for its time, and some of its features, such as the one-piece main and grip frame and captive cylinder pin, are superior even to modern Colt and Ruger single action cartridge revolvers. And it wasn't until 1873 that Colt finally adopted a frame with a solid top strap (the famous Single Action Army or "Peacemaker"). The New Army's sights are also superior to those of contemporary Colt revolvers, and even those supplied on the Peacemaker. More on the sights a little bit later.
The specifications of Uberti's reproduction of the Remington New Model Army .44 revolver are as follows.
In addition to the standard models described above, Uberti also offers target models with adjustable sights for target competition or hunting. These are also available in blue or stainless finish and feature a tall ramp front sight and a fully adjustable target-type rear sight. The 2003 MSRP of the Target Models is $295 (blue) and $389 (stainless).
The gun that is the test subject of this review is a brand new, stainless steel standard model. The frame, barrel, cylinder, loading lever, trigger, hammer, front sight, all external screws and most internal parts are made of stainless steel; the trigger guard is brass and the grips are smooth walnut. The nipples, mainspring, trigger/bolt spring and the screw that retains it appear to be made of carbon steel.
To my eye, New Model Army revolvers are aesthetically perhaps the most attractive revolvers ever designed, and this stainless steel Uberti is no exception. Its grace and clean lines are exceptional. It also feels very good in the hand, with adequate but not excessive weight and a smooth and extremely comfortable Western style grip that is just about perfectly shaped, at least for my (medium size) hand.
Uberti revolvers have a reputation for being "the best," and this is clearly a very well made, high quality firearm. The overall fit is excellent, and the wood to metal fit is exceptional. There is virtually no cylinder endplay, the bolt locks the cylinder with minimal movement, and the flash gap is tight and uniform. The one-piece frame and grip frame is very nicely polished, but there are some faint machine marks on the flats of the octagon barrel that were not completely polished out. The walnut grips are particularly well finished. Overall, the finish is quite good.
The hammer draw is stiff due to a heavy (flat) mainspring. The tension on this can be adjusted somewhat using a small screw in the front of the grip frame. The trigger pull was a pleasant surprise, as it broke at about 3.25 pounds with commendable crispness right out of the box. I backed out the mainspring tension screw about a turn, which slightly eased the hammer draw and reduced the trigger pull to 3.0 pounds, as measured by my RCBS Premium trigger pull scale. I wish the triggers of most modern revolvers were as good.
The Uberti's rear sight consists of a historically accurate "V" shaped groove machined into the top strap of the frame. The way this was done does allow the user to widen the "V" with a small file if desired, as the stock rear notch is rather fine. The front sight is a simple rounded blade dovetailed into the barrel near the muzzle. It can be drifted left or right in its dovetail slot to adjust for windage as necessary. To adjust for elevation the usual procedure is to vary the load until the gun shoots to point of aim, or file down the front sight blade to raise the point of impact.
By modern standards the New Model Army has rather primitive sights, but compared to most other contemporary cap and ball revolvers it was superior. A careful marksman can do some pretty good shooting with these sights.
The Uberti New Model Army .44 is intended for use with traditional black FFFG, Pyrodex P, or Triple Seven FFFG powders, and must never be used with smokeless powder. I chose to use Hodgdon's Triple Seven FFFG sulfur-free powder, which is a somewhat higher energy propellant than FFFG black powder. Triple Seven produces the highest velocities of all granular muzzleloading propellants when compared by volume. It is also noted for its easy clean-up using only water, and lack of the sulfur (rotten egg) smell that afflicts regular black powder. Triple Seven is also more expensive than regular black powder, but the cost of the powder itself is a relatively small part of the expense of shooting a black powder revolver.
For test firing the Uberti I also used CCI and Remington #10 percussion caps, Ox-Yoke Wonder Wads, Speer .451" and Hornady .454" diameter round balls. Note that most ".44 caliber" cap and ball revolvers actually use projectiles of .451-.454" diameter.
For those who are interested, I calculated that my cost per shot with the Uberti New Model Army revolver using Triple Seven powder was approximately $0.25. Of those 25 cents, about 6 cents was the cost of the Triple Seven powder charge (20 grains). Using regular black powder the cost slips to about $0.22 per shot, as 20 grains of regular black powder costs about 3 cents. It is the cost of the wads, percussion caps, and balls that primarily drives the price of shooting any cap-n-ball revolver.
It actually costs more to shoot the black powder Uberti than it does a .38 Special cartridge revolver using inexpensive factory loads. My local discount department store (Bi-Mart) sells Remington/UMC .38 Special ammo for an every day price of about $9 for a box of 50 cartridges (and less on sale). This translates to a cost of $0.18 per shot. Shoot a cap and ball revolver because it is challenging and fun, not to save money.
The percussion cap is the "primer" that makes a flame to ignite the powder charge. The purpose of the powder is to produce the volume of gas that propels the bullet down the barrel. The wad is used to help to seal the powder gas behind the ball, and to help to clean and lubricate the bore on its passage through the barrel. The gun will work without wads, but it is better to use them. And the ball or bullet is what (hopefully) hits the target, be it paper, tin can, animal, or (in the old days) human.
The Hodgdon Powder Company, on their web site, recommends loads of 20 to 25 powder measure grains (as set on a powder measure by volume, not necessarily the actual weight) of Triple Seven FFFG powder in replica 1858 Remington New Army revolvers. Hodgdon's data was developed for use in revolvers with steel frames and is not intended for use in revolvers with brass frames.
In Hodgdon's testing, 20 grains behind a round ball produced a muzzle velocity (MV) of 536 fps. 25 grains of Triple Seven behind a round ball produced a MV of 763 fps. These loads used Hornady .454" diameter round balls and Ox-Yoke wads.
For those choosing to use traditional black powder, the instruction manual that came with the Uberti suggests 22 to 30 grains of FFFG black powder behind a .454" diameter round ball, or 19 to 25 grains behind a .454" conical bullet. They also state that the proper charge is an efficient load that provides consistent ignition and velocity, and that maximum loads are seldom used.
The loading procedure is as follows. Check to make sure that the revolver is clean and dry, empty, and that the nipples are clear. Then pull the hammer back to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder so that it can be freely rotated. The chambers can be charged individually with powder, wad, and ball, or each operation can be performed on all chambers before going on to the next step. This is the procedure I used at the range, where there is a table on which to lay everything out.
The revolver is now loaded, but the hammer must not be left at half cock--this is not a safe hammer position. The hammer should be pulled back slightly, using the thumb of the shooting hand, just enough to free the sear from the half cock notch. While continuing to control the hammer with the thumb, use the index finger (trigger finger) of the shooting hand to pull the trigger all the way back. Use the off hand to rotate the cylinder as necessary so that one of the safety notches on the back of the cylinder (between each chamber) is directly under the middle of the top strap and therefore directly beneath the hammer. Then, still holding the trigger all the way back, slowly lower the hammer until its tip comes to rest in the safety notch. Do not allow the hammer to snap forward; keep it under control at all times. The gun is now safe.
This process is much harder to describe than to do. With a little practice any normal person can learn to operate a single action revolver surely and safely. Safe operation becomes almost automatic, like shifting a manual transmission car. You don't really think about it, you just do it. Do not load one of these revolvers until you can handle it safely 100% of the time.
When you are ready to shoot, pull the hammer all the way back until it clicks into the full cock position. A light rearward pressure (squeeze) on the trigger will now release the hammer, discharging the weapon. After firing, leave the hammer down on the fired chamber. It is neither necessary nor desirable to return it to a safety notch, since hammer down on a fired chamber is as safe as any revolver can get.
Pulling the trigger on a black powder revolver produces a flash, a bang, and a cloud of smoke. If the shooter has done his or her job correctly, there is also a new .44 caliber hole in the target. These Uberti revolvers can deliver surprising accuracy.
Preliminary testing was conducted at 15 yards. 3-shot groups averaged 3/4" center to center at 15 yards with the gun rested over a somewhat rickety table. The smallest group measured 5/8" and the largest only 1".
Full cylinder loads (6-shots) formed 1 1/2" to 1 7/8" groups, with one or two balls opening up the group to that size. It was a common occurrence for 4 or 5 shots to form one ragged, enlongated hole in the target. I shot one 6-shot group standing free, from my version of the Weaver stance, and put all six balls into a 2" group.
These groups were achieved using both Speer and Hornady balls and either 20 or 25 grains of powder. The gun did not seem sensitive to different loads, it shot everything well. I eventually standardized on 25 grains of Triple-7 (FFFG).
At the end of the 15 yard shooting session I fired a 5-shot group with my 6" Colt Diamondback .38 Special target revolver using the same table for a rest. The resultant group was 1 1/2"; very similar to some of the 5-shot groups delivered by the Uberti.
When I moved back to 25 yards, shooting from a bench rest over my Outers Pistol Perch, 5 and 6-shot groups with the .454" Hornady balls averaged 1.5" center to center. 5 and 6-shot groups with the slightly smaller Speer .451" balls averaged 1.875". The Speer balls are faster and easier to seat in the chambers, requiring less force and shaving less lead than the larger .454" balls, so the slight loss of accuracy would be worth it to me for casual shooting and plinking with this gun. I will reserve the Hornady balls for target shooting or hunting.
Initially the Uberti shot low and to the left at both distances. A little judicious tapping and filing on the front sight (remember, move the front sight in the opposite direction that you want the bullet to go) corrected that. The Uberti now shoots to point of aim at 25 yards from my hand.
Frankly, I did not expect such a high level of accuracy from a traditional black powder revolver. I am convinced that this Uberti is a superbly accurate revolver, particularly for a service type pistol with relatively crude sights. I believe that it will outshoot most modern semi-automatic service pistols, and give a lot of target revolvers a run for their money.
I find cap and ball revolvers to be great devices for reinforcing gun control and marksmanship skills. Hitting the target is rewarding and fun. Missing is not rewarding, and reloading is tiresome. So there is considerable motivation to aim carefully, squeeze the trigger gently, and take the time to insure a solid hit on the target with every shot.
It is generally recommended that the barrel and cylinder be swabbed out and the worst of the fouling wiped from the gun with a wet patch using some sort of bore cleaner after every 2 or 3 cylinder loads. And perhaps more frequently if top accuracy is to be maintained. I perform this little chore after every third cylinder load. This is particularly true with traditional black powder, as it is dirtier than Triple-7. I used Three Rivers Unlimited Black Powder Solvent, produced locally in Springfield Oregon. Whatever you use, dry the chambers and bore before reloading the gun.
After shooting is finished, all black powder revolvers must be thoroughly cleaned; even stainless steel models like the Uberti. Modern percussion caps are non-corrosive, but the black powder residue contains salts that will attract moisture and cause rust and corrosion if not removed.
The big advantage of Triple Seven powder is its simplified clean-up. According to Hodgdon, and I quote:
"The only thing that is needed to clean the bore after shooting Triple Seven is tap water. Take one saturated patch and run it down the bore, followed by a dry patch. Repeat this process until patches come out clean. Usually three times is all that's required. Depth of rifling, rate of twist and type of projectile could require more or less than three."
"You may notice that when you pour water on Triple Seven residue, the fouling simply runs off. This is because there is no sulfur. Sulfur is the sticky stuff that in the past has made clean up messy and smelly. Not any more, ordinary tap water will remove the residue left behind from shooting Triple Seven. You will notice after a day of shooting, your hands and equipment will be much cleaner. What little residue there is will come off with water. When the bore is clean and dry, apply a good oil to protect your bore and metal parts before storing your firearm."
I basically follow Hodgdon's recommendations for cleaning the gun. I run a sink full of hot water. Then I remove the walnut grips and brass trigger guard from the revolver, pull the cylinder and unscrew the nipples, and drop the revolver and cylinder into the sink full of hot water to soak for a few minutes. I drop the nipples into a cup of hot water (so that they don't get lost) to soak.
After soaking, I run a plastic bore brush through the barrel and into each cylinder chamber. I use an old toothbrush to clean around the cylinder's nipple holes, and to clean the nipples themselves. I then use water as hot as it will run from the tap to rinse the remaining powder residue off of the stainless Uberti, its cylinder, and the nipples.
I then dry the gun as thoroughly as possible with a soft towel, using Q-Tips to get into the crevaces, and run a dry patch through the barrel and into the cylinder chambers to dry them. I then let warm air complete the drying process. (In winter I'd prop the gun over a heater grate, or use a hair dryer on it.)
After the whole gun is completely dry (it dries fast because it is quite warm from the hot water), I use a little Prolix (rather than gun oil) to lubricate and protect the innards, replace the cylinder, trigger guard, grip panels, and nipples and wipe down the exterior of the revolver with a silicone cloth. That's it, done. Stainless steel guns are great!
Black powder revolvers are not "spray and pray" firearms. I doubt that we will ever see one used in a drive by shooting. But history demonstrates that they can be very effective firearms for many purposes when used properly and judiciously. The Uberti "1858" New Model Army is a well-made and accurate reproduction of one of the very best of the breed.
Copyright 2003, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
SPECIALIST IN ENGRAVING AND RESTORATION