Wheelgun Wednesday: Double Action Revolver From The US Civil War?

    Adams-Kerr Double Action Revolver of 1858

    Yes, it’s true, there was actually a double action revolver in service during the United States’ Civil War, though 600 of only 1000 made were actually purchased by the military.  The particular firearm in question is an Adams & Kerr .36 caliber percussion revolver of 1858, produced by Massachusetts Arms, which has five chambers and a rather unique side plunger for seating the projectiles.

    Adams & Kerr Double Action Revolver



    I happened across Adams’ double action revolver at the State Historical Museum Of Iowa during a recent trip to Des Moines, and it piqued my interest, even before I knew it was among the first double action revolvers ever made.  The strange shape of the grip, comparative to the other well-known revolvers of its time, really caught my eye.  It looked incredibly comfortable in that it allows for a high and more centered grip with a slight beavertail as well.  The Adams & Kerr revolver also caught my interest by its rarity as well.  The museum card stated that only 600 were produced, however, other sources have stated that number was the amount bought by the American military.

    Due to the museum’s glass case and the position of the Adams revolver, I wasn’t able to get any better pictures, so the following photos are courtesy of Ancestry Guns.  They also have the double action revolver up for sale if you can spare almost $3,800 for a fascinating piece of history.

    Robert Adams double action revolver

    Adams chose to put the loading lever on the side of the revolver instead of underneath like his competitor’s Colt Navy.  Photo credit: Ancestryguns.com


    Adams double action revolver

    Photo credit: Ancestryguns.com

    Adams-Kerr double action revolver

    The serial number “615” shows that more than 600 revolvers were produced. Photo credit: Ancestryguns.com

    Robert Adams first to patent the double action revolver

    Photo credit: Ancestryguns.com


    Although the Adams-Kerr revolver of 1858 wasn’t widely produced, Adams’ design had several iterations of different calibers and sizes over the twenty plus years since his first double action revolver patent in 1851.  There are also several different names attached to Adams design.  The video from the Capandball YouTube channel below shows one of the Adams revolvers in action.

    While researching the Adams revolvers, I stumbled on an excellent article from Matthew Moss that dives into the history of the Adams design, as well as the direct competition of the Adams double action vs. the Colt single action.

    double action revolver patent

    Image from Matthew Moss’ article. Patent info can be found HERE.

    The example of the Adams-Kerr revolver I found in Des Moines was documented as having belonged to General James Tuttle of Iowa, who set out with the 2nd Iowa Infantry Regiment shortly after the American Civil War began.  According to the museum, General Tuttle was known for his aggressiveness and leadership, as well as continuing to fight after being wounded.  General Tuttle also made an unsuccessful bid for the governorship of Iowa in 1863.

    I’m sure some Civil War and black powder enthusiasts weren’t surprised to learn about the involvement of a double action revolver being as aged as it is, but I was intrigued by what I learned and I hope you enjoyed the time travel as much as I have for this edition of TFB’s Wheelgun Wednesday.  What do you think about the Adams double action design?


    Doug E

    Doug has been a firearms enthusiast since age 16 after getting to shoot with a friend. Since then he’s taken many others out to the range for their first time. He is a husband, father, grandfather, police officer, outdoorsman, artist and a student of history. Doug has been a TFB reader from the start and is happy to be a contributor of content. Doug can be reached at battleshipgrey61 AT gmail.com, or battleshipgrey61 on Instagram.