Dixie Gun Works J.H. Dance & Bros. revolver – The Confederacy’s 1851 Navy 2 of 2
By Dennis Adler
The Dixie Gun Works .44 caliber version of the Dance revolver is manufactured in Italy by F.lli Pietta and closely duplicates the distinctive styling of the famed Texas-built Confederate pistols. Pietta makes this otherwise plain looking revolver a handsome reproduction with a color casehardened frame, loading lever, hammer and trigger, and a decent rendition of period bluing on the barrel and cylinder.
The frame, like the originals is brass. Weighing 2 pounds 9.5 ounces the Pietta Dance is within half an ounce of an 1851 Navy which has a 7-1/2 inch full octagonal barrel.
The Dance uses an octagonal lug and round barrel with an overall length of 8 inches, exactly like the 1863 J.H. Dance models. Colt used a brass bead front sight on the 1851 while Dance offered Confederate soldiers a more easily sighted brass blade front sight similar to the design used on Colt’s 1860 Army. The .36 caliber Colt Navy cylinders, featuring the W. L. Ormsby engraving of the Texas Navy’s victory over the Mexican Navy in 1843, were 1-11/16 inches in length, whereas the Dance, which could be chambered in either .36 or .44 caliber, used a plain unmarked cylinder that was slightly longer.
The grips on the Dance were one-piece oiled walnut with a longer and more curved backstrap than the Colt Navy and fit the average hand just a little sweeter but still with less purchase than an 1860 Army. Pietta has done an excellent job of copying the Dance revolver in fine detail. For a visual comparison, two original guns can be seen on page 266 of Claude E. Fuller and Richard D. Steuart’s book Firearms of the Confederacy.
Not having a recoil shield on the Dance is a double edged sword, as this makes it easier to cap the gun on one hand but also makes it easier for caps to be knocked free by recoil since there is nothing behind them on either side of the frame, (a little pinch on the edge of the cap before placing it over the nipple will help keep it secured). The frame design also leaves the percussion caps more vulnerable to the elements and the shooter’s hand more exposed to back flash.
As a military sidearm the guns of John Henry Dance & Bros. stood in well for the Union’s Colt Navy with the same degree of heft, natural pointing and ease of use. The Pietta model embodies all of this, and for those Civil War enthusiasts whose interests lean more toward rare Confederate handguns, this is well worth the purchase price of $342.50. Was the Dance a good gun? The answer might simply be that it was good enough, but too few to be enough. Perhaps no other army of the 19th century knew better than the Confederacy the true meaning of the words “make do.”
Confederate holsters were either “former” U.S. holsters or copies, holsters cut to fit a specific gun (such as a LeMat), or handcrafted leather, like this reproduction of a California Pattern design made famous during the Civil War by Southern irregulars. They were a mix of military and non-military partisans whose purpose was to harass Northern troops and raid Union encampments. Among the most infamous and feared were Quantrill’s Raiders led by William Clarke Quantrill, a self-proclaimed Colonel in command.
His gang, including Frank and Jesse James, not only fought for the South but also for their own gain, making them both Confederates and outlaws in the North, and something of the latter even among many loyal Southerners. A hero of the South or a villain of the war, Quantrill’s acts and battle tactics are still in question to this very day. He was killed in action in May of 1865 during a raid against Union troops in Kentucky, but the James boys kept the legend alive well into the post Civil War era.
The Quantrill-style holster worn by the author is a California Pattern with a triple-recurved throat profile that is very deep at the upper, leading edge. Deeply incised floral carving with a punch dot background and clean triple border line accents the body of the holster, which is lightly contoured along the main seam and finished with an engraved brass end cap. This distinctive feature was rare but not uncommon on California Pattern holsters in the 1850s and 1860s, although brass or silver end caps were more commonly used on military pommel holsters.
The holster is mounted on an adjustable military-style waist belt with a Masonic all-seeing eye two-piece sword belt buckle. This entire rig was handcrafted in Spain by 45 Maker and is among several Confederate-style holsters offered today by the company. 45maker.com; 801-628-7219.
Dropping the Hammer
The Dance is a well built black powder pistol with a hammer draw that averages 7 pounds 10 ounces and a short, light trigger pull of just 2 pounds, 6.7 ounces average, as measured on a Lyman trigger pull gauge. With that featherweight trigger you’re not apt to pull this gun off target. The Pietta models are only chambered in .44 caliber and Dixie Guns Works recommends loading the Dance with 22 grains FFFg (or a black powder substitute measured by grains, not weight).
Test load was 22 grains of Pyrodex P covered by an Ox-Yoke lubed felt Wonder Wad and topped with a Hornady Black Powder .44 cal (.454) lead ball. Percussion caps were Dynamit Nobel No. 1075.
During the Civil War combat distance with a pistol could have been anything from a few yards (especially on horseback or in close quarter battle) to 100 feet and beyond. For testing the Dance I decided upon 50 feet, the same distance used for testing Single Action revolvers when fired off hand. The first test round struck the target six inches above point of aim.
After correcting I fired out a full cylinder full and placed six rounds inside a four-inch circumference. A few more reloads and fine tuning rendered a best overall group of six rounds measuring a little over three-inches in circumference with a best three at 0.75 inches.
Overall, the Dance is as easy to handle as any Colt 1851 Navy; sturdily built, and with a smooth action and blade front sight easy to shoot with consistency. Like most Civil War era pistols the Dance is simple to disassemble for cleaning, albeit a dirty job. James Henry Dance and his brothers got it right in 1862 and so has Pietta 153 years later.
Firearms of the Confederacy by Claud E. Fuller and Richard D. Steuart, 1996, The National Rifle Association, Odysseus Editions, Inc.
For more information visit dixiegunworks.com; 800-238-6785.
Dixie Gun Works Dance & Bros. Revolver
Manufacturer F.lli Pietta, Italy
Barrel: Octagon to round, 8.0 inches
OA Length: 14.0 inches
Weight: 2 pounds, 9-1/2 ounces
Sights: Front bass blade, rear hammer spur cut
Finish: Case colored frame, blued barrel