Technically, there is no such cartridge as the 45 long Colt. There are short and long 22 cartridges. There are short and long 32 cartridges. There are short and long 38 cartridges. Same for 41 cartridges – but there aren’t any 45 short Colts. I got to looking at Cartridges of the World, and I think I have figured out why we call that old cartridge a 45 Long Colt.
In 1873, the Army chose the Colt 1873 Single Action Army (caliber 45) as the standard Army revolver. Naturally they fed it 45 Colt ammunition. Then, in 1875, the Army brought in the Smith and Wesson Schofield – purchasing about 9,000 of them between 1875 and 1878. The Army purchased 12,500 Colts – and, while the Colt and the Schofield were both 45 caliber, the cartridges weren’t the same length. The Colt .45 cartridge is 1.60 inch long, while the Schofield cartridge is 1.43 inch. In other words, the 45 Colt cartridge wouldn’t fit in over 40% of the Army revolvers.
Well, the solution was obvious – feed both revolvers the Smith & Wesson cartridge. Obvious, and wrong. Rim diameter on the S&W Schofield cartridge is 0.522 inch. Rim diameter on the .45 Colt is 0.512 – that 1/100 of an inch made it somewhere between difficult and impossible for the Colt cylinders to turn – essentially, with a little bit of dirt – and black powder is dirty – over 50% of the Army’s revolvers jammed.
The second obvious solution was a new cartridge that would work in both revolvers – the 45 Colt Government. Cartridges of the World, 9th Edition, on page 306 describes it: “This was something of a bastardized cartridge, combining the length of the S&W Schofield revolver round with the rim of the Colt SAA round. Army ordnance described at least one version of this cartridge as Revolver Ball Cartridge, Caliber 45. The evident military incentive for such a loading seems obvious: With both S&W and Colt 45-caliber revolvers (similar but differently chambered) in use, supplying the correct ammunition to far-flung outposts must have been something of a logistical nightmare. One has to wonder how often troopers found themselves in possession of ammunition that would not work in the gun they had been issued. The 45 Colt ammunition is longer than the Schofield cylinder, chambering the Schofield ammunition leaves precious little room for rim clearance. It seems likely that some early 45 Colt SAA’s would not have chambered some Schofield ammunition, even when the gun was clean. Conversely, the 45 Colt Government, combining the shorter case and smaller rim worked (after a fashion) in either gun. . . Available information suggests that this cartridge was available between the late 1870s and the 1930s.
When the chips are down, having any ammunition that will fit and work in the gun at hand is much better than throwing rocks. However, the S&W Schofield does not function as dependably using the smaller-rimmed 45 Government cases: Incautious manipulation or a somewhat worn gun can result in the extractor slipping past the rim of one or more partially extracted cases. The gun cannot then be closed. Worse, if the cylinder is the slighted bit dirty (blackpowder, remember) removing the offending case can require a dowel, a hammer and at least three hands.”
Doing an internet search for ‘45 short colt’ yielded an article describing the old box of Winchester 45 Colt Government cartridges the author owns.
“The Winchester .45 Colt’s that Paco and I have came from Shootist Keith Owlett who gave them to us a short time before he passed on. The cartridge box is deteriorated and I have it put away now – at least what’s left of it. But it is plainly marked “.45 Colt Government”. The head-stamp on the cartridges is “.45 Colt” … BUT these are SHORT .45 Colts! The head-stamp is the same as the longer .45 Colts, even down to the “W” on the primers.”
So the 45 Colt Government informally became the 45 Short Colt, leaving the 45 Colt to unofficially be termed the 45 Long Colt. And it has taken me a long time to get motivated enough to figure out why I am shooting a 45 Long Colt – but the 45 Colt Government went off the shelves before my father turned 12.