Georgia – -(AmmoLand.com)- On December 13, 1863, Thomas Leech and Charles Rigdon formally dissolved their business partnership, thereby effectively ending “Leech & Rigdon,” which was the second-largest revolver manufacturer for the Confederacy.
It was not, however, the end of the operation. Instead, Rigdon teamed up with Jesse Ansley and a few others and resumed production as “Rigdon, Ansley & Co.”
Leech & Rigdon
To make sense of all of this, we need to back up to the 1850s. Thomas Leech initially established himself as a cotton broker in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1854. He and four other British investors set up shop at 35 Front Row Street in Memphis. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Leech began dealing in the lucrative military contractor trade.
On August 29, 1861, he took out an ad in the Memphis Daily Appeal for 10,000 pounds of zinc, copper, and brass “for military purposes.” Less than three weeks later, the newly-formed “Thomas Leech & Company” had been formed, and another ad appeared, this time announcing that he would be taking orders for swords, sabers, cutlasses, knives, bayonets, bullet molds, and much more.
By the spring of 1862, Leech had teamed up with Charles Rigdon, a maker of pharmacy scales, to make swords. They operated out of the Memphis Novelty Works, which had been previously established by Leech and his former investors, at the corner of Main and McCall Streets. Due to Union activity in Tennessee, the company didn’t stay there long.
An ad taken out by Leech & Rigdon in the Memphis Daily Appeal on May 8, 1862, noted that their remaining swords in Memphis were being sold cheap, and that they would be relocating to Columbus, Mississippi, the following day. Once the company officially relocated to Mississippi, “Memphis” was dropped from the Novelty Works name. It is at this time that the partners branched out and began making revolvers.
The speed with which they were able to establish themselves in the new location and begin churning out revolvers is remarkable. They began relocation in May and by August were advertising “a very superior Navy Repeater on the same plan and fully equal to Colt’s patent.”
Initial production reports from November 1862 indicate that they were able to produce 20-30 guns per week, and were seeking a contract with the Confederate government at the cost of $55 per pistol.
As Union pressure grew in the south, Leech and Rigdon moved to Greensboro, Georgia. They purchased the Greensboro Steam Factory and quickly resumed operation. After securing a Confederate contract on March 6, 1863, the partners made their copies of the Colt Model 1851 Navy for only a few more months until their partnership dissolved on December 13, 1863.
Why, exactly, the partnership dissolved remains unknown.
It appears that Rigdon took with him all of the machinery and most of the workmen when they opened the Georgia Iron Works. He wasted no time in finding new business partners. On January 27, 1864, the Augusta (GA) Chronicle & Sentinel announced the formation of “Rigdon, Ansley & Co.” Jesse A. Ansley, Andrew J. Smith, and Charles R. Keen rounded out the new partnership with Charles Rigdon. Their office was located at 300 Broad Street in Augusta, Georgia, and the factory employed 60 people.
Production resumed as normal, with the main distinction between revolvers made under the different partnerships being the names marked on the guns. Almost all other aspects of the .36-caliber percussion revolvers are exactly the same.
All told, approximately 1,200 revolvers were made under the “Leech & Rigdon” name and another 900 or so were made as “Rigdon, Ansley & Co.” It is believed that the latter ceased production by late January 1865, as no further records have been found pertaining to their manufacturing.
Almost all producers of Confederate revolvers ran into hardships. None of the makers were ever really on a strong footing, so it’s quite remarkable that this particular firm managed to survive the dissolution of its main partners on December 13, 1863, only to reform a month later, relocate, and still churn out guns until the final months of the war.
About Logan Metesh
Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.