A Confederate-issue .36 caliber Spiller and Burr revolver was stolen from the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond by person or persons unknown in 1975. Owned by General George Washington Rains — a former West Point professor and munitions expert who along with his older brother Gabriel provided much of the CSA’s gunpowder, landmines and explosives — during the Civil War, the gun was one of the museum’s most treasured objects.
“This is one of the very first and one of the only Confederate manufactured handguns,” said Museum of the Confederacy Collections Manager Catherine Wright.
Wright says only 1,450 of the guns were made. That is one reason why the museum called the FBI when the gun, with an estimated value of $50,000, disappeared from the collection in 1975. Wright says the gun was stolen when the museum collection was moved out of the White House of the Confederacy and into a new museum building.
“It may have been a casualty of some sort of opportunistic thief who saw a loose case or a door which may have been standing ajar. The security measures were lax in those days,” said Wright.
Apparently the revolver disappeared into the dark underworld of antiquities collecting, because no sign of it was found for 35 years. This past December, a woman in Knoxville, Tennessee, found the revolver while going through her father’s things after his death. She brought the gun to an antique dealer in Ohio hoping to sell it, but the dealer looked it up in a Confederate firearms book and traced it to the Museum of the Confederacy.
The woman won’t be charged with attempting to fence stolen property. Neither she nor anyone else knows how the weapon got into her father’s collection. He never lived in Richmond and he could have acquired the piece at any point during the past four decades.
The revolver will go back on display at the Richmond museum for the first time in 35 years next month. For more about the downright fascinating Rains brothers, read this article: The Confederacy’s Bomb Brothers by Peggy Robbins.