The Firearms Technology Museum

Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke

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Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke was one of those larger than life figures who was involved with some of the most romantic figures of the U.S. Civil War period. Von Borcke came from an old Prussian military family of titled nobility. Standing 6 foot 3 inches tall with blonde good looks he was a Lieutenant of the Cuirassier Guards of Prince Fredrick Charles and the 2nd Brandenburg Dragoons at the time when the Civil War began and he took leave of absence to join the Confederate cause. He took with him his famed Damascus sword, which was more of a broad sword with a cavalry guard, the blade being an inch and five eights deep and forty two inches long.

He stopped in England to arm himself where he bought several Tranter revolvers and an unidentified "revolver, bigger and deadlier than all the others". He also purchased his "blunderbuss" in England, a large bore side by side shotgun or double rifle depending on what sources one consults.

After narrowly escaping capture while entering Charleston harbour in South Carolina aboard a Confederate blockade runner in May 1862, the 26 year old soldier was introduced to JEB Stuart by Confederate Secretary of War, George Randolph. He quickly earned a commission in Stuartís cavalry as his chief of staff with the rank of major and from then on the young Prussian was rarely far from Stuartís side. He was almost fatally wounded in June 1863 at Middleburg in Virginia and his memoirs written in 1866 offer a stirring account of his service in the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia.

He returned to Prussia in 1866 where he served in the war against Austria but due to the "Yankee" bullet he carried in his lung he was forced to retire in 1867. Von Borcke married and had three sons and when he inherited a castle and estate in Giesenbrugge, he delighted in flying the Confederate flag from its battlements. He died in 1895, still reminiscing about his days serving the Confederate cause.

Many of the Confederate Cavalry leaders like Stuart, Mosby and Forrest liked to have their men equipped with four revolvers and some form of longarm, two revolvers carried in the belt and two revolvers in pommel holsters on the saddle. The favoured longarm was a double barrel shotgun of good size bore, (8, 10 or larger), loaded with what was known as a "pumpkin ball" (a bore sized ball) and a handful of pistol balls on top. A volley of that followed by 20 pistol shots would be quite un-nerving to most troops.

Von Borcke was reported to have carried two revolvers in his belt and these would have been 4th model Tranters. The photo of von Borcke in full Cavalry uniform shows he had a huge long holster that was thin in the American way which would indicate his "bigger" gun had an under the barrel loading lever or had the lever removed which seems to indicate either a Deane & Harding or Webley design revolver.

Two Tranter revolvers have been identified as being bought by von Borcke. The first is a heavily reworked 54 bore 4th model double action serial No.36016T, made into what is now called a "belly gun" or hideout gun. The pistol was chopped by a gunsmith to a barrel length of one and three quarter inches with the front sight reinstalled while the grip was shortened to three inches. The hammer was dehorned or bobbed, the spur being removed and smoothed so the pistol would not snag on clothing. The gun was engraved "Maj. Heros von Borcke, A.N.V. - C.S.A.". This gun has been closely examined by noted Confederate weapons experts and they all agree the alterations appear to have been carried out at the time and not later.

The second is a cased 4th model serial No.8673T which von Borcke presented to General J.E.B. Stuart in June 1863. Following Stuart's performance at Chancellorsville, where he commanded "Stonewall" Jacksonís corps when Jackson was mortally wounded, it was thought that Stuart would be promoted to Lieutenant General. Von Borcke had the revolver case engraved to "Lt Gen J.E.B. Stuart C.S.A. Culpepper, Va June 1863/ From Heros von Borcke". Stuart never obtained that rank and the Tranter sat in the case, unused and today is in original condition residing in the Smithsonian Instituteís Museum of American History collection.

Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke

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