The Pepperbox revolver was a multiple-barrel repeating firearm that has three or more barrels grouped around a central axis. It was similar to the modern revolver, in that each chamber contained a bullet, though the differences were that each chamber had its own barrel, and most models had to have the barrels rotated by hand. The Pepperbox gets its name as it resembles a kitchen pepper grinder.
The Pepperbox revolver was popular in North America during the times around the American Civil War; it also made its way into the European areas. It lost popularity during the 1850s, when better, more true revolvers were invented by different companies.
Famous author Mark Twain is quoted saying that when being shot at by a Pepperbox, the safest place to be was behind it.
The first pepperbox pistols appeared towards the end of the 1700's appearing mainly in flintlock and were only capable of firing around three shots. In the 1830's after the invention of the percussion cap the pepperbox revolvers appeared in caplock. Ethan Thurber began to make 6 shot pepperbox revolvers, some were double action and some had to be manually cocked and turned. They became popular in Britain and in North America. However the pepperbox was not perfect, the hammer would not always strike the percussion cap and the cylinder was the full length of the barrel making it heavy and unaccurate as each chamber had its own barrel. Another problem was that the pepperbox did not have much stopping power, famed Confedarate officer Jeb Stuart was once shot in the back by a pepperbox and a week later he had fully recovered. Despite its problems the pepperbox was better than the single shot pistols.
During the Mexican American war some pepperbox pistols were used by the US soldiers but true revolvers such as the Colt Walker and Colt Paterson made by Samuel Colt were a major improvement over the pepperbox. During the 1850's as new true revolvers were made by Colt, Remington, Starr and Smith and Wesson the obsolete pepperbox quickly lost its popularity. During the 1860's some pepperbox revolvers were used by Union and Confedarate soldiers although they were only second best compared to more modern revolvers.
After the war some companies made new cartridge pepperbox pistols to use as a backup weapon but they were not very popular and production did not last very long.