make guns for the South...
The Dance boys and their guns
is a well-known fact that during the American Civil War, the North
had the larger amount of resources when it came to manufacturing weapons.
That part of the country had most of the factories and other essential
things required to supply troops in the field. The U.S. Army, it seems,
had every advantage when it came to ordinance and raw material. You
would think that with so many advantages, the North would have crushed
the rebel army in a matter of days.
We know however, that it was not to be — and thousands of young men,
most of them Americans, were slaughtered on battlefields from Virginia
to Texas — the worst tragedy in the history of the United States.
It is my belief that the tremendous number of casualties in this conflict
can be attributed, in part, to the invention of improved weapons.
Much has been written about the gun manufacturers of the North — but
the South had weapon factories too, and some of them were in Texas.
Growing up in Brazoria County, I had often heard the old-timers talk
of a gun factory that was located at East Columbia. According to The
Handbook of Texas, J.H. Dance and his brothers came to Texas from
North Carolina in 1848. They opened a metal and ironwork factory at
East Columbia and prospered in the manufacture of gristmills and cotton
When the Civil War broke out James Dance enlisted with the Brazoria
Volunteers. He later became a first lieutenant with the Thirty-fifth
Texas Cavalry. His brothers George, David, and Isaac also enlisted,
but they were assigned to continue the operation of their factory.
The Confederate Army needed weapons and the Dance boys were determined
to do their part.
The Dance's steam factory on the Brazos River began to mount cannons
and repair wagons for the Confederate Army. They were also grinding
cornmeal for the troops. George Dance, in April of 1862, requested
that the government send him $5,000 to finance the production of firearms.
He received some aid and had hoped to produce 50 revolvers a week.
Production was slow however, and the Dances had only delivered about
a dozen of their Colt-style revolvers by October of 1862. These guns
were shipped to the arsenal at San Antonio.
When U.S. troops captured Matagorda Island, the citizens of Brazoria
County were sure that the area would soon be invaded. The Confederate
government decided to move the Dance factory farther inland and out
of harm's way. The Dances were relocated to a site in Grimes County
where they built a powder mill and another pistol factory.
The Handbook of Texas indicates that the fears of invasion were justified
as it reports; "...the federals captured Old Columbia and burned the
As the war was nearing its conclusion, the Dance brothers shipped
out the last 25 of their six-shot pistols on April 18, 1865, to the
Houston Depot of Supplies. When the conflict was over, the Dances
returned to East Columbia and the manufacture of gristmills and cotton
I would love to see a Dance revolver. I'm not sure if there are any
photographs of one. They are considered one of the most highly prized
antique weapons, valued for their fine craftsmanship as well as their
rarity. It is believed that fewer than 400 were produced between July
1862 and May 1865. They were copies of the six-shot Colt pattern and
were made in both .44 and .36 caliber.
The Dance brothers proved that resourceful individuals can adapt to
all situations, both in war and peace. The resilient old firm of J.H.
Dance and Company is known to have prospered long after the war ended.
© Murray Montgomery
June 9, 2004 Column