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Longest Sniper Hit?

Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by elektratig, Apr 17, 2010.

  1. elektratig

    elektratig Sergeant

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    A friend recently told me that she had heard that during the Civil War a Union general had been killed by a sharpshooter who took his shot from a mile away. I suspect this is a somewhat exaggerated reference to the death of Gen. Sedgwick, which is usually given as 1,000 yards, but I thought I'd call on the experts here. What is the longest reasonably well documented distance for a sharpshooter/sniper kill during the War?
     

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  3. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    A really hard question, elektratig. When getting out to 1000 yards, even the best sharpshooters got lucky. Sometimes the magic works ..... Suspect that 300 yards was the max for surety. Beyond that range, one in ten attempts might hit an intended target.

    Am reminded of the shot that disembowed Polk. (Yurk!) I'll figure that the aimer was quite amazed that he actually hit something. Sometimes, the magic works.
     
  4. prroh

    prroh Captain

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    At Spotsylvania the place where the shot was fired to where Sedgwick got hit is about 550 yards. The spots are marked by the NPS. Even at that distance, it was likely to have been a lucky shot. Sedgwick was moving about a bit so that such a precise hit did not have the careful aiming time required. Also there was no record of a shooter/spotter time in operation that such precision needs.
     
  5. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    At Chatanooga US sharpshooters silenced a CS battery at 700 yards using Sharps Rifles. Polk was hit IIRC at well over 1000 yards w/ a 3" Ordnance rifle firing an explosive shell... there are numerous stories of solid shot/bolts going through open doors or opening them at well over 1000 yards. But there was a lot of sharpshooting at Chatanooga w/ some of it very long range 5-700 yards. There was also quite a lot of sharpshooting at Vicksburg but that was all at considerably shorter ranges, IIRC all less than 300 yards.

    Fwiw 750 yards is hwat is sticking in my head for long range but I also seem to recall Gary referencing a few longer range shots.

    Shameless plug for one of our members...

    Yee, Gary, Sharpshooters 1750-1900, Sharpshooter Press, 2009.
     
  6. Craig L Barry

    Craig L Barry First Sergeant

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    This is a can o' worms. The challenge is duplicating what a rifle, say a Whitworth,
    is capable of on the range and translating that into a battlefield scenario.
    Is a Whitworth .451 capable of hitting a target at 800 yds while sandbagged.
    Sure it will and it can do so w/ about a 3" spread. Is the same Whitworth capable of hitting a
    target at 800 yds with the soldier firing it while sitting in a tree? Maybe. Who stepped
    off the yardage? Anecdotally, Sedgwick is said to be hit from a distance of 800 yds to 1000 yds,
    and that is actually stepped off by the NPS as 550 yds. No surprise there. The fight is generally
    ongoing, how does one stop the action and step off the yardages precisely? Was it a fluke?
    Well, Sedgwick's last words about not hitting an elephant were inspired by the lead
    hornets buzzing by the ears of several men. The fire was coming close enough to shake
    the men up and get them ducking and dodging it. Sedgwick was admonishing his men
    to stand their ground when he was hit. Statistically speaking, a Whitworth "bolt" buzzing by
    your ear is close enough to have hit you given a three inch margin of error. The marksmen
    were firing within their range. Still, it was considered a good hit, so perhaps 550 yds
    is the outside limit of a long range shot that stood a reasonable chance of hitting the
    intended target?

    However, your question as posed is probably not possible to answer. What can be said is that given the
    limitations of black powder as a propellant, a trained marksman could execute very impressive
    long range "hits" with a match grade target rifle. Beyond 550 yds though, it would probably be a
    very lucky shot to hit what you were aiming at under battlefield conditions. "Snipers" would not have
    referred to themselves that way. In 1777 Maj Patrick Ferguson passed up a clear shot at
    George Washington at Brandywine that could have ended the war, because his (Washington's)
    back was turned. Honor mattered. The fact that nobody stepped up to claim credit for the
    shot that downed Sedgwick (who was well thought of by both sides) until after the war tells you
    a bit about how the tactic was viewed at the time.
     
  7. Me-109 Jagdfleiger

    Me-109 Jagdfleiger Cadet

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    In the Book "Shock Troops of the Confederacy" they did tests of the P-53 and Whitworth at long range. According to Firearms expert W.B Edwards "At short ranges the Enfield and Whitworth were Nearly equal. It was at ranges beyond 500 yards that the Whitworth hex slug shows its value" At five Hundred yards the mean deviation from the aim point was 2.25 feet for the Enfield and .37 inches for the Whitworth, but at 1100 yards the whitworth still held 2.62 feet, and at 1400 yards it held 4.62 feet. By contrast the Enfield would not group much beyond 1000 yards.

    This summer I will be working with my Euroarms P-53 to get it out to 500yrs + and plan on posting my results here. I shoot 600yrd competition occasionaly and I shoot 1000 yrds a few times durring the summer, shooting at milk jugs and the occasional target to get groups. There are a number of factors one must consider when shooting at long range, such as bullet drop, bullet speed, and wind speed both at the barrel and at the target (where we shoot the wind likes to switch 1/2 way to the target). With modern arms and smokeless powder that burns the same every time and a good scope these factors are easy to get figured out, and get a round where you want it. However I have shot my ww2 vintage K-98 mauser with iron sights out to 800 yards and its hit and miss, It takes a few rounds and a good set of binoculars to spot your target and see where your rounds hit's so you can adjust accordingly, but this is only good if the wind dosent change between shots.

    And as Johan said, Gary should be along soon with some more knowledge.

    Jonathan
     
  8. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    It stikes me that if you can keep gunners and skirmishers grabbing dirt, your primary function as a sharpshooter is fairly well fulfilled.
     
  9. bama46

    bama46 Captain

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    I thought Polk was shot with a Parrott gun, not an Ordnance rifle....
     
  10. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    It was an RPG.
     
  11. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    Lucky yankee. Took out a fine soldier.
     
  12. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    That's a good point, and I believe correct.
     
  13. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    The hit that killed a Confederate general at over a (measured) mile's distance is a fable created by Charles Sawyer. William Edwards debunked it in his book, Civil War Guns (Stackpole, 1962). Despite that, Edwards believed that hits at over a mile's distance were made. One surgeon reported being missed at over a mile but that he recovered a whitworth bullet from a soldier who was hit. There are also two 1,400 yard hits and the distance is known because that's the minimal distance between the islands (Fort Sumter to Morris Island).

    BTW, thank you Johann for the plug.

    At the annual meeting of the Company of Military Historians, I sold one book to a former 82nd Airborne soldier who served as a sniper. He told me that they were able to hit the metal gongs at 1,100 meters with their M-21 (souped up M-14 with the ART-1 sniper scope). Anyway, his sergeant instructor had an original whitworth that he brought out. His groups at 1,100 yards were tighter than those shooting the M-14. Furthermore, he was able to hit out at 1,500 yards consistently with his whitworth. It shocked his students that a muzzle loading, blackpowder rifle was capable of out performing the modern 7.62 mm Nato cartrige.
     
  14. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    View attachment 1112

    June 27, 1874
    Battle of Adobe Walls...admittedly a little later, but a fairly important shot:

    The second day after the initial attack, fifteen warriors rode out on a bluff nearly a mile away to survey the situation. Some reports indicate they were taunting the Adobe Walls defenders but, at the distance involved, it seems unlikely. At the behest of one of the hunters, Billy Dixon, already renowned as a crack shot, took aim with a 'Big Fifty' Sharps (it was either a .50-70 or -90, probably the latter) he'd borrowed from Hanrahan, and cleanly dropped a warrior from atop his horse. This apparently so discouraged the Indians they decamped and gave up the fight. Two weeks later a team of US Army surveyors, under the command of Nelson A. Miles, measured the distance of the shot: 1,538 yards, or nine-tenths of a mile. For the rest of his life, Billy Dixon never claimed the shot was anything other than a lucky one; his memoirs do not devote even a full paragraph to 'the shot'.[1]
     
  15. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Sometimes the magic works ......

    This is one of those stories that includes Polk getting disemboweled. Skill was there, but the hit was luck. If the shot could be duplicated, then I'd have to bend the other way.

    Still, it does remain that the carefully aimed shot did more damage than "point that way and shoot."
     
  16. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    One thing about Dixon's hit, the Indians were lined up on the bluff and studying the Adobe Walls. When Dixon shot, so long as his elevation was correct, windage didn't matter that much for if the bullet were to drift either left or right, it would probably hit someone - and it did.
     
  17. prroh

    prroh Captain

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    I read that some of the Comanches were turned around in their saddles and were "mooning" the buffalo hunters. Nat's quote doubt's this action and I disagree. Taunting enemies was an integral ritual of the warrior culture and 9/10 of a mile in clear prairie air can make visibility good enough to see such activity.
     
  18. B Peach

    B Peach First Sergeant

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  19. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Frankly, I don't see what in that quote doubts whether they were "mooning" the guys in the trading post. A good rider can quite easily moon somebody on a horse, especially when they're wearing a breechcloth. Just because some of them were on a horse doesn't mean somebody else was on the ground. Jeez....don't interpret so much!
     
  20. Doctor Bill

    Doctor Bill Cadet

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    I have never fired a Whitworth rifle and my muzzle-loading target shooting is limited to 220 yards. Modern black powder cartridge shooters reach out to 1000 yards on a regular basis (from cross sticks) using iron sights. This is part of the normal competition where the range is available. I use a 45-120 Sharps and I can tell you that we positively obsess over powder packing techniques, what sort of wad to use, types of primers, recipes for bullet lube, bullet profile, barrel twist rate, etc. etc. ad nausium. Wind is an big factor at any significant range due to the comparatively slow speed of the bullet. On a competition range I have seen shooters who could just tear the centre out of a 1000-yard target. Of course, they had a spotter next to them calling out bullet impact locations, a rest to shoot from and wind indicators at regular intervals along the range. I have no experience with true combat shooting but can say that at least some of the weapons could have been capable of accurate shots at 750 to 1000 yards.

    Doctor Bill
     
  21. J.A. Morrow

    J.A. Morrow Guest

    This is my first entry on this website.
    I had tried(unsuccessfully)to reply to another thread that promotes that the Whitworth rifle is overrated as to its accuracy.
    I seriously doubt that particular line of thought...
    Also;the first "anecdote" cited(for disparagement as to the Whitworth's accuracy)is by a former Army of Tennessee Whitworth sharpshooter who,off-handedly apparently ,said he thought the Whitworth could hit at "5 miles".
    Well,that is an off-hand remark certainly as the man quoted for mocking was Isaac Shannon.Incidentally,Shannon was wounded 13 times during the war and certainly was only casually showing an appreciation of what a Whitworth could do with a hand-picked shooter.
    His Whitworth w. scope can be seen today on display at the Tennessee State Museum,Nashville,for anyone interested.
    These old Sharpshooters are gone and can't speak for themselves-that's why I'm posting...
    To mock a man's very apparent casual statement,a man who was hit during the war 13 times, seems (to me)a bit over the top.
    As to longest shots;the current U.S.Army sniper courses shoot(qualification)ranges at 800 yds. & U.S.Marines 1,000 yds.
    Can a shooter hit at these ranges with a Whitworth?Absolutely...
    Is a modern Whitworth shooter the equivalent of a hand-picked shooter from the Confederate army in 1863-65?-I seriously doubt it.
    A rifle(any rifle)is ONLY as good as the man shooting it...Then,or now...
    J.A. Morrow
     

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