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What was a more popular sniper rifle the Whitworth or the Sharps?

Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by Brian W, Aug 14, 2010.

  1. Brian W

    Brian W Guest

    What was more preferred despite differences in the late 1800's? Also, how many Whitworth rifles were imported for use in the American Civil War?
     

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  3. JimCanuck

    JimCanuck Cadet

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    The Sharps was. Numbers imported for the Whitworth were tiny compared to the Sharps as far as I understand the issue. Someone with more knowledge will chime in I am sure. :smile:

    Jim
     
  4. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    The Confederates purchased 250 Whitworths, but probably no more than 150 made it through the blockade.

    For keeping up a sustained accurate fire the Sharps would get the nod but if I were sniping at distances over 500, I'd go with the Whitworth.

    dvrmte
     
  5. Dreadnought1

    Dreadnought1 Cadet

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    Were many of the Whitworths fitted with scopes or was it just a case of getting the Whitworths issued to the best shot in the regiment?

    Cheers,
    Frank Strik
     
  6. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    I'm guessing that, given the number of scopes actually used, few Whitworth's were actually scoped.
     
  7. larry_cockerham

    larry_cockerham Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011

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    Such weapons were only popular with the folks charged with that particular task. The snipee wasn't nearly as enamored as the sniper.
     
  8. Old Hickory

    Old Hickory First Sergeant

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    The Sharps was much more popular than the Whitworth, though the Whitworth gave much better accuracy at much longer ranges due to it's bullet's sectional density and rapid rate of twist. There's really no comparison between the two, as they are very different in nature and use. Neither being made with the idea of competing with the other, yet both in limited numbers being issued to "sharpshooters".

    The more accurate of the two being the Whitworth, using a long, heavy bullet at high velocity for the times. It was said to be accurate to 1,500yds. Being a muzzle loader it was slow to load, relying on a mechanical fit bullet that matched the bore precicely. The Sharps, a breech loader used a slightly over sized bullet in a cartridge that would "press fit" the bore when fired. Though the Sharps was of larger bore, it's bulet weighed less than that of the Whitworth and spun slower in flight giving it a practical range of about half that of the Whitworth.

    The Whitworth was used by individual marksmen, where as the Sharps was used mostly by riflemen operating as a unit of scouts and skirmishers. The Union Army had individual marksmen using heavy long range rifles also, Berdan's Regiment had them as well as others who operated like their Confederate counter parts, either alone, or in teams of two. Sniping wouldn't come into it's own until Vietnam, and later in the war at that for purpose built sniping rifles. Prior to that, either service rifles were simply fitted with scopes, or sporting target rifles pressed into temporary service.

    After the war the Sharps were converted to center fire metalic cartridge and later purpose built center fire in the 1870s, the Whitworth remained the same, falling into obscurity for the most part until reproductions were made by Parker-Hale in the 1970s. In the end, the Whitworth was little better for accuracy than a Sharps .45/70, British Martini-Henry, or a Springfield "Trapdoor", all using a .45 bullet of good sectional density and rapid rate of twist, some paper-patched, some naked lead with grease grooves.
     
  9. lwhite64

    lwhite64 Corporal

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    The Sharps was a very good, accurate, breechloading rifle, but it wasnt a "sniper"* rifle. The Whitworth was designed as a long range target rifle. The Whitworths were imported with a 14 inch Davidson scope that was mounted on the side of the rifle. A story in the Army of Tennessee was that you could tell who the Whitworth men were by them having black eyes due to sighting down the scope when the weapon was fired.
     
  10. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    People still get the black eye if they aren't careful. My son came home from the rifle range with one a few years back.

    Look at these:




     
  11. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Seems to me that a sniper rifle was anything that shot consistently well. That is, take 25 Springfields or Enfields or Sharps or Spencers and only a few of each would be accurate enough to reach out to 500 yards with consistency.

    Some years ago, when you could still get 03s and Garands on the surplus market, some were labelled "star barrel" in that they were made better than most of the rest. The modern sniper or paper-puncher does not simply select a firearm off the rack and commence shooting. The piece must be carefully crafted to the peak of excellence, and then improved.
     
  12. Old Hickory

    Old Hickory First Sergeant

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    The scopes were actually mounted on the left side of the Whitworths and were quite impossible to use like a modern scope with your eye close to the reticle. To use the scope you would have to lay on your back, cross your legs, rest the rifle's forestock between your feet and knees, left arm behind your head with hand supporting the rifles butt, aiming through the scope and squeezing the trigger with your right index finger. This position is rarely used today, but was very populer in the 19th century, I beleive it's called the "Bisley", or "Back" position. Many fine target rifles were made with sight bases at the top rear of the butstock to be used in this position also.
     
  13. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    I glass bedded the barrel on my Savage 110- 7mm Mag and went from 2" 100 yd. groups to less than 1" groups after.

    I don't know what could be done to the black powder weapons during the ACW to accurize them other than work on the trigger pull. I did some trigger work on my flintlock to smooth out the pull on it. I don't like set triggers on hunting weapons.

    dvrmte
     
  14. Old Hickory

    Old Hickory First Sergeant

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    I haven't torn down an origional Whitworth, but from my experience with common Springfields, and a few Enfields, the wood to metal fit is verry good from the factorys, no need for bedding compound in origional arms. The craftsmen at Springfield were amoung the best in the world. A Springfield with an excelent bore and taylored ammunition can fire some amazing groups and hold it's own with any modern factory rifle with comprable sights. With issue ammo, Eh...You can hit a man at 200yds. with certainly.
     
  15. bear

    bear Cadet

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    Apparently the rifle of choice for the Confederate Sharpshooter battalions was the two band Enfield. They were trained and accurate out to 500 yards. Only two or three Whitworths or sporting rifles were issued to each battalion for really long range sniping. -Bear
     
  16. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    A few rifles out of a thousand will shoot better than the rest of them. It would have been fairly easy to select them out and issue them to the best shooters in a company or a regiment.
     
  17. Dreadnought1

    Dreadnought1 Cadet

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    I note the earlier mention of the 2-band Enfield and their use by Confederate Sharpshooters.

    What of the Enfield P1861 Musketoon? There weren't that many used - and even then mainly by cavalry & artillery according to some sources - but as the quicker twist of the barrel (1 in 48") supposedly made for a more accurate weapon, wouldn't it have also been used in the sharpshooting role or did the shorter barrel/lighter weight (and heavier recoil) count against it in this role?

    Cheers,
    Frank Strik
     
  18. lwhite64

    lwhite64 Corporal

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    The Whitworth men were true snipers in the modern sense though, the men in the Sharpshooter Battalions were more trained shock troops/professional skirmishers. At the time the word, Sniper, didnt exist, so hard to make the distinction. In the AoT for instance, the Whitworth men reported directly to their division commander, while the Battalions were part of the regular brigade make ups.
     
  19. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Much truth in that lwhite. It kinda remains that the sharpshooters/snipers were the best shooters in their company/regiment, and they carried an Enfield or a Springfield.

    You pick out 10 of us at random and maybe two can hit a barn. Take a hundred and maybe two can snick the edge of a 12-inch square at 100 yards.

    I nicked a quarter at 50 yards once, but I had a scope and a bench-rest. And nobody was shooting at me.

    But yes, the few Whitworth men were selected from the few who could be called sharpshooters.
     
  20. bear

    bear Cadet

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    While it's true that the sharpshooters remained tied to their regiments for uniform and accoutrement issues, the sharpshooter battalions were separate organizations and operated independently from their regiments and brigade. That's why some battalions wore distinctive arm patches, providing officers on the field a visual way of distinguishing sharpshooters operating independently from shirkers or stragglers. They were excused from regimental chores, and, in the sieges of Richmond and Petersburg, spent much of their time in dangerous forward positions sniping at Yankee positions. According to some of the diaries, the men were trained in range estimation out to a thousand yards, and were using imported English ammo in their Enfields for accuracy.
     
  21. Craig L Barry

    Craig L Barry First Sergeant

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    Sniper would technically be a bird hunter and Civil War soldiers would not have referred to themselves
    by that term as Lee White points out. Marksmen or sharpshooters, yes.

    I would vote for the Whitworth. Remember the anecdote about Cleburne using one of the Davidson sights
    off a Whitworth as a spyglass? There were a few with those long range sights and Whitworths were highly
    prized by those selected for that piece of equipment. Sharpshooters were not shooters armed with the
    Sharps rifle, it was a bastardization of the German Scharfschütze or "sharp eyed shooter." Yeah, definitely
    the Whitworth.
     

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