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Best Civil War Sniper Rifle

Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by OldBrainsHalleck, Mar 10, 2017.

  1. Jobe Holiday

    Jobe Holiday First Sergeant

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    Zburkett - Can you reference the "sabot Whitworth"? I am curious as to what it is.
    J.
     

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  3. zburkett

    zburkett Sergeant

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    I have a little bit of a time crunch (bad weather, new calves) but it is my understanding that with the round bullet a sabot rather than a conventional patch was used to induce spin. It was probably in Edwards' "Guns of the Civil War." I know I ran across it on the internet looking up the Whitworth.
     
  4. Jobe Holiday

    Jobe Holiday First Sergeant

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    The Cylindrical Projectile had a narrow hollow base which extended into the bullet for about 3/8th of an inch. This assisted in sealing the gases behind the bullet immediately upon firing and upsetting the base of the bullet into the hexagonal bore quickly. The heavy powder charge then completed the obturation of the cylindrical bullet into the flats of the bore. There was no sabot. The rear sight is graduated differently on both sides of the ladder due to the ballistics of each projectile being different from one another. One side is marked "H" for the hexagonal mechanically fitted bullet, and the other leg is marked "C" for the cylindrical smooth sided bullet.

    However, there was a Whitworth projectile with a sabot, and I'll bet that is the one you have confused with the Civil War era muzzle loading Whitworth. The Whitworth projectile for the British Breech Loading "Monkey Tail Rifles and Carbines" used a Whitworth bullet with a felt lubricating wad attached to the back of the bullet! That is most likely what you had seen.
    J.
     
  5. ResearchPress

    ResearchPress Private

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    There may be some confusion with the Whitworth short cartridge. The hexagonal bullet and its wads are encased in a card tube. The tube was held in the muzzle countersink to align the bullet and the bullet and wads then pushed down through the tube by the rammer. The tube is not however a sabot.

    The Westley Richards 'Monkey Tail' had octagonal rifling, not hexagonal as Whitworth. Insofar as I know it used a cylindrical bullet.

    David
     
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  6. Jobe Holiday

    Jobe Holiday First Sergeant

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    If David says that is the way it is....then that's the way it is and I shall cheerfully stand corrected! (Now I have to go back and figure out where I came up with what I had!)
    J.
     
  7. ResearchPress

    ResearchPress Private

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    The barrels of Westley Richards 'Monkey Tail' rifles were stamped 'Whitworth Patent', which may have been a source for confusion. Westley Richards manufactured the early Whitworths, duirng the original trials.

    David
     
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  8. Jobe Holiday

    Jobe Holiday First Sergeant

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    Thank you, I'm sure that had a hand in my confusion!
    J.
     
  9. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard Sergeant Major

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    When shooting up or down using Pythagoras is the easy way to judge how much "shorter" you need to aim.

    When on a 400m "hill". Shooting down into a valley.
    The direct range is 700m, then the angle is 35degrees.
    Then you need the sights set at 574m

    If you are firing down at 45 degree (and I think some fights during the war had that) then you need the sights set at 70% of the direct range.
    With the low velocity of rifled muskets, this can make you hit pretty high even at rather close range.

    http://www.rifleshootermag.com/network-topics/tips-tactics-network/hitting-a-high-or-low-angle-shot/
     
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  10. pfcjking

    pfcjking Sergeant Major

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  11. OldBrainsHalleck

    OldBrainsHalleck Private

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    I believe that the majority of Civil War era sniper rifles didn't have scopes on them. 360 NO SCOPE!
     
  12. zburkett

    zburkett Sergeant

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    If I am not mistaken the term during the war was "sharpshooter." Regiments would pick a few of their best shots and assign them a roving status as what we now call "sniper." These "sharpshooters" were of course given the best rifles available. Of the sharpshooters of McGowan's South Carolina Brigade who are generally credited with shooting Gen. Sedgwick there were two Whitworth rifles, both with scopes. B. M Powell was using one of those rifles and there is evidence that he was the one that fired the shot. As for the 1,400 yard shot at Charleston Harbor, that rifle was also a Whitworth with a scope.
     
  13. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    ZBurkett - you are correct in that sharpshooter was dominant term used. I have found a few incidents where "sniping" was used, but not having seen the original manuscript and not knowing when the author penned it (especially after WW I when the term enjoyed common usage by the public), makes me reluctant to accept that sniper was used back then.

    BTW, Ben Powell did not shoot Sedgwick. Powell claimed to have shot an officer off his horse. Sedgwick was on foot.

    You are correct that there were several Union soldiers who were on Morris Island when they were struck from shots fired from Fort Sumter. I cite the (Union) source in chapter 11 of my book.
     
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  14. zburkett

    zburkett Sergeant

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    I will bow to those who have done more research than I, but it is my understanding that the reference to the horse came in a 1917 article by someone who had been told the story. Stories change with the decades. The contemporary accounts I have read from men with Sedgwick say it was a Whitworth that killed him because they could tell by the sound. McGowan's Brigade only had two Whitworth rifles, Powell had one and a man named Cheatham the other. Cheatham did not claim an officer that day. There are a lot of possibilities, the first being it was an Enfield that killed Sedgwick which would eliminate Powell. It is also possible that there are unrecorded sharpshooters with Whitworth rifles and one of them fired the shot. Gary, I will appreciate any more information. I recently didn't buy a Whitworth when I had a chance and have been kicking myself but it has lead to a real interest in the rifle and its capabilities.
     
  15. Dave Wilma

    Dave Wilma 2nd Lieutenant

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    Were the sharpshooters able to control the quality of the powder they used? They could cast their own bullets, but the other component was propellant. Was there perhaps a supplier whose product was sought after?
     
  16. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    Not that I'm aware of but , on the whole, the southern rifle powder was more consistent than what the federals were using.
     
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  17. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    There are accounts of Sedgwick walking up to a soldier and chastising him for dodging. He could not have done that on horseback and yet Powell claimed to have shot an officer off his horse. Not that Powell was lying or seeking fame. There was an artillery officer shot off his horse earlier in the day. Bottom line is that we don't know who fired the fatal bullet that slew Sedgwick.

    Ditto with John Reynolds at Gettysburg. While the movie suggested it was a sharpshooter, I think it was one of Archer's men who overshot the Iron Brigade and they rushed downhill to meet them. Reynolds was uphill from them and on horseback when he turned around on his saddle to look for his other units. He was struck in the back of the head and per his aide, Charlie Veil, the bullet traveled upward and bulged the brow (or something like that). We don't know who fired that fatal shot either.

    In one of the few instances where I've found concurring accounts from both sides was at Appomattox. In his memoirs Sheridan wrote that he was riding up to the Confederates but stopped when he saw a Confederate raise his gun at him. John B. Gordon was there and wrote that he ordered the man to lower his gun and not to fire at someone who was protected by the flag of truce. The Corn-fed protested that it was a Yankee and Gordon told him it didn't matter if the person was a Yankee; he was not to be fired upon.

    Another account is where 11th US Infantry Capt. Adalbert Ames (See Battles and Leaders) was asked by a sergeant if he could shoot at "that old cuss with a spyglass." It took years to identify the old cuss but it was none other than E. Porter Alexander who states in Fighting For the Confederacy that he was the old cuss and was one of the few officers who still used a spyglass and that he had one at Fredericksburg.

    ZBurkett - was it an Civil War era Whitworth you passed up on? How much was it? I certainly don't have the dimes to pay for one myself. Besides, there's too much responsibility that comes with owning museum pieces. Conservation, temperature and humidity control, insect control, rust prevention, wood drying out and cracking, fire protection and if you have sprinklers, water damage too. On top of that there is theft protection. I'd rather get a reproduction and if something happens, it's not a historical piece.

    Dave Wilma asked about powder. For the Whitworths, they could come with bullets and there were special glass vials that held one charge of powder. Alternatively there were paper cartridges with pre-measured loads of English powder. Other sharpshooters generally got whatever powder their company/regiment ordnance officer supplied them with. If they didn't have specialized rifles, as did most light infantry sharpshooters did, then they got the regular cartridge (generally Pritchett balls or boxwood plug minie balls for Enfields).
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
  18. zburkett

    zburkett Sergeant

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    Gary, it was a cased Whitworth with all the tools (no scope) in mint shape. I stopped bidding at $7,00.00. I could have taken it out of my retirement funds and I think it would have been a better investment than the **** I'm holding now. I'm still kicking myself. As for the cartridges, an original pack of cartridges is in a shop in Fredericksburg, a little over $1,000. Of course I would have to have bought that too. BTW I don't know where you come from, but if you ever decide to visit the Wilderness or Spotsylvania Courthouse give me a call. You can stay in my caboose and we can argue all night over who shot Sedgwick and destroy a bit of Kentucky while we are doing it.
     
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  19. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    Thanks Burkett. I've been to those battlefields many times when I was doing my Civil War research. Modernly the furthest "east" I've been is Bowling Green, KY and Friendship, IN.
     
  20. zburkett

    zburkett Sergeant

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    I just reread my post, that price was $7,000.00 not $700. I left a 0 out because those 0s mean nothing, right?
     
  21. WJC

    WJC First Sergeant

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    Comforting to learn someone else is kicking themselves for passing up on a great CW piece....
     

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