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Long Arms of Berdan's Sharpshooters

Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by Legion Para, Nov 29, 2015.

  1. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    http://cowanauctions.com/auctions/item.aspx?id=89208

    Ninth Plate Ambrotype of Cpl. Abner Colby, Co. G., USSS

    A horizontal view of Colby uniformed in ubiquitous green frock coat kneeling with an early civilian target rifle with telescopic sight adopted for use by Berdan’s famous Sharpshooters. Scratched on the silver backing plate is, “A.D. Colby/Co G./N.H./U.S.S.S.”


    89208.jpg
     
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  3. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Ozias Sanford, Co. F (Vermont) 1st USSS, in uniform with his issued DST Sharps rifle with a tang sight. Despite the fact that it was not issued with the sight, and it was government property, Sanford apparently had it mounted in the field or elsewhere. A May 6th 1864 letter describing the battle of the Wilderness to his father states in part, "I tried my new sights and they work well" which might be in reference to the sights seen in his portrait. The only trouble is dating his portrait. There are a small handful of Co. F recruit portraits dating to Sept. 1862 that have the same backdrop and prop column but very few mid or even late-war photos include them. Sanford enlisted on Sept. 20th 1862 so I used to lean towards this image dating to around that time. Unfortunately it makes little sense for him to mention his "new" sights in an 1864 letter if he had them mounted in 1862. In a few of his letters he seems to suggest that he was ill throughout early 1864 so it's possible that he was home at that time and stood for his portrait. His uniform is certainly what Co. F was wearing between November 1863 and early spring 1864.


    OziasSanford-Co.F1st.jpg
     
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  4. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    This CDV was taken in 1861 or early 1862 and shows 1st Sergeant Henry Kinsman, Company F (Vermont) 1st USSS with his personal target rifle. You can see it's a half-stock slant breech Sharps sporting rifle with a tang sight mounted on the wrist. Aside from Truman Head's ("California Joe", Co. C 1st USSS) military Sharps rifle purchased while in Washington, this is the only other one I've seen show up so early. However it's not too surprising that a Sharps rifle marketed to civilians would pop up among the ranks of New England target shooters and hunters, or that this commercial version would have custom sights. Kinsman was passed up for a commission twice in his three-year enlistment but eventually became 2nd Lt. and then 1st Lt. of Company F. He was wounded at the Wilderness in 1864 and was present with the company for nearly the entire war.


    Sgt.HenryKinsman1862-Co.F1st.jpg
     
  5. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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  6. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    "Berdan's Sharpshooters, Summer-Fall 1863"

    By Don Troiani

    largeBerdan's SharpShooter 1863.jpg
     
  7. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Another maker of rifles that was represented with Berdan's men was Mr. Billinghurst of NY. His target rifles were well known precision instruments well prior to the ACW. The one pictured below has no connection to Berdan's men but gives an idea what a period target rifle looked like. The .40 cal rifle pictured that has seen hard use. Note the the rear sight.
    1023-1.jpg 1025-1.jpg
     
  8. Patrick H

    Patrick H Captain

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    I truly enjoy threads about these old firearms. The civilian rifles, in particular, interest me. A couple of comments on the photos: The long telescopic sights of the day, as typified by the first photo, are fascinating to me. I'd love to get a look down one of those tubes sometime. I'm sure some of you have done so. What is the typical magnification? There's no way they could collect as much light as a contemporary scope, but do they show a bright image? Sergeant Kinsman's full-length, half stocked rifle is a real beauty. Notice the very bright metal nose cap on the stock--I'm betting German silver. I suspect the hooded front sight is pretty unusual, too. The Billinghurst sporting rifle in Johan's post is nicely ornamented and shows a fairly modern amount of drop at the heel of the stock--not as high as most current shotguns, but not far off. Very nice thread. I hope to see more posts!
     
  9. Jobe Holiday

    Jobe Holiday First Sergeant

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    I have handled quite a number of the Civil War scoped Sharp Shooter type rifles. The average magnification of the scopes is about 4 - 6 power.
    J.
     
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  10. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    In 1861 the 1st U.S.S.S and 2nd U.S.S.S were issued with the Model 1855 Colt Revolving Rifle. Pictured below Sergeant James W. Staples of Company G, 1st Regiment U.S.S.S with his Colt rifle.


    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Patrick H

    Patrick H Captain

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    Thanks, Jobe. I hope I have a chance to sight through one of those scopes some day.
     
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  12. Patrick H

    Patrick H Captain

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    I remember watching one of these rifles being profiled on "Lock and Load", with R. Lee Ermey. The Gunny looked at the rifle and looked at his left hand (which would be just ahead of that cylinder in the event of a chain fire or of gas escaping from the mouth of the cylinder chambers.) He began to paraphrase the Marine Corps Rifleman's Code. It went something like: "This is my hand. There are many like it, but this one is mine...."

    He ended by saying there was NO WAY he was going to shoot the thing! Who could blame him? Still, the prospect of six shots through a long barrel would have been pretty comforting in a way.
     
  13. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    A highly recommended book by member, Gary, is "Sharpshooters". It is not strictly about CW sharpshooters, but covers, more than adequately, sharpshooters from the beginning of the term.

    A particular memory is a small memory of the invasion of Ft. Donelson. Grant called forth the sharpshooters and "they immediately disappeared into the ground." Sharpshooting was a great deal more than being a good shooter.
     
  14. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Several years ago I spent a good amount of time, too much really, trying to track down a single incident of a chain fire during the ACW. I never managed to find the name of a man who was injured thus. It has not helped that many a re-enactor who has only ever fired blanks has carried on the complaint. The accident can happen in a blank firing revolver by not proprly sealing the chambers. With live fire the only way to have it happen would be a couple of cracked nipples or a percussion cap that has fallen away having a spark from a percussion cap find its way in.

    The Colt Revolving rifle and shotgun were well known prior to the war and to a degree post war. What they were was a complex arm that if it was taken apart by someone without the proper knowledge could be a bear to put back together properly. Issuing them to Berdan's men was a mistake because it was a Regiment of tinkering shooters. I would wager many were in the ranks who said they knew more than they did. They clamored for the M1859 Sharps rifles because they were the latest and greatest. Several purchasing them out of their own pocket to insure they had the best. The Sharps was simpler, more robust and generally more accurate.

    The 21st Ohio VI would receive Berdan's Colt Revolving rifles, I have never read complaints along the line of what was put forward by Berdan's men about them. And the 21st certainly used them to devestatingly good use at Chickamauga.
     
  15. Jobe Holiday

    Jobe Holiday First Sergeant

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    The main reason for the "clamor for Sharps Rifles" was due to the fact that as an inducement for enlistment they had been promised they would be issued Sharps Rifles. When they received Colt Revolving Rifles they felt they had been victims of what we today call "Bait & Switch".
    J.
     
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  16. Private Watkins

    Private Watkins 2nd Lieutenant

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    This may be a dumb question... but why do sporter or civilian target models seem to typically have a half-stock (note Sgt. Kinsman's as well), but most military arms seem to have had a full stock...? Was it simply about weight, or looks, or were there other considerations...?
     
  17. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    I think it's about the look, though I don't know for certain. Personally I prefer the full stock military look.
     
  18. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    While looks might have been a consideration, I think it's more about the options which were available to the buyer. Some weren't offered with the full stock military model.

    Why were Military rifles sporterised post Civil War or WW I?

     
  19. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Sporterising= spending $300 to turn a $400 rifle into a $150 rifle.
     
  20. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    There is always a surplus of arms postwar and they had no collector value when sporterised. I have seen extremely rare Confederate long arms which were sporterised postwar when they had no collector value. Two Tyler Texas rifles surfaced in the 1980's which had been sporterised and later professionally restored.
     
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  21. chubachus

    chubachus Sergeant

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    I've been wondering if there were ever any photos of soldiers with rifles that have telescopic sights during the Civil War and came across OP's post. Very cool.
     

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