Discussion Union Generals killed by Whitworth Sharpshooters

Nathan Stuart

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Whitworths were relatively rare amongst even the sharpshooter's ranks. There were many other rifle types used. Just sayin'.

Whitworths were relatively rare amongst even the sharpshooter's ranks. There were many other rifle types used. Just sayin'.
I agree with you. (I estimate the Confederacy used a total of between 60 and 75 whitworths in all theaters throughout the entire war).
Yes, there was a variety of other long-range target rifles used by individual Confederate sharpshooters; some of these were also imported and of high quality.
That's why I'm suggesting there's a good chance, not a definite certainty, that the described unusual rifle recovered was a whitworth. It could possibly have been another kind of well-made target gun, not a whitworth.
Given their rarity of use, it's unlikely Captain Weygant had ever seen a whitworth before to know what it was. But then this could also apply to other kinds of uncommon target rifles too.
So the certain identity of this rifle will remain a mystery.
 

Nathan Stuart

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"900 to 1,000 yards. This was well within the rifle's accurate range of almost twice this distance."

2000 yards is well over a mile. Are you suggesting the black powder Whitworth was an effective accurate firearm capable of even firing a bullet over such a distance...?
It was claimed that the .45 caliber imported English whitworth target rifle with scope had an effective range of up to 1500 to 1700 yards. From the accounts of its use, though, I think it was more likely to be between 1,200 to 1,500 yards.
 

Waterloo50

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It was claimed that the .45 caliber imported English whitworth target rifle with scope had an effective range of up to 1500 to 1700 yards. From the accounts of its use, though, I think it was more likely to be between 1,200 to 1,500 yards.
You have to admit that a head shot from any distance is pretty special. I’ve read a few articles that claim the effective range was 800 yards but after the war there were plenty of claims of it being accurate up to 1500 yards. Either way, it all comes down to the ability of the shooter, I imagine it’s not easy to make a head shot at any distance let alone being perched in a tree.
 

ResearchPress

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Some interesting accuracy information here, from the original trials. They tested to 1800 yards, and the results shows approximately a 12 foot circle. The comparision to a standard P53 shows how good the Whitworth was. http://www.americancivilwarstory.com/whitworth-rifle.html
As is quite often seen, that article misinterprets Figure of Merit for Group Size. Figure of Merit (FoM) is the mean radial distance of shots from centre of group. Group size cannot however be determined from a FoM, although statistical analysis does allow an estimate of the Group Size. See my previous post in this thread on measuring accuracy, the article linked from that and the two videos linked from the article. From time to time this topic comes up and accuracy claims for the Whitworth will be wildly optimistic - often down to misunderstanding 19thC test results.

Figure of Merit for the Whitworth recorded in 1857 at 1800 yards was 11.62 feet - so a group size in the region of 40 feet!

Effective range is open to interpretation. If the target at 1000 yards is an artillery crew or advancing column of troops, then it is perhaps effective. With regards to 'head shots' at extreme ranges, then it will be less so.

David
 
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Waterloo50

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As is quite often seen, that article misinterprets Figure of Merit for Group Size. Figure of Merit (FoM) is the mean radial distance of shots from centre of group. Group size cannot however be determined from a FoM, although statistical analysis does allow an estimate of the Group Size. See my previous post in this thread on measuring accuarcy, the article linked from that and the two videos linked from the article. From time to time this topic comes up and accuracy claims for the Whitworth will be wildly optimistic - often down to misunderstanding 19thC test results.

Figure of Merit for the Whitworth recorded in 1857 at 1800 yards was 11.62 feet - so a group size in the region of 40 feet!

Effective range is open to interpretation. If the target at 1000 yards is an artillery crew or advancing column of troops, then it is perhaps effective. With regards to 'head shots' at extreme ranges, then it will be less so.

David
Wow, I struggled to fully understand ‘figure of merit’, for anyone else like me, this vid is useful.

 

Scott1967

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More than likely the shots were made much closer , Just because a rifle has an effective range does not mean it was used at that range you have to lay eyes on the target first and anything above 600 yards in battlefield conditions would have been tough to make out.

I think what you looking at here is Snipers tagging onto units but not on the frontline its reasonable to deduce ranges of 250-500 yards would produce such results where the said sniper can identify high priority targets through the smoke and haze of battle.

I don't for a second think any 1000+ yard shot could be made in such conditions imho.
 

Nathan Stuart

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More than likely the shots were made much closer , Just because a rifle has an effective range does not mean it was used at that range you have to lay eyes on the target first and anything above 600 yards in battlefield conditions would have been tough to make out.

I think what you looking at here is Snipers tagging onto units but not on the frontline its reasonable to deduce ranges of 250-500 yards would produce such results where the said sniper can identify high priority targets through the smoke and haze of battle.

I don't for a second think any 1000+ yard shot could be made in such conditions imho.
These are all good points.

I find it somewhat nebulous as to what’s meant by the ‘effective range’ of accuracy for the whitworth rifle. I’m also aware that this gun’s so-called ‘effective range’ is the subject of some disagreement among commentators.

I realize that the effective range will depend on different variables existing at the place and time of the shot. I’m no expert on the technical or mechanical aspects of this weapon, and will leave it to others to decide on these attributes. I confine my comments to examining the primary and secondary reports of historical events involving the use of this rifle, which I believe can reveal much information.

Leaving aside the recorded results of target shooting on the practice range with this rifle, I have focused on the battlefield accounts and commentaries of its use in action.

I’ve read several Confederate witness accounts of marksmen with telescopic whitworths dislodging mounted and unmounted Union soldiers at estimated distances reportedly varying between 700 and 2,250 yards. However, these particular range claims must be viewed with caution, especially those longer shots where the identity of the target is unknown. Interestingly, sharpshooter Private Stan C. Harley (6 AK) referred to an authoritative correspondence about the killing distance of telescopic whitworths by the assistant Inspector-General of Hardee’s Corps. It said, …”This rifle was guaranteed under favorable circumstances to hit the size of a man at fifteen hundred yards”… (Confederate Veteran Vol. 7 (1899) at page 307).

The different estimates suggested by various observers or commentators of the length of the whitworth shot claimed to be responsible for the death of each general are summarized:

Major-General Amiel Whipple – 900 yards

Brigadier-General William Lytle – under 100 yards

Brigadier-William William Sanders – 1,750 to 2,150 yards

Major-General John Sedgwick – 500 to 900 yards

Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson – 500 to 900 yards

Based on these estimates alone, I reckon the scoped whitworth’s reliable effective reach in battlefield conditions generally was probably somewhere between 500 and 900 yards.
 

Story

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Interestingly, sharpshooter Private Stan C. Harley (6 AK) referred to an authoritative correspondence about the killing distance of telescopic whitworths by the assistant Inspector-General of Hardee’s Corps. It said, …”This rifle was guaranteed under favorable circumstances to hit the size of a man at fifteen hundred yards”… (Confederate Veteran Vol. 7 (1899) at page 307).
Now you're doing it right.
 

ResearchPress

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Leaving aside the recorded results of target shooting on the practice range with this rifle, I have focused on the battlefield accounts and commentaries of its use in action.
Recorded results of 19thC Government trials of rifle precision do however provide some checks and balances on memories, sometimes long after an event, with regards to rifle performance. They need to be conisdered along with skills of range estimation and assessing wind deflection for example, in order to build a viable picture of what may be possible, embellished, misinterpreted or just a lucky shot.

”This rifle was guaranteed under favorable circumstances to hit the size of a man at fifteen hundred yards”… (Confederate Veteran Vol. 7 (1899) at page 307).
Yes, I wonder where the guarantee came from when trials results at 1,000 yards suggest a 6.5ft group. That will be a lot larger at 1500 yards, way more than the size of a man. The artice is useful in the sense that targets such as artillery and mounted men are referred to, not 'head shots'. It does however say the rifle is .40 cal, whereas it is .45. Curious about the charge of "at least one hundred grains". The Whitworth military rifle cartridges were 70 grains while 85 grains was a typical charge in much testing and competive rifle trials in the UK. There's much of interest and value in contemporary reports, from the 'front line', controlled test reports, and feedback from troop trials.

Based on these estimates alone, I reckon the scoped whitworth’s reliable effective reach in battlefield conditions generally was probably somewhere between 500 and 900 yards.
That would seem to be a fair assessment although the target may be man sized at 500 yards and an artillery crew at 900.


If anyone gets opportunity to shoot at long range with a Whitworth or similar .45 cal. rifle they should take the opportunity. It's a fascinating experience; there's a lot of weather can happen in the time it takes the bullet to reach a target at 1000 yards, even on a range with wind flags and at know distances just keeping on target can be a challenge, let alone hitting the centre!

David
 

Story

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Tangential aside - as with many topics here, I'm wondering how much of the war's sniper tactics were just taken to be second-nature and not recorded. "What? Everybody who snipes knows how to do that!"

eg; working in teams, with a spotter equipped with binoculars or a telescope.
 

Scott1967

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Tangential aside - as with many topics here, I'm wondering how much of the war's sniper tactics were just taken to be second-nature and not recorded. "What? Everybody who snipes knows how to do that!"

eg; working in teams, with a spotter equipped with binoculars or a telescope.
That's a good point we take it for granted that any snipers (even though they were not called that in the war as a prime example) knew modern day tactics and of course this was not the case.

Undoubtedly in my view Sharpshooter's used their instincts using cover and allied units to get themselves into a good positions where they could chose a target of opportunity.

I would also imagine many sharpshooters would use the lull in battle or siege instances where they could pick targets without smoke or shelling.

What's interesting is comparing how the Union used their Sharpshooters in a totally different way to the CSA they were used more as skirmishers advancing ahead of the main lines.

I think the Union used their Artillery more as snipers than their Sharpshooters... :confused:
 

Story

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That's a good point we take it for granted that any snipers (even though they were not called that in the war as a prime example) knew modern day tactics and of course this was not the case.

Well, thanks for the upvote but I think you took my comment in diametric opposition to what I meant.

Modern sniper tactics originated *somewhere*.

What tricks of the trade that marksmen of the 18th & 19th centuries that was replicated down the length of time would be worth researching, if in fact any primary sources on such still existed.
 

Scott1967

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Well, thanks for the upvote but I think you took my comment in diametric opposition to what I meant.

Modern sniper tactics originated *somewhere*.

What tricks of the trade that marksmen of the 18th & 19th centuries that was replicated down the length of time would be worth researching, if in fact any primary sources on such still existed.
Ahh I see I'm sorry I misread your post.

Too answer your question they originated between the Boer war and the First world war from what i can gather of course ill stand corrected.
 

Story

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Ahh I see I'm sorry I misread your post.

Too answer your question they originated between the Boer war and the First world war from what i can gather of course ill stand corrected.

Not so much as question as a proposed line of research, left for readers to contemplate and find relevant primary sources.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Ahh I see I'm sorry I misread your post.

Too answer your question they originated between the Boer war and the First world war from what i can gather of course ill stand corrected.
Apparently the etymology of the verb word ‘snipe’ originated in the 1770s among British soldiers in India, in reference to hunting the snipe, a game-bird with attributes that made it extremely difficult to hit.

Supposedly, the word’s noun form, ‘sniper’, first appeared (frequency unknown) in military reports by British newspapers in the early 1800s.

As far as I can ascertain, the term ‘sniper’ was never used in descriptions during the American Civil War.

According to Fred L. Ray in ‘Shock Troops of the Confederacy’ (page 336), ‘Sniper’ is a British military term that came into general use at some time in the late nineteenth century.

Mr Ray further asserts (pp 336 – 337), …’Modern military parlance distinguishes between a sniper, who operates semi-independently and shoots at ranges of five hundred to fifteen hundred yards, and a designated marksman who uses an ‘accurized’ service rifle, such as an M-16, and engages targets with more rapid fire at closer ranges of one hundred to six hundred yards. The designated marksman, unlike the sniper, stays with his unit and uses no special camouflage. Thus the Whitworth riflemen correspond with today’s snipers, while the Enfield-bearing battalion sharpshooters are more like modern designated marksmen.”…

Adopting this terminology for Confederate riflemen, then ‘Sharpshooters’ would include both Whitworth and Enfield riflemen. ‘Snipers’ more accurately refer to the Whitworth riflemen, while ‘Marksmen’ more aptly describe the Enfield (and other rifle-carrying) sharpshooters.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Thank you for your interesting information.

As you indicate, the recovery of relics is prohibited in NPS administered battlefield sites. As a result, any whitworths found are more likely to be retrieved from private property in the peripheral areas adjoining the main battlefields. This greatly restricts the limited number of whitworths recoverable and makes them rarer for collection. Like you say, I too would be initially skeptical of anyone offering fired whitworths from battlefields, like Gettysburg. One needs to be careful and conduct further checks to be satisfied of their authenticity.

For my collection, I previously acquired a dropped hexagonal whitworth from the general vicinity; as well as a fired short-form cylindrical round found in a tree outside the southern edge of the battlefield.

Lee’s army reportedly received thirteen English whitworths during late 1862. Another two reached his army in early 1864. (I think they obtained a few more though).

Fred L. Ray in his work, ‘Shock Troops of the Confederacy’, at page 276, estimates, …”in the approximately thirty-six infantry brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia, there were most likely between thirty-six and seventy-two of these rifles (whitworths) in service.”…

A list of a few of the whitworth riflemen, together with their relevant brigade and its composition of regiments, is:

Whitworth Rifleman Brigade Regiments

Ben Powell & McGowan 1 SC, 1 SC (rifles), 12 SC, 13 SC, 14 SC

? Cheatham

Thomas Jackson & Archer 12 AL, 1 TN, 7 TN, 14 TN

William Beasley

Thomas Burgess Kershaw 2 SC, 3 SC, 7 SC, 8 SC, 15 SC, 3 SC (battalion)

Charley Grace Dole 4 GA, 12 GA, 21 GA, 44 GA

Irvin Spivey Gordon 13 GA, 26 GA, 31 GA, 38 GA, 60 GA, 61 GA

Willie Simpson Hays 5 LA, 6 LA, 7 LA, 8 LA, 9 LA
I modified my list of whitworth riflemen in the Army of Northern Virginia.

The correct unit of whitworth sharpshooter, William Beasley, was the 1st. (Maney's) Tennessee Infantry Regiment, not the 1st (Turney's) Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Provisional Army. Maney's regiment operated in the western theater, while Turney's/Field's regiment served with the Army of NV in most of its battles.

Accordingly, I've removed William Beasley's name from this list of whitworth riflemen in the Army of NV.
 
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