Whitworth Riflemen in Army of Northern Virginia

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I compiled a list from various sources of whitworth riflemen in the Army of Northern Virginia. Apparently Lee’s army received 13 whitworths at the end of 1862. His army acquired 2 more of these rifles in early 1864 and a further 2 in late 1864.

Below is my list of whitworth sharpshooter names and their nominal units in the Army of NV.

Ben Powell 12 SC (McGowans Brigde)

Oscar Cheatham 14 SC (McGowans Brigade)

Charley Grace 4 GA (Doles Brigade)

John West 4 GA (Doles brigade)

Irvin Spivey 26 GA (Gordons brigade)

Unknown name ? (Gordons brigade)

Thomas Burgess 15 SC (Kershaws brigade)

Willie Simpson 9 LA (Hays brigade)

Thomas Jackson 7 TN (Archers brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Hoods Texas brigade) - from early 1864

J. W. Trowbridge 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

Sam Watson 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

The list is incomplete.

Does anyone know any other names that can be added to this list?
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I compiled a list from various sources of whitworth riflemen in the Army of Northern Virginia. Apparently Lee’s army received 13 whitworths at the end of 1862. His army acquired 2 more of these rifles in early 1864 and a further 2 in late 1864.

Below is my list of whitworth sharpshooter names and their nominal units in the Army of NV.

Ben Powell 12 SC (McGowans Brigde)

Oscar Cheatham 14 SC (McGowans Brigade)

Charley Grace 4 GA (Doles Brigade)

John West 4 GA (Doles brigade)

Irvin Spivey 26 GA (Gordons brigade)

Unknown name ? (Gordons brigade)

Thomas Burgess 15 SC (Kershaws brigade)

Willie Simpson 9 LA (Hays brigade)

Thomas Jackson 7 TN (Archers brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Hoods Texas brigade) - from early 1864

J. W. Trowbridge 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

Sam Watson 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

The list is incomplete.

Does anyone know any other names that can be added to this list?
I suspect Kershaw's brigade had several whitworth sharpshooters (more than the one identified) attached because generally wherever this unit was deployed on the battlefield, there was some evidence of proximate whitworth rifle activity in the vicinity.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
A newly organized sharpshooter battalion in Mahone's Virginia brigade (6, 12, 16, 41 & 46 VA) may also have received two imported English whitworth rifles in early 1864.
The following personalized account of brigade sharpshooter, Captain John Laughton Jnr., was provided in 'Southern Historical Society Papers', Volume 22 (at page 99):

..."The battalion was armed with long-range, small-bore Enfield rifles, and used a long English-made cartridge. We never used any ammunition made by the Confederate Government. There were, besides, two globe-sighted rifles for use on special occasions, which were valuable additions to our armament. I have frequently fired these with entirely satisfactory results"...

It is likely, although not entirely certain, that the two acquired specialized rifles Capt. Laughton referred to here, were both globe-sighted whitworths (without telescopes).
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I have updated my list of whitworth riflemen in the Army of NV to include the two likely acquired by Mahone's brigade in early 1864.

Ben Powell 12 SC (McGowans Brigde)

Oscar Cheatham 14 SC (McGowans Brigade)

Charley Grace 4 GA (Doles Brigade)

John West 4 GA (Doles brigade)

Irvin Spivey 26 GA (Gordons brigade)

Unknown name ? (Gordons brigade)

Thomas Burgess 15 SC (Kershaws brigade)

Willie Simpson 9 LA (Hays brigade)

Thomas Jackson 7 TN (Archers brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Hoods Texas brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Mahone's brigade) - from early in 1864

Unknown name ? (Mahone's brigade) - from early in 1864

J. W. Trowbridge 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

Sam Watson 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

If these distributions are correct, then this knowledge might assist one to determine the approximite vicinities of active whitworth sharpshooters on the battlefield maps displaying unit deployments.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
So far, I have not found any evidence that the Army of Northern Virginia acquired any whitworth rifles prior to late 1862. (The original Confederate Army of the Potomac was renamed the Army of NV as from March 14, 1862).

If this situation is correct, then the Army of NV did not possess any whitworths active in the field at the following major battles and campaigns in the eastern theater:

First Bull Run June 10, 1861
Jackson's Valley Campaign March - June, 1862
The Peninsular Campaign March - July, 1862
The Seven Days Battles June 25 - July 1, 1862
Second Bull Run August 29 - 30, 1862
South Mountain September 14, 1862
Antietam September 17, 1862
Fredericksburg December 11 - 15, 1862 (Possibly not ?)

I would welcome any contrary information to dispute these findings.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Something that's worth considering is that, as I understand it, there was the Whitworth (a .451 polygonal rifling weapon) and the Kerr (a .451 version of the Enfield). The Kerr's performance was similar to the Whitworth, so evidence of very long range shooting may be Kerr evidence rather than Whitworth evidence.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
Agree with you.

Most imported British Kerr target rifles were used in the western theater by the Army of Tennessee. The Kentucky 'Orphan' brigade was gifted eleven kerrs by an English benefactor. The dedicated sharpshooter corps in Cleburne's division possessed a slightly larger number of them too.

I am fairly confident that a few (though possibly smaller number of) kerrs would also have been used by the Army of Northern Virginia.

The quality muzzle-loading kerr and whitworth rifles were similar in design and effectiveness. However, the kerr weapon was a little longer overall. Both types of rifle had a similar caliber and Kerrs could also fire whitworth rounds. The kerr was highly accurate over long ranges, although its performance was not quite as good as the whitworth over very long distances.

Like whitworths, kerrs were competed for by marksmen, and issued only to the best shots in the brigade.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The fun thing about the Kerr is that (to my understanding) it was largely rare because of a patent dispute.

Whitworth came up with polygonal rifling and built his target rifle in .451 calibre, and demonstrated much greater accuracy than the Enfield rifle-musket at very long range, and used that to argue that it should be used to replace the .577 Enfield in British use.

Someone at RSAF Enfield then built a .451 version of the Enfield (the Kerr) which was used to demonstrate that the polygonal rifling wasn't responsible for the increased range and accuracy (it was the higher sectional density, smaller calibre and higher velocity which did that).

Whitworth threatened legal action if the .451 Enfield was adopted, and (coincidence or not) the British stuck with .577 ammunition in the Enfield and then Snider-Enfield until they switched with the .45 Martini-Henry about the time Whitworth's patents lapsed.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
The rarity of the kerr seems borne out by its relatively limited distribution and use by the Confederacy.

That's interesting background information about the respective rifling designs.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I will add the name of Private Tom Johnson, 10 GA, to my list of whitworth sharpshooters in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was reportedly issued with one of the new whitworths received by Lee's army at the end of 1862. Private Johnson was one of the several whitworth marksmen supposedly credited with firing the lethal shot that brought down General Sedgwick at Spotsylvania. He apparently carried the weapon throughout the war until he was killed on September 17, 1864. He and a companion were ambushed in the Chickahominy Swamp by a company of Union soldiers while returning from a scouting mission. Johnson was mortally wounded, dying shortly afterwards, however his companion survived to provide the account. There is no record of whether his whitworth was recovered.

My updated list of whitworth sharpshooters in the Army of NV is below.

Ben Powell 12 SC (McGowans Brigade)

Oscar Cheatham 14 SC (McGowans Brigade)

Charley Grace 4 GA (Doles Brigade)

John West 4 GA (Doles brigade)

Irvin Spivey 26 GA (Gordons brigade)

Unknown name ? (Gordons brigade)

Thomas Burgess 15 SC (Kershaws brigade)

Willie Simpson 9 LA (Hays brigade)

Thomas Jackson 7 TN (Archers brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Hoods Texas brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Mahone's brigade) - from early in 1864

Unknown name ? (Mahone's brigade) - from early in 1864

Tom Johnson 10 GA (Semmes/Bryans brigade) - until killed on September 17, 1864

J. W. Trowbridge 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

Sam Watson 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
Thank you @Nathan Stuart for sharing your research with us. It's much appreciated.
You are welcome.

There may be another confederate whitworth rifleman to add.

I am currently investigating a reliable Union officer's anecdotal account of a particular long-range confederate sharpshooter belonging to one of Wilcox's Alabama units (8, 9, 10, 11 & 14 AL) operating at Gettysburg. According to Major Grotius Giddings of the 14th United States Infantry (Regulars), one of his own marksman successfully dueled with a Confederate rifleman armed with a telescopic whitworth who was attached to Wilcox's brigade. I have come across this story previously. However, further positive identification is needed to accept this claim.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
This is further to the anecdotal account mentioned in my previous post. An unidentified Union soldier (not Major Grotius Giddings) of the 14th​ US Infantry Regulars gave an eyewitness account of the dislodgement of a supposed Confederate whitworth marksman at Gettysburg. His account was published in the ‘West-Jersey Pioneer’ newspaper on August 11, 1866 (VOL. XVIII No. 962).

I could find no evidence or other indications that whitworth riflemen were present at the southern end of the battlefield, specifically in the vicinity of where the 14th​ US was deployed (between the northwestern base of Little Round Top and the wheatfield) on July 2.

This Union soldier’s account describes a Confederate armed with a scoped whitworth taking targeted shots at officers in his unit. The shooter would serially climb atop the same large rock to fire, then drop down behind the rock to reload after each discharge. In my view, the eyewitness mistakenly attributes the shooter as an Alabamian marksman belonging to Wilcox’s brigade. His account says the rifleman was located at ‘the rebel right of the Round Tops’ and fired from 400 yards away. If that position is correct, then the 14th​ US would have been exposed to the 15 GA or the 1 TX. Many infantrymen in both these regiments carried enfields which were well within accurate firing range at this distance. Some of the Texans also carried various long-range target rifles (not whitworths). According to the eyewitness, the Confederate marksman was eventually shot dead on the rock top by Major Grotius Giddings, firing a springfield rifle.

After reading the entire article, I think this account of a whitworth in operation must be seriously doubted. It contains embellishments, inaccuracies and does not identify the eyewitness by name. Also, the dead Confederate’s rifle was apparently not recovered to be positively identified.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
If the Union soldier's account that Major Giddings killed a Confederate marksman is accepted, upon further investigation I do not think it was a whitworth rifleman that he struck down.

By late afternoon on July 2, the 14th US Regulars were deployed at the southernmost end of a formation of two brigades of US Regulars, in the vicinity between NW LRT and the Wheatfield. The Regulars were reportedly exposed to enemy sharpshooter fire on their left. The shots were coming from Devils Den, an area with large rocks, about 400 yards away. The reported fire fits with the individual witness description of the shooting source. During this period, the 1 TX and its skirmishers occupied that position. I believe it's quite likely that any Confederate marksman that Major Giddings eliminated, probably belonged to the 1 TX.

I found no record of any member of the 1 TX carrying a whitworth weapon throughout this fight. Many possessed enfields and a few used various privately owned target rifles.

After checking the Honor Roll of Confederate dead at Gettysburg and doing some further research, I found the following names of three sharpshooters of the 1 TX killed on July 2:

Pvte. M. F. McClendon Co. A
Pvte. William C. Dobbs Co. B
Pvte. James W. Garner Co. B

Perhaps Major Giddings targeted one of them in the exchange. There certainly could have been other marksmen present in the 1 TX that I did not identify.
 
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