Confederate sniper rifle, Whitworth Rifle

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by Palmetto, Aug 31, 2010.

  1. Palmetto

    Palmetto New Member

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  2. 3/2 STA SS

    3/2 STA SS Active Member

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    When I went to Sniper School in the Marines we only fired out to 1000 yds and that was with .308 173 grain bullets that were Lake City match. We had an Iver Johnson sinlge shot 50 caliber in the First Gulf war that we shot oil barrels at approximately 1700 yds. It was 50 cal BMG and had a 16 power Leuipold on it. 1800 yards I believe was wishfull thinking considering the optics of the day.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2010
  3. jack404

    jack404 Former Guest

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    Early lee Enfield's had ranges marked out to 2000 yards on their sights for volley fire

    line up your company in ranks

    order a volley fire ..

    100+ round impacting 2000 yards away

    its scarey to be under fire from these

    when we first went into Afghanistan there was a case where a section was pinned from long range fire , it was pretty dang accurate

    we dropped a team behind the suspected shooters position and found it to be one old gent and his grand daughter

    he'd been keeping everyone (taliban included) out of his little branch valley

    while he had not hit any of our folks his fire was bloody accurate

    now imagine 5-10 folks set up similarly it would be real nasty without helicopters

    imagine 50-100 folks firing this way and it'd be a slaughter starting at 2000 yards and all the way in till bayonet time ( 100 yard dash)

    that was with a 1880's rifle so i'll not call foul on this , if its keeping your heads down its doing the job ..
  4. ofitg

    ofitg New Member

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    The Whitworth rifle was the instrument of one of the most remembered acts of black powder sniping. On May 9, 1864, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Union General John Sedgwick was chiding some of his troops for lying down in a ditch to avoid Confederate snipers at a range of around 800 to 1000 yards. So the story goes - the general allowed that they 'couldn't hit an elephant at this range'. Sgt. E. R Grace of the 4th Georgia Infantry scored a head shot a few moments later, with his Whitworth rifle. As a result, the Union attack was delayed, and General Robert E. Lee won the battle.

    ---------------------

    Bad day for Gen. Sedgwick!
  5. jack404

    jack404 Former Guest

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    excellent

    personally i think it may have been more arse than class (arse as in luck)

    but dead is dead

    got more info on that shot ?
  6. ofitg

    ofitg New Member

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    Here's a good read - http://www.civilwarbattlefields.us/spotsylvania/sedgwick.html

    In this version of the story, the range was "more than 500 yards" (according to the plaque). Still an impressive shot for a muzzle-loader.


    Nothing wrong with "luck".... some historians believe that Baron Von Richtofen was shot down by an Australian infantryman with a .303 Enfield.

    Wife is telling me to go to bed. 'Night y'all.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2010
  7. jack404

    jack404 Former Guest

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    yes but the other side now say a Aussie Vickers MG got him

    we'll never know though really unless they dig him up and the question aint worth disurbing the Man ,

    but long distance sniping with BP rifles is doable but the 1000 yard mark is awful hard, with accuracy

    at 500-800 yards i'd say yes a damn fine shot and the weapons capable of doing it too, but beyond 800 yard, its like the sound barrier

    i'm trying to build a one mile BP rifle , no success yet
  8. ofitg

    ofitg New Member

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    A one-mile BP rifle would be mind-boggling. I've been looking through some of my old books - there are a couple of BP loads which exceed 2000 ft/sec, but those projectiles have very poor ballistic coefficients.

    Would a special propellant mix (like Ammonpulver, for example) be worth trying?
  9. jacksonco

    jacksonco New Member

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  10. Millwright

    Millwright Well-Known Member

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    During the Civil War "sniping" was done less at individuals than "area targets", i.e. groups of officers/aides. So hostile fire from any range impacting within a 50' dia circle could disrupt operations. Like today the ability to "dope" the wind and conditions were snipers' biggest asset.

    The Whitworth was/is an extremely accurate rifle at any range. Its bore C/L was notoriously 'true' and its sights were excellent. Moreover its "shot to shot" variation was minimized by its hexagonal bore. It also imparted a twist rate/rpm acceptable for the bullet weight/profile used. A "good eye" was a mark of pride in CSA regiments. Giving 'the best the best' is just logical.

    Range is mostly a matter of shooter experience/skill rather than equipment. Numerous reports have Billy Dixon shooting a Comanche war chief off his horse at the end of the "'Battle of Adobe Walls" with his Sharps at over 1/2 mile as documented by witnesses and the USA. Dixon is alleged to comment it was a "scratch shot" - meaning lucky. But Dixon was a buffalo hunter of repute with considerable experience estimating range/conditions/distance. So smoke pole or Lapua, its more the man behind the trigger than the arm...... >MW
  11. jack404

    jack404 Former Guest

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    Ofitg, i'm already playing with sugar loads ( dexi ) at about 10% Dex added to the BP componant and les sulfur MV is over 2000 FPS, its accuracy as the issue but sorting that out with twist rates and longer projectiles slowly..

    my 1 mile target is a 3 foot by 3 foot piece of sheet steel , i get it every now and again but no consistent shots so far vice mounted or not ..

    for now its more luck than expertise but working on it

    when i was a young fella there was a chap who was shooting dingo's but saw him shoot 3 ducks on the wing , bang bang bang .. with a Wembley .455
    dunno how good to eat they where but he got em ...
    so agree the shooter has a lot to do with it all
  12. CHW2021

    CHW2021 Member

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    Place yourselves in the time period gents; the Whitworth was the Barrett .50 of it's day and it was only given to the best of the best. These soldiers were more experienced in the art of blackpowder than we could appreciate, these men shot dinner or went hungry.Read the article in the American Rifleman from several months ago. My .02.
  13. Old Steve

    Old Steve New Member

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    I have a biography of Whitworth, his life is virtually a history of modern mechanical engineering. The origin and technology of the polygonal rifling is well documented, and the performance is also. Pegler in his book "Sniper" also supports the performance of the rifle. The Southerners were noted for a relatively large percentage of excellent riflemen, and because Confederate factories were never adequate for the quantities needed, rifles were purchased wherever they could. The Whitworth rifles were commercial purchase, and as others have pointed out, they were only given to men who had exceptional skill, as they were very expensive as were the bullets. And it isn't recorded how many shots were misses. The rifle was capable of 1800 yd kills.
  14. flintlock

    flintlock Well-Known Member

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    Does anyone remember what the rifiling was in the Whitworth? I seem to remember that it was a sort of polygonal rifiling system as opposed to the land and groove style. It supposedly contributed to the accuracy of the rifle. Also the bullet was very long for it's caliber.
  15. ghrit

    ghrit New Member

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  16. RJay

    RJay Well-Known Member

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    You have to remember, the ranges cited was guesstimates, not exacts. There were no laser range finders in use and no one was going to walk off the distance under enemy observation and fire. 500 hunred yards is doable, 1800 yards with a black powder rifle? that's wishful thinking.
  17. Old Steve

    Old Steve New Member

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    Rj
    They had survey maps in those days, and the ranges on Whitworth's private range were known exactly, others were perhaps more wishful than you. Most of his testing was for Army boards that didn't want to believe it either.

    Those interested might want to read "Sniper- A History of the US Marksmen" by Martin Pegler.
    You can find it using an advanced search on Amazon.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sniper-PB-His...=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1288503121&sr=1-2
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2010
  18. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

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    Sniping was not always the province of the Whitworth and the like. CS General Leonidas K. Polk was neatly sniped off Pine Mountain, GA, by a Union soldier firing a 20-pounder Parrott. At a range of just over a mile, the shell went through the general's chest from side to side, reportedly without knocking him down, and without going off. And it was "sniping", not part of an artillery bombardment; the shot was deliberately aimed and fired at a small group of Confederate officers.

    So anyone else want to call .50 "big bore."

    Jim
  19. Old Steve

    Old Steve New Member

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    Interesting story, Jim K. There were in fact not very many Whitworth rifles involved, and reportedly many shooters preferred the Sharps rifles, being breech loading having somewhat better rate of fire, not very important to snipers, but can be reloaded without standing up or breaking cover, which was a very valuable asset. And they were accurate out to quite long range.
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