Whitworth Sharpshooter Rifle
by Bertil Häggman, LL.M.
(The original text of this article appeared in issue 66 (September 2001) of Crossfire, the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) as 'Confederate Imports of Whitworth Sharpshooter Rifles from England 1861-1865')
Civil War re-enactor Bertil Häggman, a member of the Swedish Authors Association, is researching one of the lesser known imports of arms from Britain to the Confederacy, the Whitworth rifle. In his research he has found that the Manchester-made weapon is said by some to be one of the most accurate rifles used in the Civil War.
At the first meeting of the British NRA at Wimbledon in 1860 Queen Victoria opened the meeting by firing a specially prepared Whitworth from a mechanical rest at a target 400 yards away. It was a bull's eye, the bullet striking very close to the centre.
Little is public about Confederate imports of Whitworth sharpshooter rifles from England during the War Between the States.
During the course of the War Between the States, both the Confederate States Government and the individual Southern States sought to import necessary supplies and material from Britain. These vital stores were delivered by blockade runners. Running the blockade was extremely dangerous, but also extremely profitable. Many blockade runners came in off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, under the protection of Fort Fisher.
The great lack of arms of the CSA was overcome by importation of arms from abroad, mainly England. Around 400,000 arms of various types came from that powerhouse of industrialism of the era.
Britain was officially neutral but there was strong sympathy among segments of the English aristocracy for the Southern cause. The private English small arms makers had no problems with neutrality. They naturally wanted to sell as many arms as possible including to the South.
The Confederate authorities tried to purchase arms in an organized fashion, but communication was so slow that often instructions were obsolete before an agent reached England by ship. Confederate authorities thus tried to do the best they could under circumstances forced upon them.
Two Confederate-financed companies were established in Britain: Sinclair, Hamilton & Co. and Isaac Campbell & Co. The initials "SH over C" and the name "Isaac Campbell & Co". will be found on some arms. The South also established five primary English suppliers.
Among British companies established in the arms trade who acted as purchasers for the Confederate Agents were Bond, Freed & Co. and James, Kerr and Scott & Son. Arms acquired by each of these suppliers can be determined by a capital letter stamped in the corner of the stock in the front of the butt tang.
The Confederate Government also set up a marking system. Each arm had a number from 1 to 10,000 engraved on the butt tang and shank of the ramrod, the hilt on the socket of the bayonet and the bayonet scabbard stud. Upon reaching 10,000 the numbering began again from 1 to 10,000 over the letter "A". To date, on the first 20,000 arms imported by the Confederate Central Government have been so identified. At the same time a Confederate government agent applied his inspection/acceptance mark to the belly of the stock but also occasionally to the comb of the stock.
"JS over Anchor" mark is seen on many of the guns. Georgia State purchases had their own series of numbers and the obverse stock was struck with a large "G". The same was true for South Carolina. Their stocks have a prominent "SC" on the obverse butt.
Louisiana arms were usually marked with a diamond with an inset "L" or had the numbers stamped on the stock behind the trigger guard. By comparison of known arms, it has been determined that rifles and rifle-muskets each had their own series of numbers, and some arms bought by private speculators only have initials on the comb or belly of the stock such as "SH over C" as discussed above.
In conclusion, one can identify at least 20,000 Confederate Central Government guns: numbers 1-10,000 over A, 10,000 G (Georgia) arms, and 10,000 SC (South Carolina) arms. Also readily identifiable are private purchases by the use of "SH over C" (Sinclair-Hamilton), "CH over I" (Caleb Huse Inspected) and IC (Isaac Campbell). The "JS over Anchor" is an inspection mark readily identifiable for Southern import.
At best one can positively identify less than 25% of the 400,000 or so arms imported from England by the Confederate Central Government and individual Southern States.
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Sir Joseph Whitworth of England created a rifle with a twisted hexagonal bore and then shaped bullets to match this bore. (1) He patented his hexagonal bore in 1854. (2) A Confederate weapon in the Civil War, when outfitted with a telescopic sight this firearm had an effective range of 1,500 yards. The twisted hexagonal bore imparted a steadiness of flight to its .45 caliber bullet, and made this rifle the favorite of Confederate sharpshooters.
The Confederacy imported a small number of the rifles from the Whitworth Rifle Company of Manchester, England, beginning in 1862. (3) A total of 13,400 Whitworth muzzleloading rifles, including 5,400 for the military, were produced from 1857 to 1865. Generally the early Whitworth rifles were marked on the lock "Whitworth Rifle Co. Manchester." After about 1860 the locks were marked "Whitworth." In the spring of 1862 the lock markings were changed to " Manchester Ordnance & Rifle Co." In the latter part of 1863 the lock markings were changed indiscriminately and will be found marked "The Whitworth Company Limited" and "Manchester Ordnance & Rifle Co."
The military rifles were made in groups of 1000. When the next batch of 1000 was begun, numbering started with 1 and a prefix of A, B, C, D, E, or F. By 1864 (the beginning of the demise of the muzzleloader), the lock markings on the high "E" numbers and the rest of the "F" numbers were worded "The Whitworth Company Limited" and "J. Whitworth & Co. Manchester". Often the inside of the lock is marked "Joseph Brazier, Ashes " indicating the name of the lock maker who is still in business. There are examples where Joseph Brazier is simply noted by the initials "J.B."
A very limited but unknown quantity of Whitworth rifles was marked "2nd Quality" on the rearstrap of the triggerguard. These rifles were purchased by the Confederate service during the Civil War.
The balance of the production of the 13,400 pieces were commercially produced by Bissel, Beasley Brothers, McCririck, the British Small Arms Company and others.
Cased rifles that were presented through military or civilian channels for certain events are known. The varnished oak case is unlined and finished in natural color. In 1860, Whitworth rifles sold for about US $96 for the rifle alone, or US $120 with cased accessories. But I have seen prices ranging up to US $ 500.
It has not been possible to find any concrete evidence or material on the actual purchase by Confederate agents of Whitworths in England.
I have seen a quote on a first visit made by Confederate agents at the factory in Manchester but no record of purchases. Some sources indicate that the Whitworth Rifle Co. of Manchester went bankrupt after the war and that the records of the company are not preserved.
Based on information in Anderson Morrow (4), 'The Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters' in the United States (privately printed book -1989), I believe that arms importing companies in New Orleans, LA, Memphis, TN, Charleston, SC, Lynchburg, VA and elsewhere in the South imported the rifles on blockade runners (very often via Mexico) and sold them or even presented them free of charge as gifts to the Confederate army.
One way to continue the research is of course to try to find the records of these companies in the United States in archives of respective cities. But there is of course a great risk that such records are not preserved. They were private and may not be preserved in public archives.
Anybody with information on importers and the way of purchase and import of Whitworth sharpshooter rifles in the Confederate States of America is most welcome to contact me.
Sir Joseph Whitworth was born 1803 in Stockport (the son of a schoolmaster) and as a young boy went to Derbyshire and learnt about textile machinery. At the age of 22 to he went to London working for Maudsley & Co., a leading engineering firm in Britain. In 1833 he returned to Manchester, where he had worked before going to London. He founded a company named after himself producing machine tools but gradually shifted to arms.
Possibly his greatest invention was the Sharpshooter Rifle, which was hexagon-bored but Confederate Sharpshooters seem mainly to have used cylindrical bullets.
Whitworth Rifle Company, 51 Sackville Street, Manchester, was the outlet from 1860-1862. The rifles were almost certainly constructed by J W Edge of Manchester, using Brazier locks and metal components from Preston and Palmer.
Manchester Ordnance & Rifle Co., the follow up, seems to have been in business from 1862-64 at Sackville Street in Manchester.
Confederate purchasers thus certainly visited Sackville Street in Manchester many times during the war.
The Whitworths surpassed modern sniper rifles. The sniper with most "kill-confirmations" seems to be Matthias Hetzenauer, WWII German soldier on the Russian front, with 345 certified "kill-confirmations" (that is with probables or unconfirmed excluded). His longest kill was 1,000 meters. There are numerous verified reports of "kills" at far longer distances by Confederates with Whitworths. But the CSA had no system of "kill-confirmation", so we do not know the actual figures.
I am now looking toward further information on the actual sales and how the rifles were received in the Confederate States of America. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
SCV Europe Camp # 1612
(1) Pageant of the Gun, by Harold L. Peterson.
(2) The Gun and its Development, by W.W. Greener.
(3) Information about Whitworth rifles can be found in the Dixie Gun Works Catalog, USA.
(4) Morrow is a Georgia-born great-grand nephew of Confederate Partisan Ranger Col. John S. Mosby. He is a teacher and has served with the 101st Airborne Division and with Special Forces.