Heritage, 2010, Volume 4 Page: 36
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A close-up portion of the pointing "Breechloaders and Greencoats" by Dale Gallon, depicting the events
of July 2, 1863, when U.S. Sharpshooters delayed Longstreet's advance during the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Sharpshooter on the right is reloading his double-set trigger Model 1859 Sharps Rifle.
The Sharps Rifle
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In the last issue of HERITAGE magazine, readers
learned the story of Corporal Alonzo Barnard of the 2nd
U.S. Sharpshooters; it now seems appropriate to tell the
tale of the rifle that made the Sharpshooters so effective
during the War Between the States: the Sharps Rifle. (See
Christian Sharps patented his revolutionary design for
a breech-loading rifle in 1848, and it forever changed the
way battles were fought up to that point. A breech-load-
er, as opposed to a muzzle-loader, is an arm that can be
reloaded from the rear of the barrel instead of from the
front. This gave the firearm a much faster rate of fire and
allowed the soldier to reload without being exposed to en-
emy fire. (See photo 3)
The United States first purchased Sharps Patent firearms
in 1851; the 1st and 2nd U.S. Dragoons in Texas received
120, and 60 were issued to the U.S. Navy for use in the
North Pacific Exploring Expedition of 1853. Through-
out the 1850s the government continued to purchase im-
proved Sharps firearms for use by the military. At the on-
set of the War Between the States, Sharps introduced the
New Model 1859 rifle that was a much-improved version
of the original design. More than 100,000 Sharps Rifles
and carbines of this type were purchased and used by the
U.S. Army and Navy during the Civil War.
In 1861 Col. Hiram Berdan received permission to or-
ganize two regiments of Sharpshooters as an elite corps
of Special Forces for Army operations. A soldier had to
qualify as an excellent shot in order to be selected, and
special discipline and training was required to enable these
units to perform as a cohesive force. These troops were to
be equipped with the most modern items available, in-
cluding green uniforms for camouflage and special field
packs. Two thousand New Model 1859 Sharps Rifles with
special set triggers (to reduce resistance) were purchased to
arm the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters. As an
aside, the name "Sharpshooters" was used by Berdan before
the Sharps Rifle was selected as their arm, so the regiments
were not named after the rifle, which is a common myth.
During the war, these two regiments saw action in al-
most every major battle, and many times were the decid-
ing factor in a Union victory, especially at the Battle of
Gettysburg in July of 1863. Union Sharpshooters, with
the accurate and deadly fire from their Sharps Rifles, de-
layed Longstreet's advance on the Union left flank long
enough for General George Gordon Meade to reinforce
his position on Little Round Top and hold the Union line.
This action changed the course of the battle, the war, and
world history. Had Longstreet been successful, the out-
come of the battle might have been a Confederate victory.
HERITAGE Volume 4 2010
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2010, Volume 4, periodical, 2010; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254219/m1/36/: accessed February 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.