View Full Version : Civil War era Whitworth rifles

June 19, 2000, 12:22 PM
Friends -

While I know that many English-made Whitworth rifles were smuggled into the South to use for long-range shooting, I'm unable to find much hard information about these rifles. I've seen the caliber reported as both .54 and .45, and I've been able to find no information on the brass telescopic sights.

If there is a website that discusses these rifles, I would appreciate a pointer. Or a cite to a book would also be welcome.


Ken Strayhorn
Hillsborough NC

James K
June 19, 2000, 01:02 PM
The only book I know of that discusses the Whitworth is Bill Edwards' Civil War Guns, which is just out in a new edition. AFAIK, they were all .450, not .54 caliber. If you are anywhere near Richmond, the Battle Abbey Museum has one in their collection.

I don't know about "many" and have seen no figure on the actual number used by the CS, but they were actually very rare during the war and few CS soldiers ever saw one. The Confederates tried to form a sharpshooter regiment, but I don't think that ever really came off. The Whitworths were just given to selected soldiers with proven shooting abilties.

Dixie Gun Works once sold a repro, and also the bullets and the mold. I forget what caliber it was. I don't know of any book dedicated specifically to the Whitworth and most Civil War books give them only a passing mention if at all. The scopes are even rarer than the guns and the only one I ever got my hands on was broken, with one lens gone and nothing inside.


4V50 Gary
June 19, 2000, 04:43 PM
By far the best book on the subject is John Morrow Anderson's, "Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooter." It was privately published and has been out of print for years. There are some, including distinguished author Joe Bilby who have been trying to get Mr. Anderson to print a second edition. Another book with information (though not so much on Confederate use) is Dr. C.H. Rhoads, "The British Soldier's Firearm: From Smoothbore to Smallbore 1850-1864." It discusses the trial of the Whitworth against other rifles and its ultimate failure (specialized weapon as opposed to general infantryman's rifle).

Concerning the Whitworths, the .451 calibers were sold to the Confederate States and the larger calibers were issued in limited numbers to various Regiments in the British Army (Rifle Brigade, King's Royal Rifle Corps (aka: old 60th Royal Americans) along with a few others. The exact number of Whitworths acquired by the Confederacy is unknown but it is now suspected that there were more than originally thought. In any event, because of the limited number, only the best marksman in a brigade would be issued the cherished Whitworth. These sharpshooters were trained for about three months in the art of sharpshooting/scounting. Perhaps the best trainer was Conf. Gen. Cleburn, who was familar with musketry instruction as taught at the Hythe. Cleburn's instructions and techniques (based on Wilcox) are very similar to that taught to our snipers today.

The scope you speak of was developed by a Scotsman, Capt. Davidson who served in the Bombay Army. You can find more information on the scope and the mounting system in Skennerton's, "The British Sniper."

For more information on line, go to:

You'll have to search through Mr. Bilby's articles and the search is well worth the effort. There are three surviving Confederate Whitworths in this country, but don't ask me where.

June 20, 2000, 09:10 AM
Gary, Jim -

Many thanks for your information. I'm astonished at how little information there is on Whitworths - the website on Civil War guns was most interesting: Whitworth records indicate approx 1,500 guns shipped to the Confederacy (some of which had to have been lost during blockade running) and yet many US records still claim that 5,500 rifles came into the US. It's a great example of how information can become lost and confused over time.

While doing this research here at Duke and elsewhere, I'm also surprised at how little hard information there is on the training of sharpshooters. Some claim not much, some records indicate several months. Most of what I've been able to find in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC is personal memoirs, a very chancy thing to use. Given the recent expose about the No Gun Ri "whistle blower" never having been in No Gun Ri, you can see why I don't like to rely on fading memories.

There's also the question of whether sharpshooting was organized along Army lines, or was simply at the discretion of individual commanders. Once again, I'm surprised at the lack of scholarship.

Thanks for your time - any further thoughts or information would be gratefully received.

Ken Strayhorn
Hillsborough NC

James K
June 22, 2000, 10:53 PM
Hi, Ken,

Just in case you have some spare pocket change, there was a CS-marked Whitworth advertised in the April Gun Report for $20,000. Ad reads:

"Whitworth Rifle - Mfg. London Armory & Co. [sic] with scope. All original. Checkered wood in good condition, no pitting on metal. Good optics on scope. Scope marked Birmingham, long range rear iron sight, marked CS on rear of barrel. Rare."

Vernon E. Rogers, P.O. Box 398, Searcy, AZ 72145 (501) 279-9295 or (501) 268-3479.

Actually, all things considered, that probably is not a bad price.