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Whitworth Rifle

Percussion Lock Rifled Musket

The British hexagonal rifled Whitworth rifle-musket - rejected at home - found service with Confederate forces during the America Civil War.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 9/26/2016
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Year: 1857
Manufacturer(s): Whitworth Rifle Company - UK
Roles: Frontline Infantry/Rifleman;
Action: Percussion Lock; Muzzle-Loaded
Caliber(s): .45 Bullet
Sights: Open; Adjustable Front Blade; Optional Telescopic Sight
Overall Length: 1,200 mm (47.24 in)
Barrel Length: 840 mm (33.07 in)
Rate-of-Fire: 2 rounds-per-minute
Effective Range: 2,700 ft (823 m; 900 yd)
Operators: Confederate States; France
Sir Joseph Henry Whitworth developed a twisted, hexagonal barreled rifle-musket when attempting to bring the concept of hexagonal barreled field guns to a portable, infantry-level long gun form. The main advantage lay in a conformed bullet shape better gripping the rifling design and leading to a more effective, accurate long gun. The British Army, already having taken on stocks of the new Enfield Model 1853 rifle-musket, took some interest in the product. During evaluation against the Model 1853, Whitworth's gun held firm and outperformed the entrenched Enfield design. However, the Army thought the barrels too temperamental and the guns, on the whole, too expensive to procure in the numbers required. As such, the Whitworth Rifle was rebuffed at home but the Whitworth Rifle Company was able to interest the Confederate States of America in some quantity. Total production of Whitworth Rifles ultimately reached 13,400 units with the French Army being its only other operator.

Despite British neutrality in the American Civil War, private British gun firms were not restricted in offering their wares to interest buyers. The South, desperate for any effective long gun, gladly purchased many foreign types to level the playing field against the industrial-supported North.

In the American Civil War (1861-1865), the rifle proved exceedingly accurate for the period and was generally passed to Confederate sharpshooters who could take advantage of such an instrument. The rifle held excellent accuracy at range and went on to lay claim to killing several Union generals during the war. The maximum listed range of the gun could reach 1,500 yards with effective ranges within 1,000 yards and under. In its evaluations, it placed shots on target at out to 2,000 yards. A shooter could only fire off between two and three rounds-per-minute due to the weapon's cumbersome, muzzle-loading action. Sling loops aided in transporting the rifle during marches and could also serve in steadying the next shot. Some shooters devised special frontal supports to better brace their weapon.

The Whitworth Rifle was given a basic design arrangement consistent with the period. A long-running, single-piece wood stock made up the body, buttstock, grip handle, and forend while all metal components were inlaid as normal. Barrel lengths varied from 33-, 36-, and 39-inches long to suit needed engagement ranges though the 33-inch model was highly typical in Civil War use. This, in turn, led to either a short-form or long-form rifle that used either two or three barrel bands on the design for the needed strength. The cartridge was a .45 caliber bullet which held plenty of man-stopping power and came in both the original hexagonal and a modified cylindrical form. In the latter, a hollowed out lead base conformed to the hexagonal rifling of the barrel.

Most Whitworth sharpshooters tended to rely on the included iron sights though even this installation could be borrowed from other weapons. The front sight was typically adjustable. Some shooters eventually bypassed iron sights altogether and mounted a telescopic sight over the receiver for advanced sniping.

As a muzzle-loaded weapon (still consistent even during the Civil War), the operator loaded charge and bullet down the muzzle and rammed the contents firmly home with the included ramrod. The rod was then slipped away in a channel under the barrel when not in use. A hammer was managed along the right side of the gun's metal works and cocked rearward when readied. A trigger pull actuated the hammer, falling upon the awaiting nipple with a percussion cap seated on it. The resulting ignition, and its associated pressures, then sent the bullet on its path down and out of the barrel towards the intended target.

Variants / Models

• Whitworth Rifle - Base Series Designation; varying barrel lengths of 33, 36 and 39 inches for varying overall rifle lengths.
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