Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background and Tactical Use and Modern Collecting and Shooting

By Joseph G. Bilby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Sharpshooters

Sharpshooters have served in the American army since Virginia and

Pennsylvania riflemen joined the American siege of Boston in 1775. Perhaps the most famous of these was Timothy Murphy, who shinnied up a tree at Saratoga, took a careful bead with his flintlock long rifle, and shot General Simon Fraser out of the saddle between 200 and 300 yards away, breaking British morale and turning the tide of battle decisively in favor of his American comrades.

Morgan's men were at their best while skirmishing and taking potshots at enemy officers at what were, for the time, long ranges. Since their rifles were not fitted for bayonets, however, riflemen could not stand the rush of a line of battle bristling with cold steel. General Washington later reduced the number of riflemen in his army, converting many into light infantrymen, who fought with smoothbore muskets and bayonets. In his second enlistment in the Continental army, Timothy Murphy himself shouldered a smoothbore in the Pennsylvania Line.

Ever after the role of the sharpshooter was muddled. In a largely smoothbore-armed army, the rifleman's job was to skirmish with the enemy, taking a toll on his line of battle until it was engaged by his own line of battle. Line regiments often had a company or two armed with rifles and assigned to skirmishing duties. Sniping officers and artillery crews at extreme long range was, if thought of, largely an afterthought. With rifles firing ballistically inferior round balls, it was also impossible.

In Civil War armies, where every man was, in theory, supposed to be armed with a rifled weapon firing a conical projectile capable of

-103-

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Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background and Tactical Use and Modern Collecting and Shooting
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Civil War Firearms - Their Historical Background, Tactical Use and Modern Collecting and Shooting *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments 9
  • Introduction 11
  • Chapter I - Smoothbores 15
  • Chapter II - The Rifle-Musket 41
  • Chapter III - Sharpshooters 103
  • Chapter IV - Breech-Loading Carbines 129
  • Chapter V - Sixguns—and Some Cold Steel 157
  • Chapter VI - Repeaters 187
  • Supply and Information Sources for Civil War Shooters 221
  • Notes 227
  • Bibliography 237
  • General Index 247
  • Firearms Index 251
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