Maj. Reed Settle
3rd Regiment, Co. E, Engineers
winter campaign reading seems to have focused on weapons and accuracy, I will
add some interesting facts from a book I just finished on Snipers.
Civil War they were referred to as ‘sharpshooters,’ not snipers. The term
sniper came about after the American Civil War. While there were some very good
sharpshooters in the Civil War, the combination of muzzle loader, percussion
cap, black powder, and extremely heavy weighted rifles, did not allow the
sharpshooters of that day to operate as our modern day snipers do.
It is very
unusual to see a correct rifle employed on a reenacting field. At most one sees
someone’s misguided attempt at assembling a sharpshooters rifle. Usually this
takes the form of a .58 cal Enfield or Springfield, combined with a crude
attempt at a telescopic sight, positioned in the wrong location on the rifle. In
fact the correct weapon choice would be a Kerr or Whitworth. “The Whitworth
was a formidable piece of engineering. The iron sight was graduated up to a
figure of 1200 yards, and in the knowledge that they would be used for
long-range shooting, most were fitted with a 14 inch Davidson telescopic sight,
offset-mounted on the left of the rifle.”
following are some excerpts from the book Sniper by Adrian Gilbert. A
very interesting read.
the same weight of bullet as the Enfield rifle (a heavy 530 grains), the
Whitworth had a reduced bore size (.45 of an inch, as against the Enfield’s
.577), which improved velocity and ballistic stability. This, and its superb
barrel (complete with hexagonal rifling), ensured that it was exceptionally
accurate. At eight hundred yards, in good conditions, the Whitworth had a mean
radius of deviation of twelve inches, sufficient to ensure a reasonable chance
of a successful body shot against a man standing in the open. At a range of
eighteen hundred yards a Whitworth bullet still had the power to kill, and
although a mean deviation of 11.62 feet made it ineffective for shooting at
individuals, it was still useful as a weapon of harassment against larger
targets such as gun batteries and formed-up columns of infantry and cavalry.
There are several instances of hits being confirmed at ranges of fifteen hundred
yards and more.”
in General Patrick Cleburn’s Army of Tennessee described the sharpshooter’s
training and their effectiveness on the battlefield:
were drilled in camp, on the march, and even on the field of battle in judging
distances. They would be halted, for instance, and required to guess at the
distance of a certain point ahead and then measure by steps on their way. When
firing these men were never in haste; the distance of a line of men of a horse,
an artillery ammunition chest, was carefully decided upon; the telescope
adjusted along its arc to give the proper elevation; the gun rested against a
tree, across a log, or in the fork of a rest-stick carried for the purpose. The
terrible effect of such weapons, in the hands of men who had been selected, one
only from each infantry brigade because of his special merit as a soldier and
his skill as a marksman, can be imagined. They sent these bullets fatally 1200
infantrymen, sharpshooters were well versed in the tricks and stratagems of
fieldcraft. When operating in wooded areas they would take appropriate measures:
“[We] pin leaves all over our clothes to keep their colour from betraying us.”
Sharpshooters were warned not to get within four hundred yards of the enemy, but
to rely instead on their superior shooting skills and keep the enemy troops at a
The cost of a Whitworth
was $500 vs $43 for a Sharps breech-loader, similar to a .50 Barret vs 30.06
"The average rounds expended
per kill with the M16 in Vietnam was 50,000.
Snipers averaged 1.3 rounds.
The cost difference was $2,300 vs .27 cents."
"Marine Corps Scout Sniper School"
--Major Reed W. Settle