by: Randy L Harvey [ ]
This is a review by Randy L “Harv” Harvey of the Osprey Publishing LTD book Sharpshooting Rifles Of The American Civil War – Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth by author Martin Pegler, and illustrators Johnny Shumate and Alan Gilliland.
Body of the Text
** At the outset of the American Civil War, unable to get their preferred longarms, the Union Army’s first sharpshooters had to rely on the flawed Model 1855 Colt revolving rifle until the delivery of the special Berdan Sharps breechloader with double-set triggers. The innovative Berdan Sharps could fire up to ten shots per minute – more than three times the rate of fire offered by the .58-caliber Springfield rifled musket carried by the infantrymen. Other Union sharpshooters were equipped with the standard-issue Springfield, or with the Henry and Spencer repeaters that allowed devastating levels of fire to be delivered. Meanwhile, the Confederacy, generally favoring the pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket for its sharpshooters, imported from Britain the super-accurate Whitworth rifle, a .45-caliber, single-shot, muzzleloading weapon distinguished by its use of a hexagonal rifling and a mechanically fitting bullet. Featuring specially commissioned artwork, this is the engrossing story of these innovative rifles that saw combat in the hands of sharpshooters on both sides during the Civil War. **
** Quoted from the back cover of the book.
Osprey Publications Ltd has released Sharpshooting Rifles Of The American Civil War – Colt, Sharps, Spencer, and Whitworth as Number 56 in their Weapon series. It is a softcover book with 80 pages. Included with the text are black and white photographs and color photographs, color illustrations, a cut-away view illustration, original patent drawing, original schematic drawing and detailed captions. It has a 2017 copyright and the ISBN is 978-1-4728-1591-0. The book details the development, use and impact of various sharpshooting rifles used throughout the American Civil War.
The Emerging Rifle
Sharpshooters in Combat
Sharpshooting – an assessment
The text in the book is nicely written and well detailed. Author Martin Pegler covers various sharpshooting rifles used throughout the American Civil War. As one can guess by the title of the book the main focus is on Colt, Sharps, Spencer and Whitworth sharpshooting rifles. One of my favorite sections in the books is the detailed discussion of the Colt Model 1855 revolving rifle. One would think that just the Colt name alone would mean that it would be a fine firearm. However, history and first-hand accounts prove otherwise. A couple of quotes from the book in regards to the Colt are as follows. “The Colts took more care than a pair of horses”. “While the Colt was a pretty rifle, it was inaccurate, unreliable, prone to get out of order, and even dangerous to the user”. It appears that a common failure in the rifle was for more than one cylinder to fire at once instead of one at a time as designed which led to serious injuries to the users. Other area of interest to me was the detailed discussion of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, their development, use and weapons of choice learned by trial and error. As I read through the text I didn’t notice any spelling or grammatical errors. Grammar and spelling might not be an important factor to everyone however it is something that I take notice of and pass on my findings. I feel that if the text is well written then it shows that the author has taken the time to be a professional with their writing. Anyone wanting to add an excellent reference and history book on sharpshooting rifles used during the American Civil War to their personal library will be pleased with this very informative and interesting book.
There are a total of 28 black and white photographs and 53 color photographs. The photographs range from wide angle photographs to close-up detailed photographs. Several of the photographs are of period illustrations. I would say that the photographs that were chosen for this book were for the most part lesser known photographs as opposed to photographs that are featured in many other titles that deal with the same subject matter. The majority of the photographs are clear and easily viewable, however a few have an out of focus look to them and some appear to be too dark, and others appear too light. This is typical for the discussed periods of history and consideration needs to be given to the fact that some of the photographs are several years old and the quality of the photographs is of no fault of the author and do not take anything away from the book. I appreciate the fact that there are several photographs of just the weapons themselves as opposed to photographs that feature the weapons in a broad generalized military photograph. In my opinion it makes it much easier to study the various weapons and their details. Author Martin Pegler stuck to the title of the book and chose subject specific photographs and did not include photographs that strayed from the main subject of the book. The majority, if not all, of the photographs will prove to be a wealth of information to the firearm enthusiast due to the details they contain.
Some of the various rifles shown and discussed are:
Miller flintlock rifle c.1780, Commercially produced flintlock Jäger (hunting) rifle c.1740, Harper’s Ferry Model 1803 flintlock rifle, Hall Model 1819 flintlock breechloader, Hall Model 1836 carbine, Model 1841 Mississippi “Yagger” rifle, Springfield Model 1842 caplock musket, British Barnett-contract Pattern 1853 rifled musket, Charles Ingram Volunteer pattern .45-caliber rifle, Colt Model 1861 rifle, .52 caliber seven-shot Spencer repeating rifle, James & Ferris half-stocked heavy target rifle, Colt model 1855 revolving rifle and Confederate Fayetteville two-band rifle
There are 4 color illustrations by illustrators Johnny Shumate and Alan Gilliland. The illustrations are of:
The Sharps Exposed.
A cut-away view showing the internal workings of a .52-caliber Berdan Sharps rifle.
Berdan Sharpshooters in action
A trio of Berdan’s sharpshooters in their unique dark green kersey wool jackets and trousers firing on the enemy from conceal positions behind boulders. (Refer to attached scan)
Union Sharpshooters at New Berne, March 1863
A trio of Union volunteer infantry dressed in standard Union dark blue sack cloth coats and sky-blue trousers in position behind a woven breastwork with one soldier firing on the enemy.
Confederate Sharpshooters at Spotsylvania, May 1864
Four Confederate soldiers in varying uniforms armed with .45 caliber Whitworth rifles with full length telescopic sights and Enfield Pattern 1853 rifled muskets engaging the enemy from behind a rail fence. (Refer to attached scan)
There are 3 notes included in this volume and they are:
The NRA Museums
The captions are well written and explain the accompanying photographs and illustrations in great detail eliminating any doubt as to what is shown. The captions go into very specific detail as to weapons and their variations, dates, faults, which side of the conflict they were used by and other such pertinent information. I was very impressed by Martin Pegler’s captions as they are very helpful to the reader due to their detailed content as opposed to other captions I have seen that are very brief and lack detail.
This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.
As with the other Osprey Publishing weapons series titles I was impressed with this volume. This is a very nice reference book that contains many close-up detailed subject specific photographs and illustrations and well detailed captions. It details various sharpshooting rifles used throughout the American Civil War by both sides of the conflict. I would have no hesitation to add other Osprey Publishing titles to my personal library nor would I hesitate to recommend this book to others as it will be a welcome addition to one’s personal military reference library.
A Photographic Essay On The American Civil War
Photography by Sam Abell
Text by Brian C. Pohanka
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