During the 19th century the Sharps rifle was the most popular breechloading rifle of the era. Designed by Christian Sharps and manufactured by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, the Sharps rifle had a reputation for quality, accuracy, and reliability.
In 1859 Sharps modified their rifle in hopes of attracting the military market. The Sharps Model 1859 Military Rifle featured a long barrel that was fully stocked with barrel bands. In addition a bayonet mount was added and the rifle was issued with a long sword bayonet.
A breechloader in an era when the muzzleloader still reigned supreme, the Sharps rifle had considerably greater firepower than its contemporaries. Chambered for .52 caliber, the user loaded a paper cartridge which contained the gunpowder and bullet into the breech. When the breech was closed, the breechblock would sheer off the end of the cartridge, exposing the powder to a spark. The user would then cock the hammer, place a percussion cap on the nipple, and pull the trigger to fire.
Unfortunately the Model 1859 Sharps gained little attention from the US Army. Most military commanders were skeptical of breechloaders, reasoning that its fast firing mechanism would encourage soldiers to waste ammo. In addition, the Sharps cost almost three times the price of a standard military rifle musket. During the American Civil War the Army purchased limited numbers of the rifle, most of which were issued to Berdan’s Sharpshooters, a special Union sniper unit which was high distinguished during the war. Only the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves are known for being a regular infantry regiment which was fully equipped with Sharps rifles. A great number remained in Federal storage, and were never issued.
After the Civil War a number were converted to fire rimfire and centerfire metallic cartridges. They became especially popular with buffalo hunters due to their large caliber and long range accuracy. Between 1859 and 1866 around 11,000 Model 1859’s were manufactured.
From “Photography and the American Civil War,” at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Terre-plein off the gorge, Fort Sumter. (Photo attributed to Alma A. Pelot)
The first engagement of the Civil War took place at Fort Sumter on April 12 and 13, 1861. After 34 hours of fighting, the Union surrendered the fort to the Confederates.
On April 10, 1861, Brig. Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, SC, demanded the surrender of the U.S. garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Garrison commander Robert Anderson refused. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, which was unable to reply effectively. At 2:30 p.m., April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter, evacuating the garrison on the following day. The bombardment of Fort Sumter was the opening engagement of the American Civil War. From 1863 to 1865, the Confederates at Fort Sumter withstood a 22-month siege by Union forces. During this time, most of the fort was reduced to brick rubble.
Date: April 15, 1861 Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative Dimensions: Image: 13.5 x 18.6 cm (5 5/16 x 7 5/16 in.) Classification: Photographs Credit Line: New-York Historical Society Library, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections