Confederate Whitworth Rifle


Description and Photograph




     In 1854 Sir Joseph Whitworth of England patented a rifle with a twisted hexagonal bore and then molded specially shaped bullets to match the .451 bore.  When outfitted with a Davidson patent telescopic sight, this firearm had an effective range of 1,500 yards and could strike with deadly effect at even longer ranges.  Whitworth’s greatest competitor was Alexander Henry.  Henry’s patent rifled barrels actually outperformed the Whitworth barrel.  Henry stole the idea from Whitworth; his barrel is identical except for tiny raised lines lifted up out of the corner of Whitworth’s rifling.  Otherwise it was identical.  Whitworth subcontracted the building of his rifles, or rather sold the rights to build rifles on his patent.  Several of the upper class shops were building them, or parts thereof.  B889 uses an Alexander Henry barrel and it has been this way for a long, long time.  The barrel is identical to the Whitworth with the exception noted above.  Something must have damaged the original barrel and it was replaced with the Henry barrel.  It is hard to say for sure since it has Whitworth markings, but a Henry bore.  Regardless, it was a killing machine.

     There is a great deal of difference in measurements and markings found on telescope mounted Whitworth rifles issued to the Confederate sharpshooters, with the exception of the barrels.  The barrels were generally made by Whitworth, but the other components were made by other subcontractors thus making hard and fast rules to identify originality of a given gun or part thereof a bit problematic.  I have found slight variation in stock length, variations of markings ranging from nearly all parts serial numbered, including the screws, to those with virtually nothing numbered except the barrel.  One example I examined is marked with a series of dot punch marks.

     The same variation can be found in the telescopic sights also.  I, like many collectors, having never owned nor specifically researched a telescope mounted Whitworth assumed all telescopes should be identical and should be marked “Davidson”, the name by which they were commonly referred.  In depth research has found that the “Davidson” simply refers to Colonel Davidson’s patented telescope.  While fighting in the Crimean War, Colonel Davidson of the 1st City of Edinburgh Rifle Volunteers watched riflemen in the trenches who were targeting enemy artillery crews.  Davidson watched as they worked in two man teams, one using a telescope to spot for the other.  Whenever he saw a target he told his partner to fire.  Davidson realized there would be greater potential if the sniper could see over those distances on his own, so he came up with the Davidson sight, which was a modified telescope that could be mounted on any rifle. 

     Davidson’s patented telescope was manufactured by various firms.  Consequently, it is impossible to know for certain if a given telescope was issued with a certain rifle, but this scope has always been with this rifle and is marked Birmingham.  Surviving telescopes are relatively short to allow for the extreme height adjustment needed to fire long ranges.  The examples studied range from fourteen to fifteen and a half inches.  All examples are side mounted to allow for a sitting posture while shooting rather than the prone position used today.

     The Confederacy imported a small number of the rifles from the Whitworth Rifle Company of Manchester, England; estimated at only two hundred, and it is thought perhaps as few as 20 of the Telescope mounted models.  The rifle shown here is one of the very few known surviving telescoped Whitworth Confederate sharpshooter rifles in existence.  Identifying it as a Confederate Whitworth can be done by serial number, configuration and markings.  Unfortunately, the previous owner tried to sell it on eBay and it was pulled because you cannot sell a firearm on eBay.  So the owner, being a real thinker, pulled the gun apart and began selling it in parts.  When I found the stock and trigger guard with the “Second Quality” marking I knew it was Confederate.  I contacted the seller and paid him what he thought was a crazy fee for all the parts he had left and offered him a small fortune to get the lock, which had been sold, back.  Whoever bought it must have had a Whitworth and needed the lock, because they would not sell it even for a crazy price.  It was impossible for me to buy it back.  Consequently the lock in this gun was custom made.

     The commonality of all known Confederate examples is that the rifle is military in configuration, rather than sporting, they fall in mid-B to the mid-C serial number range, (this example is B889) and they lack a safety lock.  What makes them definitely Confederate is that beautiful “2nd Quality” engraved into the trigger guard tang. 

     The Confederate sharpshooter’s telescoped Whitworth rifle shown here is a very well marked example. The lock is marked with a reproduction MANCHESTER ORDNANCE & RIFLE Co. forward of the hammer and a crown over W to the rear of the hammer.  The original trigger guard tang is marked “2nd QUALITY”.  It has serial number B889, stamped on the breech.  Five punch dots are stamped into the lower barrel band.  The buttplate, trigger guard and nose cap were not removed for inspection. 

     The Davidson patent telescope tube is made of brass and the end caps are made of brass.  The scope mounts appear to be permanently affixed to the tube and cannot be removed, though the complete assembly detaches from the gun in just a few seconds.  When I got the rifle one of the scope mounts was broken and had to be repaired and I had the functioning lock manufactured from scratch.  Otherwise the gun is untouched, just as it was found.  The wood is crisp, the markings clear, the rifling strong, the scope works perfectly

     Though undoubtedly used almost daily during the War, this rifle was highly prized and its owner took very good care of it.  It has various bumps and dings on the stock, but overall it is in fine condition for a Confederate arm.

     When one holds a Confederate firearm he recognizes that it is very likely that it spilt blood during the War, though with most, one cannot say with certainty.  The Whitworth is an exception, the few telescoped Whitworth rifles the Confederacy was able to acquire were used continually by Confederate Sharpshooters, and no doubt that each rifle left numerous invaders enriching the soil of the Old South.      

     One of these rifles sold at auction for 140k and it did not even have the scope, only the mounts for one.  And while this rifle does have a replaced lock, you can save 100k just for the lock, and with patience you can find the correct lock to put back in it.  The sling is identical to slings on other Confederate Whitworth’s, and is original, but I put it on this gun.  This is a wonderful, wonderful chance to own a true CS scoped Whitworth for a fraction of the normal cost and you have the possibility of finding the correct lock and tripling your investment overnight!       




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