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.

     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 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 and found 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 to.  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.  Of the known survivors, thought to be original, some are made of brass and some of iron, but both were originally painted black.  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 and on the following pages 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.

     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, they lack a safely lock and they are marked on the trigger guard tang “2nd QUALITY”. 

     The Confederate sharpshooter’s telescoped Whitworth rifle shown here is a very well marked example. The lock is marked WHITWORTH RIFLE Co. MANCHESTER forward of the hammer and has a crown over W to the rear of the hammer.  The trigger guard tang is marked “2nd QUALITY” and the barrel “WHITWORTH PATENT”.  It is serial number C321 and nearly every component has 321 stamped into it, including: the tang screw, both lock screws, both barrel bands, the hammer, breech plug, barrel and barrel channel.  The hammer is also marked with “TT” and the breech plug is sealed in alignment with the barrel using an elongated “O” stamp.  The buttplate, trigger guard and nose cap were not removed for inspection. 

     The Davidson patent telescope tube is made of iron and the end caps are made of brass.  The entire telescope was painted black.  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.

     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.      



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