Designed by Sir J. Whitworth in the year before 1855, the Whitworth rifle was meant to improve on all the things that were believed to be wrong with the Enfield sniper rifle. British inventor Sir J. Whitworth noted that the Enfield sniper rifle had a limited range. He expressed his concerns with experts that were familiar with weapons; informing them that they must create a groundbreaking weapon that could hit targets at farther distances than the other rifles. He then took his leisure to formulate the sniper rifle which name was derived from his surname.
Before the Whitworth rifle was created, the barrel that came with other sniper rifles had a ground or treadmill surface that put friction on a regularly shaped bullet by gripping the bullet and spinning it. This heat and friction forced the bullet to have reduced speed and have a limited range.
Sir J. Whitworth modified his rifle to have a polygonal barrel that used an innovative polygonal bullet. The barrel was un-grooved, and there was minimal friction. The Enfield, which was the popular long-distance range rifle made one turn in less than 79 inches. The Whitworth made one turn in less than 21 inches. This revolution is over three times that of the Enfield rifle.
The sniper rifle used a .451 caliber which is smaller than the. 577 calibers of the other rifle. The use of the caliber bore resulted in the weapon being called the .451 Whitworth by some experts. The Whitworth bullet was also longer and more stabilized at longer range than the cumbersome, bullets of other rifles. The rifle was also lighter than other rifles that shared the same similarities.
Due to Because the rifling making minimal contact with the bullet, the rifle can propel bullets at a faster speed. Higher velocity plus heavily compacted rifling made the sniper rifles a deadly weapon. The sniper rifle can hit targets at two thousand yards. A huge difference to the one thousand and four hundred yards of the other rifle.
The rifle was brought to the attention of the Great Britain army who demanded to see it. But negotiations did not go any further because it was more expensive than other weapons. It cost about four times more than the cost price of other rifles. Also, the army complained that the rifle accumulated gunshot residue and dregs. This means that more time was needed to clean and oil it than other rifles. They told Sir Whitworth that the army couldn’t use the weapon because of these issues.
The rejection of the rifle by the British army didn’t stop it from making its way to North America where it became widely used by the Confederates during the Civil War. It was popular in other countries like France, where the army in France purchased it for their soldiers. Several thousand rifles were made. The sniper rifle was soon feared, and man dropped low to the ground when they heard the characteristic whistling of the polygonal bullets in the air.
A Whitworth rifle with a scope was even deadlier. The sniper sight or scope was often placed to the left side of the barrel, unlike modern-day rifles which have their scopes on the top. Some of these exceptional rifles had open sights that their distance and windage could be adjusted.
The brave, cunning and notable men that used these upgraded sniper rifles were the best and most accurate shooters in the Confederate army. They were called the Sharpshooters, and they became known as pioneer sniper units. These notable men regularly targeted artillery men even though they also hit a few Union officers.
Different variations of the sniper rifle were made available for the men fighting on the side of the Confederates. They had varying barrel lengths of thirty-nine, thirty-six and thirty-three inches. Some of the ammunition was even conical bullets instead of polygonal bullets. The most common models were marked as second quality. They were less complicated with simpler sights, and they had external safeties that could be slid on. They typically had a barrel that was as long as thirty-three inches.
Most sharpshooters rested their rifles on felled trees or logs to ensure that they were more accurate. Some sharpshooters carried around special forked rests for the rifle. Since the rifles were lighter (nine pounds weight), they could be carried easily. But their weight was also a disadvantage as the rifles had a hard kick. This hard kick often resulted in a black eye and other injuries for those that used their rifles with a telescopic because of the fast recoil that occurs after the rifle is fired.
The most famous story of the Whitworth rifle involved the death of a very high-ranking Union Officer, Major-General J. Sedgwick. During the Battle of the Courthouse, this officer chastised his men for dropping to the ground whenever they heard the rifle being fired. But as fate would have it, he died from the irregular bullets of the rifle.
A soldier walked in front of him, and as a shot was fired, he dodged. The other men around him dropped, and the officer made a comment saying, ‘They can’t even shoot an elephant dead at a range that is as far as this.’ The words were barely out of his mouth before he was hit by a bullet below his left eye.
Different sharpshooters tried to claim the shooting, but no one could determine who shot him. The distance for the shooting was between five hundred to one thousand yards.
Other high-ranking Union officers like General W. Lytle were also shot by the Whitworth sniper rifle. At the Chickamauga Battle, General W. Lytle was shot by a Whitworth while he was on his horse leading an attack. General W. Lytle was surrounded by his men before his corpse was evacuated for a fitting burial.
In the late 19th century, around 1860, the Monarch, Queen Victoria of Great Britain and her colonies launched the inaugural meeting the NRA of Britain by firing a Whitworth rifle that was placed on a machine rest. The Queen fired the rifle by pulling on a silk cord that was attached or affixed to the trigger of the rifle. The Queen hit an iron target that was set over 300 yards away at one to one-quarter inch away from the middle of the bullseye.
Today, the Whitworth sniper rifle is highly revered by collectors. There are various Whitworth rifle reproductions available. One of such is the Whitworth Pedersoli by Davide Pedersoli and company. Other reproductions are made by weapon manufacturers that sell antique and old rifles. Thanks to these reproductions, gun collectors and those that love the history of the war between the Northern and the Southern states can buy a Whitworth rifle.