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CIVIL WAR ERA
WHITWORTH MILITARY TARGET RIFLE
SERIAL NUMBER 983

This is an extraordinary, 1st Series Civil War era Whitworth Military Target Rifle (Sniper Rifle).  The gun has a 33 inch barrel, bright hexagonal bore and an overall length of 49 inches.  It has three barrel bands and a round patch box at the right rear of the stock.  The gun has matching numbers.  The serial number is found on top of the barrel at the rear, on the bottom of the barrel, on the breech plug, all three barrel bands, patch box lid, inside of the lock and hammer, stock, and on the rack and pinion rear sight.  It has almost all the blue on the barrel, barrel bands and trigger guard.  The case hardened surfaces, ie. butt plate, patch box cover, lock assembly and nose cap are toning off to a very pleasant, smooth patina. 

The rifle was manufactured about mid 1860.  But they were so expensive, they did not sell and most of them remained in the factory.  Meanwhile, Whitworth continued to develop his sighting systems.  The rack and pinion rear sight and the micro-adjustable front sight were a result of his work.  Sales seemed to pick up at about the time of the American Civil War and as the rifles were sold, many of them were retrofitted for the new rack and pinion rear sight and micro-adjustable front sight.  This gun is among those which were retrofitted.  According to Bill Curtis, Curator at the NRA museum in Great Britain, this gun would have been retrofitted between 1861 and 1863. 

When I purchased this gun, I immediately emailed Mr. Curtis who sponsors the Whitworth Registry.  Surprisingly, they had no details on this gun except that the serial number had been listed in a 1960's publication.  They knew nothing about the particular characteristics of the gun.  The gun is now included in their registry with all details described including comprehensive photography.  In other words, it is now registered and from this point forward, anyone in the world, at any future time, can verify the configuration of this gun.

Information regarding the Whitworth Rifle and its use during the American Civil War is very scarce.  The South armed men with Whitworths and used them in a manner which in today's terms would be described as a sniper.  I.E. A Sharpshooter who was free to roam the lines, detached from a unit and pick targets of opportunity.  Today, these guys are heralded as heroes.  Not so during the Victorian period.  It was considered immoral at best, during the Victorian period, to shoot an enemy who was not given the opportunity to acquit himself.  You might compare it to today's concept of murder.  The scarcity of information regarding these men and these tactics probably emerges from this moral convention.  It was not something to boast about, not something you tell the grandchildren later in life.  As a matter of fact, if a man were captured or surrendered with a Whitworth Rifle, the Yankees would most likely shoot him dead on the spot.  The guns would have been discarded before surrender which leads to a scarcity of surviving rifles today.  Very little would ever have been spoken of or written down regarding use of the guns in battle and therefore a dearth of information.  We know that Confederate Central Government Ordnance purchased a small number of Whitworths, some of which were equipped with a telescopic sight.  These guns are marked 2nd Quality, have two barrel bands, standard sights and have no safety on the lock.  We also know that at the beginning of the Civil War, there was no central government system.  The states were arming themselves utilizing importers in the various regions.  For instance, we know that at the beginning of the Civil War, Cook & Brother of New Orleans immediately ordered 20 Whitworth Rifles.  It is highly probable that importers in the various states, from Texas to Virginia around the southern coast, also ordered small numbers of these guns.  Serial number 983  is certainly not among the known purchases that Confederate Ordnance made.  But it has the correct  configuration of a gun which could have  been ordered by an importer and paid for by either local contributions or state funds.  We will probably never know for certain but it is surely a beautiful condition Civil War era Whitworth Military Rifle.  P.O.R.  SOLD!!