pre-1914 scoped sniper rifles

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pre-1914 scoped sniper rifles

Post by bluered12 » 18 Jun 2005 10:35

As many of you certainly know the first large scale use of scoped sniper rifles was in the trench warfare of WW 1. I didn´t know there was any use of scoped sniper rifles before 1914. So I was quite surprised to learn that scoped rifles were already used in the American Civil War. These guns were so called "Benchrest rifles":
With the development of more modern weapons came the advent of the sharpshooter or sniper. Now armed with a rifle which could fire a round accurately up to 1,800 yards long range riflemen became a real threat. Benchrest rifles, the sniper rifle of the Civil War, were so named because they were so heavy that they were easiest to fire with the barrel resting on a bench or other support. Prior to the war, these specialty muzzle-loaded rifles had been owned primarily by target shooters and sport hunters. With an average length of about 50 inches, a benchrest rifle weighed up to 40 pounds, making it an impractical choice for standard infantry duty. The very tight fit of the bullet and the bore needed for range and accuracy made the weapon very slow to load and put the user at a disadvantage on the battlefield.

In 1848 Morgan James of Utica, N.Y. invented the long-tube telescopic sight that would be used by Civil War marksmen just 13 years later. Priced at about $20, these telescopes were no more than four power. But in the hands of a skilled soldier with a sharp wit and keen eye, these devices offered sufficient magnification for aiming a rifle with deadly, long-distance accuracy.

The long-tube sight mounted on a heavy benchrest rifle gave the marksman who was selected to carry it prestige among his fellow soldiers. The sharpshooter thus armed was considered an independent character, used only for special service, with the privilege of going to any part of the line where in his own judgement he could do the most good. The weapon indicated that the man carrying it was among the most trusted soldiers and best shots.

Some of the prewar American-made benchrest rifles found their way into the Confederate army, however the preferred weapon of the Southern sharpshooter was the Whitworth rifle imported from England. Shortly after the Civil War, the army replaced these ponderous weapons and their long telescopic sights with more modern, faster-firing rifles, and the benchrest was no longer used by the military.
source (information and picture):

Does anyone have more information on other pre-1914 (scoped) sniper rifles, their use etc. or pictures of such rifles?
Thanks in advance!
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rick vb
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Post by rick vb » 18 Jun 2005 16:31

Some Union sharpshooters were equipped with the breech- loaded Sharps rifle and I think some of them had scopes. I'll try to find a picture.

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Post by ckleisch » 13 Sep 2005 06:32

This may be a good site to check out:

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Post by Smileshire » 20 Sep 2005 00:20

ya and not's let us forget this ... tworth.htm

An english engineer that produced the Whitworth Rifle where up to Matthias Hetzenauer, WWII German soldier on the Russian front, claimed 345 certified "kill-confirmations" ... tworth.htm

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Post by bluered12 » 21 Sep 2005 20:15

Thanks for your help!

Any pictures of the scoped Whitworth Rifle? I only found this toy soldier:



Confederate snipers with Whitworth rifles killed General John Sedgwick and General William H. Lytle


Pictures of another "Benchrest rifle": ... el_Nr=1747

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Davide Pastore
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Post by Davide Pastore » 08 Dec 2005 21:12

bluered12 wrote: Any pictures of the scoped Whitworth Rifle?
Maybe I'm arriving a bit too late, however this one is from William C. Davis, The Civil War Reenactors' Encyclopedia (London 2002)

William B. Edwards, Civil War Guns (Gettysburg 1962) shows same picture, adding as caption that this weapon is in Battle Abbey museum, Richmond.

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G, Y?
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Re: pre-1914 scoped sniper rifles

Post by G, Y? » 27 Dec 2021 18:47

The 45th Infantry Museum (Thunderbirds) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has a Davidson scope equipped Whitworth rifle with Confederate provenance in its collection.

First scoped rifle I'm aware of was made in 1775 by David Rittenhouse for Lt. Charles Wilson Peale (the portrait painter and patriach of the Peale family of painters). Peale was unaware of cheek weld and got punched in the eye so Rittenhouse had to fasten springs (a spring loaded steel buttplate) for him.

Supposedly the papers of Frederick the Great mentions trying a scoped rifle; but I never confirmed it.

James A Pratt III
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Re: pre-1914 scoped sniper rifles

Post by James A Pratt III » 21 Mar 2022 17:01

I think the first use of a scoped sniper rifle was by the British army in the Crimean war at the siege of Sevastopol. The British Army I believe also used them in some other 1800s wars like the 2nd Afghan war.

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