Shooting the Civil War sniper’s .451 Whitworth

Shooting the Civil War sniper’s .451 Whitworth

Designed in the mid 1850s, the .451 Whitworth was a single-shot muzzle loader often known as the world’s first sniper rifle.

Frequently used by Confederate sharphooters, the Whitworth proved to be as accurate at 1,100 yards as the Enfield at 500 yards and had a maximum firing range up to 1,500 yards.

It’s most unique feature is arguably the rifling which uses a hexagonal cross-section. Matched with a hexagonal round, the rifling would not “bite” into the bullet. The Whitworth’s bullet was longer and heavier than comparable ammunition.

The Whitworth used a narrower bore than the Enfield’s .577 caliber. The bullets were longer, more slender, and more stable over longer ranges than other rifles of the time.

General John Sedgwick was shot and killed while probing skirmish lines at the Battle of Spotsylvaian Court House. About 1,000 yards from the Confederate sharpshooters, Gen. Sedgwick chastised his staff and artillerymen for ducking or looking for cover. His now infamous last words were “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” uttered just moments before a sharpshooter’s bullet struck him below the left eye.