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The Whitworth Rifle was a British made rifled musket heavily based on the Pattern 1853 Enfield. Its designer, Joesph Whitworth, owner of the Whitworth Rifle Company sold the Whitworth to the Confederate States during the American Civil War.
The Whitworth, as mentioned earlier, was heavily based on the Pattern 1853 Enfield, although several elements were changed. The barrel of the Whitworth was the major difference with innovation incorporated into its design. The bore of the barrel was hexagonal in shape (reminiscent of the Model 1814 Common Rifle's octagonally shaped barrel) which twisted to form the Whitworth's equivalent of rifling. This, combined with the (relatively) hexagonally shaped bullet, meant that the Whitworth operated without requiring the bullet to deform to engage with the rifling.
Other than this, the Whitworth was pretty much a conventional rifled musket, with a very similar stock, and percussion lock mechanism to the Pattern 1853 Enfield. The barrel was given a tighter 1:20 twist ratio than the Enfield to increase the Whitworth's long range accuracy. A variety of barrel lengths were available (33in, 36in or 39in) attached by either two or three barrel bands, depending on length
The Whitworth was among the first firearms to be used with a deployable stand to stabilise the gun. This stand was forked to give as much stability and width as possible, improving the sharpshooters' accuracy, although the shooter would have to find thier own stand to accomodate the Whitworth. Sights varied from one Whitworth to another with a variety of leaf sights, Enfield sights and others used on Whitworths. A limited number of Whitworths were fitted with a telescopic scope, mounted to the left-hand side of the barrel to prevent contact with the percussion lock mechanism.
The Whitworth was designed to use a longer bullet than the relatively new .58in Minie ball used with the Pattern 1853 Enfield. This .45in calibre Minie ball was longer to be better stabilised over a longer distance, as it had been discovered that longer, sleeker (ie smaller diameter) bullets were more stable for a greater period of time than larger calibre examples.
The Whitworth was available with two types of bullet shape. The intended design of bullet was hexagonal in shape, matching the bore of the barrel. This bullet did not need to deform, meaning it could be made of a harder lead meaning that a greater muzzle velocity could be maintained as the bullet would remain virtually uniform in shape after it was fired, remaining as aerodynamic as possible. The second type of bullet used was much like a Minie ball, round in shape which required it to deform to engage with the rifling.
The Whitworth would not be used in anger by Britain, becoming more of a collector's gun. In America however, the interest in sharpshooters became greater and, by the time of the American Civil War, the need to use a long range rifle to wipeout artillery crews became greater. Confederate forces decided to buy the Whitworth to fulfil this role, with units equipped with the Whitworth being named (unimaginatively) Whitworth Sharpshooters.
A distictive whistling noise was generated from the hexagonally shaped bullets the Whitworth fired. In one famed incident during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse Union General John Sedgewick was shot and killed by a Whitworth Sharpshooter having just remarked "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance". Five Confederate soldiers would later claim to making the shot.
In Britain Queen Victoria struck the bull's-eye of a target 400yds away with a machine rested Whitworth during the British National Rifle Assosiation's first annual meeting at Wimbledon in 1860.
In modern times original Whitworths are a very valuable collectors piece, being claimed by some to be the very first sniper rifle. It is recomended to use exact copies of the Whitworth's distinctive hexagonal bullet with several companies producing replica molds for the distinctive bullet. Likewise several companies produce replica Whitworths, among them Parker Hale, Pedersoli and Euro Arms all of whom produce replica Whitworths for recreational use and Civil War re-enactments.