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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 9:30 pm 

Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2011 3:07 pm
Posts: 3
Location: Upstate New York
Let me start by prefixing that I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject. After 150 years the resolution of this question will still remain unanswered. Late fall I purchased a rifle, online on a layaway plan. It is a Sharps NM1859, 30” barrel, .52 cal., without bayonet lug, T on left barrel flat, correct sight, matching serial number on bottom of barrel along with inspector JW, all metal marking correct, the letter o under the rear band on top of barrel, John Taylor approval punch mark on inside of patch box door, single trigger, all with even wear and patina. The serial number is 56399 which puts in the middle of the accepted range. There is no JT cartouche as It came with a civil war period stock with sub inspectors markings T.W.R.(Thomas W. Russell) on forearm and S.M.H.(?) on butt. Therefore making it other then the original stock. So checking the mortise cutout to see if it ever had DST is out the window. The T may stand for Lt. Ebber Thompson USN. I received it this January. In the months of waiting I started researching the Bredan’s Order Sharps rifles. The following is a collection of info, facts ”or not”, from well know books, online and articles that I could find showing any related reference.
At this time in history the Sharps manufacturing factory was made up of a large number of subcontractor gunsmiths all under one roof. Once the fighting broke out, Sharps was inundated with US government orders for the NM1859 carbine. Carbines were the popular choice of the Army. Orders for rifles were very few in the early War years . The “standard” military version of the rifle had a bayonet lug for the saber bayonet. It came 30 inch, .52 and special orders of .56 caliber and 36 inch barrel.
Executive Document #99 was produced at the request of the House of Representatives in 1867. It basically is a listing of all US arms purchased during the War years. Going by this official listing, it showed an average of 500 carbines per week consistently purchased and delivered by Sharps. The entries from 1861 thru 1863 for rifles show approximately 120 with saber bayonet and 2000 in Spring 1862 with socket bayonet (Berdan Order). There were approximately 6000 rifles ordered in 1865. Probably these were NM1863. All other Sharps factory orders were for carbines in the multiple thousands. There were some other small purchases of Sharps rifles from other private sources.
1) Berdans’ United States Sharpshooters in the Army of the Potomac by Capt. C.A. Stevens in 1892 He relates no reference one way or the other.
2) The Sharps Rifle by Winston E. Smith in 1943 only references serial number 55948 as socket bayonet single trigger.
3) Civil War Guns by William B. Edwards in 1962. He states a few of the rifles were fitted with DST. He estimates NM1859 range to be 32833-73602.
4) Military Sharps Rifles & Carbines Vol.1 by Richard E. Hopkins in 1967 estimates range to be 32000-74000. References #56736 to be socket bayonet with DST at the West Point Museum.
5) Selecting A Sniper Rifle: The Unions Hard Quest by Wiley Sword in 1975 appeared in American Rifleman in April, 1975. He estimates Berdan NM1859 range of 55900-57900. He states that no carbines were observed in this sequence of numbers. He references from ED#99 that 3133 carbines were produced in February and March of 1862. Carbine production was suspended until Berdans rifle order was completed in May, 1862. The carbines resumed in June, 1862. He mentions 55990 & 56113 as being DST and 57850 as single trigger.
6) Sharps Firearms by Frank Sellers in 1978 estimates NM1859 range of 35000-57000. He states that at least one of the four shipments (500) had DST, but most (1500) would have been single trigger. A total of 9141 rifles purchased 1861-1865 with the majority being NM1863 model. He references 56739 as socket bayonet DST and 46397, 57851 as socket bayonet single trigger.
7) Civil War Breech Loading Rifles by John D. McAulay in 1987. He estimates range of 54400-57600. He states that probably all were DST. References 54580 as socket bayonet DST. He list numbers, without description, from Col. Trepps Papers. 54858, 55085, 55820, 56371, 56386, 56974, 57131, 57266, 57428, 57471 & 57574.
8) Sharpshooter: Hiram Berdan, his famous Sharpshooters and their Sharps Rifles by Wiley Sword in 1988. He revises his estimates range to 54390-57474. He now believes about one third in that range to be carbines. He states that in March, 1863 all rifles were turned in from the 1st USSS Regiment for replacement. The replacements would have been left over new rifles and repaired or replenished rifles. Many of the rifles were continuously being repaired due to battle damage, exposure to the elements and plain wear. He refers to Col. Trepps listed as above as documented. He references 54728 & 54767 as being restocked. He also list single trigger rifles in the range as 55047, 55048, 56176, 56293, 56344, 56775, 56781, 56904, 57106 & 57361. This list comprised of repaired, reconditioned or left over reserve.
9) Civil War Chief of Sharpshooter, Hiram Berdan by Roy M. Marcot in 1989. He estimates range of 54374-57567 approximately 3200. He states that Regimental Armors would repair damaged arms however possible with parts that were available. He references 54716 & 56906 as socket bayonet DST and 57814 as socket bayonet with single trigger. Using a 2% sampling of 66 arms he came up with 65% DST, 7% single trigger and 27% carbines. How accurate this is remains unknown.
10) Civil War Sharps Carbines & Rifles by Earl J. Coates & John D. McAulay in 1996. They estimate range of 54374-57574 based on lowest and highest know sample. They reference the little known fact that John Taylor final inspection mark was a punch on the inside of the patch box door. The book contains many thousands of serial numbers. Most are carbines. After going through all the known numbers I could only come up with nine (9) carbines, less then 1% , in the range out of thousands of carbine listings. Those were 56494, 57014, 57019, 57300, 57305, 57312, 57316, 57549 & 57701. The majority fall on the high end. They list 179 rifles that were used by the 42nd Pennsylvania Buck Tails. 118 fall from 54373-55886 and 61 from 55900-57900. A great resource book.
11) Civil War Firearms by Joseph G. Bilby in 1996. He states that in March of 1863 both Regiments were resupplied with new, repaired or refurbished arms.
12) The Best the Union Could Muster by Michael L. Fahle in 1998. He references 55988 as DST socket bayonet issued to Pvt. James Biggins, Co. C 2nd USSS.
13) Rifles of the U.S. Army 1861-1906 by John D. McAulay in 2003. He states some were purchased with single triggers.
14) U.S. Sharpshooters, Berdan’s Civil War Elite by Roy M. Marcot in 2007. He references 56745 as DST socket bayonet as issued to Pvt. George Albee, Co. G, 1st USSS. Refer back to #9 for his other references.
So when you have digested this list of various different ranges with the wide spread quanity opinions as to DST or Single triggers can we really ever know? I feel strongly, with less the 1% known carbine, that these could have been overruns or originally rejected receivers that were reused. I’m in a mind to agree with Wiley Swords original article from 1975 in that there were no carbines in the range. I also feel my rifle, falling well within the serial range, played a part with either the Sharpshooters , the 42nd Pennsylvania or other companies. It then ended up being restocked and or repaired. So where are the other remaining Berdan rifles that were not destroyed in the War? Will a listing ever turn up to clear up this question? If I have messed up on a number somewhere, I’m sorry. I’m only going from info that I found. Feel free to add something I may have missed. Respond with your comments. John Sheehy

PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 9:44 pm 

Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:33 pm
Posts: 270
Location: Old Northwest (Michigan)

A very though and exhaustive bit of research. Since you are familiar with Winston O. Smith's book I would call your attention to plate 9 on page 37. It is a excerpt from Sharps Rifle Manf. Company Record Book: Arms Recieved and Delivered. The book Smith refers to covers the serial numbered arms from 79, 101 to 100, 000 and from C-1 to C 2897. The dates on the page cover from March 24 to June 4th (unfortunately they do not list the prefix 1000 #; instead just the serial numbers for arms 1-90). Interestingly the arms serial numbers do not follow a nicely ordered and consistent date of completion. Sharps #56 wasn't finished until May 24th and shipped to SH& Graham; while # 55 was completed 4 months earlier (January 18th). I can understand that #56 was shipped to a private business and the Co. was likely awaiting payment before shipping; but why was #55 listed among the March inventory shipped?

Smith used the Sharps Co. books that were on file at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford. Since he cites a single book that covered the 79-100K serial numbers; and the 'C' prefix, which reflects NM1863 rifles and carbines; these would largely describe the 1864-5 years of production; well after the USSS contract of 1862. However, I would tend to think that if they survived, the Library might have the early War Record Books on file that could give you the information that you seek. However, since Sword, Marcot and other USSS/Sharps authors did not reference this information in their own works, could the 1861-63 records have been lost?

Smith includes Page 199 of the Account Book showing purchases made by the Sharps Rifle Mfg. Co. from Robbins and Lawrence of Hartford on page 35 (for Sept 20, 1856). The 10 cases (numbered: 852-861) of carbines show serial numbers of wide range: Case 852; lowest serial 12992 and the highest 19892. 833-low #13834, highest 19973; the rest of the cases show similar differences in range between low-high serial numbers with the majority leaning to the high # run. The overall lowest serial number in the series is 10183 and the highest is 20191--a pretty wide variance in just 100 carbines.

I have always wondered about the wide range of Berdan Sharps serial numbers that modern researchers have estimated--which ones were truly USSS rifles? If we use the above example as a representative sample of arms finished, inspected and shipped, I would predict that we would would find a similar variance in the Berdan contract rifle serial numbers as well.

Bill Skillman
Huson Squad-USSS

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