The Sharps breech loading rifle was made famous when the Union’s flamboyant Berdan Sharpshooters made them their weapons of choice. For fifteen years before the Civil War, Hiram Berdan was one of this country’s leading marksmen. He was personally appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to be the Colonel of the 1st Regiment United States Sharp Shooters.
Berdan’s Sharpshooters were an elite unit of skirmishers and snipers, and highly celebrated and vaunted in the press. Many young soldiers longed to be admitted to Berdan’s Sharpshooters. However, making the cut wasn’t easy. A rifleman in Berdan’s Sharpshooters had to place 10 rounds into a target 10 inches in diameter at a distance of 200 yards. None of the holes could be more than five inches apart. In the beginning, the snipers provided their own weapons, but that caused problems with ammunition supply. Berdan requested his men be issued Sharps breech-loading .52 caliber rifles, due their fast loading and greatly increased accuracy at long range. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, Commanding General of the Army overruled him, claiming it would lead to waste of ammunition. Determined, Berdan went to Lincoln and gave him a demonstration, after which Lincoln intervened and ordered the rifles to the crack unit.
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