The Sharps was 52 caliber, single shot, breechloading rifle. In the Civil War. It is most famously associated with the flamboyant 1st United States Sharpshooters, known as “Berdan’s Sharpshooters” in honor of their leader Hiram Berdan.

Built by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut in 1848, the rifle held only one shot. However, the Sharps was lighter, more accurate, and much easier to load than the muzzleloaders used in the U.S. Army. A soldier could fire up to eight shots a minute, compared to the muzzleloader’s 2-3.

Sharpshooters using Sharps regularly hit targets from 500 yards away. To qualify for Berdan’s Sharpshooters, a soldier had to place 10 rounds into a 10 inch target from 200 yards away, and the pattern could not spread more than five inches wide.

The Sharps cost $30 rifles, more than three times the cost of a muzzle-loading Springfield rifle, which was the rifle most commonly used by the Union. Early in the War, the Quartermaster Corps complained of wasteful shooting and an inability to keep enough bullets in stock. Only 11,000 Sharps rifles were purchased by the U.S. during the War, almost exclusively for sniper companies.

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