The Whitworth Rifle,
Made in Britain in the 1850’s and 60’s, the Whitworth Rifle was one of the first long range rifles in history. First introduced in 1860, Queen Elizabeth fired its first shot, striking 1 and 1/4 inches below the bullseye (although the rifle was locked into a rest and sighted to hit the target, Queen Victoria needed to only pull the trigger). The Whitworth had a very odd design for its day, from the outside it looked like any other percussion rifle, but the inside of the bore told a different story.
Incredibly, the bore of the Whitworth was shaped like a hexagon. Further more it used a .451 caliber bullet that was long and featured hexagonal shaped rifling. This bore design combined with its strange projectile caused it to have phenomenal accuracy and range for its time, imparting a high degree of spin greater than any other muzzleloading rifles of the day and giving it an effective range of 800-1000 yards. However, this design tending to cause more than usual fowling in the barrel, a flaw that caused it to be rejected by the British Army.
The Whitworth did find some buyers with the French Army, but when the United States fell into Civil War in 1861, the Whitworth would find its favorite client. The Whitworth became the rifle of choice for Confederate sharpshooters. In the hands of the Confederates, the Whitworth became one of the first sniper rifles to use a scope, typically mounted on the left hand side of the rifle. However, most Confederate sharpshooters, lacking resources and technology, had to make do with the original iron sights of the rifle. Regardless the Whitworth was still used to deadly effect. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Couthouse in 1864, Union General John Sedgewick scolded his men for taking cover in a ditch when Confederate sharpshooters were over 800 yards away. Reportedly his last words were, “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Seconds later he was struck in the skull with a bullet from a Confederate Whitworth rifle, which killed him instantly.
Production of the Whitworth ended in 1865 as clientele for the rifle dried up. Around 13,400 were produced. Today many companies make reproduction Whitworth’s for Civil War reenactors and target shooters.