Civil War Guns
The Sharps was one of the two most common and best known breechloading guns
made during the Civil War. Approximately 100,000 Sharps carbines and
15,000 Sharps rifles were made and issued during the War by the Union. By
comparison, the Union made approximately 1,500,000 of the standard
infantry 58 Rifle Musket.
The Richmond factories of the Confederacy made about
5,000 Sharps duplicate carbines from a total arms production there of about
15,000. These were more crudely finished and typically had a brass
The invention by Christian Sharps was of a vertical
sliding block at the rear end of the barrel. The sliding breechblock
allowed the Sharps to be loaded from the back end instead of from the
muzzle before the invention of metallic cartridges. The Sharps could be
loaded with either a loose bullet and
blackpowder, or with paper
cartridges. The photo in making paper cartridges uses a typical Sharps
52 caliber hollow base bullet.
Nearly all of the pre-War Sharps were made with the
breechblock at a slight angle from perpendicular to the barrel. These
are known as "slant breech." All of the Civil War production had the
breechblock perpendicular to the barrel and are known as "straight
A slant breech carbine typical of the about 19,000
Sharps rifles and carbines made during the ten years before the
The straight breech Sharps could be converted to shoot
metallic cartridges. About 30,000 of the Civil War production were
converted to use metallic cartridges within several years of the
War. The Sharps and the Remington Rolling Block rifles were extensively
used to hunt buffalo. Anyone robust enough to knock about on the Kansas
prairie frontier could get into the buffalo hide business with
a low cost war surplus Sharps and upgrade his equipment after the first
This one has a set trigger used by buffalo hunters for more accurate
shooting. About half of Berdan's Regiment was so equipped during
the Civil War.
After the Civil War, a surplus Sharps was an excellent buffalo rifle.
Springfield Armory and others converted Sharps to military power
metallic cartridges which were reliable for buffalo hunting. Both
Sharps and Remington (the
block rifles) were used by buffalo hunters, but Sharps could not
compete with Remington for further military sales.
Newly made Sharps rifles and carbines are available in several
brand names. These may be purchased by
legal buyers from Dixie Gun Works,
other dealers, and used ones are on the Internet gun auction sites.
A kit is available at a reduced price for anyone willing to tackle
finishing the metal and wood. Replacing the barrel on a kit is the only way to get a
newly made Sharps in one of the other calibers produced before the Civil
War. Especially wear eyeglasses or shooting glasses when firing a
Sharps as there can be leakage around the breech of hot gas from the
Cartridge model Sharps are also available newly made, but must be purchased through a
dealer in your state with a Federal Firearms License (FFL).
For more information, see the attached
page, or consult "Flayderman's
Antique American Firearms" by Norm Flayderman, "Carbines of the U.S.
Cavalry" by John D. McAulay, and "Sharps Firearms" by Frank Sellers.
The following technical information is for the Civil War 54 caliber
Sharps rifles and carbines although the cartridge Sharps after the war
could be made for more powerful cartridges.
||8 pounds (carbine)
||1100 feet per seconds
||1100 foot pounds