There were several influential weapons and came changing military technologies that came out of the American Civil War, some of which can be traced back to Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company. Christian Sharps’ first patent was in 1848 and it was quickly ordered by the US military. The orders became so large that he had to relocate his factory to a state where he could acquire more land. They came out with several variants from 1848-1881 spanning the time from percussion cap rifles to cartridge fed rifles.

Sharps Rifle Manufacturing remained open until 1881 when they declared bankruptcy. New repeating rifles were all the rage and the old falling block design couldn’t compete with newer models of the day. The legacy and impact of Sharps Rifles can certainly be seen in history and still be felt today.

Refurbished Sharps Rifle
1853 Sharps Rifle (Refurbished)

Sharps Rifle

When thinking of rifles from the American Civil War the majority of casual historians will picture muzzleloading percussion cap rifles, which is not wrong. However, many cavalry units and sniper units used breech-loading percussion cap rifles.

These were by no means the first break loading rifles, the first breech-loading rifle is nearly as old as rifles themselves going back to the 14th century. However, Sharps’ design was original in many ways. It was one of the first breech-loading rifles to use the new percussion cap and utilized a falling block design.

Falling Block Design
Falling Block Design Breech Loader – Source: Gunsinternational

This made reloading much faster especially when kneeling or in the prone position. The Sharps Rifle was a carbine and was preferred by calvary men on both sides. The use of cavalry during the civil war differed from wars in the past. They would usually dismount when using their weapons. Calvary soldiers were among the more elite units of the day and would get better quality weapons.

Sharpshooters also favored Sharps rifles for their greater accuracy and rate of fire compared to muzzle-loading rifles of the day, like the Springfield 1861. Sharps Rifle had double the rate of fire of the Springfield 61. This feat was accomplished without the use of cartridges.

Cavalry Sharps Rifle
Civil War Cavalry Soldier with a Sharps Rifle

Obviously the implementation of cartridges would make the rate of fire of the Sharps rifle obsolete. Its muzzle loading feature was used by Springfield in the US Army’s next standard issue rifle the Springfield model 1873 which utilized a trapdoor breech-loading action along with a cartridge. A testament to its popularity among soldiers and effectiveness at the time.

Sharps Rifle Ammo

Sharps rifles were also popularized after the civil war in the Wild West. The classic rifle’s large-caliber cartridge and fantastic accuracy made it ideal for buffalo hunting. In fact, Buffalo Bill famously used the .50-70 cartridge in a buffalo hunting competition where he came in the victor even though his competitor was using a repeating rifle. 


The Sharps Rifles made a significant impact on the philosophy of military firearms. Many military leaders of the day didn’t want their soldiers to have the ability to have a high rate of fire, worrying they would waste ammunition. Sharps rifles certainly impacted the ideas of effective tactical loading and the philosophy of rate of fire for military leadership. 

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Adam V

Combat military veteran with a Masters degree in security and diplomacy, Adam V is a jack of all trades for Gunivore. He is also a martial arts, survival, and firearms enthusiast who enjoys sharing his opinions on tough topics.

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