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Sharps carbine found under the body of a dead Confederate soldier at Shiloh

Stan Hutson
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Sharps carbines were available for purchase to the public prior to the battle of Shiloh.  Many men, both North and South, chose to buy their own firearms and carry them in combat.  From the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall:

Carbine: Was found under the dead body of a Confederate soldier on the battlefield of Pittsburg Landing, just after the battle, by James McClelland Henderson, then Captain of a U.S. Transport. The carbine was given to Geo. W. Foster by Wm. Henderson, son of Capt. Henderson, on May 13, 1901; was presented to the Post by Geo. W. Foster. Received for the Post by W. H. H. Lea. Sharps Carbine; pat. Oct. 5, 1852, stamped “E. S. Lawrence Pat. Apr. 12th 1859. (Item 16)


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Shiloh; Photographs at Shiloh and relics of the battle

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It is often asked: "Why were not more repeating rifles and carbines used during the Civil War?"

Answer: cost and availability. It cost two month's pay to purchase a Sharps (and even more to buy a Henry or Spencer repeating firearm)... if any could be found on the market. And afterwards, the man who purchased such a weapon had to source his own ammunition. (It was not until entire units were equipt that the State or National Government provided the ammunition.)

The Sharps Carbine Model 1859 was a "transition" weapon: the individual cartridge was hand-fed into the breech (via lowering breech block feature) and a primer was still required to be placed on the nipple before firing (or a Lawrence Pellet Primer -- improvement over Maynard Tape primer -- was used to feed the primer over the nipple.) The paper cartridge was torn open once the breech block was raised into position; and a man could achieve about double the rate of fire of muzzle-loading rifle-muskets with this .52 calibre weapon (if he could withstand the heat of the breech block, made hot after a few rounds were fired.)

The Spencer Repeating Rifle, Model 1860 was one of the first recognized repeating rifles, with the metal rimfire .56-56 cartridge firing a .52 calibre ball -- all self-contained, with no separate primer -- seven rounds in the tube magazine, fed into the breech by lever action. All seven rounds could be fired in under ten seconds. A Spencer Carbine cost six month's pay (if available on the market.)

[Details above found at http://www.arsenalhistoricalsociety.org/museum/  Rock Island Arsenal Museum] and various YouTube videos.




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I have read other accounts similar to this.  One of those "vague memory" sorta of things.  A Confederate soldier buying an expensive "sporting rifle", and being allowed to carry it in battle rather than being issued a musket.  I am sure this Sharps carbine was not the only one carried on the field that day.  But, yes, obtaining ammunition would have been difficult.  If you have to obtain and carry your own, once your run out on the battlefield, you are just carrying a paperweight at that point.  One would not find Sharps carbine ammunition just laying around at Shiloh.

It would be interesting to know how many different weapons were used at Shiloh!.

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