Bill Adams (whom I have mentioned before in connection with his firearms expertise) send this short review of a couple of Martin Pegler’s books and has allowed me to post it here. I’ve read Out of Nowhere and found it excellent.
I thoroughly enjoyed Martin Pegler’s Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper, and belatedly ordered his The Military Sniper Since 1914, and Sniper, A History of the US Marksman.
The Military Sniper Since 1914 (2001) is one of the Osprey Elite series. It is light years ahead of most of the Osprey series in detail and accuracy of information and is an excellent compact reference. The little book covers much more than the title suggests, and is a condensed history of sharpshooting that starts with the early firearms and covers most of the wars of the 20th century. There are a lot of great photos of WWII and later snipers. There are a few errors with the early arms, primarily nomenclature confusion, but they are relatively insignificant and I suspect are somewhat due to information supplied to the author. The book shows the 1862 patent drawing for the Davidson telescope and sight mount, which should be of great interest to CW types as those are the mount and scope that are most often associated with the CS Whitworths (but were not the only Davidson scope and mount in use).
Sniper, A History of the US Marksman being some six years newer has revisions in some nomenclatures and numbers. The book has lots of background information with a great history of the development of firearms used for sharpshooting and sniping. There are many first person accounts from pre-RW through the CW that are in context with specific rifles and eras. There is an account of shooting practice with Hall rifles during the Yellowstone expedition in 1819, a brief mention of using Minié rifles against the Sioux in 1855, and several interesting CW accounts. Pegler has realistic figures of the actual cost of the WW rifle as used by the Confederates. He didn’t wander off into accounts of impossible feats as claimed by some veterans. There is a lot of good info on the 1st USSS (it’s the 2nd USSS that usually gets all of the print). The coverage of CS sharpshooters is more than adequate. There are some minor errors, but again, relatively insignificant—an example is a cutaway Snider bullet with grease grooves, a wooden nose plug and a base plug described as a .58in Minié bullet.
Pegler’s style is smooth flowing and loaded with practical comments by someone that has a hands-on familiarity with the subject matter. The early history of gunpowder and the development of accurate firearms are excellent. His forte is the later period of sharpshooting and sniping and he is really in his element when describing the “modern” wars up to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He covers the psychology, the equipment, the emotions, the hardships, etc of being a sniper and there are a lot of 1st person accounts.
Ironically, being a Brit, Pegler didn’t mention the P1776 British rifle in either book. While it seems that, in general, American collectors and shooters take more interest in early British firearms than do the British, not mentioning the P1776 fits into the context of Sniper. Anyone looking for coverage of the Baker rifle or Napoleonic sharpshooting should realize that the text of the book amply covers what the title implies; it is a history of the US Marksman.
Pegler covers some interesting elements of ammunition quality, optics, and such things as how the powder horn came to be used. He comments on the average member of the 1st USSS: 24 1/2 years old, 5′ 6″ tall, 140 lbs, from a professional background—and not much into discipline.
I highly recommend both books. Sniper, A History of the US Marksman is the more recent book and has more information. It can be had on Half.com for a low as $2.99 a copy new (wish that I had looked there first). The Osprey Elite paperback was also on Half.com. I think that Sniper is the better of the two for anyone with a serious interest in the history of US marksmen.
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