Rock Island Auction Company is having a big gun auction later this month. I always like to look but of course there’s no way I could buy any of them. Just as well, I suppose.
There are a couple of Civil War era guns worth looking at. One is a nice 1860s era target rifle, said to have been used by Berdan’s men. I would not put a great deal of faith in that without further evidence of its provenance, but it is typical of the heavy target rifles used by Federal sharpshooters with its full-length telescope and heavy octagonal barrel.
They have a Whitworth for sale as well. It’s of the same type used by Confederate sharpshooters, with a 33″ barrel and a stock extending almost all the way to the muzzle. Which one would you prefer to carry around the battlefield?
Also of interest is the unusual breech-loading Westley Richards rifle, sometimes called the “monkey tail.” If you want to see why it was given this unusual name, there’s a better picture here. Flipping up a lever in the top of the stock opened the breech for loading, but the gun did not use a metallic cartridge, so sealing (as with the Sharps) was sometimes a problem. This particular rifle is fitted with a Whitworth barrel (Joseph Whitworth licensed his barrels to a number of manufacturers), which shows it was capable of handling high pressures. Some Westley Richards carbines were used in the Civil War, but I’ve never seen a reference to a long rifle such as this one, even though it was made in 1861. The system was promising but never adopted by a major power. The company, by the way, is still in business today.