Sharps’ initial rifle was patented September 12, 1848 and manufactured by A. S. Nippes at Mill Creek, (Philadelphia) Pennsylvania, in 1850.
The second model used the Maynard tape primer, and surviving examples are marked Edward Maynard – Patentee 1845. In 1851 the second model was brought to the Robbins & Lawrence Company of Windsor, Vermont where the Model 1851 was developed for mass production. Rollin White of the R&L Co. invented the knife-edge breech block and self-cocking device for the “box-lock” Model 1851. This is referred to as the “First Contract”, which was for 10,000 Model 1851 carbines – of which approximately 1,650 were produced by R&L in Windsor.
In 1851 the “Second Contract” was made for 15,000 rifles and the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was organized as a holding company with $1,000 in capital and with John C. Palmer as president, Christian Sharps as engineer, and Richard S. Lawrence as master armorer and superintendent of manufacturing. Sharps was to be paid a royalty of $1 per firearm and the factory was built on R&L’s property in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Model 1851 was replaced in production by the Model 1853. Christian Sharps left the company in 1855 to form his own manufacturing company called “C. Sharps & Company” in Philadelphia; Richard S. Lawrence continued as the chief armorer until 1872 and developed the various Sharp models and their improvements that made the rifle famous. In 1874, the company was reorganized and renamed “The Sharps Rifle Company” and it remained in Hartford until 1876, whereupon it relocated to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The 1874-pattern Sharps was a particularly popular rifle that led to the introduction of several derivatives in quick succession. It handled a large number of .40- to .50-caliber cartridges in a variety of loadings and barrel lengths.
Reproductions of the paper cartridge Sharps M1859 and M1863 Rifle and Carbine, the metallic cartridge 1874 Sharps Rifle, and Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878 are being manufactured today. They are used in Civil War re-enacting, hunting and target shooting.
Sharps military rifles and carbines
Sharps Model 1852 “Slanting Breech” Carbine, open for loading, two primer-tapes
The military Sharps rifle was a falling block rifle used during and after the American Civil War in multiple variations. Along with being able to use a standard percussion cap, the Sharps had a fairly unusual pellet primer feed. This was a device which held a stack of pelleted primers and flipped one over the nipple each time the trigger was pulled and the hammer fell – making it much easier to fire a Sharps from horseback than a gun employing individually loaded percussion caps.
The Sharps Rifle was produced by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. It was used in the Civil War by multiple Union units, most famously by the U.S. ArmyMarksman, known popularly as “Berdan’s Sharpshooters” in honor of their leader Hiram Berdan. The Sharps made a superior sniper weapon of greater accuracy than the more commonly issued muzzle-loadingrifled muskets. This was due mainly to the higher rate of fire of the breech loading mechanism and superior quality of manufacture, as well as the ease of which it could be reloaded from a kneeling or prone position.
At this time however, many officers were distrustful of breech-loading weapons on the grounds that they would encourage men to waste ammunition. In addition, the Sharps Rifle was expensive to manufacture (three times the cost of a muzzle-loading Springfield rifle) and so only 11,000 of the Model 1859s were produced. Most were unissued or given to sharpshooters, but the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (which still carried the old-fashioned designation of a “rifle regiment”) carried them until being mustered out in 1864.
Later in the war the Bucktails were issued with the Spencer repeating rifle.