The "Sharps Rifle" in Myscal Taylor's Hands
Myscal Taylor loved his Sharps rifle.
On the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and across the Great Basin, frontiersmen prized the weapon. In the 1850s its accuracy and range were legendary. For Myscal, this rifle provided long range game for the skillet. It protected him and his friends during the dark days of the Utah War of 1857-58.
Only in the Civil War did the rifle come to mean something totally different to Myscal.
A weapon to kill Rebel soldiers. Fast loading, a man who knew his business could reload it 10-12 times a minute. In the hands of a skilled marksman, it became an instrument of death from afar.
In Myscal's hands, it became that instrument of death for numerous Southern young men.
Sid Sidlo in his article "The Sharpshooter and His Weapon" for the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable wrote the following:
The Sharps rifle was invented in 1848 in Hartford, Connecticut, by gun-maker Christian Sharps. It was a single-shot percussion-cap breech-loader that could be fired eight to ten times a minute, three times the rate of the Springfield rifled musket in experienced hands. The Sharps weighed about twelve pounds, was 47" in length with an open-sighted 30" barrel, and fired cartridges with a .52 caliber conical ball. The rifle was accurate up to 600 yards, and with it a typical sharpshooter could put twenty bullets in a 24-inch pattern at 200 yards. Not the least advantage of the breech-loader was the ability to reload it under battle conditions in which muzzle-reloading would be difficult, if not impossible.
From the novel "Arise from the Dust":
The ranks of recruits remained standing in the At Rest position. They looked on, talked amongst themselves. Some of them eyed Myscal, wondered aloud enviously why he had been detailed out by Payne. Myscal's mess mates watched him, chattered amongst themselves like red-winged blackbirds on a fence railing.
"Any questions before we shoot?" concluded Payne.
"Yes," said Myscal. "You using paper patch or nitre-soaked linen cartridges?"
Payne's eyes lit up. One or two of the officers stopped their conversation, listened intently. He said, "You know the difference?
"Yes," answered Myscal, "I prefer the linen cartridges. They sheer more cleanly when raising the loading block. The powder seems to burn more evenly with linen than the paper ones. Don't know why but I have seen it. That is, if they've been soaked in nitre first."
"Well, Taylor," said Payne with an amused chuckle, “you sure are full of surprises today." He turned to the two boys, raised his voice to the crowd. "You boys ready now?"
They both nodded. Myscal remained motionless, arms folded against his chest, the very picture of singular reluctance.
Payne took the rifle, placed a stiff linen wrapped cartridge with the lead bullet exposed into the slotted loading block, sliding it down to insert into the chamber. He pulled the trigger guard back in place. The block edge rose to sheer off the end of the linen cartridge leaving a few grains of black powder exposed on the top of the block. The bullet was now tightly sealed in the chamber ready for ignition. He reached swiftly into his percussion cap box at his belt, placed the cap on the steel nipple. Payne moved the rifle to his shoulder with one easy motion, pulled the set trigger, squinted, let out his breath, gently squeezed the firing trigger.
The rifle boomed, gusting sulfurous smoke. A bare microsecond later, they heard the deep clang of the bell struck by the bullet which in turn ricocheted off into the air sounding like a spinning bumble bee rising towards the sky…