When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Arm Braces

If firearms suicides are caused by the gun — work with us here — was the suicide of Roger Ward, who cut his own throat with the aluminum reinforcement from an arm brace, the fault of the arm brace?

But do read on before you start feeling too much sympathy for the late Mr Ward.

A Merrimack County jail inmate awaiting trial on sexual assault charges committed suicide by using a piece of metal from an arm brace he wore after a recent injury, according to investigators.

Roger Ward, 52, of Henniker was found unresponsive in his single-occupancy cell in the early morning hours of Dec. 20. Authorities say he slit his own throat.

Ward was living in a unit where inmates are checked every 30 minutes. He was not on suicide watch because he hadn’t given any indication that he was suicidal, jail Superintendent Ross Cunningham said Tuesday at the Boscawen facility.

“Typically there are flags and concerns that we can see in the person and that the offender is telling us,” he said. “In this case, there were none of those activities, at least that we’ve discovered to date.”

via Investigators: Merrimack County jail inmate arrested for sexual assault died in suicide.

Of course, any time someone kills himself, one’s first instinct is to conclude that it was a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Ward had some legal problems, sure, but how bad could those problems be?

Well, this bad:

Ward was facing 15 felony charges, including aggravated felonious sexual assault, felonious sexual assault, indecent exposure and lewdness, and endangering the welfare of a child, according to court documents. He was accused of sexually assaulting two girls under the age of 13 between May and August of 2016.

Rumor has it that this was not his first rodeo, as a kiddie diddler. In Massachusetts, these charges might have led to a cozy plea bargain and a two year sentence, but up here in the ‘Shire, his life was all over but the incarceration. (Assuming, of course, his guilt; we think his suicide lets us assume that).

The officials are all worked up about how they prevent these prison suicides in the future. Why?

“If someone is intent on doing something like this, they’re going to do it, and that’s my opinion of what happened here,” [Deputy Sheriff Jim Ryba] said.

Though the external investigation by the sheriff’s department has wrapped up, the jail is still conducting an internal review of the incident, which is expected to conclude within the next week or so.

[Jail superintendent Ross] Cunningham said Tuesday that corrections employees responded exactly as they should have, following the department’s policies and procedures to a tee. He said Ward’s death was difficult on everyone.

Department officials are monitoring employees’ well-being in the wake of the incident and will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead, Cunningham said.

“I’ve been in this business for 28 years and, unfortunately, this is probably my 12th (suicide) or so,” he said. “They’re few and far between, and they should be. We learn and adjust from errors, but the reality is, it does happen.”

We say again, why? Is the world better off, or worse, with Roger Ward out of it? Perhaps it was an act of atonement. “In balance with this life, this death,” to steal a line from Yeats.

This is Number 6,000

This is our 6,000th live post since beginning to publish this blog on 1st January, 2012. Not many things exist in quantities of 6,000. For example, Czech Brno M95 straight-pull Stutzens.

That’s Serial Number 645 of about 5,000 that were ever made. There’s no Serial Number 6,000.

In World War II, Ford Motor Company made over 6,000 B-24 Liberators at the since-destroyed Willow Run facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Looks like a B-24J. One wonders what happened to it.

Lots of World War II airplanes were made in larger quantities: C-47s, Thunderbolts, B-17s, Il-2 Sturmoviks, Me109s. (The Me109 was probably the production champion with something like 35,000 produced). But Ford did okay, when you consider that they had to level the ground and build the whole factory first.

Since World War II, airplane production has slowed a lot. But Boeing has made so many 737s that two separate series have hit the golden 6,000. Here’s one of the two #6000s, which went to Norwegian Airlines.

The 6,000th 737NG went to Turkish Airlines. Amazing numbers for a civilian airliner.

But this little plane is the 6,000th Cirrus airplane ever produced. (True, there have been models and generations, but they’re basically all the same airframe). This is the airplane that’s famous for being the first certified aircraft with a whole-plane parachute, which has to date saved 146 lives.

Finally, it’s not just blog posts, guns and planes that can hit 6,000, so did this guy:

He’s logged 6,000 hours in the A-10 Warthog. That’s two or three times the hours of the typical USAF general. But as an A-10 guy, he’s not on the general track.

So, in the grand scheme of things, 6,000 blog posts is not a big deal.



More on Whitworth and his Rifle

Yesterday’s post on Civil War Sharpshooters was meant to be a shallow overview, but one thing leads to another, and so this morning’s scheduled post was thrown back into the sea so we can have some further discussion of this subject, and especially of the English rifle used to such great effect by the Confederates, the Whitworth.

Fred Ray, whom we cited in that post, commented and included a couple of links that may be of interest. First, he has traced the English word “sharpshooter” back to 1795.

I think the question is settled, at least as far as any reference to Christian Sharps is concerned.


Also check out my articles on the web site for my book, Shock Troops of the Confederacy, which deals with Confederate sharpshooters. There’s much more to them than Pat Cleburne! Couple of articles there on the killing of Gen. John ” Couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” Sedgwick and one on Joseph Whitworth and his rifles.

Fred’s Whitworth article is this one. It’s well researched and was a good read.


Among the things we didn’t know about Whitworth were that he invented scraping for a flat surface; invented an early caliber, and was instrumental in standardization of threads and fasteners in Britain.

Because one good article deserves another, here’s the section on the Whitworth from Fuller & Steuart’s Firearms of the Confederacy. The Whitworth was not the only English rifle used by sharpshooters in gray, as they also made good use of Enfield and Kerr rifles, but the Whitworth is the one that has captured the imagination of historians, collectors and reenactors.

This rifle is of particular interest to students of Confederate arms, as it is believed to be the only one of the imported arms that was used exclusively by the South who used them in small numbers for arming sharpshooters. They were an accurate and powerful weapon — good for a range of half a mile and were responsible for the taking off of many a federal officer.


Note: all of these illustrations are pulled from the web, not from the book quoted. This Confederate Whitworth has a replaced lock, but is for sale for a LOT of money.


The specimen shown is marked on the lock plate Whitworth Rifle Company, Manchester and on top of the barrel Whitworth Patent.

This is a Whitworth lock; it’s not from a sharpshooter’s rifle, but from a target rifle sold by James Julia. Hammer price was $10,300 in 2014,

This is the barrel marking referenced in the text, also from the Julia target rifle.

Length of barrel, 33 inches. Total length of arm, 49 inches. The bore is hexagonal. Caliber .45, using an elongated bullet weighing 530 grains.  the twist is one in twenty inches. The arm is an exceptionally well-made piece — iron mounted throughout and besides the regular site equipment, is provided with attachments for a telescope site to be mounted on the left side of the gun. The stock is nicely checkered and the arm has all of the characteristics of the highest type sporting piece. All parts bear the serial number 554.

From the Julia target gun, period “globe” or aperture sights.

In the year 1852 when the British ordnance department conducted extensive experiments to test the comparative merits of various rifles submitted to the government they found a wide variation in the accuracy updatable. Whitworth, one of the leading technicians of the day, was commissioned to make exhaustive experiments at the cost of the Government in order to discover the best form of rifling.

This gentleman had devoted a great deal of time and study to the design and manufacture of cannon and had adopted the polygonal bore as giving the best results and decided to use this type of rifling for his small arms. The advantage of the elongated bullet had long been demonstrated but in attempting to use it in connection with the polygonal bore considerable trouble was experienced from the ball “capsizing” or “turning over”.  He became convinced that this action was due to the slow spiral and eventually after testing every graduation from one turn in seventy-eight inches to one turn in five inches found the necessary rotation to impart the required steadiness to the ball and cause it to maintain a flight parallel to its axis was best obtained at a pitch of one turn in twenty inches.

On tests before the Minister of War and many distinguished officers the Whitworth rifle of .45 caliber beat the Enfield of government factories by three to one. The mean deviation at 500 yards was four and one-half while the recorded best of any rifle previously tried was twenty-seven.

The rifle was never adopted into the Government service but 40 of them were made for the competitive shoot of 1860 for the Queen’s prize at the meeting of the [British] National Rifle Association. Plate XXIII shows an enlarged view of the bore of this arm and the machine made bullet used with it.

While the original bullet for the Whitworth rifle was hexagonal to fit the rifle bore, those used by the Confederates were for the most part cylindrical.

This is characteristic Whitworth hexagonal rifling. Also from the Julia gun.

He notes that “20 or 30” of these rifles were slipped through the blockade, and divided equally between Eastern and Western rebel forces, but Bilby thinks that a much greater number of the Whitworths must have been on hand — probably hundreds.

Fuller & Steuart also reproduce this period article:

The Richmond Daily Examiner of November 10, 1863, says:

We have a wonderful gun in our army, the Whitworth rifle. it kills it 2000 yards, more than a mile. It is no bigger than the Mississippi rifle. [US Rifle M1841 -Ed.] With a few of these rifles Longstreet shot across the Tennessee River, killing the Yankees and completely blocking the river road.

They go on to reproduce some combat tales of the rifle in action.

Sergeant Grace of the Fourth Georgia killed General Sedgwick of the Union Army with a Whitworth rifle at a range of 800 yards.

Sergeant Grace used a globe sight. Most of the Whitworths were equipped with telescope sights, but these were easily lost.

Whitworth rifles are said to have done terrible execution at Fort Wagner, Charleston.

General Cleburne, writing in 1863, said: “The fire of five Whitworth rifles appeared to do good service. Mounted men were struck it distances ranging from 700 to 1300 yards.”

Twenty men of Company F, Eighth North Carolina Regiment, were armed with Whitworth rifles with globe sights at Morris Island. South Carolina sharpshooters also had Whitworths and General Lytle is said to have been killed at Chickamauga with a bullet from a Whitworth rifle.

This is one type of False Muzzle, from another target gun (this one a Maine gun for sale by Joe Salter). It was used to ensure the bullet was started right, aligned with the bore. A False Muzzle was usually part of a target gun’s standard accessoried.

One of the great Whitworth mysteries remaining is: why did the Union never buy any? Both armies bought plenty of Enfields from Britain. But if the Union bought even a single Whitworth, no trace of the transaction has been found.


We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out Fred Ray’s book on Confederate States sharpshooters. You can probably find it at your favorite online bookstore, but the promotional website has more information…


…and you can buy it there. (We did, hard and soft cover editions).  There seems to be more useful information on the website in terms of an errata page, and more of Fred’s articles, that extend his work, and are free to read for those of who who can’t explain to Mama $30 on another book. (“What’s wrong with reading the books you already have?” <– one downside to making an important choice based on pulchritude alone, in the bloom of youth).

Update II

We let this go live without images, in the interests of speed, but Holy-Wall-o-Text, Batman, so we’ve added some illustrations to ease the barrage on your eyes. Apologies to early readers.

Rodney King Day, 2017!

As long-time readers know, we like to celebrate Rodney King Day. As we said in the first ever WeaponsMan Rodney King Day story:

Sure, some people celebrate another Civil Rights King this day. But his maybe-relative Rodney’s story resonates with us more, in part, perhaps, because one of the cops that helped make Rodney King famous was an SF guy. (Which one, we’re not saying. It was not our finest hour).

But the main reason is that, in the middle of 1992’s violent, destructive riots (55 dead and 2,000 injured), caused by people supposedly supporting him, Mr King went on the radio with this sentiment, the one that underlies any workable approach to civil rights, and that bespeaks tolerance and respect for your fellow man.

“Can’t we all just get along?”

In 2012, the LA Riots that Rodney, peace be unto him, tried to tamp down were already 20 years old. This year, they’re 25, and it’s fair to say that “race relations” in America are worse than they were before the LAPD tuned him up for resisting arrest all those years ago. In fact, even the phrase, “race relations,” adds to the toxicity of the situation, implying that people have no individuality, nothing more important than the bands of skin-tone-marked ancestry into which they can be conveniently sorted.

Who benefits from this? Not the average soul in our fair land, whatever his or her ancestry might be.

Can’t we see each other as individuals? And, if we can do that, can’t we all just get along?

Here’s some of our past Rodney King Day columns:

And if all else fails, remember how we closed the column in 2014?

“Can’t we all just get along?”

Of course we can. Mostly. But for the times when we just can’t, well, there’s always weaponsman.com. See you on the range!

Indeed. See you on the range!

When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Screwdrivers

Actual crime weapon, recovered by NYPD.

Our maternal grandfather was the sort of self-taught engineer and self-made man that his era produced in great quantities. And one of his most irritated sayings, at least when we were misusing one of his large quantity of tools, was, “Always use the right tool for the right job.”

He’s been gone for decades to that Great Workshop Beyond, but his shade still spoke to us over this article, reminding us that, if the job is attacking the police, even in NYFC where guns are just about outlawed, the screwdriver is not the right tool.

“A screwdriver,” he would pronounce in Charlton Heston-in-character-as-Moses tones, “is for turning screws. Full stop.”  And sure enough, as an assault weapon, this screwdriver demonstrated its limitations.

Cops shot to death a man armed only with a screwdriver after he attacked his mother outside her Queens home early Saturday, officials said.

“It’s a dangerous weapon,” NYPD Chief of Patrol Terry Monahan said in a predawn press conference at the shooting scene. “A screwdriver you can be struck with the same way you can be stabbed with a knife.”

Police rushed to 28-year-old Jahlire Nicholson’s home about 3:15 a.m. Saturday after a woman called 911 to say she heard the man’s mother screaming in distress behind their home on Westgate St. in Springfield Gardens, officials said.

A witness heard Nicholson’s mother yelling “He’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna kill me,” according to cops.

Two responding officers found Nicholson threatening his mom with the screwdriver in an outdoor stairway leading to the building’s rear basement apartment, officials said.

The cops managed to free the woman and then tussled with her son after he refused shouted commands to drop his weapon, according to Monahan.

The dead man allegedly attacked his mother with this screwdriver, but she and the responding officers are believed to have avoided injury in the incident. (DCPI)
One cop fired his stun gun at Nicholson but missed as the man lunged at the cops with the screwdriver.

The two officers fired one shot each, striking Nicholson in the shoulder and leg, police said.

via Cops gun down man who attacked his mom with screwdriver in Queens – NY Daily News.

Obviolusly, the Rodney King Day long weekend has been tainted by another assault by cruel white hispanic, white white, and white black police officers on an innocent angel of color who was just practicing alternative dispute resolution, street-style. No doubt he will now be disabled from his life of productive toil and civic engagement.

Hmm… perhaps the story enumerates Mr Jahlire Nicholson’s many contributions to society? Indeed, it does:

Nicholson, who split his time between his mother’s house and a home on Long Island, was on probation for gun possession.

He had been arrested 10 times since 2003 on charges including assault, robbery, weapons possession and pot possession, sources said.

Cops were called to his mother’s home at least four times between 2002 and 2006 because Nicholson was fighting with his family, sources said.

But unfortunately, he did not survive the consequences of his ill-judged attempt to tighten up whatever screw loose the NYPD might have; he was hurried to the hospital and they did their best, but he has uttered his last truculent, “Not guilty.”

But hey, he only had a screwdriver. Like this career criminal who was bagged in NY in November. After being bagged on 16 October. After being bagged the time before that on 12 October. (In the second case, remember that “undocumented workers” are only undocumented in the Social Security labor system; they often have plenty of paper in the criminal courts). At least they can finally write “Nothing Follows” on Nicholson’s criminal record, thanks to some better-than-usual NYPD shooting. (Two shots, two hits on suspect, no rounds unaccounted-for, no citizens or cops harmed, suspect slabbed? We’ll take that).

Civil War Sharpshooters

They stare at us out of ancient daguerreotypes and glass negatives, or take aim in a Winslow Homer print (right): serious young men. In the photos, they’re posed in a frozen position because of the photo technology of the day, dressed in rough uniforms and clinging to a long rifle. Most of them were, like soldiers of time immemorial, youths in their teens and twenties; a few of them were wise old men in their forties and fifties. They were the sharpshooters of the Civil War. And what does that mean, exactly? Who were they?

Berdan’s US Sharp Shooters. (All images do embiggen with a click).

The case of Civil War Sharpshooters is complicated by the English language. The term “sharpshooter” has come to mean an excellent shot, especially with rifle; in modern American military usage, it is the intermediate of the three grades of marksmanship badge, from superior to inferior: Expert, Sharpshooter and Marksman. But there also was, at the time of the Civil War, an important early breechloading rifle manufactured by the firm of Christian Sharps.

So, were sharpshooters soldiers who are sharp at shooting, or soldiers who shot Sharpses? Would you believe, the answer is: both, and neither?

Yeah, that calls for an explanation.

Etymology of “Sharpshooter.”

The word actually was “culturally appropriated,” as those whacky college kids say, into English about 1800 from modern German, and is a true cognate of the German Scharfschütze. In German that term now means a good marksman, often with precision equipment, but 200 years ago in America (or 300 years ago in the German principalities) it meant troops armed with (more accurate and slower-loading) rifles, not smoothbore muskets. These troops were used as pickets and skirmishers as well as being deployed as the 18th and 19th Century equivalent of designated marksmen. They were closer to what English military practice would call rangers.

In an interesting post on the term on a the Civil War blog TOCWOC.com, Fred Ray dismisses the idea that Christian Sharps and his breechloader had anything to do with the coinage of the term:

A persistent story attaches it to Berdan’s Sharpshooters, who with their Sharps rifles were then (so the story goes) called “Sharps shooters,” and later just sharpshooters. Trouble is, it’s not true, any more than is the tale that Fighting Joe Hooker gave his name as a synonym for prostitute.

In fact, sharpshooter goes back in Germanic Europe at least as far back as the early 1700s or so, when the modern rifle-armed troops were first used in the Austrian and Prussian armies….

[W]hen Christian Sharps was born in 1811, the term had already been in use for a hundred years or so. Sharps did not patent his breech-loading design until 1848.

Interestingly, the word means the same in German and English, and appears in both Old High German and Old English. One etymologist, Carol Pozefsky, traces the English variation of the term as applied to riflemen back to 1802. My surmise, then, would be that it came into modern English by way of the 5/60th Royal Americans, a mostly-German unit raised by the British Army as a result of their experiences during the American Revolution. The 5/60th pretty much went with the practices of the German jaeger light infantry, including, one would presume, the term sharpshooter. NOTE 1

The link to Carol Pozefsky’s etymology of the word, unfortunately, breaks.

Sharpshooters as skirmishers

At the time of the US Civil War (1861-65), then, “sharpshooter” was a term of art, already of considerable antiquity, and it meant rifle units either constructed for, or at least detailed to, skirmishing duties.  “Skirmishing” is not something one sees in a modern operations order, so what was that? Basically, it meant that they screened the army, almost like foot cavalry. With the Army in a static position, they would be posted forward as checkpoints and observation points — called by the now-archaic term vedettes, which like most sharpshooter tactics of the American armies was borrowed from French chasseur doctrine and practice.

On the move, the sharpshooters would screen the van and the flanks of the army. In theory, they would use their superior skills and greater weapons effective range, if need be, to break contact and deliver the ground truth to the commander. If it sounds like the Ranger companies in the Korean War US Army, well, unit names changes but tactical principles endure. They were not meant to be the equal of a regular infantry company or regiment in the line, although sometimes they were employed that way. (Indeed, that’s what broke the Ranger companies in the Korean War).

There was little difference in the employment of sharpshooters in the Union or Rebel armies. The difference was greater, in fact, between the more important armies around Virginia, and the less well-resourced armies contesting the West. The Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia both found reason to employ sharpshooters both as skirmishers and as long-range marksmen.

Berdan’s USSS

Berdan’s Sharpshooter, Reenactor

Hiram Berdan makes an an interesting character. In Joseph Bilby’s Civil War Firearms, which has a whole chapter on sharpshooters (NOTE 2), he describes the man’s character and attainments:

Hiram Berdan, born in New York and raised in Michigan, was a talented engineer, practical scientist and inventor responsible for such diverse devices as a gold crushing machine and a mechanical bakery. In addition, he was one of the premier American rifle shots of the 1850s. Berdan’s inventive genius, applied to firearms, would secure his place in history. The burdens centerfire primer for metallic cartridges, for example, is still in use world wide. One thing Hiram Berdan was not, however, was a soldier. He was a self-promoting windbag.NOTE 3

Contemporary news page with scenes of Berdan’s sharpshooters. Man at center is not Berdan.

But the windbag, self-promoter, and worse — Bilby also calls him out for “strong reluctance to personally confront the enemy,” a toxic accusation in the world of 1860s manhood, and one that was leveled at Berdan by his contemporaries — was an excellent recruiter of superior men. He ultimately recruited two regiments, the 1st and 2nd United States Sharp Shooters, promising them Sharps rifles, and paying any man for his target rifle, if he brought it along.

The men were selected, probably, by a marksmanship test. (That’s how other sharpshooter units did it, but there’s no proof in the case of Berdan’s Sharpshooters). The standard was not too terribly high, Bilby thinks: a 10-inch group with the service rifle, at 200 yards.

Berdan changed his mind about the Sharps and decided to get his men ordinary Model 1861 Springfield rifles. These were good weapons, more appreciated than the smoothbores, 1841 rifles, or Austrian Lorenz rifles many Union units had to reckon with. But the men rejected them, holding out for the Sharpses they’d been promised. They were fobbed off for a while with Colt repeating rifles, but Colonel Ripley, the director of ordnance, ultimately relented and let Berdan order 2,000 Sharps rifles, with any surplus to be stored in Washington. (Berdan spent the rest of his time in uniform defending his spare rifles from raids by other Union officers. He would resign before war’s end, and sell carbines of his own design to the Union Army). Berdan’s Shar’s rifles came with double-set triggers, and nlike all other Sharps rifles, with a socket bayonet. (The regular Sharps bayonet was a bulky sword bayonet. The USSS troops seem to have, mostly, thrown their bayonets away in any case).

The Colt revolving rifle had the problem of all cap-and-ball revolvers: you can generate a lot of shots, briefly, but then it takes a very long time to reload. Reloading was also a problem with the telescopic-sighted 30-pound target rifles of the era, which were shot in a now-forgotten supine position; one set of sharpshooters that found themselves in close-quarters combat had to use their rifles as clubs.

Other Union Sharpshooters

Because the term “Sharpshooter” was in general use for any rifle-armed skirmisher, there were quite a number of state Sharpshooter regiments of varying quality and equipment. The Massachusetts company shown below is well-stocked with monster target rifles!

They lacked Berdan’s regiments’ unique designation and green uniforms, but had their own tales of combat. We recommend you read Bilby’s works for more detail on these guys.

Sharpshooter Weapons and Equipment

Rifles for sharpshooters were always in short supply. The Ordnance Department was loath to let sharpshooter regiments buy Sharps rifles, because every time Sharps filled a rifle order, carbine production suffered, and the Sharps was the most preferred of the many breechloading carbines used by the Union cavalry (at least until the emergence of the cartridge Henry and Spencer later in the war, which still couldn’t match the Sharps carbine for range).

The bifurcated nature of sharpshooter operations meant that sometimes a heavy target rifle was just the thing, and other times a rapid-firing carbine or other breechloader was the right weapon. The USSS wound up issuing everybody Sharps rifles and maintaining a quantity of the target rifles as organizational equipment, brought up with the supply trains and operated by the best of the best shots.

The target rifles originally were recruited into sharpshooter regiments, as it were, alongside their owners. Some regiments paid a substantial premium for a soldier to bring a suitable long-range rifle. But these rifles were problematic as each used a unique bullet mold and false muzzle (for loading) that came with it, unlike ordinary rifle-muskets or even Sharps rifles that used a manufactured paper cartridge. Accordingly, the trade-off for the target rifle’s range and precision was a much lower rate of fire. And with their weight, they were disruptive on the march.

Rebel Sharpshooters

The Confederacy, too, used sharpshooters, but they do not seem to have sustained entire organized regiments. They would stand them up and break them down. They always struggled for quality firearms; a couple of state militias had bought some Sharps rifles before the war broke out and cut off that supply.

The South did have one rifle that that the North would have envied, had its military leaders had any sense: the Whitworth. (Its designer was the same Whitworth whose patent fasteners are cursed by restorers of old British cars and aircraft).  This was a .45 caliber English rifle with a hexagonal bore. It was meant to be used with hexagonal bullets, but could also shoot a cylindrical projectile — for which, it came with a mold — accurately to 900 yards (Bilby says even to 1,500, by using expedient extensions of the sights). Moreover, it was not significantly bulkier or harder to load than an ordinary Springfield or Enfield rifle-musket. Here’s a video of a presentation on the Whitworth:

The Whitworth was sometimes used with iron sights, sometimes with a high-mounted scope, and sometimes with the side-mounted Davidson scope seen below.

A rifle was only half the equation — maybe, less than half. The human factor was key to sharpshooter success.

Where the North had Hiram Berdan, who, whatever his failings, understood marksmanship perfectly for the era, the South had a similar impresario of sharpshooting, Major General Patrick Cleburne, who lacked Berdan’s character flaws. (Notably, he was not combat-shy, which led to his death in action on 30 November 1864). Cleburne drilled his men intensively, not on the parade-ground like most of his contemporaries, but on the rifle-range, stressing both marksmanship and — something that seems otherwise absent from the literature of the war — range estimation. Where did Cleburne learn all this? Born in County Cork, Ireland, he’d been an enlisted man in the British Army before emigrating to the United States!

In fact, most units’ marksmanship, including Sharpshooter units, was pretty dreadful, on average. This was offset by the fact that commanders often closed to smoothbore ranges before engaging the enemy, anyway.

Sharpshooter Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

It is unsurprising that Rebel and Union TTPs were mirror images, as most of the leaders of the Confederate States Army grew up in the United States Army. They went to the same schools, read the same books, adapted the same tactics from the manuals of the French Chasseur à Pied and Zouave units.

Cleburne seems to have developed one tactic that the North did not use: using his men and their accurate Whitworth fire to deny the Union the service of their artillerymen. In this period, artillery generally engaged using direct fire, and that meant that the only safety for the gunners lay in the fact that their guns outranged the enemy’s small arms.

The Confederates also used the superior range and accuracy of their sharpshooters, at times, to compensate for an overall lack of firepower or general lack of ammunition: the sharpshooter as a force multiplier or economy-of-force measure, not out of intent so much as out of necessity.

By and large, sharpshooters did not use the camouflage, concealment and stalking tricks of a modern sniper, although Bilby does recount one story in which a sharpshooter learned from a Native American buddy to camouflage himself with corn stalks whilst moving through a cornfield.


  1. Ray, Fred. Origin of “Sharpshooter.” TOCWOC Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2006/09/23/origin-of-sharpshooter/
  2. Bilby, pp. 103-128.
  3. Bilby, p. 105


Bilby, Joseph. Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background, Tactical Use, and Modern Collecting and Shooting. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing, 1996.

Six Millimeter Shorter Casing = $1,000 in Collector Value

This Czech vz. 52/57 rifle just sold last night on GunBroker for $1,375.00, or roughly $1,000 more than a typical vz. 52 in similar condition goes for. Where did the extra grand come from? We’ll tell you, which will require a short trip down the Warsaw Pact memory lane, and a little bit of supply and demand economics. There’s going to be some numbers, perhaps, but we will not tax anybody’s rusty math skills.

(By the way, we didn’t bid on this rifle, even though we’ve bought from this seller and were watching the auction. No reason but the sleep-intensive weekend; as a normal practice we never bid until the last minutes of the auction, and we were racked out with Small Dog Mk II when the vz. 52/57 found its new home).

Where a vz. 52/57 comes from

The Czechoslovak model 52 semiautomatic rifle is an interesting gun that borrows many manufacturing processes from the German weapons that had been made in the same factories just before. It was part of an immediate postwar reimagining of Czechoslovak small arms that produced new rifles, pistols, submachine guns, and light machine guns over a period of four years from 1948 to 1952. The firearms were initially intended to be chambered for a new 7.62 x 45 mm intermediate cartridge (rifle and MG) and the old European standard pistol round, 9 x 19 mm  (pistol and SMG).

As it happened, though, something else happened in 1948 — the Soviet-controlled Czech Communist Party overthrew the republic in a nearly bloodless coup (there were only a couple of murders and disappearances).

Within a year or two, the Czechoslovak Army was renamed the ČS People’s Army, and directed to conform to Soviet calibers. Or else! (But a resistant Czech or Slovak didn’t get shipped to Siberia… someone who didn’t suck up to the Fraternal Soviet Big Brother sufficiently went to the mines at Jachymov, to mine radioactive pitchblende with hand tools. For ten years or death, whichever comes first). Needless to say, everyone disinclined to a career-change towards uranium mining thought changing calibers was a brilliant idea.

The pistol was easily redesigned before it shipped to use the 7.62 x 25mm Russian round instead of the 9mm Parabellum, and so there were no production Model 52 pistols made (at least, initially) for the Western round. Even though the prototypes had been developed with the 9 mm, the pistol’s roller locking system was, like most such, adaptable to a wide range of loads and only a barrel swap was required. Likewise, conversion of the Sa. vz. 48 submachine gun was fairly straightforward, although with the magazine in the grip, a new, awkward grip angle was required to make the necked 7.62 feed properly.

This is one tell of a 52/57 — they wrote the nomenclature right on it.

Converting the vz. 52 rifle and the light machine gun vz. 52 to the Soviet caliber was not as easily done; some of the engineering talent in the Czechoslovak arsenals was tied up doing this until the converted rifle and companion MG rolled out in 1957, as the vz. 52/57. New production immediately converted, and sufficient existing guns were converted to arm active-duty ČSLA units, with the knowledge that a new assault rifle (the vz. 58, which was developed from the start for the Soviet M43 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge) was coming.

Another tell is the forward handguard, painted black.

Excess stocks of the old vz. 52s and their 7.62 x 45 ammunition were stored and many were exported to “fraternal socialist states” and “national liberation movements,” which is to say, guerrilla and terrorist movements worldwide. Vz. 52s turned up in Laos, Vietnam, the Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and a decade later in Africa and Central America. The global diaspora of vz. 52s and 52/57s took on a new direction with importation of surplus guns to the United States. Prior to 1990s importation, the only vz. 52s in the country were GI bringbacks from Vietnam or Grenada.

The Collector Consequences

As we mentioned, a 52/57 is worth three to four times the value of a “slick” vz. 52. We believe that this is a function of supply and demand — some factors lower the supply, and others increase the demand.

Supply Factors: We don’t have numbers at our fingertips yet, but we believe raw numbers are one factor in the higher value of the the vz. 52/57. We believe fewer were made. The vz. 52 was made in plants in Považska Bystrica (coded aym) and Uherský Brod (she); the vast majority were coded “she.”  But the vz. 52 was in production from 1952 (late; it’s a rare date code to find) through 1957. Peak production seems to have been 1955/56. The vz. 52/57 was introduced in 1957, but that’s a rare date code on that version; most are coded 58 and 59. We’ve never seen one coded 60 or later.

In addition, the vz. 52 was widely exported, especially to Cuba which demanded 100,000 of them, 400,000 spare magazines, and 4 million rounds of ammunition. The Cubans in turn re-exported the Czech weaponry to every hippie with a cause and dictator wannabe worldwide in the ’60s and ’70s; this ensured that lots of surplus vz. 52s were here and there for importers to find and pounce on in the 90s and oughts. But by the time the Czechoslovaks replaced their 52/57s with vz 58s in the early 60s, they’d been cut out of the supply chain to Cuba by their Soviet masters. The Soviets had initially approved them supplying the Cubans to provide plausible deniability of Soviet arming of the island nation; once the cat was out of the bag, there was no more need for indirection in weapons supply. Ergo, the Cubans got few if any vz. 52/57s and the smaller numbers of this model were also less available for export to the USA.

Demand Factors: One of the obvious ones is that, with the vz. 52/57 being rarer, people trying to complete a collection of Czech weapons, or semiauto service rifles, or 7.62 x 39 service rifles, need to find one and people pursuing these collector themes are competing with one another to an extent that doesn’t happen with the vz. 52. But there is also competition for the 52/57s from shooters, because 7.62 x 39 ammunition is available everywhere and relatively inexpensive, but 7.62 x 45 is unavailable, after an initial brief splash of surplus that came in with the rifles.

The magazine is also a “tell.” Only the 52/57 has this about 25º angled base. Rifles were issued with two magazines, but troops were expected to load with stripper clips. Spare magazines for either vz. 52 are rare and expensive.

Given that shooters have many 7.62 x 39 options for far less than the $1,400 of a vz. 52/57, it seems probable that the main thing driving the price difference between the 52 and the 52/57 is collector demand vs. short supply; a secondary factor is that collectors who also desire to shoot the arms in their collection will have a preference for the version that shoots common ammo.

Are these Factors Generally Applicable?

Supply and Demand is not only an important economic concept, it’s as good as a natural law. If you see a price for what seems to be a common arm, your first reaction may be that the buyer or bidders is/are on crack. But when you look closely, most of the time you will see the hidden supply and demand factors that conspire to set that price point at which the market clears. If you don’t see them, then you will be tempted to conclude that someone in the transaction is using mind-altering chemicals. However, before you commit to that as your final answer, reconsider the possibility that there are supply and demand factors that you may have overlooked.

In our case, we know from experience that we make errors in understanding firearms valuations more often that we actually encounter drug-addled collectors. After all, what collector needs a drug? You’ve got all the serotonin and endorphin jolt you can imagine when you score something rare. Like, say, a vz. 52/57.

Sunday Slumberthon

You ever have one of those weeks that sucked up so much sleep at both ends of the day that you basically spent the whole weekend sleeping, waking only to eat or attend to other physical requirements?

We aren’t quite having that weekend, this weekend. We did go over to the Blogbrother’s to watch the Patriots defeat the Texans in a game that was closer than the score looked, thanks largely to some incredible defensive play by two of the Texans’ guys with the incredible names of Clowney and Mercilus (sound it out). Those two guys did something nobody else has done, to wit, give Tom Brady the piñata treatment. What did they sack him, three or four times? Ugly play and lots of turnovers on all sides, and a job by the refs that was guaranteed to leave both sides’ fans unhappy. It wasn’t superior football but it was very compelling TV. Not even a football fan, but that was an interesting game.

We’re also planning on dinner at the Blogbro’s tonight (Sunday). If we wake up.

The winner on a sleeping-in kind of weekend of course, is Small Dog Mk II, whose favorite dog bed is either on top of or improbably wedged in next to his Trained Feeder Monkey in the recliner.

A new week starts tomorrow, Rodney King Day, and we have all kinds of stuff halfway written for you. If there’s something at 0600, we woke up and finished something. Heh.

When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have BB Guns and Rubber Mallets

This douchenozzle is one Derrick Hurni, from the San Antonio area (Bexar County, Texas). And he has some… unusual ways… of interfacing with his girlfriend.

Indeed, you might say it’s an unhealthy relationship. For her, and now that he’s in jail where he belongs, for him, too. Local TV:

An arrest report said that the victim, a 35-year-old woman, arrived home Thursday evening when her boyfriend, Derrick Hurni, 38, started beating her with a rubber mallet.

Hurni then shot his girlfriend with a BB gun more than 70 times, the report said.

The suspect left and went to a friend’s house, where he was later arrested, the report said.

The victim went to a neighbor’s home for help. She was taken to South Texas Regional Medical Center, where she was treated for wounds to her legs, arms and upper torso, the report said. She also suffered cuts to her head that required stitches. She was released from the hospital.

Hurni was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

via Man shot girlfriend 70 times with BB gun, BCSO says.

The “deadly weapon” may be a bit of a stretch for the BB gun — if you can take 70 shots with it and live, how deadly is the thing, really? — but this guy really seems like he’s, how should be put it, not right in the brain housing group.

We suppose it’s fortunate he didn’t have an actual firearm, and we wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s a prohibited person. This goes beyond a simple Anger Management Fail into dude-belongs-in-neoprene-wrap territory.

Any guy has known some woman who was completely and utterly infuriating. But if you let it get to you to the point where you physically harm her, you aren’t much of a man. 

Unfortunately, the nature of criminal law in our self-destructive society being what it is, this goon is going to be let out of prison, sooner rather than later.

What’s the over-under on the probability he’ll commit a violent crime again? Whatever it is, we’ll take the over.

Israeli Defense Forces CT Operation

For the Israel Defense Forces, CT never stops. Here’s a story straight from the IDF, about the Lotar CT unit.

Naturally, it’s a filtered recounting, but it’s interesting to see what friendly foreign forces are up to. (And, against the global jihad, everybody fighting it is a friendly foreign force).

At 16:00, eight terrorists infiltrated the village of Naham and went on two killing sprees. A team of soldiers from the Duvdevan unit were the first to respond. After exchanging fire twice, the terrorists fled to a nearby building and took 15 civilians hostage. The soldiers killed two terrorists before they entered the building. In exchange for the hostages, the terrorists demanded the exchange of 426 prisoners before 00:30.

Duvdevan maintained their observation posts around the building and snipers fanned out to cover it from all angles. Nearby, two Lotar assault teams prepared to breach the building.

Snipers are often thought of as primarily shooters. But that’s not how military and CT planners think of them. We know they’re precise sources of combat intelligence, sensors that collect unfiltered ground truth. Their observation and intelligence collection abilities are why we raise, train and employ them — their ability to deliver precision fire is a welcome bonus. This operation illustrates that pretty clearly.

In a hostage crisis, information is the most vital resource there is. You need to know the layout of the building, how many terrorists are inside, where they’re located, and what weapons they’re using. The town hall sent the building blueprints, and IDF intelligence teams were searching through pictures and videos to find where the doors, windows, and other entrances are located.

Intel began to arrive. Snipers saw a terrorist playing with wires on the third floor. The hallway was open to the outside, like a balcony. The building had both a ground floor entrance and an entrance to the second floor.

By 23:00, the two Lotar assault teams had divided the responsibilities.

Do Read The Whole Thing™. to see what happened next.  We will spill one spoiler, though: this realistic-sounding operation was a training exercise for the Lotar and Duvdevan units. Given its complexity, it sounds like a certification or a course culmination exercise, much like we’d do to certify a bunch of new guys.

It was actually the Israelis who first taught us not to take terrorist prisoners, “because the [censored]s just inspire more hostage taking.” Instead, you ID ’em and give ’em two in the hat. The canoe across the River Styx, as it were. Dunno if that’s still Israeli (or American) practice. It should be. All these assclowns play tough guy when interrogated, anyway; you learn more off a dead guy’s PC than you’re going to learn off the live guy, so why bother?

In any event, the article is a rare glimpse into IDF CT training. Enjoy.

(Editor’s note: We know what you’re thinking. Where’s the Civil War Sharpshooters article? Hung up in the writing. It’ll be published when it’s good. Sorry ’bout that. -Ed.)