Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1195: Civil War Berdan's Sharpshooters Sharps New Model 1859 Rifle

Auction Date: September 11, 2021

Exceptional, Possibly Finest Known, Civil War Berdan's Sharpshooters Sharps New Model 1859 Percussion Rifle with Leather Sleeve Inscribed J. B. Baker

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $40,000 - $60,000

Exceptional, Possibly Finest Known, Civil War Berdan's Sharpshooters Sharps New Model 1859 Percussion Rifle with Leather Sleeve Inscribed J. B. Baker

Manufacturer: Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company
Model: New Model 1859
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 52
Barrel: 30 inch round
Finish: blue/casehardened
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 4872
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 153
Class: Antique

Sharps New Model 1859 rifle manufactured c. 1862. This is one of 2,000 Sharps Model 1859 rifles purchased by the Ordnance Department for issue to the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooter Regiments organized and recruited by Col. Hiram Berdan in 1861-62. Berdan was a prominent New York businessman and target shooter. Berdan's two U.S. Sharpshooter regiments (U.S.S.) were composed of experienced marksman from Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. The regiments were intended to serve as skirmishers and light infantry modeled on the famous British Rifle Brigade. Like their British counterparts the U.S.S. were issued dark green uniforms with non-reflective black buttons. Berdan selected the New Model 1859 Sharps rifle to arm the Sharpshooters, replacing the originally issued Colt Model 1855 rifles. After considerable lobbying by Berdan, the Ordnance Department agreed to supply the Sharpshooters with 2,000 Sharps rifles. Genuine examples of the Model 1859 rifles manufactured for Berdan's U.S. Sharpshooters fall within the reported serial number range of 54374-57567. Berdan rifles are known to have factory double set triggers, a 30 inch barrel with a block front sight that serves as a socket bayonet lug, Lawrence patent ladder rear sight with readings graduated to 800 yards and a 900 yard center notch at the top, and a casehardened iron patch box. On pg. 82 of the book "Sharpshooter" by Wiley Sword it states, "...a detail of sharpshooters cut small sticks to fit to the sight in order to increase the elevation while at the Po River in 1864. Their shots at an estimated 1,500 yards distance caused a Confederate signal station to be abandoned, reported an observer." The U.S.S. regiments were assigned to the Army of the Potomac and saw extensive action at the battles of Yorktown, Gaines Mill, Glendale, Malvern Hill, Grovetown and Antietam in 1862. In 1863 the regiments were heavily engaged at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Mine Run. By autumn of 1863 most of the surviving members of the 1st U.S.S. completed their three-year enlistment and were mustered out of service. The survivors of the 2nd U.S.S. continued to serve until February 1865 when the regiment was disbanded. The Berdan's Sharpshooters served with distinction in some of the most important battles of the Civil War and claimed to have inflicted more casualties on the Confederate Army than any other Federal regiments. The underside flat of the forearm ahead of the trigger guard and the top of the stock ahead of the buttplate is marked with the inspector initials "O.W.A." (Orville W. Ainsworth). The top of the barrel is roll-stamped: "SHARPS RIFLE/MANUFG. CO./HARTFORD CONN." in three lines ahead of the rear sight and "NEW MODEL 1859" behind it. The underside of the barrel is marked with the matching serial number "55015" ahead of an "X", "2" and an "eagle". A partial "O" is stamped on the left side of the barrel below the wood line. The receiver is fitted with the Lawrence pellet primer. The right side plate is roll-stamped with the Sharps 1852 patent markings and the R.S. Lawrence 1859 patent markings. The left side of the receiver is stamped with the Sharps two-line patent markings. The serial number "55015" is stamped on the upper receiver tang. The middle barrel band and stock are fitted with factory sling swivels. The barrel and breechblock are blued, and the barrel bands, receiver, hammer, lever, patch box and buttplate are color casehardened. The stock and forearm are straight grain American walnut. Includes a period leather sleeve marked "J. B. BAKER" and embellished with borders surrounding a sun on either side. A Private James Baker of Wayne County, Michigan is listed as a 1st U.S. Volunteer Sharpshooter mustered in with Company K on November 19th, 1861 at 20 years of age and reportedly "deserted" camp in Detroit Michigan on March 3rd, 1862. According to Marcot's book "Sharp's Firearms, The Percussion Era 1848-1865" by Roy Marcot, "...the first of the rifles for Berdan were sent from Hartford... to Berdan's 1st Regiment on May 8, 1862." This would mean that Private James Baker deserted two months before the first shipments of these Sharps rifles were received. Interestingly, there is also a Captain James H. Baker (different middle initial than what is on the case) of Lansing, Michigan mustered in with Company C on August 26th, 1861 at 22 years of age. This Captain James H. Baker would receive a left wrist injury at Second Bull Run, Virginia on August 30th, 1862 and a second injury involving a piece of shell in the chest at Chancellorsville, Virginia on May 3rd, 1863, and survived to tell about it with a muster out date of November 21st, 1863. It is certainly plausible the J. B. Baker marked on this leather sleeve is related, or a leather maker. Of the surviving Berdan Sharps rifles left today, this example offered is possibly the finest specimen extant and was stored away from the light of day for many years. Most of these rifles would see hard use in the major battles of the Civil War and be dropped in battle or go through multiple arsenal overhauls. Also included are two rare single cavity bullet molds and a lead ladle marked "4".

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine, retaining 95% original blue finish on the barrel with some light muzzle wear from bayonet mounting. 75% plus vivid original case colors concentrated on the frame and patch box with some scattered light spotting and areas of light brown and gray patina on the casehardened surfaces. Wood is excellent with some light handling marks and crisp inspector marks. Mechanically excellent. Included leather sleeve is fair with some aging, dry cracked edges, and otherwise fine embellishments. Included bullet molds and ladle are fair with some scattered corrosion. This spectacular Civil War Berdan Sharps rifle would be nearly impossible to improve upon and make for a cherished centerpiece to any U.S. Martial collection!

Customer Product Questions

There are currently no customer product questions on this lot