The Sharps Rifle was one of the finest rifles ever built. It marked the beginning of a new trend in the field of rifles and the men who used them.
The old-way of loading and firing a rifle was to load it from the muzzle; this weapon however could be loaded at the breach.
This made for much faster loading and firing times. This also allowed a soldier to lie down or take cover while reloading.
The rifle was designed in 1848 and entered service in 1850. It held only one shot. It used a falling block action which used a metal breach lock that slides up and down in grooves cut into the breach which is controlled by a lever.
Typically a soldier could fire between 8 and 10 shots per minute depending on his skill.
Roughly 100,000 of them were built between 1850 and 1881 when it was finally retired from service.
The weapon was popular on both sides. It was not widely used as a standard infantry weapon because the rifled muskets were much more widely available and easier to produce. The carbine was a shorter version of the regular rifle and was used primarily by cavalry troops on both sides. A Union cavalryman fired the first shot during the battle of Gettysburg with this rifle.
He fired this shot at the very first Confederate troops to arrive in the vicinity of Gettysburg. The shot missed its target, but it was the first of thousands over the next three days of brutal fighting.