"Sharpshooter" origin

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Loyalist Dave

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So I heard this very recently, that the origin of the word "Sharpshooter", comes from the use of the Sharps rifle and carbines during the ACW. At least for the English language.

So I looked into this, and found out that Christian Sharps was born in 1810.

Yet there are these two references,
“This Regiment has several Field Pieces, and two companies of Sharp Shooters, which are very necessary in the modern Stile of War.” 1801
"Lord Nelson was wounded by a French Sharpshooter" 1805

So while it sounds very good, apparently Mr. Sharps' rifle was not the reason for the term.

LD
 

Tom A Hawk

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So I heard this very recently, that the origin of the word "Sharpshooter", comes from the use of the Sharps rifle and carbines during the ACW. At least for the English language.

So I looked into this, and found out that Christian Sharps was born in 1810.

Yet there are these two references,
“This Regiment has several Field Pieces, and two companies of Sharp Shooters, which are very necessary in the modern Stile of War.” 1801
"Lord Nelson was wounded by a French Sharpshooter" 1805

So while it sounds very good, apparently Mr. Sharps' rifle was not the reason for the term.

LD
I have also read of the term's origin relating to the Sharps rifle and it makes very good sense. When were the two references written and is it possible that a modern day author used the term "Sharpshooter" thinking it is synonymous with "Marksman" or "Sniper"?
 

Loyalist Dave

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The references were a) 1801, which was 9 years before Christian Sharps was born, and the second reference was 1805, five years before Sharps' birth. There are apparently additional references to "Sharp Shooters" and "Sharpshooters'" during the Napoleonic Wars. The two chosen references I used because each shows the variations in the terms, two-words or a single word. The second reference refers without doubt to marksmanship. Since Lord Nelson was a British naval officer, one can speculate that perhaps the French Sharpshooter wasn't even using a rifle. Continental Marines are documented as being sent to the "fighting tops" of the masts to shoot at enemy soldiers during boarding actions, and while repelling borders. The French may have used the same tactic in the Napoleonic Era.

LD
 

Tom A Hawk

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So the references were actually written in 1801 and 1805? Very curious. I have researched the definitions, synonyms and etymology for the word "Sharp" and so far find nothing relating to precision shooting.

Looking further, it appears the source of the references may be here. http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sha5.htm

I also found the mentioned Edinburgh Advertiser page however we must subscribe in order to view the actual text. Edinburgh Advertiser Archives, Jun 23, 1801, p. 1
 

Loyalist Dave

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Some reference the German Scharfschütze, which is much older, but I hesitate to use that as although similar in sound, and the direct translation, I'm not sure that it correlates. On the other hand the Germans were allies of the British in the Napoleonic Wars, and so the term might have been learned during interaction between the two allies.

LD
 

Tom A Hawk

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Some reference the German Scharfschütze, which is much older, but I hesitate to use that as although similar in sound, and the direct translation, I'm not sure that it correlates. On the other hand the Germans were allies of the British in the Napoleonic Wars, and so the term might have been learned during interaction between the two allies.

LD
Yes, I saw that also and agree with you. It seems to be simply a direct translation in German as you've noted.
 

tenngun

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The Victory was ‘within pistol shot’ of the French. Nelson was shot from a man in the enemy rear mast, the mizzen mast, about 60 feet high at the ‘top’ the platform about half way up the mast. So the straight line range was about thirty five yards. The seas were near flat and winds light airs, the ships barely moving. It wasn’t much of a ‘sharp shot’. Most people could hit a man sized target at that range under those conditions. Nelson was wearing a ‘please shoot me’ coat and stood out like a sore thumb.
 

Phil Coffins

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Outside us old gun nuts most people couldn’t identify a Sharps rifle if they saw one. A nearby gun shop was offered one last fall and they turned it away not knowing it’s value. When my buddy stopped in to show off his new Shiloh Sharps they said we had one come in that a guy was wanting to trade but it was old! They deal in ARs and Glocks mostly. I agree the term predates the civil war.
 
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Buddy stopped at lgs to examine used Moisins on sale. Asked to by one marked Westinghouse but owner knew him as a regular customer and insisted he be given a new leather sling as the Westinghouse just had a piece of frayed rope on it for carry.
 

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The Victory was ‘within pistol shot’ of the French. Nelson was shot from a man in the enemy rear mast, the mizzen mast, about 60 feet high at the ‘top’ the platform about half way up the mast. So the straight line range was about thirty five yards. The seas were near flat and winds light airs, the ships barely moving. It wasn’t much of a ‘sharp shot’. Most people could hit a man sized target at that range under those conditions. Nelson was wearing a ‘please shoot me’ coat and stood out like a sore thumb.
Nelson was also the only one-armed, one-eyed naval officer on that part of the deck wearing all his awards and titles, that were, by then, considerable.
 

TFoley

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Buddy stopped at lgs to examine used Moisins on sale. Asked to by one marked Westinghouse but owner knew him as a regular customer and insisted he be given a new leather sling as the Westinghouse just had a piece of frayed rope on it for carry.
?
 

dave951

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The term predates the Civil War by decades and was used to refer to those shooting rifles who were exceptional shots.

While the Sharps rifles were used by Berdan's Sharpshooters, it's just a cool coincidence of history. For entry into the Berdan's ranks, the recruit had to prove his shooting prowess and that often didn't include shooting a Sharps.
 

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I believe that to be in Berdan's ranks, one had to shoot offhand into a 10'circle, 10 out of 10 times. I would think that a sharps rifle would be a big help in achieving this. My 59 sharps will do 1 1/2 inches at 100 yards, but that is from a bench.
 

mzzldr

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After doing a little Googling, I found "...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, and probably has a civilian origin. It survives today as the Germans have never adopted the term sniper for precision shooter and continue to use scharfshutzen instead." Ref: Origin of “sharpshooter”
 

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Wikipedia: "The British expedition to Ostend on 18 May 1798 was launched to destroy gun-boats harboured in Ostend and destined to take part in the planned invasion of Britain "

With reference to the above and in publishing despatches from the event, a Hampshire Chronicle (UK) newspaper of 28 July 1798 noted - "In effecting this met with strong opposition from a considerable body of sharp-shooters, who were, gallantly repulsed with some loss, and by a march cut off from the town Ostend."

also...

The Kentish Weekly Post newspaper of 20 April 1798 carries in a report on a meeting of local dignatories that “Sir John Honywood, made an offer to raise a Corps of Rifle-men and other Sharp Shooters, for the defence of the County of Kent.”


David
 

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Wikipedia: "The British expedition to Ostend on 18 May 1798 was launched to destroy gun-boats harboured in Ostend and destined to take part in the planned invasion of Britain "

With reference to the above and in publishing despatches from the event, a Hampshire Chronicle (UK) newspaper of 28 July 1798 noted - "In effecting this met with strong opposition from a considerable body of sharp-shooters, who were, gallantly repulsed with some loss, and by a march cut off from the town Ostend."

also...

The Kentish Weekly Post newspaper of 20 April 1798 carries in a report on a meeting of local dignatories that “Sir John Honywood, made an offer to raise a Corps of Rifle-men and other Sharp Shooters, for the defence of the County of Kent.”


David
Perhaps the important thing to consider in these early written accounts is the newspaper publishers seem to assume their readers knew what a Sharp Shooter was, in the common lexicon. So it is quite possible the word goes back even further in the common language.

Gus
 

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