By 1830, Christian Sharps, born in New Jersey in 1811, had gone to work at the Harpers Ferry, Va., Arsenal, helping to produce firearms for the U.S. Army. In 1848, Sharps received his first breechloadingfirearms patent. By 1851, the gunmaker had struck out on his own and formed the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Conn., to produce his simple and sturdy weapon design that remained relatively unchanged throughout the Civil War. It featured a breechblock that dropped down when the trigger guard was unlatched and moved forward.
Then, a linen or paper .52-caliber cartridge would be inserted into the breech. As the trigger guard was raised, a sharpened edge on the breechblock would shear off the end of the cartridge, exposing the powder. A common percussion cap was then placed on the cone, and the gun was ready to fire.
The first Sharps carbines were issued to U.S. troopers in 1854, and they remained the most widely issued cavalry shoulder arm throughout the conflict. One admiring Union officer remarked: “A cavalry carbine should be very simple in its mechanisim, with all its…parts well covered from the splashing of mud, or the accumulation of rest and dust. Sharps carbine combines all these qualities.”
Breechloaders allowed soldiers to load easily while lying prone, and the rifle version of Sharps was favored by the marksmen in the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, who used a custom model that included a hair trigger.