*⌛* Reading time: 15 minutes
Who have not played ever a war game and wanted to be a fabulous sniper? Snipers depicted in video games are commonly tough guys (or girls) who perform difficult maneuvers to achieve a final result: hitting the target no matter what. Many people still do not believe that the acting and behavior of a sniper in the real life is quite similar to the behavior of a character depicted in a video game...but it is. Real life snipers are high trained personnel that sometimes exceed the normal level of patience, waiting and nerves of steel that a normal person usually has.
Here we have the example of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who is considered the world's deadliest female sniper, waiting in the same position among rocks and grass for 24 hours till her opponent revealed himself and was finally shot. Or the famous (some people consider it a myth) duel between the Russian sniper Vasili Záitsev and the German Maj. Erwin Konig...all those are well know examples of famous modern era snipers. But history also includes examples of expert shooters who marked a before and after due to their actions. History remembers them for sure, but by the time their achievements were made, the press and general media was not so developed as we know it today and the interest of the general population in the action of snipers was not high so, sometimes they went unnoticed despite their incredible actions. Let's make some justice and remember some of those marksmen and their most remarkable shoots.
❶ The Longest Sniper shot of the Civil War...
It happened at Fort Sumter...during the Civil War fought between The Union States of North America and The Confederate States of North America. Fort Sumter, located in South Carolina, was famous for having suffered the first shots of the Civil War in April 1861, but this time it would go down in history for an event that is recognized today as the 19th longest sniper kill in history.
Fig 1. *Real photo of the interior view of Fort Sumter depicting considerable damage. The image was taken between the end of 1863 and the beginning of 1864. (https://www.loc.gov)*
On June, 1863, after months of sturdy resistance, the Confederate position of Battery Gregg on Morris Island had finally become untenable because of fierce attacks and consistent Union siege operations. General Beauregard ordered an ordered withdrawal which was carried out with great skill and stealth with part of the troops withdrawing towards Fort Sumter.
On December 5, 1864 an unidentified Confederate soldier in Fort Sumter saw a Union soldier moving in Battery Gregg, 1390 yards away. The Confederate soldier was likely using a Whitworth Rifle when he pointed directly at the Unionist soldier he saw in the distance and fired, killing him instantly. Unfortunately, History did not collect the name of the southerner that made that incredible shot. Today's specialists recognized that although that kind of rifle could made that shot easier, the skill and luck needed to kill an enemy at 1,390 yards by that time was still great.
Whitworth Rifles are considered the first real sniper rifle, capable of accurate fire at 800 yards. Its hexagonal rounds could penetrate a sandbag to kill an enemy standing behind it and tested at 1,400 yards, 10 shots of 9 hit target with no problem.
Fig 2. *Photo showing the former Confederate Battery Gregg, which later became Fort Putnam. The Unionist killed was standing here at 1390 yards away.(https://www.loc.gov)*
❷ From farmer to sniper: the history of Jack Hinson.
This is a sad story that tells us how a gentle farmer takes revenge by turning himself from a peaceful farmer to a fiercd and experienced sniper.
Jack Hinson was a prosperous farmer in Stewart County, Tennessee. He was, at the beginning of American Civil War, a non-political man described by relatives and neighbors as a peaceable farmer, yet despite all this, he would end up going on a one-man killing spree....a personal vendetta.
Fig 3. *The only known image of Jack Hinson (https://www.warhistoryonline.com)*
The trigger for his character change was the brutal killing of two of his sons in the hands of Unionist soldiers. Two of Jack Hinson’s sons, George and Jack, went into the woods with rifles in late-1862 to hunting deer, as they always did, when they came across a Union patrol who suspected them of being “bushwhackers”. By that time many farmers in that region decided not to join the Confederate Army but fight the Union Army by turning themselves into a kind of night vigilantes hiding in the bushes to hunt down Unionist soldiers: the bushwhackers.
This kind of vigilantes spread like a plague throughout the region and the Unionists troops feared them a lot because by the day they were peaceful farmers collaborating with both Unionists and Confederates but in the darkness of the night they became feared shooters.
Both Jack's sons were taken as bushwhackers, tied to a tree and then shot to death. Later, they were beheaded and both heads sent to Hinson's farm as an example of the Union’s zero-tolerance policy toward resistance. Jack Hinson could not believe what was happening then because of he was a peaceful man who had instilled the same passivity in his family despite having the two eldest sons joined to Confederate Army and a militia group.
Then Jack, calm on the outside, collected the bodies of both sons and buried them, sent the rest of his relatives and slaves to a more distant city to keep them safe and commissioned a special 0.50 caliber rifle with double triggers, one for cocking and one hair trigger for pinpoint accuracy, huge caliber, customized with a 41” long octagonal barrel that weighed 17 pounds. He turned into a bushwhackers at the age of 57.
Fig 4. *Hinson's original customized rifle. He gave his rifle away to Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest at the end of the war. Major Charles Anderson's descendants have it today.(https://civilwartalk.com)*
Fig 5. *Hinson's rifle customized with double triggers.(https://civilwartalk.com)*
The first two victims he took were the lieutenant who ordered the shooting of his two boys and the soldier who beheaded them. From that moment on he began searching out targets of opportunity, focusing his attacks on the vital river trade up and down the Tennessee River. It's been said that the effectiveness of his shots usually ranged from 800 to 1000 yards which is an impressive distance given the status of the rifles made by that time.
Hiding himself in caves and helped by many local supporters he was never caught despite the manhunt released by the Union Army. Hinson only tracked the officers he killed, marking a circle on the barrel of his rifle for each officer he killed: he marked 36 circles in total, although the Union Army assigned him a number between 100 and 130 dead men until his retirement. After the war he gifted his rifle to Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Forrest and returned to private life dying peacefully in 1874.
❸ The shot of the Century: Billy Dixon
Adobe Walls is a ghost town in Hutchinson County, 17 miles northeast of Stinnett, in the U.S. state of Texas. Right now it is a ghost town but in the past it was established as a trading post by the year 1843. In those hard times it was common for hordes of Native Americans to attack those trading posts where the first settlers carried out their trades: Adobe Walls was attacked massively twice in a span of 10 years.
On June 27, 1874, Billy Dixon was a 24-year-old buffalo hunter at Adobe Walls by the time of the second massive attack made by the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. A force of 250 warriors led by a Comanche Chief started the attack against 28 men and one woman defending the trading post. The first attack was repelled only losing two men who were asleep in a wagon, then the buffalo hunters started to long shot the attackers by using their long-range Sharps rifles.
Fig 6. *Billy Dixon (http://www.rodbeemer.com)*
Among the defenders of that trading post that day were also the famous Bat Masterson and Billy Dixon shooting both their Sharp rifles against the attackers. Given the effectiveness of those long shots, Native Americans gather at a distance to plan next attacks. By the third day of fight, still at the distance, many native american warriors were surrounding the trading post still reconsidering a good strategy to defeat the defenders of that place when at the behest of one of the hunters, William “Billy” Dixon, a well known sharpshooter, grab his .50-90 “Big Fifty” Sharps rifle, pointed to the distance and performs what is known today as “The Shot of the Century” dismounting a Comanche chief off his horse at about 1,000 yards. With the chief dead, especially at such extreme range, the Comanches called it quits and left.
Fig 7. *1874 Sharps rifle. With this model of rifle Billy Dixon made his incredible +1000 yards shot (https://texashillcountry.com)*
Later, the Army sent a team to verify the distance. It was 1,538 yards. Years later, Dixon admitted it was a lucky shot but also saying that the shoot was made, “...with confidence in my marksmanship.” No one can argue that i guess!
❹ A matter of guts: Billy Sing
William “Billy” Sing was born in 1886 to an English mother and Chinese father. When World War I broke out in 1914, Billy rushed to sign up being accepted into the 5th Light Horse Regiment. He was sent to Egypt in December 1914 and to Gallipoli in May 1915, where he was renowned among all the snipers ANZAC had there. He was nicknamed: “the Murderer” or “the Assassin” for his skill as a sniper.
Fig 8. *Australian sniper, William “Billy” Sing, of the 5th Light Horse(https://www.smh.com.au)*
With more than 200 Turkish soldiers killed, he became a real nightmare, a problem, to the Turkish Army, so the Ottoman officers found a relatively nice solution to the problem: they brought in their own crack shot, a man known to the Australians as “Abdul the Terrible”. This man's rifle was called by the Ottoman press the “Mother of Death” because it gave “birth to bullets which destroy the lives of men.” If there was anyone who could end Sing, it was Abdul.
Is well known that Abdul came very close to fulfilling his mission. In August 1915 he killed Sing's spotter and wounded Billy in a shoulder. But in the end, it was Billy who shot and killed Abdul... by putting a bullet between Abdul's eyes after a long day of a one-on-one hunt. There we have: the problem had solved the solution.
❺ From a mast to a tree: skill has no limits
The last two examples of “almost forgotten” snipers of our list are both remembered because of their targets were famous people(in both cases, famous military men).
During the early 1800s the British were in serious danger of being overrun by France. This was the historical context where the Battle of Trafalgar took place. In 1805, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded a fleet of 27 British ships against 33 French and Spanish vessels. During naval battles, British officers often led their men in person wearing lavish, flashy uniforms. That's why they become an “easy” target for seasoned french snipers who look for costumes decked out in the crowd and pulled the trigger into the distance.
French captain Jean-Jacques Lucas had an elite team of sea snipers, experts on shooting from ship masts. Horatio Nelson, decked out to lead his men in a challenging battle, was that day a big bull's-eye for french snipers. Nobody knows where it come from or who took that shot but almost at the end of the battle a sniper's bullet struck the British Admiral in the left shoulder, “cut down through his lung, and came to a rest at the base of his spine.”
Nelson lived long enough to learn that the British had triumphed and stopped Napoleon's desire to invade the British Islands.
Fig 9. *Lord Nelson's uniform with bullet hole from the Battle of Trafalgar(https://britishheritage.com)*
Fig 10. *William Beatty's locket with the bullet that killed Horatio Nelson. He was the surgeon on board HMS Victory who extracted the bullet from Nelson's shoulder.(https://www.rct.uk)*
The million dollar question right now is: who killed Horatio Nelson? Probably we never know. Many people think that a French sergeant named Robert Guillemard was responsible for shooting the bullet that took Nelson's life but as far as we know that Sergeant could be a fictional character created by someone trying to get some attention. The truth is that “the shot” was incredible hard to achieve due to natural ship movements on sea, the fury and hopelessness of battle and the distance, which is something we never can despise. Whoever he was, he was surely a skilled marksman who had more than good luck in taking that shot.
During the the Second Battle of Saratoga (aka the Battle of Bemis Heights) in October 7th, 1777, there was a shot that helped swing the war's momentum in America's favor. That day Timothy Murphy, a rifleman and expert sniper in the American Revolutionary War, expected to be on the winning side. But what he could never have imagined is that he would be the one who somehow defined the course of the battle by gunning down two British generals, at 300 yards.
Murphy was said to be capable of hit a seven-inch target at 250 yards...he was an experienced sharpshooter indeed and used his own custom-made double-barrel rifle during the whole war, which enabled him to fire two consecutive shots before reloading.
Fighting in the Siege of Boston and the Battle of Long Island, Murphy was promoted to the rank of sergeant in the Continental Army's 12th Pennsylvania Regiment and fought then at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. By 1777, he joined Daniel Morgan's newly formed Morgan's Riflemen mainly because his skills as a marksman. Later, his unit was sent specifically to Sartoga fields to help stop General John Burgoyne and the British Army.
That day at Saratoga fields, British Brigadier General Simon Fraser boldly rode onto Bemis Heights trying to gather groups of scattered soldiers. American Major General Benedict Arnold saw him at the battlefield and quickly sent Murphy to do his job. Murphy scaled a nearby tree and fired four times. He missed the first two but the third one hit the mark: Fraser tumbled from his horse, shot through the stomach. General Fraser did not die at that very instant but died later that night. The fourth shot killed instantly British Senior officer Sir Francis Clerke, General Burgoyne's chief aide-de-camp, who entered into the field with a message. Two for the price of one at 300 yards away...The British troops finally quit leaving the Continental Army with a clear victory.
Fig 11. *This piece is believed to be the Timothy Murphy's original rifle used on the Second Battle of Saratoga (http://www.timesjournalonline.com)*
These two well-placed shots earned Timothy Murphy the nickname “Sure Shot Tim” and won the battle that turned the tide of the war and what's even more: French allies joined the War efforts entering the War with thousands of soldiers, artillery and sea power; for the first time, it was apparent that Americans could really win this war.
300 yards may seem like too little for today's modern rifles, but back in 1700´s, hit the target at that distance with the rifles of that time was an incredible feat...and Murphy did it...twice!
Final thoughts...by now
Nowadays there are tons of different sniper rifles capable of hitting a small target many miles away. So we could say that being a sniper today is easy ... but it's not. Developing sniper's skills takes time, practice, eagle's eyes and to be honest, personally, it hink that many of those skills born with the person; so being a sniper today it is not an easy task after all.....so you can imagine then being a sniper those old days when rifles used pellets instead of bullets and they were heavy moles with heartbreaking recoil.
Those tough snipers of XVIII, XIX and early XX century, by using a mix of skill and luck made history and many times even went so far as to alter it by the effects of their shots ... today they deserve to be remembered.
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