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How to Load an 1863 Sharps Rifle

by Keith Allen

The 1863 Sharps rifle is a breech-loading firearm of the American Civil War era. It was not distributed by the armies involved to the soldiers but was sometimes privately purchased as an improvement over the army-issued weapons. The original guns are close to 150 years old and should not be fired unless first inspected by a knowledgeable gunsmith. Reproduction guns do exist and, if well cared for, should be safe to fire. Only black powder, or its equivalents, should be used in these guns.

1.

Push the lever, found around and behind the trigger, down to open the breech. This action causes the breech block to slide down, exposing the rear opening of the chamber. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction with the barrel angled downward during the entire loading process.

2.

Push an appropriately sized bullet into the front of the chamber. The 1863 Sharps is available in. 45 and .54 calibers. The proper bullet will fit against the rifling at the front of the chamber.

3.

Pour loose FFg black powder or rifle Pyrodex into the chamber behind the bullet. The chamber of the .45 caliber holds about 55 grains of powder while the .54 caliber can hold up to 80 grains. The chamber will actually overflow slightly if a standard bullet is used. Never use more than the advised powder charges even if firing a smaller bullet that leaves more space in the chamber.

4.

Close the breech by raising the lever. This will clear any overflow powder from the chamber. At this point the gun barrel no longer needs to be pointed downward. Rap the side of the gun near the chamber a couple of time with the heel of the hand to settle the powder.

5.

Place a percussion cap on the nipple of the gun. The 1863 Sharps rifle uses the musket-sized cap. At this time the gun is ready to fire.

Items you will need

  • 1863 Sharps rifle
  • .45 or .54 caliber bullets
  • Black powder or Pyrodex
  • Percussion caps

Tip

  • A paper cartridge can be used instead of loose powder. A piece of paper is wrapped around the base of the bullet to form a cylinder behind the bullet. This cylinder is filled with the appropriate amount of powder and the end is twisted shut. The paper cartridge is pushed into the chamber, with the bullet first, during the loading process. The twisted end of the paper cartridge is sheared off by the breech block as it is raised by the lever. The nipple is then capped and the gun is ready to fire.

Warning

  • Handle all guns as if they were loaded. Keep the gun pointed downrange during the entire loading process.

About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.