....February 2007 ~~~~ Editor:  Cliff Hanger ~~~~
Navy Arms long range rolling block by Jim Gardner  (GUNS Magazine,  Dec, 2004)

Navy Arm's John Bodine Rolling Block rifle is a worthy tribute to one of America's first and finest long-range marksmen.

Less than a decade after the closing of America's tragic Civil War, the nation's attention was again focused on the crack of rifles. Newspapers carried blow-by-blow descriptions of the battle, and in different quarters of New York, cheering fans toasted the luck of their chosen side. But this was a bloodless conflict at stake the honor of being crowned champion long range rifle shots of the world.

The visiting Irish team with their legendary Rigby muzzle loading rifles was presumed the favorites. Their experience and success in long-range shooting was well known and in fact the Irish had issued a challenge to the Americans immediately after winning the English championships at Wimbledon in 1873.

The Americans didn't have the experience of their Irish counterparts. Indeed. when they accepted the challenge, not a man of the New York Amateur Rifle Club had fired a match at even 600 yards, yet the championship was to be fired at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards.

To make matters worse, the Americans lacked proper rifles and precision sights capable of winning such a match. The Sharps Rifle Co. and E. Remington and Sons came to the aid of the upstart American team, pledging to produce modern breech-loading rifles capable of equaling the long-range accuracy of the Irish Rigby muzzleloader.

The general consensus of the time was that no breech-loading rifle could equal the gilt-edged precision of a match-grade muzzleloader, so when firing commenced on the 800 yard range that hot September morning, it was as much a contest of breech-loading versus muzzle-loading rifles as it was a battle between the American and Irish teams.

The Battle Begins
In front of a crowd of about 8,000, the 800 yard lead went to the Americans, with a score of 326 over 317. At 900 yards, the tables turned, the Irish scoring 312 to the American's 310. Had not one of the Irishmen delivered a fine center shot on the wrong target, the Irish would have taken a commanding lead. But it was at 1,000 yards the contest would be decided.

By the time the final Irishman had fired, the score stood at 931 points for the Irish, 930 for the Americans. One American had yet to fire his final round, and just before taking position, he cut his hand badly when a bottle broke as he opened it.

Blood flowed freely from John Bodine's hand as he settled into position. All eyes were upon him. The slightest miscalculation in sight adjustment or holding would mean a miss and a humbling defeat for the Americans. After an eternity the shot broke, and then the wait for the scoring disk to be hoisted 1,000 yards downrange. At the first glimpse of the white disk signifying a center hit, the crowd simply exploded with jubilation.

Back To The Future

John Bodine's rifle was a Remington Rolling Block. and when Navy Arms recently sought to bring a heavy-barreled, set trigger equipped version of their rolling block series to the market, they naturally named it the John Bodine model.

Navy's Bodine roller is an imposing rifle at 11 pounds, 14.5 ounces. The 30" full octagon barrel measures a stout 1.1 inches at the breech and tapers imperceptibly to 1.088 inches at the muzzle making the Bodine legal for Black Powder Cartridge Rifle competition.

Heart And Soul

The John Bodine rolling block is manufactured in Italy by Davide Pedersoli. Several years ago I had the chance to meet Pierangelo Pedersoli who explained how the barrels are made.

After boring, the barrel's interior is highly polished, ensuring smooth lands in the finished bore and reducing the tendency to lead. After rifling, the bore is lead lapped, again to produce the smoothest, most uniform bore possible. But because lapping can slightly enlarge the bore at the breech and muzzle, Pedersoli cuts nearly six inches from the barrel after lapping. In addition, the barrel is checked and straightened if necessary at three separate stages during the process.

A good barrel may be the heart of a rifle, but the trigger is its soul and here the Bodine roller differs In place of the usual single trigger that is often pretty stiff, we find double set-triggers.

Press the rear, or "set" trigger until you feel a click, then move your finger to the front trigger. Only a few ounces are required to trip the front trigger. Such a light release goes miles to help ensure a perfect surprise break and tighten up your groups. The rifle may also be fired by pressing the front trigger without first setting the rear, but the trigger weight is quite heavy--heavier than my set of weights would measure.

Good sights are also a must, whether you plan on BPCR competition or simply rolling rocks on the far side of the canyon. The Bodine is equipped with a globe front sight and a card of interchangeable inserts. The card includes an even dozen inserts in aperture, post and other styles. In place of an open rear sight on the barrel, a bubble level is fitted to help avoid canting the rifle.

I would like to extend thanks to Jeff John, editor of GUNS Magazine, for granting permission to reprint this 2004 article. 
There is a wealth of information on their web site that is search able.


When some shooters think of the “old days” or “how it was” they think of a bunch of unnecessary activities on the clock, long distance running and general activity that does not indicate how well you shoot and so should not be included in Cowboy Action Shooting.

We hear so often that it’s all about shooting and our concentration should be restricted to the performance of this activity. I guess if this were true it would be called “Old Style Gun Shooting”.

Actually Cowboy Action Shooting has three separate elements to the complete sport and unless all three of these elements are included the sport is truly incomplete.

Cowboy: This word or term means that the event is based on the old west and Hollywood’s vision of it. Participants dress to look like the cowboy or person right out of the 19th century west or straight from the B western movie screen. During the course of each of the stages it may also be necessary to demonstrate one or some of the skills attached to this era or image. Some of these skills might include but be not limited to roping, knife throwing, reloading or obtaining ammo from a container or location other than your person. I think we all agree that these actions at some point were necessary in the era we’re portraying and on the movie screen.

Action: This word is self-explanatory in its use for our purposes. It means simply that one is not intended to just stand motionless. Of course demonstrating your skills at shooting and manipulating the firearms involved are of primary importance to participating but they are hardly representative in total to the game and additional action or actions are not only important they are seen as absolutely necessary to the sport. I would submit that the only real difference of opinion would be whether these activities should be on or off the clock.

When I started CAS it was common for competitors to actually practice roping, knife throwing and reloading in order to compete at the highest possible levels. Many of us even carried our own knives, tomahawks or ropes to assist in demonstrating these accomplishments using equipment with which we were familiar. In those days it was common for stages to be written using one revolver and if one was written requiring two revolvers, the range supplied the second. Eventually shooters started supplying their own second revolver in order to have one they could shoot more competitively. 

Having your own knife, Tomahawk etc. is the same concept.

Preparing yourself for these occasions/actions makes little sense in most of the CAS matches we see today as they are either not found at all or are left off the clock. Today’s cowboy shooter can be totally inept in these skills and remain competitive. Whether or not this is good or bad is left up to the individual.

Shooting: I’d say this term or activity is the least debated. It is the one aspect of CAS that everyone will agree on as absolutely necessary and cannot be left out. Some shooters will dress to the minimum wearing the least Cowboy stuff they can without drawing criticism. In fact some of these minimalists will even suffer a certain level of criticism as long as no one actually stops them from shooting.

There are also those competitors that will complain vehemently regarding any deviation from their perspective of the sport, which usually is just shooting, and nothing else. Many of these minimalists also demand their absolute right to shoot the lightest possible ammunition of the smallest caliber so as not to interfere with their pulling the trigger in the shortest possible amount of time. The inclusion of the knife throwing, roping, bullwhipping or any activity that takes up time is only acceptable if it is left off the clock and even then it is only tolerated.

It is difficult for many to accept that shooting is only one third of the complete sport called Cowboy Action Shooting.

I would like to make one small disclaimer: In this document I’ve mentioned the minimalists regarding ammunition and clothing and these comments are intended to only apply to the fit and healthy Cowboy Action Shooters. 

To paraphrase Tex, SASS has always made an effort to accommodate the frail, weak and handicapped shooters. My comments are obviously not intended for the shooters that are described by one of those terms.

So………..What’s the answer? Sorry to say, there isn’t an easy one and any effort to do the answering will no doubt be greeted with the admonition that there is no problem and since this change has taken place gradually over a 20 year period of time I can see how that might appear to be true.

My only suggestion (read hope) would be that an effort be made across the country and around the world to bring back some of the currently left out action in Cowboy Action Shooting.

Rowdy Yates
SASS #141

The Sharps by  Joe Bilby 

In the summer and fall of 1861, Sharpshooter companies were raised in a number of Northern States, including Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. Most, but not all, of these companies were consolidated into the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters (U. S. S. S.), raised in response to a proposal by Hiram Berdan, a noted inventor and first class target shooter. The 1st Regiment, mustering ten companies, was commanded by Colonel Berdan and the 2nd, consisting of eight companies, by Colonel Henry A. Post.

In order to be accepted as a sharpshooter, a volunteer was expected to pass a qualifying marksmanship test. A Minnesota newspaper advertised for Sharpshooter recruits who were "able bodied men used to the rifle." Prospective sharpshooters were expected to shoot "a string of 50 inches in 10consecutive shots at 200 yards, with globe [aperture] or telescopic sights from a rest." None of the bullets were to be more than five inches from the center of the bull. A candidate shooting offhand was required to achieve a 50-inch string at a distance of 100 yards.

Measuring the length of a string, which extended from the center of the bull to each of the bullet holes, made a "string" score. The criterion, roughly a ten-inch group by today's standards, was not unusually demanding of a practiced rifleman. Needless to say, many future sharpshooters fired groups considerably under the minimum requirement. One, Charles A. Townsend of Wisconsin, "fired five shots at 200 yards with a total measurement of three and three-quarters inches." About 50% of sharpshooter aspirants were able to pass the shooting test.

Sharpshooter recruits were promised $60 for the use of their own target rifles, should they desire to bring them to war. Recruiting officers promised those who reported unarmed, however, that they would be issued Sharps breech-loading rifles. This pledge led to problems for Berdan, as he had originally requested Springfield Model 1861 rifle muskets for his men. Needless to say, Ordnance Chief General James W. Ripley, who had a dim view of breechloaders for infantry use and didn't want to divert the Sharps factory from making much-needed carbines, readily concurred with the new colonel's request. When Berdan changed his weapons preferences to agree with those of his men, however, General Ripley "stonewalled" him.

Most of the men of the 1st and 2nd U.S.S.S. arrived in camp in Washington unarmed, and they remained so while Berdan, Ripley, and assorted politicians wrangled over their eventual armament. One recruit, 52 year old Truman Head, also known as "California Joe," purchased his own Sharps Model 1859 rifle. When Joe brought his new Sharps to camp for inspection, sharpshooter enthusiasm for the gun increased. Eventually, the government agreed to buy 2,000 Sharps.

Berdan's sharpshooters remained virtually without weapons until March of 1862, when they received Colt's revolving rifles, which were accepted reluctantly until the promised Sharps guns could be provided. The 1st Regiment, which accompanied Major General George B. McClellan's army to the Virginia Peninsula, was issued its long-awaited Sharps rifles in May, 1862, and the men of the 2nd received theirs a month later. As predicted, the run of rifles had brought carbine production at the Sharps factory to a standstill for several months. The "Berdan Sharps," was the basic Model 1859 rifle fitted with a double-set trigger and a "fly" in the lock. One trigger would "set" the other which then required very little finger pressure to drop the gun's hammer. It is now believed that many of the 2,000 guns did not have the set triggers. The sharpshooter guns were designed to take a socket-style bayonet, which slipped over the gun's muzzle, rather than the large sword bayonet that most Model 1859 Models were designed to use.

Together, the two sharpshooter regiments never mustered 2,000 men and, after active campaigning began, there were never more than and most of the time considerably less than, 1,000 sharpshooters on duty with both outfits at any one time. Excess Sharps rifles were stored in Washington, and some of them were issued to other regiments, most notably the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves or "Bucktails."

In March, 1863, both Sharpshooter regiments turned in their weapons and were completely rearmed with new and reconditioned Sharps from the supply remaining in storage. There were still enough left over for periodic issue to recruits, men returning from sick leave and as replacements for worn out or combat damaged arms. Sharps rifles were also replaced or repaired within the units. Outfits like Berdan's, which were not armed with the standard rifle-musket, were authorized a regimental armorer, and first echelon repair, which included replacement of springs and hammers, was conducted at regimental level.

The 1st US Sharpshooters were first engaged in battle at the siege of Yorktown on the Peninsula Campaign. The first real fight for the 2nd was Antietam, where, fighting as line infantry the regiment lost 21 men killed in action. The 1st distinguished itself at Chancellorsville, where it captured the 23rd Georgia Infantry. For the most part, however, the sharpshooter regiments were broken up into company or battalion size units and deployed as skirmishers across a broad front. The fast firing Sharps made them very effective skirmishers.

Both regiments retained their regimental organizations until the end of their initial three-year enlistments in late 1864. Despite the fact that the Union army was besieging Petersburg, a campaign where sniping was a daily occurrence, the high command showed no interest in continuing the existence of these unique regiments beyond their original terms of service. Reenlisted Veterans and recruits who had joined the Sharpshooters since 1861 were transferred to line regiments from their respective states.

Why were such valuable units allowed to fade into history? Then, as now, commanders were often suspicious of, or openly hostile towards, elite organizations. Early on, Berdan's Sharpshooters established a reputation for individuality and disregard of many military canons. On one occasion an inspecting officer discovered, to his horror, that most of them had thrown away their bayonets as useless appendages.

A total of over 11,000 Sharps rifles were purchased by the Federal government during the Civil War, and a number of units, like the 5th and 151st New York had companies of skirmishers armed with them. Many were issued to General Winfield Scott Hancock's First Veteran Corps in the conflict's closing months. 

Around 90,000 Sharps carbines served the Union, and through capture, the Confederacy. Confederate attempts to replicate the Sharps at Richmond gave mixed results, and the somewhat crudely crafted clones produced were not popular with Southern horsemen, who believed they had a tendency to blowup in a shooter's hands.

The Sharps carbine was the weapon of choice in the pre-war cavalry, and undoubtedly the most accurate of the cap lock breech-loading arms perfected in the 1850s. A test of the Sharps New Model 1859 involved five cavalrymen firing at a ten-foot square target as individual skirmishers and by volley at various ranges. As might be expected, individual fire was more accurate than volleys. In individual fire, the shooters scored 19 hits out of 25 shots at 100 yards, 14 out of 25 at 300 yards and a mere 3 out of 25 at 500 yards. When paper cartridges which were sheared off by the gun's breech block and spilled powder in the action were replaced by linen cartridges, Sharps accuracy improved dramatically. All shots fired at 100 and 300 yards hit the target and there was only one miss at 500 yards.

The Sharps was the only carbine in actual production at the outbreak of the Civil War. Although almost 6,000 New Model 1859 carbines were delivered to the Federal government by the end of 1861, it was not until the spring of 1862 that significant numbers began to reach the field. By the end of that year, an additional 17,000 had been delivered. For the first year of the war, many Federal cavalry regiments were armed with a few revolvers and sabers, and the First Maine Cavalry was not alone in arming its camp guards with ax handles!

The Model 1859 was eventually modified into the New Model 1863, the same gun sans patchbox. Aside from the repeating Spencer, the Sharps was the most desirable carbine issued during the conflict. The Sharps was the most common carbine used by Federal Cavalry at Gettysburg, with 4,724 in action. The gun's closest competitor was the Burnside, with 1,387 guns represented at that climactic battle. A Sharps in the hands of Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of company E, 8th Illinois, fired the opening shot at Gettysburg.

As late as March, 1865, with victory around the corner, the 2nd Illinois Cavalry petitioned to "obtain Sharps in the place of Burnside carbines." At war's end, almost 100 Union cavalry units were armed, in whole or in part, with Sharps carbines.

All articles submitted to the "Brimstone Gazette" are the property of the author, used with their expressed permission. 
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