Sir Joseph Whitworth is quite the famous name in engineering circles, credited with the development of such things as Whitworth threading (the first standardized thread pattern) and engineer’s blue. When he decided to make a rifle, he decided that he could make flat surfaces more precisely than round ones, and chose to design a rifle with a hexagonal bore and mechanically fitted bullets.
The Whitworth rifles proved to be magnificently accurate,
with a British military test showing a group of 0.85 MOA at 500 yards, and under 8MOA even at 1800 yards. I goofed, and interpreted Figure of Merit numbers as whole group sizes. Oops! Please note this correction:
However, the rifles were equally expensive, and were not given further consideration for military use. Whitworth made a total of about 13,700, selling them to high level competitive marksmen and wealthy shooting enthusiasts. A small number were purchased by Confederate agents during the Civil War, and between 50 and 125 were able to evade the Union blockades to be delivered into Confederate hands. These rifles were equipped with Davidson 4-power telescopic sights, and they were put to extremely good effect by Confederate sharpshooting units. In particular, they were used to shoot at Union artillery crews, and Whitworth bullets have been found on a great many Civil War battlefields. They were not available in large numbers, but they were excellent rifles and put to use as much as possible.
Given the small number originally brought into the CSA, the number of known surviving examples is extremely low. This one, like many, was found without its scope and mount, and those parts have been replaced with period examples. As a true Confederate Whitworth, however, this is an extremely rare and historically relevant rifle!