These rifles were provided to Birge's Western Sharpshooters, later to become the 66th Illinois WSS, through a contract for 1,000 rifles between Maj. General John C. Freemont and the prosperous St. Louis gunsmith, Horace E. Dimick. They were a percussion civilian hunting and target rifle, of a half-stock plains rifle design, that were both single and double keyed. The barrels were heavy octagonal and varied from 30" to 32" in length and in calibers from .33 to .69, firing the Swiss Chasseur bullet. Their front sight was a German silver hunting blade with an adjustable rear sight. The fittings were of both iron and brass with a single trigger most likely. There was no fitting that would accommodate a bayonet. A caliber appropriate bullet mold, with a serial number matching it's rifle, was issued with each Dimick. The soldiers would cast their own rounds, because of the great disparity in calibers.
"This regiment is armed with ...the 'American Target Rifle.' Their description:-Of a hundred different makes, scarcely two of the same caliber: some of them heavy[,] some light, and each man provided with his own bullet mold."
Sgt. David Gamble, Co. E, Western Sharpshooters
The Henry rifle, is a magazine fed, lever-action, repeating rifle. It was capable of holding either sixteen or seventeen cartridges, in the magazine and fired a .44 caliber rimfire cartridge. It was produced in both an iron and brass frame model, with the earlier models being iron. Developed by Benjamin Tyler Henry, of the New Haven Arms Company, and patented October 16, 1860.
It had a greater presence with the Western troops, all of which were private purchases and not supplied by the federal government. The purchases were funded through both months of back pay and veteran bonuses. The average price was $50. Though the Henry rifle saw service on both sides of the conflict, it is better known as that "Damned Yankee rifle" of which the 7th and 66th Illinois were two of the most celebrated Henry armed units.
For more information on the Henry rifle and reenacting with one, go to the National Henry Rifle Company web page.
The Model 1859 Sharps Rifle was a breech-loading military arm, that was equipped to take either a saber or socket bayonet. The breech block dropped when the trigger guard was lowered, exposing the chamber for ease of loading. It fired a .52 caliber,self-consuming linen cartridge; with a percussion ignition source. It came in both a single and double-set trigger model.
The Sharps Rifle was made famous by Col. Hiram Berdan's 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, but it was not limited to the eastern battlefields. One such western unit was Holman's Sharpshooters, Company A, of the 26th Missouri Infantry. They were armed with the Sharps rifle at the early stages of the war, even before Berdan's men received theirs. Though only briefly officially recognized as a sharpshooter company, they continued to serve in that role with the 26th.