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Private Buyers

The state governments dominated the process of supplying arms to troops during in the Civil War’s first year, and the federal government did so starting in the war’s second year. However, a small portion of the arms used in the Civil War came from private companies sold to individuals. Individual cavalrymen sometimes bought their own weapons, or private wealthy citizens also funded regiments to buy carbines and other supplies. Purchasing arms through private companies, although costly to the individual soldier or financer, offered benefits to manufacturers and firms that sold the guns.

The state governments could not always raise the necessary funds to boost the war effort and looked to their wealthy elite citizens to fund the cause.1 Those well-off citizens’ reasons for supporting the war effort varied, ranging from the noble cause of ending slavery to the economically driven profit building.2 Yet, as Historian Paul A. C. Koistinen writes, "Whatever the motive, elite leadership was generally effective and played an important role in keeping an often war-weary population committed to fighting."2 Those community and opinion leaders' support of the war effort spread patriotism, hope, and confidence to the citizens at home as well as the soldiers on the field.

Other private purchasers were companies. Those firms bought guns to then sell them at an inflated price. According to Winston O. Smith, “the guns obtained by the private companies might have been factory ‘seconds’ which had been turned down by the Army’s inspectors. Another possibility is that many privileged and influential companies and individuals during the War were able to obtain guns from some of the factories for speculative resale to the Army at enormous profits.”
3  Although the “factory seconds” were not of federal military quality due to some flaw, possibly dealing with interchangeability, the guns were still in 


"Unidentified cavalry soldier in Union uniform with Sharps carbine rifle, Colt revolver, and cavalry saber"

workable condition. The manufacturers still could make a profit from their sales to private companies. Likewise, the private firms that dealt in buying and selling guns made a profit. If a soldier bought his own arm, which was expensive especially for the average soldier, the man could at least choose his arm's model.

Some of the carbines, such as the Sharps, were not prominently released to the different private buyers, either individuals or companies that sold the guns.4 Rather, those carbines were produced strictly to be awarded a federal contract. The Sharps Manufacturing Company sold over 550 Sharps to private firms and individuals during the Civil War.

1Paul A. C. Koistinen, Beating Plowshares Into Swords:  The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1606¬1865 (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1996), 103.
2 Koistinen, Beating Plowshares Into Swords, 107.
3Winston O. Smith, The Sharps Rifle: Its History, Development and Operation (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1943), 35.
4 Koistinen, Beating Plowshares Into Swords, 35.
5 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 122-123.

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