Sniper

Sniper originally referred to hunters skilled enough to shoot a Snipe

The verb “to snipe” originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India where a hunter skilled enough to kill the elusive snipe was dubbed a “sniper”. The term sniper was first attested in 1824 in the sense of the word “sharpshooter”.

Another term, “sharp shooter” was in use in British newspapers as early as 1801. In the Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 June 1801, can be found the following quote in a piece about the North British Militia; “This Regiment has several Field Pieces, and two companies of Sharp Shooters, which are very necessary in the modern Stile of War”. The term appears even earlier, around 1781, in Continental Europe.

Early history

Early forms of sniping, or marksmanship were used during the American Revolutionary War. For instance, in 1777 at the battle of Saratoga the Colonists hid in the trees and used early model rifles to shoot British officers. Most notably, Timothy Murphy shot and killed General Simon Fraser of Balnain on October 7, 1777 at a distance of about 400 yards. During the Battle of Brandywine, Capt. Patrick Ferguson had a tall, distinguished American officer in his rifle’s iron sights. Ferguson did not take the shot as the officer had his back to Ferguson, only later did Ferguson learn that George Washington had been on the battlefield that day.

A special unit of marksmen was established during the Napoleonic Wars in the British Army. While most troops at that time used inaccurate smoothbore muskets, the British “Green Jackets” (named for their distinctive green uniforms) used the famous Baker rifle. Through the combination of a leather wad and tight grooves on the inside of the barrel (rifling), this weapon was far more accurate, though slower to load. These Riflemen were the elite of the British Army, and served at the forefront of any engagement, most often in skirmish formation, scouting out and delaying the enemy. Another term, “sharp shooter” was in use in British newspapers as early as 1801. In the Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 June 1801, can be found the following quote in a piece about the North British Militia; “This Regiment has several Field Pieces, and two companies of Sharp Shooters, which are very necessary in the modern Stile of War”. The term appears even earlier, around 1781, in Continental Europe, translated from the German Scharfsch├╝tze.

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