Civil War Sharpshooters

        Sniping, or sharpshooting, was a recognized psychological weapon at the outset of the Civil War. Champion marksman Hiram C. Berdan of New York, authorized to raise a regiment of sharpshooters for Federal service, began recruiting competitions in the summer of 1861. Qualified recruits had to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle at 200 yards, firing any rifle they chose from any position they preferred. In this way Berdan organized companies in New York City, Albany, New York, and in the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Mustered in as the 1st Regiment Sharpshooter/U.S. Volunteers, November 25, 1861, the unit saw service in every Eastern campaign through autumn 1864. The 2nd Regiment Sharpshooters/U.S. Volunteers was raised similarly, its companies mustered in individually in autumn 1861, and its men were drawn from New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Vermont. It too served in the Eastern Theater and in December, 1864 its veteran volunteers were briefly consolidated with reenlisted veterans of the 1st Regiment.
        While the history of Berdan's Sharpshooters is well documented, many other Union marksmen also saw action in the Eastern and Western campaigns, and though no records have been preserved, a Confederate sharpshooter unit similar to Berdan's was authorized by act of Confederate Congress in 1862.
        But the formal muster of entire sharpshooting regiments in the north and south was found to be unwieldy. In correspondence with Rhode Island Gov. William Sprague September 19, 1862, Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton expressed the view of the general staff that snipers were best organized in units no larger than companies and attached to regular regiments for special deployment at a field general's order in a specific action. An approximation of this system was adopted in both Union and Confederate armies.
        Armed with Sharp's rifles, Whitworth rifles, sporting arms, and custom-made, privately owned target weapons (some weighing over 30 lbs) Northern and Southern marksmen performed efficient service at Yorktown, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, and Petersburg, and were valued in any protracted battle or small combat. The unpleasant results of this service and the moral climate of the day make finding specific records of sharpshooting duty a rarity, but the efficiency of Confederate sharpshooters in the Devil's Den at Gettysburg and the demoralizing effects of the sniping deaths of such prominent soldiers as Union Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick demonstrate the sharpshooters worth.
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" edited by Patricia Faust

This Page last updated 02/10/02

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