Berdan's Sharpshooters in the War of the Rebellion
By Amy Preston
During the Civil War there were two green uniformed regiments in Federal service - the first and second Regiment of the United States Sharpshooters. Many of the sharpshooters were from Jefferson County. They were a celebrated unit in their time. Today they are almost forgotten.
Hiram Berdan, a New York inventor and marksman, proposed organizing the best marksman in the north into distinct units. They were to be armed with the most reliable rifles. These men would be employed as scouts, snipers and skirmishers. The Secretary of War accepted the idea and commissioned Berdan as a Colonel of Volunteers.
Circulars were issued calling for the best shots in the North to form companies of sharp shooters. Each applicant had to pass a shooting test. No men were enlisted who could not put ten bullets in succession within a ten-inch circle at 200 yards at a rest and 100 yards offhand.
The sharpshooters were sent to Camp Instruction on the north side of Washington where they learned their new craft. The training was practical and rough. The sharp shooters were taught never to expose themselves recklessly, to take cover whenever possible, and to waste no ammunition just for the sake of shooting. Unlike regular line companies, the sharpshooters learned to take orders by bugle call, an imitation of European light infantry. The sharpshooters remained in camps from September 1861 to March 1862.
The sharpshooters outfit consisted of a dark green coat and cap with a black plume, light blue trousers later exchanged for green ones. They had leather leggings and a knapsack that was made of hair-covered calfskin, with a cooking kit attached. By the dress they were known far and wide as the "Green Coats."
The Sharps rifle was one of the most expensive guns. They cost $12 to $35 each for a Springfield. Legend states it took the personal intervention of President Lincoln to obtain the rifles for the sharpshooters.
The sharpshooters also carried in their wagons a "target rifle" for long distance shooting. Weighing 30 pounds a piece, the target rifles were mounted with a brass seven power scope that greatly aided the aim of the marksman. Unlike the sharps rifle, the target rifles were muzzle loaders and were used only when the armies were in static positions.
Being mustered out of service in February 1965, the sharpshooters engaged in 65 actions and battles, especially distinguishing themselves at South Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. In fact no other regiment had more monuments in its honor at Gettysburg than do the sharpshooters of Jefferson County and all other sharpshooters of the United States.
Today there are reenactments of sharpshooters and the wars they fought in. Current members of the reenactment historians from Brookville area are: John Johnson, Randy Bartley, Mark McKinney and Larry Anthony.
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