1st United States Sharpshooters
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|1st United States Sharpshooters Regiment|
|Active||September 2, 1861 –
December 31, 1864
|Disbanded||December 31, 1864|
|Colonel Hiram Berdan|
The 1st United States Sharpshooters were an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. During battle, the mission of the sharpshooter was to kill enemy targets of importance (i.e., officers and NCOs) at long range.
The first regiment of volunteers began service in late November 1861. During their service, they fought in every Eastern battle up until autumn of 1864. During their tour, the Sharpshooters were noted for efficient service in the battles of Yorktown, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Spotsylvania and Petersburg.
The 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters were consolidated on December 31, 1864.
Hiram C. Berdan was the founder of the Sharpshooters. Berdan was born in the town of Phelps, New York, on September 6, 1824. Not only was Berdan a military officer in the Civil War and creator of the Sharpshooters regiment, he was also an American mechanical engineer and creative inventor. Some of Berdan's inventions included the Berdan rifle (a repeating rifle) and the Berdan center fire primer, a range finder torpedo boat for evading torpedo nets during and after the Civil War. Berdan also developed the first commercial gold amalgamation machine to separate gold from ore. Berdan was also known for being an amateur champion marksman in the United States. Berdan's interest in rifles and shooting led him to the idea of creating a regiment full of men who all had notable shooting skills: the Sharpshooters. On November 30, 1861, Berdan was named colonel of both the first and second Sharpshooter regiments. After serving for three years, Berdan resigned his position as colonel on November 30, 1864, in order to return to his life as a mechanical engineer and inventor. Berdan died on March 31, 1893, and was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Raising the regiment
During the Civil War, regiments were usually composed of companies all from the same state. On the other hand, due to the strict qualifications and special skills in order to become a member of the Sharpshooters, each regiment was assembled of companies from various different Union states. Below is a list of each company in the first regiment, their origin and date of establishment.
- Companies "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K"
- Companies "A", "D" and "H" were organized at New York City, New York in September 1861.
- Company "B" was organized at Albany, New York in September 1861.
- Company "C" in Michigan on August 21, 1861.
- Company "E" in New Hampshire on September 9, 1861.
- Company "F" in Vermont on September 13, 1861
- Company "G" in Wisconsin on September 23, 1861.
- Company "I" in Michigan on March 4, 1862.
- Company "K" in Michigan on March 30, 1862.
The first United States Sharpshooter regiment consisted of the following commanding officers (listed by company):
- Company A- Captain Casper Trepp, New York
- Company B- Captain Stephen Martin, New York
- Company C- Captain Benjamin Duesler, Michigan
- Company D- Captain George S. Tuckerman, New York
- Company E- Captain Amos B. Jones, New Hampshire
- Company F- Captain Edmund Weston, Vermont
- Company G-Captain Edward Drew, Wisconsin
- Company H- Captain George G. Hastings, New York
- Company I- Captain A. M. Willet, Michigan
- Company K- Captain S. J. Mather, Michigan
Selection of recruits
Hiram C. Berdan of New York state created the Sharpshooters. Berdan began recruiting men for the first Sharpshooter regiment in 1861. He recruited men from New York City and Albany and from the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan and Wisconsin. The volunteer recruits had to pass a rifle test in order to qualify to be a member of the Sharpshooters; each man had to be able to place ten shots in a circle of 10 inches (250 mm) in diameter from 200 yards (180 m) away. They were able to choose a rifle and position of their preference for the test. A man eligible to be a Sharpshooter had to possess a keen eye, steady hands and a great deal of training and skill with a rifle. In addition to that, for a man to be a Sharpshooter, it took cool nerves in order to be able to estimate their target carefully, determine the high trajectory needed and to take in consideration the effect that any current wind may have.
The men of the Sharpshooters regiment were armed with various types of rifles, including the Sharps rifle, the Whitworth rifle, sporting arms, and various other custom-made privately owned target weapons. Some of these rifles weighed up to 30 pounds (14 kg) because they contained the first breed of telescope sights. At first, many of the Sharpshooter riflemen used their own weapons, but this began leading to problems when it came to ammunition supply. As a result, Berdan made a request to receive issuance of Sharps rifles to his men.
Christian Sharps invented the Sharps rifle in 1848 in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a single shot percussion lock breech loader that could be fired eight to ten times per minute (three times the rate of the Springfield rifle), weighed about 12 pounds (5.4 kg), was 47 inches (1,200 mm) in length with a 30-inch (760 mm) barrel and fired cartridges with a .52 caliber conical ball. The Sharps rifle was accurate up to 600 yards (550 m), so the typical Sharpshooter was able to put twenty bullets in a 24-inch (610 mm) pattern from 200 yards (180 m) away. The first Sharps rifle in the regiment was purchased by Private Truman "California Joe" Head while the regiment was at the camp of instruction outside Washington, D.C. during the winter of 1861-1862.
Berdan chose the Sharps rifle mainly because of its fast breech loading and outstanding accuracy from long-range distances. Unfortunately, though, Lieutenant General Winfield Scott denied Berdan's request because he feared the issuance of Sharps rifles would lead to a waste of ammunition. Lt. General Scott insisted that Berdan's men use a standard Springfield rifle. Berdan was not at all satisfied with Scott's ruling, so he took his request for Sharps rifles directly to President Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln watched Berdan perform a demonstration of the Sharps rifle's extreme speed and accuracy he was so impressed that he ordered them to be immediately issued to both Sharpshooter regiments. Nevertheless, many of the men still continued to use their own rifles, no matter how heavy and bulky they were, probably because that is what they had training and experience with. The sharpshooters were finally issued their Sharps rifles on May 8, 1862.
The most notable aspect of the Berdan Sharpshooter uniform is the green color, rather than the standard Union blue. They were one of only a few regiments that went outside the typical Potomac Army's uniform. The green uniform gave the sharpshooters the clear advantage of camouflage, but also sometimes was a disadvantage because they were easy to distinguish against the rest of the Union soldiers for Confederate marksmen to spot and target. Sharpshooters were high-priority kills amongst the Confederate army, because they had such high skills and good salvageable equipment. Sharpshooters used more guerrilla warfare battle tactics than the rest of the Union infantry. Along with the green uniform, a soldier was to have no brass on any of their buttons. Their shoes were standard Union issue, but their pants were made of green wool just like the frock coats, with a pair of gaiters. Furthermore, Sharpshooter knapsacks were a Prussian-style fur sack fitted over a wooden frame, as opposed to the usual tarred canvas. However, as the war went on the men were not reissued this clothing and many of the men received standard federal clothing making them harder for rebel troops to notice their elite capabilities. By the Gettysburg campaign most of the men were wearing modified blue uniforms.
Total strength and casualties
Ten of the regiment's officers and 143 enlisted men were killed in action or mortally wounded and 1 officer and 128 enlisted men died of disease, for a total of 282 casualties.
- List of United States Volunteer Civil War units
- 2nd United States Sharpshooters
- Company G, 1st United States Sharpshooters
- 1st Battalion New York Volunteer Sharpshooters
- Stevens, Capt. C. A. (1892). Berdan's United States Sharpshooters in the Army of the Potomac. St. Paul, MN.
- http://www.civilwararchive.com/Unreghst/unusvol.htm The Civil War Archive website after Dyer, Frederick Henry. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. 3 vols. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959.
- Military Times, hall of Valor, Medal of Honor Citation, William Y. W. Ripley, retrieved February 3, 2014