Uniform & Equipment
Unidentified Sharpshooters with the Colt Reapeating Rifle
It was the practice for regiments to establish their own uniform, when raised. Some were quite outlandish, the sharpshooter's uniform however which set them apart, was also quite serviceable. Berdan's original vision of the sharpshooter's uniform on June, 14th 1861 was a "loose fitting" heavy, dark blue sack coat with metal buttons, with black fringe around the bottom and black velvet collars. Their heads were to be covered with soft crowned hats of felt, ornamented with small black feathers. The uniform would have a single breasted vest of the same heavy cloth and loose fitting trousers. On July the 20th 1861 Berdan mentioned uniforms of green cloth for the first time.
Sharpshooter's uniforms consisted of a frock coat resembling the regulation infantry pattern, except the colour was a dark forest green and had black buttons (which were either gutta-percha or a thermo-plastic rubber no test has been done to date to find out which). The soft crown hats had turned into a green forage cap with a black leather visor peak with a black ostrich feather plume (some later disposed of the plume or replaced it with a feather from the local countryside, though Vermont men where known to wear a sprig of evergreen). Trousers for the 2nd regiment were originally blue, purely because off the demand on the manufacturers for green material that there was not enough for both regiments, the 1st regiment acquired the whole batch of green. The 2nd later changed to the same green Kersey wool trousers to match the frock coat as per regulation. Trousers were held to their shoes by leather gaiters that buckled high to the knee these were originally made by Lexain, 359 Broadway, N.Y. & offered at $2.25. Sharpshooters were also issued with grey great coats with green collar and cuffs the grey late changed to blue, due to the fact that if you wore the grey one you were in distinct danger of being shot in the back by your own troops. Complete grey uniforms where considered for a time to use in conjunction with the green uniforms, and for the same reason camouflage, the grey being winter camouflage, but this was never adopted, probably for the same reason as the grey great coat.
Another unusual piece of equipment distinctive to the U.S.Sharpshooter's was the Prussian style knapsack they used, this consisted of tanned leather with the hair on the outside. It was heavier than regulation yet fitted the back well, was roomy and appreciated by the men, the first consignment of knapsacks had been ordered from "Messrs. Tiffany" of New York City at a cost of $3.75each, the first lot evidently was insufficient to equip both regiments, thus necessitating the search for 500 more.
When fully uniformed and equipped the sharpshooter's were said "To have made a very handsome appearance, more so on the whole than many others".
In his "Regimental Losses of the Civil War", Col. Fox speaks " of The unique regiments of the war,Berdan's U.S Sharpshooter's were the best known of any regiment of the army. It would have been difficult to have raised in any one state a regiment equal to Berdan's requirements.The class of men selected were also of a high grade in physical qualifications and intelligence. They were continually in demand as skirmishers on account of their wonderful proficiency as such, and they undoubtedly killed more men than any other regiment in the army.In skirmishing they had no equal.".
© 2002 Andy Sherlock & Daz Selby
Many thanks to Darren Selby for contributing the main body of text. © 1999 Darren Selby No reproduction of text without the express permission of the author Darren Selby.