United State Sharpshooters
Though the name Berdan became synonymous for the sharpshooters it is not sure whether he had the original idea for a federal regiment of sharpshooters. There is some fairly reliable evidence that he got the idea from Casper Trepp, a Swiss born veteran of the Crimean war where sharpshooters fought as skirmishers and as special detail troops. What is certainly known is that Berdan promoted the idea.
On the 14th of June,1861 Colonel Hiram Berdan finally got authorisation to raise a fighting regiment of Sharpshooters. By September the 24th the 1st regiment (10 companies) had been formed and had arrived in Washington.
Colonel H.Berdan was further authorised on the 28th of September,1861 to form a second regiment, since so many volunteers had been successful in passing the high minimum standard for the 1st regiment.
The test was that a volunteer had to shoot at 200 yards ten rounds into a bulls eye target and the average of between the center of the hole left by the Minnie-ball and the center of the bulls eye must not exceed five inches plus the necessity for excellent references culminated in 1,392 successful aspirants (officers and men). For the first regiment of United States Sharpshooters commanded by Col. Berdan and 1178 (all ranks) in the second regiment United States Sharpshooters commanded by Col. Henry A Post. The 2nd United States Sharpshooters had recruited by company from 8 different states and unusually had eight companies instead of the usual 10 to a regiment. Two qualified contingents of Massachusetts men decided at the last minute to offer there service to there home state, not to Berdan, had they joined they would of made up the last two companies in the 2nd regiment, giving it a full compliment of ten companies instead of the eight it had. These two companies became known as the 1st & 2nd companies of Massachusetts Volunteer Sharpshooters, they fought through the war attached to sundry bay state regiments. The 1st & 2nd regiments of United States sharpshooters were organised to fight primarily as skirmishers and as long range marksman, to be used in advance of the main body or to the flanks, to engage the enemy first to halt their advance, as well as to give early warning of their approach.
The Sharpshooters were often called upon to act as individuals, professional snipers, who equipped with rations, water and ammunition sallied forth in the morning to the front line. where, hidden by the foliage of the trees, they looked for such vital targets as Officers and artillery men.
November 1863 in the area of the 10th New York Cavalry, was only typical of many incidents. An Artillery officer complained that a Confederate Sharpshooter was picking off his men and horses. The Sharpshooter detailed to "get the Confederate" was a tall, stooping, ungainly looking specimen, who carried an immense rifle with a telescopic sight running the length of the barrel, over his shoulder. He shambled along under cover of the trees until passed just beyond the skirmish line. Stationed behind a large tree, he watched intently at a tree near the bridge which crossed the little stream in our front, along which the rebel line extended. Presently he brought the immense rifle to his shoulder, the report of its discharge was blended with those of the carbines on either flank, and those watching the proceedings saw a man fall from the tree. A few moments later the rebels fell back, and as part of the regiment passed the spot in pursuit, the lifeless form of the rebel sharpshooter was seen lying as he had fallen, a victim to the mode of warfare of which he himself had chosen.
Both regiment's of the United States Sharpshooter's fought in all the battle's of the Army of the Potomac (and fought well) usually being assigned by company to different command's as needed. Of the 1,392 officer's and men in the 1 St regiment, 546 became casualties, the 2nd regiment lost 462 killed and wounded out of 1,178.
August 1864 theist regiment began to disband mostly due to the soldier's term of enlistment having expired. In September the greatly reduced 1st U.S.S.S formed into battalion which lasted until December, then most men except those from Michigan (who were sent to the 5th Michigan infantry regiment) were re-assigned to the 2nd U.S.S.S.
Order's were received on February the 20th 1865 that the 2nd regiment was to disband also, any men with time left to serve where assigned to units bearing their native designations, it is noted that Charles N. Race, of Owosso, Michigan, of Company "K", who was one of the youngest soldiers in the Union service, having mustered in 1862 at the age of 14, was the only Berdan Sharpshooter of the original members remaining as a Sharpshooter until the end of the war, July 17th, 1865. The 2nd regiment of United States Sharpshooter's had been engaged in 65 actions. When finally disbanded, Gen.Regis De Trobriand issued the following valedictory order:
Headquarters, 3rd Div., 2nd Army Corps
February 16, 1865
General order 12
The United States Sharpshooters, including the first and second consolidated battalions being about to be broken up as a distinct organisation in compliance with the order from the War Department, the Brigadier General commanding the division will not take leave of them without acknowledging their good and efficient service during about three years in the field. The United States sharpshooters leave behind them a glorious record in the Army of the Potomac since the first operation against Yorktown in 1862 upto Hatchers Run, and a few are the battles or engagements, where they did not make their mark. The Brigadier General commanding, who has had them under his command during most of the campaigns of 1863 and 1864, would be the last to forget their brave deeds during that period, and he feels assured that in the different organisations to which they may belong severally, officers and men will show themselves worthy of their old reputation; with them the past will answer for the future.
By command of Brigadier-General R. De Trobriand,
W. K. Driver, A.A.G.
© 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.