Union Sharpshooters


On the war's opening an expert shot, Hiram Berdan, proposed raising in the north a special unit of US Sharpshooters. Born in New York in 1823. Berdan wis a noted wealthy inventor, most of whose work had been with firearms. He was known as the top amateur rifle shot in the United States. Moreover, he had a special flare for marketing, although he totally lacked military experience.

Berdan proposed a unit in which each potential recruit would have to pass a shooting test to become a member. A coi i espondem of the New York Times noted in August 1861:

Some idea of the rigidity of the text may be gathered from the fact that no man is admitted who docs not shoot, at (>00 feet distance. ten consecutive shots at an average of five inches from the bull's-eye. That is. the aggregate distance of the whole ten shots must not exceed fifty inches. Not a man is accepted under any circumstances who varies a hair-breadth from the mark. Remarkable though it may seem, many of the men exceeded this proficiency. Colonel Berdan himself has. on a windy day. with a strange rifle, put ten balls within an average distance of one inch and one-tenth each from the bull's-eye, at 600 feet. At 1000 feet the Colonel made a

Union Sharpshooters

Recruits for the 1st USSS demonstrate tholr shooting skills to civilians. This sort of bonch rest was also usod Ir training its members in marksmanship, tHarper's Weekly)

string of 22 inches. Sergcani-Major Brown, under more unfavorable circumstances, made a string of 33 inches, with a strange rifle. In testing the applicants at Albany, about two-thirds were found unfitted, and indeed the general average of incompetent applicants is more than that. The American riflemen prove generally superior, especially in the hunters of new England and the West. ...

It is the design of the Colonel to have the regiment detached in squads on the field of battle to do duty in picking off officers and gunners on tin- European plan, by which thev take the risk of being cut off by cavalry, or executed, as they certainly would be. if taken. It is the first regiment of rifles ever formed worthy of the name - i.e., that subjected each member to the rifle-shooting test.

Berdan's suggestion was approved by the Secretary of War on June 15. 1861. and testing ranges were set up across the north. In fact, this regiment would be different from the average volunteer unit in that different companies would come from different states and serve together in one unit. As it turned out, enough expert shots were found to raise two regiments of US Sharpshooters. In the 1st US Sharpshooters, Companies A. B. L). and H came from New York: Companies C, I, and K came from Michigan; Company E came from New Hampshire; Company F from Vermont; and Company G from Wisconsin. In the 2nd US Sharpshooters, Company A came from Minnesota; Company B from Michigan; and Company C from Pennsylvania; Companies E and H came from Vermont, while Companies F and G came from New Hampshire.

From the beginning recruits regarded themselves as being the elite a recruit loads his own tarsot of the army. As First Sergeant Wyman White, 2nd USSS, later recalled. nne. [Harper* weekly) when his company was first gathered together at a local hotel, none of them knowing each other, "it was no trouble at all to tell which of the guests were Sharpshooters┬╗ as most of them acted as though they felt the safety of the Union was hanging on their shoulders. And that company of one hundred men seemed to give a considerable number of the men a feeling of strength and power which ought to Ik* acknowledged by all outsiders present."

This meant that the men believed all promises made to them should be kept, and kept immediately. Once recruited there were problems in getting the advertised Sharps rifles to the USSS. and this created morale problems in the camp of instruction outside Washington. Private William Greene. 2nd L'SSS. wrote home on January 12, 1862:

Have you heard anything about the sharp shooters being armed? There was an order read the other night for rifles enough to arm this whole brigade but they don't believe there has been any rifles ordered. The l>oys think all thev read it for was to keep them from deserting after thev were paid off. I .should not be surprised if some of the sharp shooters were missing in a few days.

United States Sharpshooter Units



Served In


66th Illinois Regiment

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