Riflemen always having been a legendary American arm of service, the idea of forming two regiments of outstanding marksmen was conceived by Hiram Berdan, himself a champion rifle-shot for fifteen years prior to the war, who, though con sidered 'thoroughly unscrupulous and unreliable' by some was an outstanding inventor whose various gadgets included a repeating rifle, a 'submarine gunboat' and a distance-fuze for shrapnel.
Organising his two regiments, Berdan was appointed Colonel of the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, with Colonel H. A. Post to command the 2nd. All recruits were required to place ten consecutive shots within five inches of a bullseye at 200 yards to be accepted, and originally provided their own rifles; this latter practice naturally caused difficulties of ammunition-supply, so Berdan requested an issue of Sharps rifles. They received only muzzle-loading Springfields, until a remarkable display of marksmanship by Berdan himself brought Lincoln's personal intervention, resulting in the issue of the desired Sharps rifles. Almost invariably both regiments were deployed in small groups of snipers and skirmishers, in which duty they excelled Berdan's wildest hopes; it has been calculated that they killed more Confederates than any other regiment in the army. Many of their exploits are legendary; in the Peninsular Campaign, for example, a small party of Sharpshooters silenced a Confederate battery for an hour by shooting the gunners at the range of half a mile! The 1st Regiment fought at Chancellorsville (where its skirmishers captured the 23rd Georgia) and at Gettysburg; the 2nd served at Antietam, and thereafter mostly alongside the 1st Regiment.
The uniform of the two Sharpshooter regiments was as unusual as their rôle. The dark green képi was
27 U.S.A.: 1st Sharpshooters.
a) Officer b) Corporal
28 a) Sergeant, 1st Heavy Artillery, Corps d'Afrique b) 1st Sergeant, 56th U.S. Coloured Infantry.
c) Private, U.S. Coloured Infantry.
decorated with badges of brass crossed rifles with the letters 's.s.' and 'u.s.' worn on occasion by the rank and file, whilst officers wore the letters 'u.s.s.s.' surrounded by a wreath in gold embroidery on the crown of the cap. Corps badges were later worn on the kepi: a red diamond for example when the Sharpshooters formed part of the ist Division, III Corps. In full dress a black feather plume was worn on the cap, and often black, brown or grey 'slouch' hats on campaign. The dark green frock-coats were worn by all ranks, N.C.O.s' chevrons being either light blue or dark green on a light blue patch. Trousers were originally light blue, but were later changed to green to match the rest of the uniform and were often worn with long black or brown leather gaiters. Officers wore crimson sashes; equipment was of black leather, though knapsacks were made of goatskin with the hair left on. Cartridge-pouches bore oval brass plates with the letters 'u.s.' embossed (the same design as the belt-plates) and were carried by all ranks, officers being armed with rifles in addition to the usual pistol. Greatcoats were either grey (sometimes trimmed with dark green) or light blue; equipment was usually discarded in action to allow maximum freedom of movement. Non-reflective rubber buttons were used at one time.
In addition to the Sharps rifle, a number of .56 Colt revolving rifles were used, these being most unpopular due to the tendency of blowing up in the face of the owner! Some selected marksmen carried heavy, precision-made snipers' rifles with telescopic sights for even greater accuracy.
The ist Regiment had ten companies, the second eight, each company being drawn from one state and bearing the state's name. In the ist Regiment, the companies were as follows: Company 'A' New York, 'B' New York, 'C' Michigan, 'D' New York, 'E' ist New Hampshire, 'F' ist Vermont, 'G' Wisconsin, 'H' New York, 'I' Michigan, 'K' Michigan; an eleventh company, 'L', existed for a time, being designated as the 2nd Minnesota, being later transferred to the ist Minnesota Infantry. In the 2nd Regiment, company designations were: 'A' ist Minnesota, 'B' Michigan, 'C' Independent Pennsylvania Sharpshooters, 'D' ist Maine, 'E' 2nd Vermont, 'F' 2nd New Hampshire, 'G' 3rd New Hampshire, and 'H' 3rd Vermont.
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