Berdans Sharpshooters

The green forage caps and uniforms of Hiram Berdan's two regiments of sharpshooters made them unique in the Union forces during the American Civil War. They were elite regiments and the selection process to join as described by Lieutenant Colonel William M. Ripley in his book Vermont Riflemen in the War for the Union, was a tough one: 'it was required that a recruit should possess a good moral character, a sound physical development and in other respects come within the usual requirements of the army regulations. It was required of them that before enlistment they should justify their claim to be called "sharp shooters" by such a public exhibition of their skill as should fairly entitle them to the name and warrant a reasonable expectation of usefulness in the


This Berdan's Sharpshooters enlisted man wears the unit's distinctive frock coat and characteristically his trousers are tucked into tan coloured gaiters. Michael J. McAfee.

Marines carried unusual knapsacks which had two carrying straps, an adjustable breast strap and was marked 'USM' on the back. Marines were originally armed with 1855 rifle muskets and officers carried infantry officers' sabres. Additional arms for Marine officers would include revolvers of the same type carried by infantry officers.

Inventor turned Union officer, Hiram Berdan founded the crack Berdan's sharpshooters. The uniforms of Berdan's Sharpshooters officers were similar to the men's, but made out of better quality cloth. David Scheinmann.

American Civil War Berdans SharpshootersUlysses Grant Sack Coat

Two engineer privates pose with the distinctive turreted insignia of the unit clearly visible on their forage caps. David Scheinmann.

One of the better photographs of Major General Ulysses S. Grant who cared little for smart dress, but who habitually wore a bow tie. David Scheinmann.

Two engineer privates pose with the distinctive turreted insignia of the unit clearly visible on their forage caps. David Scheinmann.

One of the better photographs of Major General Ulysses S. Grant who cared little for smart dress, but who habitually wore a bow tie. David Scheinmann.

field. The recruit should in effect be able to place ten bullets in succession within a ten-inch ring at a distance of two hundred yards.'

Colonel Berdan was virtually given a free hand in the choice of the sharpshooters' uniforms, but strangely enough his first choice for the sharpshooters' clothing was not green, but blue. Originally, Berdan wanted his men to wear loose fitting heavy dark blue sack coats with metal buttons. The sack coats would have a black fringe around the collar and bottom. The men would wear soft felt hats ornamented with black feathers. Possibly influenced by the green uniforms of the German Jaeger units who had served with the British during the Anerican Revolution, Berdan later changed his mind thinking that blue would be too conspicuous in the field, writing that 'The green-ness would better correspond in the leafy season with the colors of the foliage'.

The men wore forest green double breasted frockcoats piped light green and their trousers were described as being of an Austrian blue-grey colour. By 1862, these were exchanged for dark green trousers, although some of the men still wore the lighter coloured pants. Berdan's Sharpshooters historian Captain C. A. Stevens wrote that the men's clothing presented a striking contrast to the regulation blue of the infantry and a correspondent for the New York Post picturesquely said that the green clad sharpshooters reminded him of Robin Hood's outlaws.

The original overcoats issued to Berdan's Sharpshooters were made of grey felt and many if not all were trimmed light green like the men's frock coats. It was a poorly conceived garment not only because in wet weather the material went very stiff, but because the men could be confused with the enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Ripley of the Sharpshooters wrote: 'Certain grey overcoats and soft hats of the same rebellious hue were promptly exchanged for others of a color in which they were less apt to be shot by mistake by their own friends.The


Doctor Alexander Mott of the medical department wears the shoulder straps of a lieutenant or major. David Scheinmann.

Sharpshooter CoatHospital Steward Civil War

Hospital steward wearing the distinctive green armband of medical orderlies. David Scheinmann.

This sergeant of the Veteran Reserve Corps wears the unit's light blue uniform. David Scheinmann.

fighting taught them the lesson that the gray overcoats and soft hats had to go, lest they he shot by their own friends.'

Some period photos of Berdan's Sharpshooters show individual men wearing sack coats rather than frock coats. These might be ordinary issue infantry-sack coats issued because of clothing shortages or they may be special sackcoats of green material like the Sharpshooters' standard issue frock coats. It's almost impossible to tell, from old black and white photographs. Berdan's Sharpshooters' forage caps were made out of heavy wool and were forest green in colour. Visors differed from the standard enlisted man's cap and resemble the pattern of a ┬┐McDowell forage cap visor. The men originally sported ostrich plumes in their kepis, but it seems that with rigorous combat in the field these would have quickly worn out.

Apart from their green forage caps, the 1st regiment of Berdan's Sharpshooters and possibly the 2nd regiment, were also issued with another type of headgear. It was described as 'a gray round hat with a leather visor, a flap to cover the neck and holes for ventilation.' These unwieldy hats were discarded in the spring of 1862, not least because men wearing them could again be mistaken for Confederates.

Berdan's Sharpshooters often wore a distinctive brass badge on their forage caps, which had the initial U.S.S.S. surrounded by a wreath. Soldiers joked that the letters stood for Unfortunate Soldiers Sadly Sold and not United States Sharpshooters. Another unique feature of the Sharpshooters' uniforms were the black non-reflective hard rubber buttons on their uniforms. No other unit in the Union army is reported to have worn them. Knapsacks carried by the sharpshooters were of a Prussian design and were made of tanned leather with the hair on the outside. They were heavier than regulation knapsacks but apparently fitted the men's backs well and were very roomy inside. It appears that Berdan's Sharpshooters were a particular fine looking unit, who revelled in the distinctiveness of their uniforms. 'By our dress we were known far and wide and the appellation of "green coats" was soon acquired,' wrote Captain C.A. Stevens, the regimental historian.

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