One of the things most prized in sharpshooter service in both armies was the ability to estimate distances to targets. The US Army's A System of Target Practice for the Use of Troops, printed in Washington in 1862, called for a specific method of so doing. In the Confederate Army, the issued training manual was A System for Conducting Musketry Instructions, printed in Richmond in 1863. According to it, a squad was to "proceed to estimate the distance of men within the limits of 300 yards, in the following manner: After having marched the squad on to a different ground from that on which the appreciation of distances has before taken place, the instructor is to place at any unknown distance, unobserved if possible, by the squad formed opposite said man, who is to stand at ease. He is then to order the men to observe the soldier facing them, and to estimate the distance, cautioning them at the same time to recollect the appearance of the men just seen at known distances.

Taken from plates in the US Army manual A System of Target Practise, this shows a variety of steps in training. 2 shows an officer of US Sharpshooters standing hehind a private of the same unit as the private sights a Sharps that has been mounted on a sandbag on a chair. 3 shows a private aiming at targets at various distances away. 4 shows a squad drill in which the instructor lines up men at 50-foot intervals and then shows each soldier what of the target's dress, arms, equipment, and figure can be made out at these different distances. Such will give a man in the field an idea of the distance of human targets.

Confederate Sharpshooter
A typical Confederate infantryman of the Army of Northern Virginia in early 1865. Sharpshooters of this army wore the standard infantry dress with special badges on their sleeves. (Smithsonian Institution)

Longstreet's Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia received sharpshooter battalions. This Harper's Weekly woodcut shows "sharpshooters of Longstreet's Corps" firing on Union wagon trains outside Chattanooga during the siege of that city.

The top illustration (1) shows how a falling trajectory means that if a weapon with a range of 200 yards is fired at a man's chest who is 100 yards away, it will actually hit him in the head. The straight line of sight: the rising line is the line of fire, while the curved line falls down to the right, showing where the bullet will actually hit.


This plate shows the various weapons that sharpshooters used or trained with. The Colt percussion revolving rifle, M1855 (2) and detail (6) was prone to exploding. The Sharps breechloading percussion rifle (3) and detail (7) was used by Union forces: the model shown is the full-length rifle (there was also a cavalry issue carbine). The Whitworth rifle (5) and an Enfield rifled musket. M1853 (4) and detail (8) were used by Confederate forces. The Target Rifle is also shown (1); these custom-made rifles were specially designed for accuracy in competition, and there was significant variety in manufacture. One characteristic was the heavy, reinforced octagonal barrels. They had a shorter barrel length than the Springfield or Enfield, and used a smaller caliber bore.


Skirmish drill was a standard system used both by sharpshooters and line infantry. It called for a company to be broken into small groups of four men, who then spread out two in front and two some five paces to the rear. The pairs would leapfrog forward on the advance and backward in the retreat. The diagram taken from a period infantry tactics manual uses a black square for each individual soldier and shows how in breaking down into skirmish drill the men operate in groups of four.


Skirmishers were used in the trenches in sieges such as Knoxville, Atlanta, Petersburg, and Nashville, to pick off enemy troops as they became exposed for a short time. They made living in the trenches especially unpleasant for the enemy. These sorts of redoubts were made of wicker round gabions, filled with earth, topped with horizontal gabions with logs and earth and firing holes placed above that. An empty 0.577 caliber ammunition crate lies open on the bottom right-hand side; these crates were marked on the end with the type and amount of ammunition inside, the producing arsenal, and the date of manufacture.


At Gettysburg a company of the 2nd USSS ended up on the far left of the Union forces and ambushed an attempt to turn up the union left by Confederates on the second day of battle. They distracted the Confederate commander, who did not know their numbers, and greatly aided the eventual Union victory. The kneeling, firing officer in the center carries a small revolver for additional protection, but does not carry a sword into the field, instead arming himself with a rifle just

as his men. His tall boots suggest that when not on the skirmish line, as here, he is otherwise a mounted officer, possibly a regimental staff officer who has come up to the front to see a little action.


A typical Confederate sharpshooter (1) of 1863 in the western theater wears the standard uniform issued through Georgia depots without any special markings. Also shown in this plate is the flag of the 2nd Battalion (2), with its battle honors displayed. The flag of the 1st Battalion is now lost, but would no doubt have been similar in appearance. This color has had several stars removed, probably by veterans who cut them off to save. The color is one of a group issued throughout the Army of Tennessee to conform to orders dated March 11, 1864. The percussion cap pouch (3) (shown top, back and sides) is made with a painted canvas top. rather than being made all of leather, to preserve precious resources. The knapsack (4) was only one of a number of different varieties southern makers produced, and it is essentially a large canvas bag for clothes with an outside flap that a blanket can be inserted into. The cartridge box (5) is a 0.58 caliber model, while the stamped brass belt bears the arms of the State of Georgia (6). This was a pre-war contract type, made in Massachusetts that saw a great deal of war-time use.

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