Introduction

Americans have long made their ability with rifles, something required on a frontier where most of one's food came from what Lone hunted, a matter of national pride. In the mid- 18th century the short, large-bored hunting rifles of German forests became long, slender, small-bored rifles used on the frontiers by men who were keen shots. When the American Revolution broke out it was natural that men used to these weapons would disdain the smoothbored, inaccurate musket, and pin their faith on the Pennsylvania rifle.

In 177"> frontiersmen in Pennsylvania flocked lojoin Edward Hand's Rifle Regiment of the Continental Army, then besieging the British at Boston. Other rifle units were quickly raised, including one from Virginia, about which George Washington wrote, "These are all chosen men, selected from the army at large, well acquainted with the use of the Hiram Bordan in his colonel's rifle and with that mode of fighting, which is necessary to make them a uniform, good counterpoise to the Indians. ... I expect the most eminent services from them."

While these riflemen concerned British officers at first, in action their weapons were slow to load and, lacking the ability to be mounted with the bayonet, riflemen made easy prey to quick-moving British light infantry. Still, some rifle units stayed in the American service throughout the war. Washington even requested them at Yorktown to pick off enemy cannoneers in their fortifications. Although riflemen did little to win the Revolutionary War. they entered American mythology thereafter.

Indeed, US military authorities created a military version of the Pennsylvania with the army's Ml SOS rifle, a 0.54 caliber, half-stocked, flintlock rifle. In 1808, on threat of war. the army created its first regular army rifle regiment. The regiment did well during the War of 1812, with the official report of the taking of York. Canada, noting, "Too much credit cannot be given to Forsyth's [Rifle] Corps for their conduct in this affair. They displayed great coolness and undaunted bravery." In 1814 Congress authorized three additional rifle regiments for the army, which were reduced to one regiment after the war. In 1821 a government more concerned with saving money than with military preparedness folded the 1st US Rifle Regiment.

The Mexican War had no special sharpshooter units, although rifles using percussion locks had been made by US Armories starting in 1841. The Mississippi Volunteer Regiment, commanded by later Confederate President Jefferson Davis, managed to receive these weapons and use them to great advantage at the battle of Btiena Vista during the Mexican War. However, most troops used smooth bored muskets, many of them still flintlock. It would not be until 1855 that a long-barreled rifled musket would be authorized for general use. In theory such a weapon, accurate to at least 500 yards although capable of killing far beyond that, would enable every soldier to be a sharpshooter. However, very little target practice was allowed, and the average soldier was little better a shot with an Ml855 rifled musket than his Revolutionary War ancestor was with a smoothbore musket.

Therefore, when the Civil War broke out, experts on both sides decided that specialized sharpshooter units would be required in the field. During the American Civil War both sides raised special sharpshooter units, although the Union got off to a much earlier start than the Confederacy. The men on both sides often considered themselves, with some reason, as elite units, marked by special uniforms and insignia, armed with special weapons, and receiving special training in marksmanship and related topics. However, they were used not as modern sniper units, although from time to time individuals from their ranks were designated for this job. Most reports of individuals such as generals being "flit by "sharpshooters" are incorrect: the individual concerned was usually hit by either a stray shot or a lucky shot by a line infantryman.

Instead, Civil War sharpshooter units were largely tised as skirmishers, an elite shock force of the kind that in the late days of World War One the Germans would call storm tr«x>pers. It was largely their job to attack strong enemy positions and defend weak friendly ones. They fought, not in two lines shoulder to shoulder as line infantry, but consistently as light infantry in open order, taking cover wherever possible. Confederate sharpshooter John D. Young later described the Civil War sharpshooter unit's function as acting "as Kinglake aptly puts it, as 'the spike-head of the division,' being used either to push in, or else to ward off attack."

Colonel Francis Petolor, 2nd US Sharpshooters, wears ono vorslon of the spocial USSS cap badge, crossed rifles ■nd the Old English USSS within a wreath.

(David Schoinmann collection)

Colonel Francis Petolor, 2nd US Sharpshooters, wears ono vorslon of the spocial USSS cap badge, crossed rifles ■nd the Old English USSS within a wreath.

(David Schoinmann collection)

Colonel Henry Post was the first commander of tho 2nd US Sharpshooters.
0 0

Post a comment