30th Virginia Battalion Sharpshooters

1862 Army Tennessee

24th Tennessee Sharpshooter Battalion was formed in May 1863 and served with the Army of Tennessee until it surrendered in 1865.

After Murfreesboro, in early 1862, an Army of Tennessee divisional commander, Major General Patrick Cleburne, ordered a sharpshooter company to be formed in his brigade. Stall officer Irving Buck recalled, "he first directed that each commander should send him names of a certain number of the best marksmen in their regiments. From out of these, making the highest practice score, the required number was selected, detached from their regiments, and placed under command of a lieutenant." The company became known as the "Whitworth Sharpshooters." According to Buck, "It was an elite corps, and while the service was dangerous it was exciting and had immunity from the drudgery of camp and guard duty, and a place in it was eagerly sought. It had its own wagon, reported to division headquarters, and received orders direct from division headquarters near which it habitually camped."

Confederate territory west of the Mississippi River was termed the Trans-Mississippi Department. It was virtually independent of Richmond's control after the fall of Vicksburg. Sharpshooter battalions were also raised soon after being authorized in this department. The 12th Arkansas Sharpshooter Battalion was formed in the spring of 1862 and was also captured at Vicksburg. After being exchanged it was reformed in the Trans-Mississippi Department until disbanded towards the end of the war. The 31st Arkansas Infantry Regiment, raised in summer 1862, was considered a sharpshooter battalion. It was assigned to the Department in mid-1863 and was later consolidated into the 4th Arkansas Infantry Regiment. The 9th Missouri Sharpshooter Battalion, a five-company unit, served in the Trans-Mississippi Department after being raised in late 1862. It disbanded in the spring of 1865. The 1st Texas Sharpshooter Battalion, which was mounted for a time in 1864, was formed in the spring of 1862 and surrendered in June 1865.

The 1st South Carolina Sharpshooter Battalion was raised in mid-1862 with four companies. It served in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida until merged into the 27th South Carolina Infantry Regiment in September 1863.

Musket Sharpshooter

A Harper's Weekly artist sent back this drawing of Berdan's

Sharpshooters firing on

Confederate works during the siege of Yorktown in 1862. 41

A Harper's Weekly artist sent back this drawing of Berdan's

Sharpshooters firing on

Confederate works during the siege of Yorktown in 1862. 41

Although there was some discussion about it, the Army of Northern Virginia did not have a large number of sharpshooter battalions even in the 1863 campaign. The 1st North Carolina Sharpshooter Battalion was raised in May 1862, with two companies drawn from the 21st North Carolina Infantry, and was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia. It surrendered at Appomattox. The Palmetto (South Carolina) Sharpshooter Regiment was drawn from the 2nd, 5th, and 9th South Carolina Infantry Regiments in April 1862. However, as one of its officers later wrote, "The [Palmetto Sharpshooters] was originally intended for special service as the name indicates, but the exigencies of the army prevented the consummation of this design and the regiment was thrown into [R.H. Anderson's] brigade as formerly, instead of acting as an independent, separate command, filling the place of sharpshooters, as practiced in the Federal army." The 30th Virginia Sharpshooter Battalion, a six-company unit, was formed in August 1862 and served in the Valley of Virginia until disbanded after the battle of Wavnesbo rough.

"I forgot to tell you about the Sharp Shooters," Private William Montgomery wrote home to Georgia from Virginia on May 7, 1863. "Gen Wofford had 50 men detailed from each Regt in the Brigade (5) to form a battalion of Sharp Shooters. ... We are in camp to ourselves & are known as the 1st Geo 'sharpshooters' but have no commissions yet."

Several sharpshooter battalions that originally formed out west ended up in the Army of Northern Virginia almost more by chance than design. The three-company-strong 23rd Alabama Sharpshooter Battalion was formed in November 1863 and ended up with Longstreet's Corps in the Tennessee Campaign, returning with that corps to Virginia where it surrendered in April 1865. The 3rd Georgia Sharpshooter Battalion of five companies was formed in spring 1863, and served with Longstreet's Corps in Tennessee, staying with them in Virginia and surrendering at Appomattox.

However, the sharpshooter battalions did not take the field with the Army of Northern Virginia in great numbers until the 1861 campaign. In the winter of 1863-64, J.F.J. Caldwell, an officer of McGowan's

Mcgowans The Civil War

Another part of the drawing of Berdan's men firing on Confederate works at Yorktown shows how muzzle-loading rifled muskets had to be loaded when the user was prone. Taking the eye off the target caused problems in relocating the target quickly under fire.

Mcgowan Sharpshooters

Sharpshooters fought traditionally in open skirmish order, as do these men shown moving on Confederate works. (Harper's Weekly)

Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia, recalled that, "The brigade battalion of Sharpshooters, latterly fallen into disuse, was revived. A detail of six commissioned officers, ten non-commissioned officers, and one hundred and sixty privates constituted the corps. Capt. Dunlop, of the Twelfth regiment, was placed in charge."

Some men found the duties proposed appealing and volunteered. Sergeant Barry Benson recalled how he and a friend volunteered, but as his friend was a lance corporal and only one non-commissioned officer and one private were required from his company, his company commander would not let them both go. His friend, however, offered to go as a private, so much was his desire to get into the sharpshooters, and the pair went into their brigade's battalion together.

There was no specific regulation table of organization for Confederate sharpshooter battalions.

Captain YV.S. Dunlop was awarded command of the Sharpshooter Battalion raised from McGowan's South Carolina Brigade over the winter of 1863-64. He recalled:

The battalion of sharpshooters of McGowan's brigade was permanendy organized on or about the 1st day of March, 1864, and was composed of three companies of about sixty men each, rank and File; with one commissioned and three noncommissioned officers to the company.

A draft was levied upon the regiments of the brigade for three or four men from each company to make up the number requisite for the new organization, to be selected from the best men in the company, with due regard to the peculiar and hazardous service for which they were designed. The regiments promptly responded to the call and detailed the men, with two non-commissioned officers, according to the terms of the requisition, while the brigade commander selected the company commanders, together with the commandant of the corps. The companies of the battalion were designated "first," "second" and "third," and were assigned to their positions in the line according to number, reckoning from the right.

1st Maryland Battalion Harper Weekly
Lying in open order, Federals prepare to move forward against Confederates in the woods in this Harper's Weekly woodcut.

Id Mahone's Brigade orders were issued to each regiment to create a company consisting of two commissioned officers, two sergeants, two corporals, 30 privates, and two men assigned to Ambulance Corps duty. One of these officers recalled, "The officers and men were to be detailed from their regular companies for this permanent organization, and to be selected with a view of their special fitness for such service, the qualifications being that the men should be veterans of established reputation for faithful and reliable dependence while in action; capable of enduring the extra hardships expected to be entailed, and also a proper use of the rifle; the officers to be of experience and ability, and having the implicit confidence of their men."

So organized, Mahone's Brigade's sharpshooter battalion consisted of five companies with 11 officers and 180 enlisted men. On the other hand, Captain John B. Young, who served with a sharpshooter battalion under Cadmus Wilcox, recalled that his "battalion was composed of one commandant, eight commissioned officers, ten non-commissioned officers, one hundred and sixty privates, four scouts, and two buglers, specially selected, and drafted from each brigade. These were divided into four companies, equally officered."

Supposedly only the best shots and skirmishers should be transferred, and new battalion commanders tried their best to make sure this would happen. Young recalled that:

As it was a matter of the utmost importance that men should be chosen of tried courage and steadiness, who were good marksmen, and possessed of the requisite self-confidence, great care and caution were exercised in the drafts. Company commanders were ordered to present none for duty with the sharpshooters who did not come up to the standard; while the commandant of each battalion, assisted bv his lieutenants, personally superintended the examination of all recruits offered for this branch of the service. The company officers in the corps were equally set apart for their military reputations with respect to zeal, intelligence, and personal gallantry.

It was natural, however, for regimental and company commanders to want to keep their best men, so filling sharpshooter units with nothing but the best was not always the case. Colonel John Pressley, 25th South Carolina, exposed the problems of creating such units through transfer rather than specific recruiting, as was done in northern sharpshooter units:

The men ... had enlisted under laws which guaranteed to them the right to select their own organizations and elect their own officers. ... Men were to be torn from their comrades, friends, neighbors and officers of their choice, and turned over to the tender mercies of strangers whose ability for command was untried. ... Every regiment in the department was invaded and where volunteers could not be obtained (and very few were found willing to go) compulsory details were required.

Pressley allowed each captain to choose the men to go the best way he saw fit. One captain allowed the men to vote on which of their comrades should go, while in another company the men chipped in to hire two volunteers.

"Unfitness for a sharpshooter was the quality most looked after," Pressley thought. "The consequence was, that as a whole, General Pemberton's sharpshooters were the rivals of 'FalstafFs army.' When they were gotten together it was found that after the maimed, the halt and the blind were discharged there were men enough for two pretty good companies out of a whole battalion."

Even so, Pressley wrote, "Notwithstanding every subterfuge which the captains could with honor devise, some good men were lost. Though a good shot could not be selected by draft, which was resorted to in some of the companies, it was sometimes impossible to prevent the lot falling on a good man."


Since Confederate sharpshooters were already veterans by the time they were transferred into sharpshooter companies, thev already knew company and battalion drill, as well as the basics of soldiering. This saved a great deal of time in preparing them for active service. However, sharpshooter service required more than basic infantry knowledge, and the new units were quickly trained in additional skills.

Irving Buck of Cleburne's Brigade of the Army of Tennessee noted that in early 1862, when a sharpshooter company was first raised in the Brigade,

Major [Calhoun] Benham, of the division staff, instructed them first in the exact working

Sharpshooters had to fire from whatever cover they could find, as does this one shown in Harper's Weekly.

Sharpshooters had to fire from whatever cover they could find, as does this one shown in Harper's Weekly.

1st Maryland Battalion Harpers Weekly

of every part of the rifle, then in marksmanship, and to judge distance by the eye (no range finders were in use) by marching them to ground of different topographical features. An object would be pointed out, and distance to it estimated, after which the actual distance would be measured. By constant practice the men became quite expert in doing this, over hills and across ravines or level ground.

Benham, who had been an attorney before the war, became the Army of Tennessee's expert in training potential sharpshooters, and in 1863 was sent to Richmond to have a manual he had written published on the subject. The manual, largely drawn from the British Army's Regulations for Conducting the Musketry Instruction, consisted of a section on the weapon, noting effects of sun, wind, powder charge, etc. on firing; a section on how to actually fire the weapon, including blank firing; and one on judging distances. What it did not include was a section on actual live firing target practice, Benham noting that, "The situation of our armies, and the economy necessary in ammunition, render it impossible to practice at the target to any great extent." The manual was finally published in September 1863.

While Benham's manual was used in the Army of Tennessee, it was not apparently the manual of choice in the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate sharpshooter officer John Young wrote that the men in the Army of Northern Virginia battalions were trained from "a brochure, translated from the French by General C.M. Wilcox, and comprised the skirmish drill, the bayonet exercise, and practical instruction in estimating distances."

Barn Benson recalled that "On the 6th of April [ 1864], the Battalion of Sharpshooters were officially organized, and inspection held. After that we used to practice shooting at a target. We practiced judging distances also, for it is essential for a soldier to know how far his enemy is from him, in order to adjust his sights properly."

John Laugh ton, Jr. wrote that the early spring of 1864 was spent:

in perfecting ourselves in the skirmish drill by signals and in rifle-target practice at different ranges - from fifty yards to 1,000 yards - and so proficient did the men become in estimating distances that, although the chain was used to confirm their calculations, its use was finally discontinued as being unnecessary. Every day these practices were kept up under strict discipline, and systematic regulation and improvement in marksmanship noted, and such men as failed to make satisfactory progress were returned to their companies and others substituted.

Dunlop described training, which was to last six hours a day, in rather more detail:

To meet the purposes of the organization, as well as to secure the highest degree of skill and efficiency in movement and action, an unique and concise system (if tactics was prepared and compiled from the American skirmish and French zouave drills and introduced by the commander for the government of the

Vicksburg Sharpshooters

When field operations slowed to full siege, such as this time at Vicksburg, sharpshooters began firing from behind whatever works they could find. Officers took their turn picking off enemy cannoneers as much as enlisted men.

battalion on the field, while a "manual of arms" in the form of a brochure upon the subject of rifle training was furnished by Maj. Gen. [Cadmus] Wilcox. These, together, became the standard par excellence of the sharpshooters, both upon the drill ground and in active operations on the field.

Estimating distance, target practices, movements and dispositions against cavalry, bayonet exercise, etc., were prominent features of the system.

The battalion was first put upon drill in estimating distance. It was drawn up in line in open field; a man or an object the size of a man was stationed in front at an unknown distance, about one hundred yards off, and the roll called; at (he call of each name the man stepped forward ten paces, surveyed carefully the object in front, calculated the intervening space, and deliberately announced in exact figures his estimate of the distance between, and a record was made of his judgment; then the next in the same way, and so on through the entire command. The distance was increased from time to time, from one hundred to two, three, five and nine hundred yards, and an accurate account kept of each man's judgment in each drill. The practice in this drill was continued from day to day until even' man could tell, almost to a mathematical certainty, the distance to any given point within the compass of his drill. A few, however, were naturally and hopelessly deficient in their powers of estimating distance, and hence were exchanged for others.

When field operations slowed to full siege, such as this time at Vicksburg, sharpshooters began firing from behind whatever works they could find. Officers took their turn picking off enemy cannoneers as much as enlisted men.

The target practice was conducted in the same way. The battalion was formed on the range, a target about the size of a man was placed in front at a distance of one hundred yards, with a bullseye in the center of about five inches in diameter enclosed within an inner circle of about fourteen inches and an outer circle of about twenty-four inches; a tripod was constructed of convenient height, with a sandbag lodged in its fork on which to rest the heavy rifle while the soldier aimed and fired, and the practice began.

The target for 100 yards, pine plank one inch thick, 2x6 feet.

The target for 500 yards, pine plank one inch thick, 4x6 feet.

The target for 900 yards, pine plank one inch thick 6x6 feet.

The study of military tactics was enjoined by general officers upon all officers - commissioned and noncommissioned - with schools of recitation established at company, regimental and brigade headquarters, in which at stated periods lessons in the school of the company, battalion and evolutions of the line, were recited to the commanding officers and discussed. Drills were kept up daily, with marked improvement in the ease and accuracy with which the more difficult evolutions were performed. Examining boards were also established, before whom every applicant for promotion was required to appear and pass his examination before his commission was issued.

Sharp Shooter Mines

As siege works grew, as here at Vicksburg, engineers, sappers and miners created more solid field works using wicker baskets filled with earth known as gabions. This sharpshooter has placed his hat next to his firing port as a target for enemy shots.

The bullseye was enlarged, as well as the circles, as the distance was extended.

The roll was called, as in the first drill, and each man in his turn stepped forward to the tripod, aimed and fired; the flag man at the target announced, by signal, the result of the fire, which was recorded; and the practice continued until the entire battalion had taken part in the drill. This practice was continued from day to day, and the distance increased from time to time up to 900 yards, with a complete record kept of each drill, until the results achieved in estimating distance and rifle training were as amazing to the brigade commander as they were gratifying to the officers and men of the battalion.

In addition, Dunlop trained his men in field practice. "The sharpshooters were carefully and thoroughly instructed in all the rules of rapid and extraordinary formation, and were ready to move promptly to the front, flank or rear, as the exigency required," he wrote. "They were trained to advance in full breast, en echelon, by the right, left or center; and could strike at any angle, as well with the left hand as with the right; so that they were equipped for the conflict, whether in field or forest, or in the streets and lanes of a town or city."

Even after initial training, some training continued. Dunlop recalled at Petersburg:

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