Weapons equipment uniforms

Lacking an adequate industrial base, the Confederate Ordnance Department was unable to supply weapons as sophisticated as the Sharps or Colt rifles to their sharpshooters. There were some Whitworth rifles already in service in the Confederate Army, but these were expensive and had to be imported through a blockade that was growing increasingly effective. Still, they were the weapon of choice for snipers, and, as they were essentially the same weight and size as the standard infantry rifled musket, they were easier to use and transport than the heavy target rifles that Federal snipers used. In fact, the 0.45 caliber Whitworth ammunition weighed less than the 0.577 Enfield ammunition carried by line infantrymen.

The vast majority of Whitworth rifles, moreover, were made for the British Army and were therefore unavailable to the Confederate government. Instead the Confederates had to accept essentially civilian models, such as had been made for sale to British rifle volunteers. As an indication of the quality of these weapons, some had been stamped on the trigger guards "2d quality." Most of them were made prior to the spring of 1862, and therefore before serious organizing of sharpshooter battalions. An arms and ammunition report dated June 25, 1864 from General Johnston's command of the Army of Mississippi indicates there were 32 Whitworth rifles in that command, and these were later assigned to the Army of Tennessee. A report dated July 13, 1863 indicates that 13 Whitworth rifles with telescopic sights were sent from the arsenal in Augusta, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina.

Charles Vanderford, who had been a sharpshooter in the Army of Tennessee, later described his weapon:

The Whitworth rifle was made in England and was imported by the Ordnance Bureau of the Confederate States at a cost of about $1000 in the equivalent of gold for each rifle and 1000 rounds of ammunition. A telescope, about ten inches long, fitted with lenses of great power and exquisite finish, could be instantly hinged upon the breech end of the barrel, the eye piece adjusted so as to be at the proper distance from the left eye of the rifleman. The front, or object-glass, end of the telescope, was furnished with an arc sliding easily, but close, in a guide-piece fastened upon the barrel of the gun. The axis of the telescope and that of the rifle barrel were exactly parallel in vertical line whatever the elevation of the muzzle; the aim was always made by sighting through the glass. The cartridge was made with great care; the bullets of compressed lead, 1.5 inches long, and of precisely uniform weight; the charges of powder precisely of the same weight, the grains somewhat coarse, of uniform size, finely glazed; the cartridge wrapped in parchment and coated with paraffine.

When using a Whitworth, Vanderford wrote:

When firing, these men were never in haste; the distance of a line of men, of a horse, an artillery ammunition chest, was carefully-decided upon; the telescope adjusted along its arc to give the proper elevation; the gun rested against a tree, across a log, or in

Trenches Vicksburg
Once the siege had fully developed, trenches were built with wooden walls, firing steps, and slots in the earthworks for sharpshooters to use, as in this Harper's Weekly woodcut of Vicksburg.

the fork of a rest-stick carried for that purpose. The terrible effect of such weapons in the hands of men who had been selected, one only from each infantry brigade, because of his special merit as a soldier and skill as a marksman, can be imagined. They sent these bullets fatally 1200 yards and were unpleasant a mile off.

Confederates also pressed some civilian "country rifles" and target rifles into service, often reboring them to 0.54 and 0.58 calibers to use standard issue ammunition. Eleven sharpshooters in the Kentucky Orphan Brigade received British-made Kerr rifles. One of these brigade sharpshooters, Edward Thompson, recalled, "The Kerr rifle was a long range muzzle loading rifle that would kill out the distance of a mile or more, requiring a peculiar powder; and there was some difficulty in charging it, so that it was not likely to be effective except in the hands of a cool composed man. The use of ordinary powder made it necessary to swab out the barrel after every forth or fifth shot."

The Kerr rifle, made by the London Armoury Company and invented by the company's superintendent, James Kerr, was a 0.44 caliber rifle that used a novel ratchet form of rifling and a quick twist The problems Confederates found with the Kerr was that it fouled more rapidly than the standard rifled musket and was somewhat inaccurate at long ranges with its issue ammunition. To solve this problem. Confederate sharpshooters acting as snipers appear to have used Whitworth ammunition with their Kerr rifles. In the spring of 1863 Major General Patrick Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee organized a

Mahone's Brigade's sharpshooter battalion, wrote battalion officer John Laugh ton, Jr., "was armed with long-range, small-bore Enfield lilies, and used a long English-made cartridge. We never used any ammunition made by the Confederate Government. There were, besides, two globe-sighted rifles for use on special occasions, which were valuable addition to our armament. I have frequently fired these with entirely satisfactory results."

Because sharpshooters had to be free to range across a battle line, they stood in danger of being confused with a regular infantryman shirking his duty by a staff officer or provost guard. Therefore they had to have some distinguishing uniform or insignia to mark them. In contrast with Union sharpshooters, it was impossible to provide special uniforms because of southern supply difficulties. Therefore, special badges were devised.

Kentucky Long Riflemen

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sharpshooter company that was issued with 20 Whitworth rifles, fitted with telescopic sights, and ten Kerr rifles, "more than was given to any other division," Cleburne's staff officer Irving Buck later boasted. Kerr rifles were not made to accept a bayonet.

However, few Confederate sharpshooters served as snipers; instead their units were given the role of brigade skirmish battalion. .\s a result. Confederate sharpshooter commanders had to pick a standard issue weapon for their units.

In McGowan's Brigade's sharpshooter battalion of the Army of Northern Virginia, the various weapons underwent accuracy tests. Captain Dunlop wrote:

In the target drill the Minnie rifle, the Enfield, the Austrian, Belgium, Springfield, and Mississippi rifles were put to the test. And while each and all of them proved accurate and effective at short range, the superiority of the Enfield rifle for service at long range, from 600 to 900 yards, was clearly demonstrated, both as to force and accuracy of fire. The ulterior range of the Enfields proved reliable and effective to a surprising degree to a distance of 900 yards, while the other rifles named could only be relied on at a distance of 500 yards.

This illustration from Harper's Weekly shows the uniquely American rifle dress that many of the first southern units that called themselves "sharpshooters" wore. Left is a man identified as being in the "Kentucky Rifle Brigade," while the other man was described as a "Tennessee Sharp-shooter."

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These badges were not branch-wide. Instead, each command designed and obtained its own badges, although they appear to have been somewhat similar. An original 1.5 inch, eight-sided black cloth bearing a scarlet felt cross was worn as a badge by Henry A. Wise, Company B. 2nd Maryland Infantry, and was given to the Maryland Historical Society after the war with a note that it was a "Sharp Shooter's Badge." A Union soldier described prisoners taken on April 2, 1865, noting that "The sharp shooters had a red cross on their arms." Finally, a member of Dunlop's Sharpshooter Battalion recalled that he and his comrades were "privileged characters" who were distinguished "by a badge consisting of a red band running diagonally across the left elbow of the coat sleeve with a red star just above the band. This badge would pass the sharpshooter anywhere."

At times such badges appear to have been ad hoc affairs. First Sergeant Barry Benson, a South Carolina sharpshooter in the Wilderness battle of May 1864, saw that "the Sharpshooters too had become scattered. Seeing one or two, I called to them, telling them to stay close by me and keep watch for others. Soon we collected eight men. Breaking off twigs of pine, we set the green bunches in our hats to help us hang together."

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