Sharpshooter cover

Sharpshooter: The Selected Letters and Papers of Maj. Eugene Blackford, C.S.A.
Fred L. Ray, Ed.

ISBN-13 978-0-9882435-1-4 / ISBN-10 0988243512
6×9 inch hardback / 230 Pages 10 Maps 30 Illustrations
Footnoted / Indexed / Complete Bibliography
Publication date: March 2016
Price after publication $39.95

I am nearly finished with the first phase of the biggest writing project I’ve ever attempted, which explains why I haven’t posted much on TOCWOC lately. It is the first volume of the letters and papers of Eugene Blackford. Those who have read my sharpshooter book or who know something about Confederate sharpshooters will have heard his name. I drew liberally on his letters and his diary/memoir for the book, which remains one of the best single sources about these units.

Blackford himself was an interesting and somewhat contradictory character—A Virginia aristocrat in an Alabama regiment, a man who came from an abolitionist family, opposed secession and despised the “Cotton Confederacy”, yet who fought valiantly for it when the time came. A lucid and prolific writer, he left an extraordinary archive of letters, almost all of which were saved by his family and have since made their way into various archives and private collections.

As reviewer Bruce Gudmundsson put it in a review of my previous book, Blackford was “a witness of a sort that historians rarely encounter,” someone who “combined a thorough understanding of military affairs with a novelist’s eye for detail and a knack for being at the right place at the right time.” He wrote detailed and often vivid descriptions of everything he saw, often under adverse conditions. This included not just battles and matters military but other things that seldom make it into the histories such as the often divisive politics of his regiment, candid comments about his leaders, the effects of the war on civilians, and much more. Reading the letters really does allow the modern reader to see a tumultuous era in America through the eyes of a young Southern officer and as such constitutes an extremely valuable primary source.

The first volume is Blackford’s selected letters from just before the beginning of the war to the end of the Chancellorsville campaign in May 1863. The second, which will be released next year, are the rest of his letters from the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign to the end of the war. The third volume will be the text of Blackford’s Diary/Memoir.

Publication is scheduled for early March, and I am taking advance orders at a 20% discount until then. This will be a small printing of 1500-2000 books in hard cover, made to last several lifetimes, and they are sure to become very collectible. For more information see the web site.

In the next few weeks I hope to post excerpts from Blackford’s letters here on TOCWOC.

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A Look at the Whitworth rifle

by Fred Ray on January 25, 2016 · 0 comments

The Whitworth rifle, used by Confederate sharpshooters during the Late Unpleasantness, has acquired an almost mythic status and a matching price tag. American Rifleman takes a look at current specimen in private hands.

Whitworths were prized sharpshooter arms during the Civil War, some numbers of them being run through the blockade by the rebels and selectively issued. The most common Confederate guns were marked “2nd QUALITY.” This did not mean they were inferior to other Whitworths, but that they had simpler sights, were less complex and employed Enfield-pattern locks without external slide-on safeties. They featured 33″ barrels and checkered fore-ends and wrists. Other styles with Davidson scopes were also occasionally seen in the southern ranks.

Whitworth Rifle

Not all Confederate sharpshooter rifles were Whitworths. They also used an unknown number of English match/target rifles such as the Turner, Beasely, Kerr, and some others. In fact it’s an exercise in frustration trying to sort out what they did use, because many of these rifles are simply identified as “globe-sighted rifles” and such. Although some accounts make it sound like every sharpshooter had one, the numbers were very small because they were so expensive. The best guess is that about 250 Whitworths were imported for Confederate use, and some of these may have been made by other manufacturers, several of whom licensed Whitworth’s rifling system.

Whatever the cost, it was repaid many times over with the damage they did.

My only quibble with the article is that I think they undervalued this rifle. If anyone sees a real Whitworth like this that’s going for $6500, please let me know!

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Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

Review: Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh

by Fred Ray January 24, 2016

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies By Phillip Leigh Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 224 pp. softcover $18.95 Westholme Publishing 2015 www.westholmepublishing.com Phillip Leigh, whose last book, Trading With the Enemy, I reviewed a while back, has produced another volume for the Civil War reader. This one is a series of essays […]

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Civil War Book Review: Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign

by Brett Schulte January 18, 2016

Gallagher, Gary W. (ed.) & Janney, Caroline E. (ed.). Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign. (University of North Carolina Press: September 2015). 360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 31 halftones, 5 maps, notes, bibliography, index.  ISBN: 978-1-4696-2533-1. $35.00 (Hardcover) Gary Gallagher and the University of North Carolina Press return to the […]

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Civil War News goes away…but maybe not

by Fred Ray January 9, 2016

I had received a backchannel warning in December, but the latest issue of Civil War News made it official—January is the last one. Got those unfamiliar with it, CWN comes out monthly in newspaper format and features articles on current CW issues like re-enactments, historical issues and celebrations, and other current issues. As such it […]

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Return to Snake Creek Gap – October 1864

by Ned B. November 11, 2015

Several times in the past (here, here, here, and here) I have posted  about the movement of the Army of the Tennessee through Snake Creek Gap, Georgia in May 1864. In discussions about that event, I have often seen it said “if only Johnston had defended the gap”. The opposing armies returned to the area later […]

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Civil War Book Review: The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 by John Horn

by Brett Schulte August 12, 2015

Horn, John. The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864. (Savas Beatie: January 2015). 384 pages, 26 images, 22 maps, notes, bibliography, index.  ISBN: 978-1-61121-216-7. $32.95 (Cloth) With The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, John Horn and Savas Beatie have produced a new and improved […]

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