Execution of Sharpshooters?

by Fred Ray on August 15, 2006 · 0 comments

While giving a presentation recently I mentioned that only one Confederate sharpshooter’s badge had survived. A gentleman in the audience assured me that the reason was that no one dared to wear them because sharpshooters were summarily executed when captured. He could not, however, provide me with any examples.

So I’m wondering…does anyone else have any examples of captured sharpshooters being summarily shot? I don’t, and I’ve done a good bit of research on the subject. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen, and I’m also sure that if it did the soldiers may not have wanted to talk about it. Keep in mind that a sharpshooter was not really a sniper in the modern sense, but a light infantryman.

Here’s the only example I’m aware of, from Stevens’ history of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, describing Confederate sharpshooters who were captured at Devil’s Den on July 3.

A sorry looking crowd, being very hungry and about famished for the want of water. They were much alarmed at being caught, because as sharpshooters they expect no quarter, and begged lustily for their lives, nor would they scare believe Sergt. Tyler’s assurances that they would be treated as fairly as other prisoners, until they learned that their captors were Berdan Sharpshooters, when a sudden change came over their dejected spirits to one of undisguised happiness.

Note this isn’t really an example, since no one actually got killed. Anyone have any others?

UPDATE: Gary Yee, who is working on a sharpshooter book himself, sends the following comment via email from “The Land O’ Rice a Roni and Cable Cars” (The SF Bay area to the rest of us).

From my own research, history rarely has absolutes. The issue is addressed in an article adapted from my forthcoming book that will appear in the Fall issue of The Military Collector and Historian. As you know, the magazine is the quarterly publication of The Company of Military Historians. In a nutshell, the majority of sharpshooters were given quarters and entered captivity (though this may be a death sentence in itself). However, there were a few exceptions where they weren’t and by today’s standards the guilty parties (both blue and grey) would be charged for war crimes. The article may be especially useful as it covers the issue of uniform markings.If anyone would like to see a (disorganized) sample of my research, click on this link


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