Union Brigade Sharpshooters

by Fred Ray on September 7, 2017 · 0 comments

One of the most interesting but at the same time frustrating parts of researching sharpshooters is finding new sharpshooter units. Of course if you find one there are probably more, but the information on them if often maddeningly vague and incomplete.

I’ve recently come across evidence of Federal brigade sharpshooters. We’ve know about the Confederate versions for some time now, and that there were Union division sharpshooter companies starting in mid-summer of 1864, but who knew at least some units had Sharps-armed brigade level sharpshooters as well?

From a letter from Thomas Scott of the 122nd New York from the Camp of Sharpshooters, Fourth Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps on June 8, 1864.

The rebel riflemen having become very annoying to us, it has become necessary to organize a company of sharpshooters for each brigade. A day or two ago I was detailed as one of the members, and am now waiting for our Sharp’s rifles, the best weapon in the service. I do not think it is right in ordinary times to resort to sharp-shooting during a battle, but as the rebels seem determined to murder our wounded and those who are carrying them from the field, there is no other way left for our commanders but to do as they do. I think that I can avenge some of our fallen boys for their wounds and death. Hence I am willing to enter this most dangerous branch of the service. Roselle E. Luce, of Cicero, was badly wounded by one of the enemy’s sharpshooters on the afternoon of the 6th inst. His wounds are both bad ones, but he will doubtless recover.

A soldier from another Sixth Corps unit, the 151st New York, also mentions two brigade sharpshooter units in a different division of the Sixth Corps.

About the middle of October, ’64, we were on one of those exhaustive marches, very hot and dusty. About 10 a. m. General Wheaton, who had command of the advance, sent an orderly back with an order for the Sharpshooters of both Brigades to report to him at head of column. The 2d Brigade Sharpshooters were commanded by an Indian Lieut., and had several Indians in the company. …. we could see a plenty of Johnnies on the opposite side. Almost directly in front of us was a large stone mill, and that was full of graybacks. It was just good rifle shot across and my boys were armed with Sharps and Spencer rifles and as there was no way the Rebs could get across, we didn’t worry much.

(Chronicles of the One hundred fifty-first Regiment New York State Volunteer Infantry 1911)

Lots of unanswered questions here. Did all brigades in the Sixth Corps have a sharpshooter detachment? How large was it? What about the other corps?

We do know that after the end of the Overland Campaign the Union forces in Virginia raised one sharpshooter company per division, in addition to any other sharpshooter companies they might have already. Private Scott readily admits that they were formed to counter the excellent Confederate units.

BTW the New York State Military Museum web site is excellent and well worth a visit to find out more about Empire State units. It’s not just the dry listing of a regiment’s assignments, but contains letters, diary excerpts, and photos.

UPDATE: Jerseyman and prolific CW author Joe Bilby sends along some information about the New Jersey brigade, which also formed a brigade sharpshooter outfit in 1864. “Adjutant Edmund Halsey of the 15th NJ notes in his diary that a brigade sharpshooter detachment was established on August 30, 1864 and that the initial issue was sixteen Spencer rifles.” The New Jersey Brigade, like the 122nd New York, was part of the First Division, Sixth Corps.

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