Minnesota Sharpshooter Letter

by Fred Ray on September 26, 2006 · 0 comments

Historians make much of the problems the Confederacy had with state’s rights, and how it hindered the war effort. They haven’t paid enough attention, I think, to the problems it caused to the Union war effort. I found out about one aspect of it while researching the sharpshooter book, about how the various states tried, in most cases successfully, to keep their sharpshooter companies attached to regiments of their own states.

The best-known example is the Andrews’ sharpshooters, two companies of Massachusetts sharpshooters who were originally intended to be part of the 2nd U.S.S.S. but were attached instead to Massachusetts regiments thanks to the efforts of Governor Andrews (hence the name).

The Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis, MN has posted a letter from a soldier in the Second Company, Minnesota Sharpshooters, Private Percival Barnes. In his letter Barnes tells his mother about his company’s transfer:

Since I wrote last we have been detached from Berdans Reg. on detached duty and attached to the Minnesota 1st Reg. as a Company of sharpshooters and skirmishers an arrangement which pleases us very much as it seems like being amongst friends to be with the first Reg.

Thanks to state politics Berdan’s 1st U.S.S.S. had lost a company to the 1st Minnesota, where it was to remain until the end of its service. Barnes goes on to describe what his company was doing:

We are now encamped about 6 miles from Richmond on the Battlefield of a week ago yesterday. McClellan is concentrating everything for the attack on Richmond which we expect every day. We have built Breast works along the line to fall back upon I suppose in case we are repulsed. Yesterday our pickets were attacked by the enemy and driven in – we were immediately drawn up in line of Battle and every preparation made for a big fight but they did not attack us. I wrote a letter to Father giving an account of the Battle of Hanover Courthouse which I hope he received. Our Co. was with the Minnesota 1st in the Battle of Sunday but I was not with them being left in camp on account of being lame in one knee which troubled me for several days but I have got over it now. Out Company was in advance of the 1st Reg. skirmishing in the woods and did some very good service killing about 35 of the rebels that we know of for they were left on the ground and probably wounding a great many that were carried away – and we had only one wounded.

After a strong start the Federal policy on light infantry floundered, with state politics frequently trumping military necessity as to the raising, training, arming, and assignment of light infanty units. This ought to get more attention.

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