Berdan’s Civil War Elite — Conclusion

Hiram Berdan left on a more or less unauthorized leave after Gettysburg and never returned to the army. He eventually resigned, leaving the 1st U.S.S.S. under the command of his long-suffering subordinate, Lt. Col. Caspar Trepp. Though the Swiss-born Trepp was a fine soldier, he lasted only until late November 1863 before falling victim to a Confederate sharpshooter at Mine Run. Although both sharpshooter regiments served with distinction in the Overland Campaign they gradually grew weaker and were eventually consolidated into a battalion that was broken up late in the war. As for Berdan, he continued to make money with a series of successful inventions (the Berdan primer is still in use) and eventually convinced Congress in 1868 to promote him to brigadier general. He tirelessly and for the most part successfully promoted his own legend.

As much as I liked Marcot’s book it does have some flaws. While he describes their weapons in some detail, Marcot has little to say about the sharpshooters’ actual tactical employment or their antecedents, and uses few battle anecdotes. In common with most other histories of the Berdan sharpshooters, their Confederate opponents appear only in shadowy fashion, and he does not mention the tactical developments in Civil War light infantry on opposing side, even the shock that the Green Coats gave the Rebs on the Peninsula. Speaking of uniforms, although he mentions green uniforms on European riflemen, he seems unaware that the US Army fielded a green-uniformed rifle regiment in the War of 1812 or that green was briefly the branch color of Army rifle units in the 1850s.

As for the book itself, while it is attractively laid out and has an index, there are no footnotes or end notes, which is very disappointing to a researcher like me who’d like to know where the letters, photographs, etc. came from. There are a few minor copy editing errors, the biggest gripe on that score being that the word sharpshooters is always spelled SharpShooters, regardless of the context. This might be acceptable for references to Berdan’s men but it seems a bit much to use it in a generic sense when sharpshooters would have done just fine.

Overall, though, I thought it was well worth the $30 asking price.

U. S. Sharpshooters: Berdan’s Civil War Elite, Roy M. Marcot, Stackpole Books hardcover, 128 pages, 28 color photos, 127 b/w photos, 14 drawings, 4 paintings, 1 map, index, no endnotes,$30 (Summer 2007)

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One response to “Berdan’s Civil War Elite — Conclusion”

  1. Ruediger B. Richter Avatar
    Ruediger B. Richter

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I’m very interested in the role of Germany and Switzerland in the Civil War. I have written a book regarding German Members of fraternities in the American Civil War (in German):
    The highest-anking Afro-American line officer William Read is also a Member of a German Corps Fraternity, which was open all time also for foreigners.
    Viele Grüße

    Best Regards
    Rüdiger Richter رديجر ريشتر

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