Forgotten Heroes of the Skirmish Line: Alexander Beattie

by Fred Ray on June 1, 2008 · 0 comments

If you think Vermonter Alexander Beattie looks like a tough customer, you’re right.

Captain Beattie’s services with this company endeared him to every soldier in it. His care and providence for every need and comfort of his men in the camp, on the march, or in the battle, were limited only by the exhausted physical strength of a man of cast-iron mould and a will and courage indomitable. He was detailed at length by General A. P. Howe of the Second Division of the Greek Cross Corps to organize a company of Sharpshooters out of his own selection from the regiments of the Division. They were picked after careful competitive target practice, and his company was kept full in the same way These men underwent more perilous service than any other body of troops in the Division—over two hundred having served in Beattie’s company while he was in command. The casualties were fearful, and yet his ranks were sought by the good shots of the regiments, knowing the peculiar exposure of the service. Captain Beattie had, and always had, a remarkable control over his men. They discerned his skill in disposing them at critical times and places, and their confidence in his judgment was such that they were eager to take the posts assigned them. They always trusted to him to put them in the right pit or tree top, and to relieve them at the proper moment. In influence and standing with his men he was second to no officer of the Second Division of the Sixth Corps. He was an officer whose personal skill and courage in the fight were such that all men under him were inspired to deeds of availing valor forgetful of present dangers.

Born in 1828 in Ryegate, Vermont, Alexander Mitchell Beattie was one of the initial organizers of the Third Vermont in 1861 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in Company I. Before the war he had been both a miner and businessman in California but was teaching in Vermont when the guns began to rumble at Fort Sumter. Beattie served in the Peninsula and at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. At Cold harbor he won a Medal of Honor for “removing, under a hot fire, to a place of safety, a wounded member of his command who lay between the Union and Confederate lines.” After being beaten up on the skirmish line during the Overland Campaign, both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James formed hundred-man sharpshooter companies for each infantry division, and Beattie, now a captain, was tapped for leadership of the company for Getty’s division. His sharpshooters performed distinguished service at the Weldon Railroad and Fort Stevens, and in the Valley Campaign of 1864. Beattie, however, took his discharge at the end of his three year’s service and returned to Vermont in the summer of 1864, where he entered the lumber business and served in the Vermont legislature. Active in veteran’s affairs, he later moved to New Hampshire, where he died in 1907.

Note: Both Federal and Confederate sharpshooters acted more as light infantry than as modern-day snipers. A typical late-war Federal sharpshooter company consisted of 75 men armed with Spencer repeaters and 25 armed with long-range target rifles.

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