Review: The Massachusetts Andrew Sharpshooters: A Civil War History and Roster

The Massachusetts Andrew Sharpshooters:
A Civil War History and Roster
by Alden C. Ellis, Jr.

Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-6489-0
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-7864-8820-9
76 photos, glossary, notes, bibliography, index
276pp. softcover (7 x 10) 2012

Alden Ellis’ book covers the history and organization of two Massachusetts sharpshooter companies, the so-called Andrews Sharpshooters, named for the state’s wartime governor John Andrew. Although we usually associate state’s rights with the South, Northern governors were also jealous upholders of the rights of their states. The two Massachusetts companies were originally slated for inclusion in the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, but Governor Andrews had them pulled out and assigned to regiments from the Bay State instead. This reflected not only state parochialism but also a fear that the soldiers would be denied certain state benefits and that the state would not be credited for their enlistments.

Although they shared a common name the companies served in different regiments (both in the Army of the Potomac) and Ellis treats them separately, devoting approximately one half of the book to each company, which gives it a certain disjointed feel. Each company’s service is covered in some detail, and Ellis uses primary sources whenever possible.

Both companies started out with heavy civilian target rifles, which they used until the Peninsular campaign in 1862. Although the impracticality of the rifles was acknowledged by all, the men were loath to give them up and take Sharps breech loaders in return. Thus on one side of the Peninsula Berdan’s men of the U.S.S.S were almost in mutiny about not having the Sharps, the Massachusetts men nearly had to be court-martialed for them to accept them.

Unfortunately the sources are few for just two companies, which limits his scope. Although he does quote orders and occasionally give voice to individual soldiers, most of the narrative is to say that the sharpshooters went there and did that, which makes for rather deadening prose. He also makes little attempt to place the sharpshooters in any sort of tactical context. For example the use of the sharpshooters in the fight for the Bliss barn at Gettysburg is well documented, including numerous eyewitnesses of the exploits of the sharpshooters, but Ellis does not use these. Another complaint is the lack of any maps.

On the bright side, there are numerous period photos, including sharpshooters and their commanders, and fully 40 pages are devoted to a detailed roster of each man who served, including family and occupational information.

Overall, this rather expensive book ($40 for a 276 page paperback) will appeal mainly to sharpshooter specialists like myself and those who had ancestors in the unit rather than to the general reader.



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