Civil War Sharpshooters

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The Civil War produced many fine shooters, and some made their way into sharpshooter units.

Champion marksman Hiram Berdan of New York raised a Union sharpshooter unit. To qualify, volunteers had to put ten shots in a circle of 10 inches from 200 yards.

Berdan’s Sharpshooters wore green uniforms, like the reenactor above.

Sharp’s rifles, used by the Federals, were deadly at 600–800 yards. Custom-made rifles used by both sides could reach to 1000 yards.

The British Whitworth was smuggled in by Confederates (see image below). It was slower to load but accurate to twice the distance.

Whitworth bullets were hexagonal, not round, and made a distinctive whistle as they sliced through the air. A soldier who heard it was smart to take cover.

Union General Sedgwick was correcting placement of his troops near an artillery unit. Artillery was a favored target of sharpshooters.

Sedgwick’s aide wrote:

“A few seconds after, a man who had been separated from his regiment passed directly in front of the general, and at the same moment a sharp-shooter’s bullet passed with a long shrill whistle very close, and the soldier, who was then just in front of the general, dodged to the ground.

“The general touched him gently with his foot, and said, ‘Why, my man, I am ashamed of you, dodging that way…They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.’

“The man rose and saluted and said good-naturedly, ‘General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn’t, it would have taken my head off. I believe in dodging.’

McMahon explained that as the man went off, another “shrill whistle, closing with a dull, heavy stroke, interrupted our talk.”

Sedgwick fell, mortally wounded.

President Lincoln got a taste of this. When he was inspecting fortifications near Washington DC, he came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters. He made a rapid retreat to the White House.

The longest shot we know of during the war occurred in the same place it all started, at Ft. Sumter. In 1864 Union soldiers manning artillery were firing on the fort from nearby islands. One of them showed himself at the wrong moment, and was shot by a Rebel sharpshooter from 1390 yards, 14th longest confirmed hit in history.

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