Colonel Hiram Berdan (USV)
Hiram Berdan was born in Phelps, New York, on 6 September 1824. A mechanical engineer in New York City, he was the top rifle shot in the country for fifteen years leading up to the Civil War. He invented a repeating rifle, a musket ball, a reaper, a mechanical bakery, and the first commercial gold amalgamation machine bringing him wealth and international fame.
In the summer and fall of 1861, he recruited eighteen companies from eight states, which formed into two sharpshooter regiments. Berdan was appointed colonel of the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters on 30 November 1861.
His men, who had to pass rigorous marksmanship tests, were dressed in distinctive green uniforms and equipped with the most advanced long-range rifles featuring telescopic sights. Often detached for special assignments, the sharpshooters were frequently used for skirmish duty.
Although Berdan was an innovative officer, he proved unpopular with the officers and soldiers under his command. He was often busy with affairs away from the front, involving himself in controversies over the superiority of certain rifles and pursuing government contracts for inventions; he was more often found in a parlor than in a rifle pit. Several officers formally complained to Daniel Butterfield, Berdan's immediate commander, that Berdan was both dishonest and a coward. In July 1862, Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter condemned Berdan as incompetent.
Berdan fought at the Seven Days Battles and Second Battle of Bull Run. In early 1863, he commanded the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, III Corps, Army of the Potomac. He commanded the 3rd Brigade at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, his sharpshooters delayed Confederate attacks on Devil's Den and the Peach Orchard. Berdan assumed command of J. H. Hobart Ward's brigade when the latter became acting division commander.
Berdan resigned his commission on 2 January 1864. He earned a brevet promotion to brigadier general of volunteers. After the war, Berdan invented a twin-screw submarine gunboat, a torpedo boat for evading torpedo nets, a long-distance rangefinder, and a distance fuse for shrapnel.
Berdan died on 31 March 1893 in Washington, D.C.