Overland Longstreet's Sharpshooter Battalions during the Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

Dunnigan

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Aug 3, 2016
Hi all,

I've read Fred Ray's Shock Troops of the Confederacy, William Dunlop's Lee's Sharpshooters, and Philip Katcher's Sharpshooters of the Civil War (Osprey) and while there's a lot of information and detail on the sharpshooter battalions created in 1864 for the 2nd and 3rd Corps, I don't see much reference to sharpshooter battalions in the 1st Corps. There's a lot of mention of Wilcox's, McGowan's, Scale's, and virtually all the other brigades in the 2nd and 3rd Corps (and obviously Blackford's "Division").

Independently looking, I know of the 3rd SC Bn in Kershaw's (Henagan's) Brigade, 3rd Georgia Bn in Wofford's Brigade, and the Palmetto Regiment under Jenkins. Beyond that, I don't see mention of sharpshooters in Anderson's, Benning's, Humphrey's, Law's, or the Texas Brigades. I saw a brief mention somewhere of sharpshooters in Bryan's brigade but I don't know if this was part of the organized sharpshooter battalion. I even saw a mention that Lamkin's Nelson Artillery Battery who arrived at the Army of Northern Virginia without any guns in 1864 and being used as sharpshooters at the Wilderness. I also saw a mention of "Longstreet's First Corps sharpshooter detachment" taking potshots at Union supply trains during the siege of Chattanooga.

Ray's book mentions Lee's order to create sharpshooter battalions in all brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia and the author implies that each of the brigades did have one formed in Spring 1864.

Does anyone have any insight into the sharpshooter battalion in the 1st Corps?
 

AUG

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Good question. I've read Fred L. Ray's book and, though a great read, it did leave me wondering about Longstreet's Corps as well, especially the Texas Brigade. There were actually plans to raise a battalion of sharpshooters in the Texas Brigade in 1863 under Capt. Isaac Newton [typo, meant Capt. Isaac N. M. Turner]; however, he was ironically killed by a sharpshooter at Fort Huger during the Siege of Suffolk and the sharpshooter battalion never materialized. Other than that I'm not aware of any other effort by the brigade to raise a sharpshooter battalion.
 

lelliott19

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I cant answer your question about the other brigades @Dunnigan , but here's some info that may be of interest.

Here's a whole thread about the 3d Battalion GA Sharpshooters of Woffords Brigade, McLaws Division, Longstreets Corps.
http://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-lost-battalion-3rd-georgia-sharpshooters.120252/

And a reference to the SS of Semmes/Bryan's brigade at Spotsylvania:
"While it isn’t known for sure which Confederate sharpshooter actually killed General Sedgwick, the most likely to me seems to be “Kansas Tom” Johnson, who himself died a few days later in battle. But the question has never been wholly resolved, partly due to the reluctance at the time for anyone to claim credit for it." http://www.civilwarbattlefields.us/john-sedgwick/

The quote above references a 1901 account of Colonel A. J. McBride, 10th Georgia (Bryan's Brigade), who described "a band of sharpshooters composed of the best shots in the [First] corps." McBride credits "Kansas Tom" Johnson" with shooting Sedgwick, but omits any detail.
 

redbob

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Keep in mind that often parts of a sharpshooter's job description included recon and skirmishing and that very few of them were armed with anything other than a service rifle. Their real weapon was often their survival skills. Think of soldiers (of all wars ) in one of three ways: Killers, Fillers or Fodder with the sharpshooters being in the first category. Berry Benson's Civil War Book is an excellent memoir of a Confederate Scout/Sharpshooter.
 
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AUG

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Keep in mind that often parts of a sharpshooter's job description included recon and skirmishing and that very few of them were armed with anything other than a service rifle. Their real weapon was often their survival skills. Think of soldiers (of all wars ) in one of three ways: Killers, Fillers or Fodder with the sharpshooters being in the first category. Berry Benson's Civil War Book is an excellent memoir of a Confederate Scout/Sharpshooter.
Yes, in the ACW they were essentially "elite skirmishers" and mainly fought on the skirmish line or picket line. Often in the Overland Campaign, Atlanta Campaign, Petersburg they would make raids on the enemy picket lines, or in a frontal attack they would be in the advance to clear out the opposing skirmishers and run them back to the main line. In that regard the ACW sharpshooter was quite different than the 20th and 21st century sniper, sort of a mix between that and light infantry.

Btw, Lee's Sharpshooters by William S. Dunlop - commander of the sharpshooter battalion in McGowan's SC Brigade, the same one Berry Benson was with - can be read online here:
https://archive.org/stream/cu31924026471460#page/n3/mode/2up
 

Dunnigan

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I cant answer your question about the other brigades @Dunnigan , but here's some info that may be of interest.

Here's a whole thread about the 3d Battalion GA Sharpshooters of Woffords Brigade, McLaws Division, Longstreets Corps.
http://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-lost-battalion-3rd-georgia-sharpshooters.120252/

And a reference to the SS of Semmes/Bryan's brigade at Spotsylvania...

Thanks so much Laura. The reference to Bryan's brigade may very well be the one that I had found before.

Thanks also for the welcome from others. I'll be independently researching this and if I turn up anything myself, I'll be sure to share it in this thread.

Note that Dunlop's book is also available free on Google Play:
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/William_S_Dunlop_Lee_s_Sharpshooters?id=AzIOAAAAIAAJ
 

gary

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Remember that some units that fought alongside Lee's army were men under Beauregard's command and I've found no evidence that Beauregard organized battalions. As to Longstreet's command, he did have some sharpshooters and they were effective at the Siege of Knoxville where they killed Col/Brevet Brigadier General Sanders from 800 yards distance.
 

Yankeedave

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Longstreet has more going on. At Fair Oaks/Seven Pines Micah Jenkins is deployed with a handfull of men, maybe 225. Moving with the r.r. tracks to his left he keeps turning union troops on his right. Pressure on the front, a few skilled riflemen on the flank.
Longstreet has a couple of brothers named Blackford. They scout and skirmish for the army. There is little real info (so far) on them
Then there is the spy(s) Harrison.
Does a criteria to create sharp shooter battalions imply an availability to such weapons?
 

Dunnigan

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Remember that some units that fought alongside Lee's army were men under Beauregard's command and I've found no evidence that Beauregard organized battalions. As to Longstreet's command, he did have some sharpshooters and they were effective at the Siege of Knoxville where they killed Col/Brevet Brigadier General Sanders from 800 yards distance.

Right, Gary. It does not appear that Pickett's division that had parts with Beauregard and elsewhere created sharpshooter battalions at the time Lee issued the orders as it wasn't with the ANV at that time. Nor Hokes' Brigade (I speculate) as it was back in North Carolina, although it already had the 1st NC Bn Sharpshooter.

Jenkins' Brigade, that was previously part of Pickett's division, as I noted earlier, did have the Palmetto Regiment which was used for sharpshooters. Perhaps, and this is a stab in the dark, that because it was a whole regiment as sharpshooter, it might have been used for all of Fields' Division? If this is the case then I'd only need to see if Humphrey's Brigade had created one. Given the brief reference of Bryan's Brigade sharpshooters, then it may/most likely had one... but the jury is still out of course.
 

Dunnigan

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Does a criteria to create sharp shooter battalions imply an availability to such weapons?

It does not. Besides the handful of Whitworths that were distributed, the sharpshooters were armed with normal muzzle-loading rifled muskets. I believe it was Fred Ray's book that states that the Confederates tested multiple arms and concluded that the Enfield was more than enough and better than some of the other rifled muskets in service. Sharpshooters would be tested on range estimation, targeting, and training mostly, so having a scoped rifle alone wasn't a prerequisite.
 

Yankeedave

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It does not. Besides the handful of Whitworths that were distributed, the sharpshooters were armed with normal muzzle-loading rifled muskets. I believe it was Fred Ray's book that states that the Confederates tested multiple arms and concluded that the Enfield was more than enough and better than some of the other rifled muskets in service. Sharpshooters would be tested on range estimation, targeting, and training mostly, so having a scoped rifle alone wasn't a prerequisite.
I wasnt speaking of scoped and such. Something beyond the lost cause view is all.
 

AUG

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Longstreet has more going on. At Fair Oaks/Seven Pines Micah Jenkins is deployed with a handfull of men, maybe 225. Moving with the r.r. tracks to his left he keeps turning union troops on his right. Pressure on the front, a few skilled riflemen on the flank.
Micah Jenkins' Palmetto Sharpshooter regiment did not actually fight as sharpshooters or in skirmish order, at least not in major battles. Under Jenkins' command they acted like any other infantry regiment and fought in line of battle, though at Seven Pines and Glendale they did some excellent fighting.

Longstreet has a couple of brothers named Blackford. They scout and skirmish for the army. There is little real info (so far) on them
If you're thinking of Major Eugene Blackford, he actually commanded the sharpshooter battalion in Rodes' Alabama Brigade, which was in Rodes' Division, Second Corps - not Longstreet's First Corps.
 

Yankeedave

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If you're thinking of Major Eugene Blackford, he actually commanded the sharpshooter battalion in Rodes' Alabama Brigade, which was in Rodes' Division, Second Corps - not Longstreet's First Corps.
and he had a brother? i'm a yank just seeing reb meteors. I cant always name the tormenter. lol.
 

Dunnigan

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Micah Jenkins' Palmetto Sharpshooter regiment did not actually fight as sharpshooters or in skirmish order, at least not in major battles. Under Jenkins' command they acted like any other infantry regiment and fought in line of battle, though at Seven Pines and Glendale they did some excellent fighting.

That's interesting as I possibly just assumed Palmetto Sharpshooters did fight that way. I am aware that other units with the label "Sharpshooters" did operate instead as line infantry, including I believe the 30th Virginia Bn Sharpshooters (with Wharton) and certainly the 1st Michigan Regiment Sharpshooters at least in their debut fight at the Wilderness.

I found this webpage which has a good account of the regiment through the years.
http://home.freeuk.com/gazkhan/pss_1864.htm

If Palmetto didn't fight as skirmishers, then I'm going backwards in my research :smile:
 

AUG

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That's interesting as I possibly just assumed Palmetto Sharpshooters did fight that way. I am aware that other units with the label "Sharpshooters" did operate instead as line infantry, including I believe the 30th Virginia Bn Sharpshooters (with Wharton) and certainly the 1st Michigan Regiment Sharpshooters at least in their debut fight at the Wilderness.

I found this webpage which has a good account of the regiment through the years.
http://home.freeuk.com/gazkhan/pss_1864.htm

If Palmetto didn't fight as skirmishers, then I'm going backwards in my research :smile:
I'm not so sure about 1863-65, but I know that in 1862 at Seven Pines, Gaines' Mill and Glendale they did not fight as sharpshooters or skirmishers as a whole. They were in line of battle with the other regiments of the brigade, sometimes with the exception of one or two companies deployed in skirmish order, as would normally be done. That also seems to be the case with other major battles in 1863-65.

For example, at Glendale/Frayer's Farm Longstreet had ordered Jenkins to silence a battery to his front, possibly implying for him to use the Palmetto Sharpshooters; however, Jenkins had his brigade charge head-on, which brought on a general engagement. They fought back and forth with the Pennsylvania Reserves over Cooper's Battery, often hand-to-hand, and the Palmetto SS suffered heavy losses, over 60% IIRC.

Here's a thread on that: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/col-micah-jenkins-at-the-battle-of-glendale.113579/
 
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gary

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It should be pointed out that Longstreet's Corps was detached from Lee's ANV and may not have received Lee's order issued in the Winter of '63/64 to raise ad-hoc sharpshooter battalions. Even if Longstreet complied, how much time woudl there have been to put everyone through training?
 

AUG

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Good question. I've read Fred L. Ray's book and, though a great read, it did leave me wondering about Longstreet's Corps as well, especially the Texas Brigade. There were actually plans to raise a battalion of sharpshooters in the Texas Brigade in 1863 under Capt. Isaac Newton [typo, meant Capt. Isaac N. M. Turner]; however, he was ironically killed by a sharpshooter at Fort Huger during the Siege of Suffolk and the sharpshooter battalion never materialized. Other than that I'm not aware of any other effort by the brigade to raise a sharpshooter battalion.
I will add that on a few previous occasions skirmishers, sharpshooters, and/or scouts in the 5th Texas or Texas Brigade were detailed via volunteers or were hand picked. Capt. Ike Turner was said to have organized a small contingent of sharpshooters during the Siege of Yorktown to combat Federal sharpshooters and artillery. He also gathered 160 volunteers to harass Federal artillery at Malvern Hill; and on the night before the battle of Antietam, Turner called for a volunteer from each of the 5th Texas's ten companies to serve as skirmishers or scouts. Capt. Turner gained a reputation as somewhat of an "outpost officer" in the brigade.
 

Phiip McBride

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I think you mean Captain Ike Turner of the 5th Texas. Sadly, the young captain was killed by a sniper right after Hood decided to put him in charge of a sharpshooter company, or maybe battalion.
 
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