Recollections of Whitworth Sharpshooter: John "Kildee" West of the 4th Georgia Infantry

lelliott19

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"In '62, Gen Lee received thirteen fine English Whitworth rifles that were warranted to kill at 1,800 yards. These were the best guns in the service on either side. Thirteen of the best marks men in the army were detailed for this special service, and I was the only Georgian that was selected." The design improvements incorporated into the Whitworth rifle reportedly resulted in 12-inch groups at 1800-yards. John "Kildee" West utilized that accuracy as one of the elite "Whitworth Sharpshooters." West enlisted July 9, 1861 as a Private in Co C 4th Georgia Infantry and was surrendered April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse. [Fold 3]

In an interview with the Irvington Southerner, December 1885, Kildee provides these interesting reminiscences.

KILDEE
The Famous Sharpshooter of the Confederacy

From the Irvington (Ga.) Southerner
It was our good fortune a few days ago to meet in Twiggs county, John West, better known during the war by the sobriquet of "Kildee," the most noted sharpshooter of the Confederate service. In response to our inquiry, he gave us some interesting facts connected with himself in that perilous service.

"I was born and reared in Twiggs county, Georgia," said he, "but went to the war from Louisiana as a private. At my solicitation I was transferred to the Twiggs County Volunteers, my home company, which I found in Virginia. The Twiggs Volunteers were nicknamed the 'Jorees' because of their uniforms having three black stripes upon the tail of the coat, resembling the three black feathers on the bird called 'Joree.' I was nicknamed 'Kildee' because of my slenderness and agility, and because I was in the 'Joree' company.

"In '62, Gen Lee received thirteen fine English Whitworth rifles that were warranted to kill at 1,800 yards. These were the best guns in the service on either side. Thirteen of the best marks men in the army were detailed for this special service, and I was the only Georgian that was selected.

"We were placed under the command of a Colonel Brown, who had no other duties than to command us. We were practiced three months before going into service. A score of every shot was kept during this three months, and at the end I was one hundred and seventy-six shots in the bull's eye ahead of the rest. The last day of the practice, our marksmanship was tested by our superior officers. A white board, two feet square, with a black diamond about the size of a hat in the centre, was placed 1,500 yards away. The wind was blowing stiffly, and it was very unfavorable for good shooting, but I put three bullets in the diamond, and seven in the white of the board. I beat the record and won the choice of horse, bridle, saddle, spurs, gun, revolvers and saber. Our accoutrements were the best the army could afford. Then we entered active service, and I have been thro' scenes which have tried men's souls. I soon became indifferent to danger, and inured to hardships and privations. I have killed men from ten paces distant to a mile. I have no idea how many I killed, but I made a good many bite the dust.

"We were sometimes employed separately and collectively; sometimes scouting then sharpshooting. Our most effective work was in picking off the officers, silencing batteries, and protecting our lines from the enemy's sharpshooters. I am certain I killed Gens Banks and Shields. I was the only confederate sharpshooter on our lines on the days when those generals were killed. The enemy were fourteen and fifteen hundred yards away, and my rifle was the only gun that could reach them. I was shooting at officers, and I know that I killed them.

Artillerymen could stand anything else better than they could sharpshooting, and they would turn their guns upon a sharpshooter as quick as they would upon a battery. You see we could pick off their gunners so easily. Myself and a comrade completely silenced a battery of six guns in less than two hours on one occasion. The battery was then stormed and captured. I heard Gen. Lee say he would rather have those thirteen sharpshooters than any regiment in the army.

We frequently resorted to various artifices our warfare. Sometimes, we would climb a tree, and pin leaves all over our clothes to keep their color from betraying us. When two of us would be together and a Yankee sharpshooter would be trying to get a shot at us, one of us would put up his hat on a ramrod and poke it up from behind the object that concealed and protected us, and when the Yankee showed his head to shoot at the hat, the other one would put a bullet thro' his head. I have shot 'em out of trees, and seen 'em fall like coons. When we were in grass or grain, we would fire and fall over and roll several yards from where we shot at, and the Yankee sharpshooter would fire away at the smoke.

I was captured once. Col. Brown and I got caught inside of the Federal lines at Cold Harbor, and Sheridan's wagon train was between us and liberty. We had on Yankee coats, and we rode along up the wagon train for some time trying to head it, and escape. But we couldn't do it. Finally, Col. Brown rode up to a driver and ordered him to turn out to one side and let us pass.

"By whose authority?" asked the driver.

"By my own," replied Brown authoritatively.

"Who are you?" asked the driver.

"Col. Coleman," answered Brown who had found out the name of the colonel who was in command of the train.

The driver then began to question Co. Brown pretty closely, and was about to catch up with us. Col. Brown drew his revolver, and sent a ball crashing through his brain. We turned our horses and dashed down the lines of wagons at full speed, and we ran right into a company of Federal cavalry who were protecting the train. A shower of bullets whistled around us. We wheeled to the right, jumped a stone wall, and just as my horse cleared the wall, a bullet struck him behind the ear, and down we came. Brown's horse was shot from under him about 20 steps ahead, and we were both captured. TO BE CONTINUED
[Savannah Morning News. (Savannah, Ga.), December 14, 1885, Page 5. Reprinted from the Irvington Southerner.]

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Luke Freet

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"We were placed under the command of a Colonel Brown, who had no other duties than to command us.
Who is the Colonel Brown he refers to throughout? I assume it must be Colonel Hamilton Brown of the 1st North Carolina, later commander of the ad-hoc sharpshooter battalion in Ramseur's old brigade. Thing is, Kildee says the army recieve the Whitworths in '62. Assuming this the end of '62, the 1st North Carolina were in Steuart's Brigade of the Stonewall Division.
Maybe i got the details wrong on this. Correct me if so.

I am certain I killed Gens Banks and Shields. I was the only confederate sharpshooter on our lines on the days when those generals were killed. The enemy were fourteen and fifteen hundred yards away, and my rifle was the only gun that could reach them. I was shooting at officers, and I know that I killed them.
This must be a misidentification. The 4th Georgia was part of D. H. Hill's Division, which wasn't in the Valley Campaign or the Second Bull Run Campaign, so he could not have had the chance then. After that, Banks was transferred to New Orleans, and Shields resigned, iirc.
 

leftyhunter

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View attachment 295366
https://www.guns.com/news/2013/09/09/whitworth-rifle-fit-queens-confederates-video
"In '62, Gen Lee received thirteen fine English Whitworth rifles that were warranted to kill at 1,800 yards. These were the best guns in the service on either side. Thirteen of the best marks men in the army were detailed for this special service, and I was the only Georgian that was selected." The design improvements incorporated into the Whitworth rifle reportedly resulted in 12-inch groups at 1800-yards. John "Kildee" West utilized that accuracy as one of the elite "Whitworth Sharpshooters." West enlisted July 9, 1861 as a Private in Co C 4th Georgia Infantry and was surrendered April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse. [Fold 3]

In an interview with the Irvington Southerner, December 1885, Kildee provides these interesting reminiscences.

KILDEE
The Famous Sharpshooter of the Confederacy

From the Irvington (Ga.) Southerner
It was our good fortune a few days ago to meet in Twiggs county, John West, better known during the war by the sobriquet of "Kildee," the most noted sharpshooter of the Confederate service. In response to our inquiry, he gave us some interesting facts connected with himself in that perilous service.

"I was born and reared in Twiggs county, Georgia," said he, "but went to the war from Louisiana as a private. At my solicitation I was transferred to the Twiggs County Volunteers, my home company, which I found in Virginia. The Twiggs Volunteers were nicknamed the 'Jorees' because of their uniforms having three black stripes upon the tail of the coat, resembling the three black feathers on the bird called 'Joree.' I was nicknamed 'Kildee' because of my slenderness and agility, and because I was in the 'Joree' company.

"In '62, Gen Lee received thirteen fine English Whitworth rifles that were warranted to kill at 1,800 yards. These were the best guns in the service on either side. Thirteen of the best marks men in the army were detailed for this special service, and I was the only Georgian that was selected.

"We were placed under the command of a Colonel Brown, who had no other duties than to command us. We were practiced three months before going into service. A score of every shot was kept during this three months, and at the end I was one hundred and seventy-six shots in the bull's eye ahead of the rest. The last day of the practice, our marksmanship was tested by our superior officers. A white board, two feet square, with a black diamond about the size of a hat in the centre, was placed 1,500 yards away. The wind was blowing stiffly, and it was very unfavorable for good shooting, but I put three bullets in the diamond, and seven in the white of the board. I beat the record and won the choice of horse, bridle, saddle, spurs, gun, revolvers and saber. Our accoutrements were the best the army could afford. Then we entered active service, and I have been thro' scenes which have tried men's souls. I soon became indifferent to danger, and inured to hardships and privations. I have killed men from ten paces distant to a mile. I have no idea how many I killed, but I made a good many bite the dust.

"We were sometimes employed separately and collectively; sometimes scouting then sharpshooting. Our most effective work was in picking off the officers, silencing batteries, and protecting our lines from the enemy's sharpshooters. I am certain I killed Gens Banks and Shields. I was the only confederate sharpshooter on our lines on the days when those generals were killed. The enemy were fourteen and fifteen hundred yards away, and my rifle was the only gun that could reach them. I was shooting at officers, and I know that I killed them.

Artillerymen could stand anything else better than they could sharpshooting, and they would turn their guns upon a sharpshooter as quick as they would upon a battery. You see we could pick off their gunners so easily. Myself and a comrade completely silenced a battery of six guns in less than two hours on one occasion. The battery was then stormed and captured. I heard Gen. Lee say he would rather have those thirteen sharpshooters than any regiment in the army.

We frequently resorted to various artifices our warfare. Sometimes, we would climb a tree, and pin leaves all over our clothes to keep their color from betraying us. When two of us would be together and a Yankee sharpshooter would be trying to get a shot at us, one of us would put up his hat on a ramrod and poke it up from behind the object that concealed and protected us, and when the Yankee showed his head to shoot at the hat, the other one would put a bullet thro' his head. I have shot 'em out of trees, and seen 'em fall like coons. When we were in grass or grain, we would fire and fall over and roll several yards from where we shot at, and the Yankee sharpshooter would fire away at the smoke.

I was captured once. Col. Brown and I got caught inside of the Federal lines at Cold Harbor, and Sheridan's wagon train was between us and liberty. We had on Yankee coats, and we rode along up the wagon train for some time trying to head it, and escape. But we couldn't do it. Finally, Col. Brown rode up to a driver and ordered him to turn out to one side and let us pass.

"By whose authority?" asked the driver.

"By my own," replied Brown authoritatively.

"Who are you?" asked the driver.

"Col. Coleman," answered Brown who had found out the name of the colonel who was in command of the train.

The driver then began to question Co. Brown pretty closely, and was about to catch up with us. Col. Brown drew his revolver, and sent a ball crashing through his brain. We turned our horses and dashed down the lines of wagons at full speed, and we ran right into a company of Federal cavalry who were protecting the train. A shower of bullets whistled around us. We wheeled to the right, jumped a stone wall, and just as my horse cleared the wall, a bullet struck him behind the ear, and down we came. Brown's horse was shot from under him about 20 steps ahead, and we were both captured. TO BE CONTINUED
[Savannah Morning News. (Savannah, Ga.), December 14, 1885, Page 5. Reprinted from the Irvington Southerner.]

View attachment 295365
https://www.guns.com/news/2013/09/09/whitworth-rifle-fit-queens-confederates-video
I would have to see for myself some one hit a man size target at 1,800 yards with a Witworth . The average range of a sniper kill in the 20th Century was 300 yards with better rifles and optics.
Nonetheless it's an interesting first person account of ACW snipers.
Leftyhunter
 

lelliott19

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I would have to see for myself some one hit a man size target at 1,800 yards with a Witworth . The average range of a sniper kill in the 20th Century was 300 yards with better rifles and optics.
Someone with more knowledge of imported CW firearms than I would have to provide info related to the effective range of the Whitworth rifle. Maybe @johan_steele @Jobe Holiday or @Lanyard Puller can fill us in on that?
 

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lelliott19

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Live to actually see such shooting. If course not from a bench with a rifle test but prone over a bedroll would be realistic.
Leftyhunter
Or from a fork in a tree? Or a "crotch" -- which is not what you think. As I understand, a "crotch" was some kind of special implement used to rest the rifle in. Maybe one of the firearms guys has a picture of one they can post?
 

Drew

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OK, this is from 1st South Carolina Infantryman Berry Benson's memoir, Confederate Scout-Sniper. I posted it years ago here and this what he said, on pp. 69-70:

"There had been a number of Whitworth rifles (with telescopic sight) brought from England, running the blockade. These guns with ammunition had been distributed to the army, our brigade receiving one. It was given to Powell, as he was known to be an excellent shot. In campaigns he posted himself wherever he pleased, for the purpose of picking off the enemy's men.

I shot the gun a few times. It kicked powerfully. Blackwood
(Benson's brother) says that once at Petersburg Powell gave him the gun to shoot, and as there was nobody particular in sight to shoot at, he held it up at a high angle and fired it over into the besiegers' camp. Not long after, in a Northern paper, he read an account of two men being shot at a well, struck by the same ball, which had come so far that the report of the gun was not heard. And the day given was the same day he fired the Whitworth. Blackwood always inclined to add that two and two together."

@leftyhunter, if no one can hear the report of a rifle and two men fall dead, it's coming from a heck of a lot further away than 300 yards. Just sayin'


 

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OK, this is from 1st South Carolina Infantryman Berry Benson's memoir, Confederate Scout-Sniper. I posted it years ago here and this what he said, on pp. 69-70:

"There had been a number of Whitworth rifles (with telescopic sight) brought from England, running the blockade. These guns with ammunition had been distributed to the army, our brigade receiving one. It was given to Powell, as he was known to be an excellent shot. In campaigns he posted himself wherever he pleased, for the purpose of picking off the enemy's men.

I shot the gun a few times. It kicked powerfully. Blackwood (Benson's brother) says that once at Petersburg Powell gave him the gun to shoot, and as there was nobody particular in sight to shoot at, he held it up at a high angle and fired it over into the besiegers' camp. Not long after, in a Northern paper, he read an account of two men being shot at a well, struck by the same ball, which had come so far that the report of the gun was not heard. And the day given was the same day he fired the Whitworth. Blackwood always inclined to add that two and two together."

@leftyhunter, if no one can hear the report of a rifle and two men fall dead, it's coming from a heck of a lot further away than 300 yards. Just sayin'
Just saying I would love to see it for myself. I never said it was impossible but 1,600 to 1,800 yards is a long shot even today with much better equipment. If anyone has a Witworth in Southern California and can hit even a 1,600 yard man-sized target drinks are on me and I mean good Whiskey.
Leftyhunter
 

lelliott19

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John "Kildee" West continues.....

“As I scrambled out from under my horse, I threw my gun to one side in the grass. Three weeks after that I went back and got it. We were in a tight place. Having on Yankee coats, we would certainly be shot for spies. Night came on and we were guarded by four sentinels, who paced back and forward in a square several yards in extent. It was very dark. During the second watch, I whispered to Brown that I was going to leave. He asked me how it could be done. I told him I’d rather risk four bullets in the dark, than twenty in daylight, at Fort Delaware. He said he would follow me. We then began crawling like snakes, out of the square. Four times a sentinel passed right by us. We kept gliding along until we were entirely out. We straightened up when about fifty yards from the sentinels, and struck out for the mountains. We came near perishing for want of food, before we could get back to the Confederate lines.

“I was within ten steps of Gen. Doles when he was killed. A Federal sharpshooter had been picking off our men all day, and I had been trying for hours to locate him, but had failed to do so. I was in advance of our line a hundred yards, and was concealed behind a rock. Several times he had shot at me. About fourteen hundred yards in front of us was a strip of woods. I knew the sharpshooter was in them somewhere, but the tree tops prevented my seeing the smoke of his gun. He hadn’t shot at me in two hours, but confined his fire to the line in my rear.

“Gen. Doles advanced to where I was and asked me if I couldn’t silence that fellow, as he was doing terrible execution in his lines. I told him I had been trying to do it all day, but had failed. He asked me to do my best. He then stepped in front of me, and faced the woods, exposing his entire person. I told him he had better look, out as that fellow had shaved me very close several times, and it was dangerous to expose himself.

“I had scarcely spoken the words when a ball struck him in the right side, passing through his body and coming out under his left arm. Gen. Doles turned half around and fell forward, face downward, and never spoke –being killed instantly. I carried him off the field, and was detailed to carry his remains home. Gen. Doles was a fine officer.

“I was shot through the body once. While I was in the hospital Charley Grace of LaGrange, Ga. Used my gun, and is said he killed Gen. Sedgwick, but others doubt it. Four of the guns were captured during the war. I lost mine at the surrender, while I was trying to conceal it in my blanket, to carry home with me. I think I will be able to get it yet, as Gen. Phil Cook, Joe Brown and others are trying to obtain it for me from the government. It was private property, and I was entitled to it. The Fourth Georgia Regiment regard it as a valuable relic.”
[Savannah Morning News. (Savannah, Ga.), December 14, 1885, Page 5. Reprinted from the Irwinton Southerner.]
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AUG

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Who is the Colonel Brown he refers to throughout? I assume it must be Colonel Hamilton Brown of the 1st North Carolina, later commander of the ad-hoc sharpshooter battalion in Ramseur's old brigade. Thing is, Kildee says the army recieve the Whitworths in '62. Assuming this the end of '62, the 1st North Carolina were in Steuart's Brigade of the Stonewall Division.
Maybe i got the details wrong on this. Correct me if so.
Probably was Col. Hamilton A. Brown. I think Kildee could be jumping around to different points throughout the war, maybe misremembering a few things.

The ad-hoc sharpshooter battalions in the ANV were not organized until 1863, so while the Kildee could have been an independent sharpshooter with a Whitworth in 1862, I don't think Col. Brown was in command of any sharpshooters until 1863 or later.

During the 1864 Valley Campaign Col. Brown rose from command of Ramseur's Brigade sharpshooters to Rodes' Division sharpshooters (all sharpshooter battalions within the division), Rodes' Division containing the 4th Georgia in Doles'/Cook's Brigade.

Photo of Col. Hamilton A. Brown:
Col. Hamilton A. Brown.jpg
 
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johan_steele

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Men are prone to exaggerate, talk to any fisherman or golfer. I've always been given to credit memoir writers and interviewees considerable poetic license. That said there are some extraordinary verified shots of the ACW era. I know of men hitting buffalo targets at well over 1000 yards with paper cartridge sharps and vernier sights. So such shooting was possible though rather rare. Our own Gary wrote an excellent book on the subject.

I've done some shooting of period pieces and been impressed with the inherent accuracy of ACW rifled arms. Like most modern arms the weapon is considerably more accurate than the shooter. As an example I can speak intelligently of being able to hit a man sized target at 400 yards because I've done it. A number of years ago at a shoot some of us were talking after the days match and one gent mentioned he had a farm just up the road. He had a space in his back 40 that was 400 yards from fence to fence and we should go see about the 400 yard shooting as oft mentioned by re-enactors. He set up a 4'x8' piece of plywood w/ hasty silhouettes spray painted on. 5 of us volleyed 5 shots offhand in the regulation manner (vaguely) and as we walked across the field to the target we generally figured 15-20 holes would be on the board. We arrived to find 25 holes on the board. And while not all were on a silhouette any man in line would have known someone was shooting at them.
 


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