Springfield Rifled Muskets and Sharpshooter units

LeadShark

Cadet
Joined
Jun 1, 2021
Hello there!

First of all I want to apologize for my poor english, since I am not a native speaker.

I have recently read the book "Sharpshooting rifles of the American Civil War." and was very intrigued by it. In it, the Springfield Rifled Muskets were named as rifles used by some Sharpshooter units (since it was the issue rifle). This should be logical, since most sharpshooting was essentially just skirmishing. However during my own research I have not found a sharpshooter unit that actually used Springfields. All I can find are units using Sharps, target rifles, repeaters or enfields.

My question therefore is to people who know more about this than I do: Were there actually sharpshooting units that used the Springfield rifled musket (from M1855 to 1863) throughout the war?


Thank you.

Sincerely,

LeadShark
 

mrockwell

Private
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Location
12021 Birch Dr., Corning, NY
As far as I know units that were designated Sharpshooting units were issued special rifles. I guess it might have been a status symbol, but one that would give pride to a regiment and enable it to be different from the others. In other words bragging rights and Esprit de Corps. Very important for these types of regiments (no different than today). When Berdan first organized his units they were promised Sharps Rifles,but were given Colt Revolving rifles which, I have been told, nearly caused a mutiny. It was settled only when they got their Sharps as was originally promised.Some infantry regiments, such as the 13th Pa Reserve were issued Sharps but were still designated as infantry. I would assume that if an individual soldier proved himself an adept marksman that he could be used as a sharpshooter or sniper or whatever a person might want to call them. They would be using the standard issued rifled musket whether it be a Springfield, Enfield, Lorenz, etc.. Target practice and familiarization was not an usual practice and being taught how to shoot at long range was nearly non- existent so I would presume that the person would have had some prior knowledge. That person having that talent would still hold his rank and stay in the same unit with his abilities just known to his officers and bunk mates.
 

LeadShark

Cadet
Joined
Jun 1, 2021
So essentially, the designated units were issued their special rifles, but singular sharpshooters in other units used their issue rifle?
 

limberbox

Private
Joined
Apr 25, 2020
I believe I've read that some designated Federal sharpshooter units used standard Springfields later in the war, at least in part. For example, IIRC the 66th Illinois (a.k.a, Western Sharpshooters) transitioned out of their slow-to-load Dimick target rifles in favor of issue Springfields. They also had a fair number of Henrys and other guns so you sometimes will find a variety of arms rather than uniformity.

I will see if I can find the reference. A very good book on sharpshooter units was published in the past 10-12 years, mostly from the Confederate perspective but also has a chapter or two on Federal sharpshooter units.
 

mrockwell

Private
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Location
12021 Birch Dr., Corning, NY
So essentially, the designated units were issued their special rifles, but singular sharpshooters in other units used their issue rifle?
For the most part I would think yes. Some units did have designated companies that might be issued rifles such as the Model 1841 Rifle so they might break up a flanking movement.
There are two examples of this that I know of persoally and have been able to track. One was of Pennsylvania soldier that was issued a Model 1841 rifle. He left in the patchbox his unit and basic duties were. At Gettysburg he had his little finger shot off. This did not rate a discharge and he was transferred to a veteran regiment for the remainder of the war and was discharged at wars end. His unit's standard issue was the English Model 1857 Rifled musket. This would be an example where companies within a regiment were issued special arms.

The second example is of two Irish brothers that immigrated to the States in 1862. One started a grocery store in Corning, NY, while the other moved on two Chicago and enlisted in an Illinois regiment. Apparently the brother in Corning had supplied the other brother with a Henry Rifle which he carried through out most of the war. In the final hours he was killed. According to his sergeant in a letter to his brother the sergeant described his final moments and told his brother that he had taken his boots and had given them another soldier that needed them. He went on to say that the pocket watch was "smithered" to atoms, but he was sending the rifle to the brother in Corning as the war was over and there was little need for it. The rifle then sat in a corner of a house in Corning for the next 170 years before it was available to the public.
These are two examples how a rifleman or sharpshooter might acquire an arm different from the one they were their unit was issued. I think that the ammunition would have had to have been available to the quartermaster corps though. I know that these two stories sound far fetched, but both firearms reside in the Rockwell Museum along with the accompanying documents to attest to the story of each one.
 

limberbox

Private
Joined
Apr 25, 2020
Found the book, Shock Troops of the Confederacy by Fred Ray (2006). In the chapter "The Opposition", he describes the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters on pages 304-05. They had Springfields throughout, though didn't see real action until spring 1864. The regiment had trained extensively as sharpshooters and appear to have been fielded frequently as such throughout 1865-65.

I believe I was wrong about the 66th Illinois (Birge's Western Sharpshooters) having appreciable numbers of Springfields. While they initially were armed with 1000 Dimick Plains rifles (American target rifles), from material at Wikepedia, westernsharpshooters.webs.com and migenweb.org/michiganinthewar/sharpshooters/westhist.htm, it appears that about half the regiment privately purchased Henry rifles beginning in the late Fall of 1863 (obtaining more than 250 Henrys).
 

mrockwell

Private
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Location
12021 Birch Dr., Corning, NY
So essentially, the designated units were issued their special rifles, but singular sharpshooters in other units used their issue rifle?
Or they could have used private purchase arms such as the Henry. The biggest problem with the Henry was that it didn't take a bayonet. Now as soon asI stated that there are some bayonets marked "Freiheit" that were a side mounted bayonet. Some say they were intended for the Henry, but as far as I know no one has come up with positive proof. It could have been a private alteration.
Another problem with special rifles was the supply of ammunition for them. The quartermaster corps was having a hard enough time as it was and to try to procure special ammunition would have presented an almost impossible task. During the war there were many private purchases, but for the most part these weapons used existing issued ammunition that was in use by the military.
Target practice was never one of the high points on either side so if a person was proficient with the arm he was issued great and he might very well become a sharpshooter, but that would have been done by accident rather than intended. A scholar working for the National Parks once told me how much powder and lead that it took to kill a soldier during the Civil War and the amount was in pounds. Because of this I tend to think that Sharpshooters though used were in a small minority.
 
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