Discussion Union Generals killed by Whitworth Sharpshooters

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I have excluded from this list the controversial death of Major-General John Reynolds at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.
The killing of General Reynolds is mentioned briefly by Captain Fergus S. Harris of the 7 th. Tennessee, Company H (the Grays), in his description of General Archer appearing in the Confederate Veteran, Vol. 3, (1895) at page 18. Harris say about Archer, …”his brigade led the advance of Lee’s army at Gettysburg. While developing the enemy’s strength, Gen. Reynolds, of the Federal army (who was killed that day by the Tennesseans), flanked him on both wings, capturing a number of prisoners including Gen. Archer himself”….

This incidental reference by an officer of the 7 th. Tennessee supports the view that General Reynolds was killed by a Tennessean infantryman (a skirmisher or ranker) in the Herbst Woods. At the time, there were three Tennessee regiments (1 st., 14 th. and 7 th. ) advancing into or around the the woods in front of him. It was the 7 th. Tennessee, however, that were in the section of trees directly opposite Reynolds. It’s therefore quite possible that the shot was fired by a member of the 7 th. Tennessee.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
In his ranks was a company of skirmishers armed with the Whitworth rifles

I doubt this to be fair it is thought between 80-250 Whitworth's we imported into the Confederacy and not all made it through the blockade add to that the unique ammunition needed to operate the gun and also only half the imported had scopes because the Confederacy could only afford 2nd rate Whitworth's not the top notch quality guns sold to the private sector and the chance a company were being armed with them are slim to none.

Sam Watkins explains that Whitworth snipers we an elite that had leave to do what they wanted bit like Chosen men they could pick and chose where to go and were not under any direct orders as such and competition to be a sniper was fierce for this reason.

The Whitworth factory is in my home town of Manchester and i can assure you if the people of Manchester had found out Whitworth was exporting rifles to the CSA their would have been hell to pay as it was a staunch Union town unlike Birmingham or Liverpool who had Confederate sympathy's and had no qualms exporting the Enfield and supplying crews and ships.
 
Joined
Nov 1, 2018
Thank you for the extra information about the search tools.

I appreciate your legal analogy and use of analysis.

Upon closer examination, I now think that the evidence presented suggesting Ben Powell was the shooter is suspect.

The accounts by Dunlop and Berry, although both present at the scene at the time, are hearsay – they heard it said/reported by Powell or others at the time (Dunlop and Benson are witnesses, not eyewitnesses – that’s indirect evidence).

In Dunlop’s previously reported reference to Ben Powell (at page 49), he wrote:

..…”We discovered an angle protruding from their main line towards the right of the battalion, which brought a four gun battery with its infantry supports placed there for the defense of the salient, barely within reach of our long range rifles. And to these Ben Powell with his “Whitworth” and a few files on the right paid their respects. Presently an officer of rank with his staff approached the salient, and adjusting his field glasses began to take observations of the front. A few shots only had been fired at the group, when the ringing peal of Powell’s “Whitworth” was heard some distance to the right; the officer was seen to stagger and fall; and the brilliant career of that gallant and distinguished soldier, Maj. Gen. Sedgwick , commandant of the fifth Federal army corps, was closed and closed forever. Powell reported at once that he had killed a Federal general, but we knew not his name or rank until it came out a few days later in the Northern papers, announcing that Gen. Sedgwick had been killed by a Confederate sharpshooter; which fact, so published at the time, has gone into history, but the name of “the man behind the gun” has never before been mentioned.”…..

We can dissect Dunlop’s description above to learn the following:

- the shots were at long range;

- multiple shots was made by both Ben Powell (with his whitworth) and rank soldiers;

- the shot target was a high ranking officer, among a group, approaching an artillery

battery placed in a salient (no mention of whether or not he was mounted);

- the shot officer was making observations with his field glasses at the relevant time;

- the distinctive loud sound of Powell’s whitworth being fired was heard some

distance away at the relevant time;

- Powell reported soon after his shot that he killed a Federal general (unidentified);

- Northern newspapers, a few days later, reported that Sedgwick was killed by an

unknown Confederate sharpshooter.

This information does not provide much support for Powell’s later assertion that he shot Sedgwick. The described officer killed was probably not Sedgwick. Sedgwick was known to be standing shouting orders, not making observations through field glasses, at the relevant time. There were also various shots concurrently made, including Powell’s whitworth, at the time at whomever was the target.

In Benson’s previously cited biography, it was written (at page 68),

…..”This day Ben Powell came in from sharpshooting and told us he had killed (or wounded) a Yankee officer. He had fired at long range at a group of horseman whom he recognized as officers. At his shot, one fell from his horse, and the others dismounted and bore him away. That night the enemy’s pickets called over to ours that Major General Sedgwick, commanding the 6th​ corps, was killed that day by a sharpshooter.”…..

Obviously this account is pure hearsay, and carries little evidential weight. If this recollection is accepted as accurate, the reference to the target being a mounted officer eliminates entirely the possibility that this was the shot that killed Sedgwick (he was on foot at the time).

Because neither of these witness accounts, including Powell’s own, could identify who was shot at the time, it is very tempting and convenient for them to form the conclusion that it was Sedgwick, after learning later he was killed that same day. It seems Powell, who post-war was reputedly an honest person of good character, came to believe this upon acquiring this knowledge afterwards (hence the claim about his rifle in the letter to his wife after the war).

I am prepared to accept, on the basis of this information, that it’s less likely (without ruling out entirely) Ben Powell shot Sedgwick. I think the other suspected whitworth shooters need to be investigated further to look for an answer.
Is it not possible that Powell fired at multiple officer's that day, and was simply confused in later years when he mentioned the officer on horseback? At some point in his sniping career, he must have killed officer's on horseback, since so many were mounted. The fact that he claimed the kill on Sedgwick at the time of the deed probably bears more weight than his recollection so many years later. The other "witness" accounts support the belief it was Powell, though there are conflicting details. However, even the Union accounts of Sedgewick's death seem to have inconsistencies...does that mean some of those men did not see Sedgwick being killed?
 

Dave DuBrucq

Corporal
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Location
Tennessee
I have made a list of Union generals (excluding brevet ranks) who I believe were killed (kia) or died of wounds (dow) from a long-range targeted shot by a confederate whitworth marksman during the war.

These include:

Major-General Amiel Whipple - (dow May 7, 1863)

Brigadier-General William Lytle - (dow September 20, 1863)

Brigadier-William William Sanders - (dow November 19, 1863)

Major-General John Sedgwick - (kia May 9, 1864)

Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson - (kia May 10, 1864)

Brigadier-General James Rice - (kia May 10, 1864)

Three of the above (Lytle, Sanders, Sedgwick) are commonly understood to be victims of whitworth shooters. The other three are highly possible. In all these cases, whitworth riflemen were actively operating in the vicinity and within range at the time of the deaths.

Whipple was shot in the stomach while sitting on his horse supervising construction of earthworks by a confederate sniper on May 4, 1863, at Chancellorsville. He died three days later. It is quite possible that a whitworth weapon fired the shot, although I could find no accounts of a whitworth sniper being involved.

Lytle was known to be the victim of directed fire by a group of whitworth riflemen operating as skirmishers at Chickamauga on September 20, 1863. An unidentified whitworth sharpshooter fired the probably fatal head shot. He died that same day.

Sanders was mortally wounded at Knoxville on November 18, 1863 while walking away after standing on earthworks. It was believed he was shot in the side by one of several whitworth sharpshooters perched high in the tower of the Bleak (Armstrong) House nearby.

Perhaps the most famous whitworth shooting is of Sedgwick at Spotsylvania on May 9, 1864. It’s fairly well documented and widely accepted. While striding around in the open shouting orders to his men the Union general fell to a targeted shot to the head by a whitworth sharpshooter. He died shortly afterwards. Several identified whitworth riflemen present at the time were attributed with the kill.

Given the active whitworth sniping performed at Spotsylvania, it's likely that Stevenson was also singled out as a target by one of these marksmen. The following day he was killed almost instantly by a shot to the head, while resting on the ground and sitting upright, to issue orders. It’s possible too, that Rice, on that same day and in a proximate location, was mortally wounded by an aimed whitworth round.

I have excluded from this list the controversial death of Major-General John Reynolds at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. After examining extensive evidence of this incident, I think it can be fairly safely concluded that he was not killed by a whitworth marksman, although I believe he fell to a targeted head shot by a skilled rifleman at relatively short range. In my view, it’s most likely that the deadly bullet was fired by a line infantryman or skirmisher in Archer’s brigade located close-by in the Herbst woods in front of Reynolds. I would not rule out entirely, though, the much lesser possibility that the source was an infantry member of Davis’s brigade positioned adjacent and north of the woods. Some accounts and modern day commentators believe that the lethal discharge was a random hit by a fired volley of shots out of the woods. It’s a possibility, but I do not think a probability. I think the described nature of the fatal wounding indicates it was a dedicated shot that ended Reynolds life almost instantly. It also appears that it might have been made from a high elevation, say by a shooter temporarily positioned in a tree inside the woods cluster. I am not aware of any whitworth rifleman being attached to either of the two confederate brigades of Archer or Davis at the crucial time. Similarly, it is unlikely there any whitworth-armed scouts loosely connected with other units, were operating freely within close enough proximity to have the opportunity for a clear shot. Any other Confederate units at this moment were too far away or inappropriately placed, even allowing for the roaming movements of their scouts.

Any comments or remarks are welcome, as is further enlightenment on this subject.
Very interesting conclusions, especially concerning the death of General John Reynolds at Gettysburg. Thank you for posting this most interesting piece.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
I would imagine finding a Whitworth bullet with a metal detector would be like striking gold do we have any stats to indicate the amount found on battlefields?.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I would imagine finding a Whitworth bullet with a metal detector would be like striking gold do we have any stats to indicate the amount found on battlefields?.
Yes, finding fired whitworths on battlefields would be a rare occurrence given the very limited number of these rifles in use. Even though whitworths were known to operate in these vicinities, I'm not aware of any statistics on the quantity of whitworth rounds found on battlefields. They do exist though. (I've acquired a few whitworth bullets for my collection from various battlefields over time).
President Lincoln came under fire from whitworth riflemen on July 11/12, 1864, while standing atop the parapets of Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington DC. It's fairly well documented that spent whitworth bullets (exact number unknown) were found nearby where he stood. See https://www.historynet.com/sure-shot-confederate-sharpshooters-whitworth.htm
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
Very interesting conclusions, especially concerning the death of General John Reynolds at Gettysburg. Thank you for posting this most interesting piece.
You are welcome. Glad you found the conclusions interesting.

I've revised my list after receiving further comments and gathering further information.

At this stage, my list of Union General likely killed by whitworth shots remain as:
BG William Lytle
BG William Sanders
MG John Sedgwick

The list of Generals possibly killed by whitworth riflemen continue to be:
MG Amiel Whipple
BG Thomas Stevenson

I've removed BG James Rice from the list after reading an account that he was killed by a rank infantryman's rifle shot of a minie ball.

I'm prepared to adjust my list if new information becomes available.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
The killing of General Reynolds is mentioned briefly by Captain Fergus S. Harris of the 7 th. Tennessee, Company H (the Grays), in his description of General Archer appearing in the Confederate Veteran, Vol. 3, (1895) at page 18. Harris say about Archer, …”his brigade led the advance of Lee’s army at Gettysburg. While developing the enemy’s strength, Gen. Reynolds, of the Federal army (who was killed that day by the Tennesseans), flanked him on both wings, capturing a number of prisoners including Gen. Archer himself”….

This incidental reference by an officer of the 7 th. Tennessee supports the view that General Reynolds was killed by a Tennessean infantryman (a skirmisher or ranker) in the Herbst Woods. At the time, there were three Tennessee regiments (1 st., 14 th. and 7 th. ) advancing into or around the the woods in front of him. It was the 7 th. Tennessee, however, that were in the section of trees directly opposite Reynolds. It’s therefore quite possible that the shot was fired by a member of the 7 th. Tennessee.

I read another eyewitness account that adds weight to the claim by Captain (as he then was) Fergus Harris of the 7th Tennessee that a Tennessean infantryman in Archer’s brigade shot and killed General Reynolds.

In the Confederate Veteran Vol 9 (1901) at page 15, Captain J. H. Moore of the 7th​ Tennessee referred to the advance by Archer’s Tennessee brigade into the Herbst Woods and wrote, …I can recall the magnificent advance of the long line of brigade sharpshooters clearing the way for our advance in command of that superb soldier, Maj. Ferg Harris”….

This separate eyewitness account supports the view that an Archer brigade skirmisher, acting as a sharpshooter, and who was moving ahead of Archer’s rank and file line, shot Reynolds.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I doubt this to be fair it is thought between 80-250 Whitworth's we imported into the Confederacy and not all made it through the blockade add to that the unique ammunition needed to operate the gun and also only half the imported had scopes because the Confederacy could only afford 2nd rate Whitworth's not the top notch quality guns sold to the private sector and the chance a company were being armed with them are slim to none.

Sam Watkins explains that Whitworth snipers we an elite that had leave to do what they wanted bit like Chosen men they could pick and chose where to go and were not under any direct orders as such and competition to be a sniper was fierce for this reason.

The Whitworth factory is in my home town of Manchester and i can assure you if the people of Manchester had found out Whitworth was exporting rifles to the CSA their would have been hell to pay as it was a staunch Union town unlike Birmingham or Liverpool who had Confederate sympathy's and had no qualms exporting the Enfield and supplying crews and ships.
Agree with your comments.

From what I've read, my best estimate is that somewhere between 60 to 120 whitworths were likely in use by the Confederacy. (It was probably closer to the lower end of this range).
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
Is it not possible that Powell fired at multiple officer's that day, and was simply confused in later years when he mentioned the officer on horseback? At some point in his sniping career, he must have killed officer's on horseback, since so many were mounted. The fact that he claimed the kill on Sedgwick at the time of the deed probably bears more weight than his recollection so many years later. The other "witness" accounts support the belief it was Powell, though there are conflicting details. However, even the Union accounts of Sedgewick's death seem to have inconsistencies...does that mean some of those men did not see Sedgwick being killed?
According to Ben Powell’s own account, as well as the versions by Major Dunlop and Sergeant Benson, he could not have made the fatal shot, as he clearly reported shooting a mounted Union officer. (Sedgwick was not mounted at the time according to Union witness testimonies at the scene of his death).

It is likely that Powell fired multiple times that day and he may have killed or wounded a mounted officer of lesser rank (not General Sedgwick, as he thought). He might also have killed other officers and soldiers during his sniping career. If we accept Powell’s account, then he did shoot a Union officer on that day, but it was not Sedgwick. It became a case of mistaken identity by Powell. Because he thought he shot Sedgwick, Powell came to believe it forever afterwards. From the accounts I’ve read of him, he was a modest man, not inclined to boast. Even in the letter he wrote years later to his wife, he referred to his whitworth rifle in these terms. …”This rifle killed General Sedgwick at Spotsylvania Courthouse”… (he did not say or claim that he shot Sedgwick).

I think General Sedgwick did come under whitworth sharpshooter fire that day. Apparently there were several whitworth riflemen operating in the vicinity. Both Union and Confederate witnesses present reportedly heard the distinctive shrill sounds of shot whitworth projectiles. It’s therefore entirely possible that Sedgwick was killed by a whitworth sharpshooter, but we don’t know by whom (it’s probably not Powell). Confederate Major Dunlop also reported that a few rank infantrymen were concurrently firing targeted shots, at the same time and in the same direction, as Powell. Similarly, it’s quite possible that an aimed shot from an infantryman’s more conventional P-53 enfield rifle found its chosen mark. The effective range for accuracy of an enfield was up to around 900 to 1,000 yards (Sedgwick was about 900 yards away from the shooters). Of course another possibility is that Sedgwick was felled by a random sharpshooter shot (whether made from a whitworth or other weapon). But I doubt this because of the location of the wound. It was more likely to have been a targeted accurate headshot by a rifleman (more probably armed with a whitworth, than an enfield) who took aim after finding their range.
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
I would imagine finding a Whitworth bullet with a metal detector would be like striking gold do we have any stats to indicate the amount found on battlefields?.
I ve been relic hunting since 1961 with a metal detector and since 1956 with my eyesight in plowed fields and by random digging in winter hut holes using a screen to sift the dirt. I hunted in large circles of other hunters from 1962-1967 and in small circles of friends and alone since 1967. I only know of 4 Wintworth bullets found NEAR Battlefields ( it’s illegal to hunt battlefields as you asked).
One was fired and three dropped. The fired one I found was about 420 FEET from the marker indicating the spot Sedgwick was shot. Two dropped ones were found by a relic hunting friend on the south side of Laurel Hill (Wentworth sharpshooters were on the north side facing the enemy). The fourth was found yet again at Spotsylvania two and a half miles from Laura Hill on my farm. Fighting on my farm occurred on May 10 , sniper fire on Laurel Hill begin on May 8th.
Southern troops that took part of the fighting on my farm were
2,11,26,42 MS;
11,15, 26,27, 44,46,48,52,55,NC; 13 AB;
1,7,14 TN;
47,49,55 VA; 22VA battalion.
I heard of one shot one found “on the Gettysburg Battlefield “. I am always sceptical of a clam “found on ——— battlefield ‘.
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
I ve been relic hunting since 1961 with a metal detector and since 1956 with my eyesight in plowed fields and by random digging in winter hut holes using a screen to sift the dirt. I hunted in large circles of other hunters from 1962-1967 and in small circles of friends and alone since 1967. I only know of 4 Wintworth bullets found NEAR Battlefields ( it’s illegal to hunt battlefields as you asked).
One was fired and three dropped. The fired one I found was about 420 FEET from the marker indicating the spot Sedgwick was shot. Two dropped ones were found by a relic hunting friend on the south side of Laurel Hill (Wentworth sharpshooters were on the north side facing the enemy). The fourth was found yet again at Spotsylvania two and a half miles from Laura Hill on my farm. Fighting on my farm occurred on May 10 , sniper fire on Laurel Hill begin on May 8th.
Southern troops that took part of the fighting on my farm were
2,11,26,42 MS;
11,15, 26,27, 44,46,48,52,55,NC; 13 AB;
1,7,14 TN;
47,49,55 VA; 22VA battalion.
I heard of one shot one found “on the Gettysburg Battlefield “. I am always sceptical of a clam “found on ——— battlefield ‘.
Thank you for your interesting information.

As you indicate, the recovery of relics is prohibited in NPS administered battlefield sites. As a result, any whitworths found are more likely to be retrieved from private property in the peripheral areas adjoining the main battlefields. This greatly restricts the limited number of whitworths recoverable and makes them rarer for collection. Like you say, I too would be initially skeptical of anyone offering fired whitworths from battlefields, like Gettysburg. One needs to be careful and conduct further checks to be satisfied of their authenticity.

For my collection, I previously acquired a dropped hexagonal whitworth from the general vicinity; as well as a fired short-form cylindrical round found in a tree outside the southern edge of the battlefield.

Lee’s army reportedly received thirteen English whitworths during late 1862. Another two reached his army in early 1864. (I think they obtained a few more though).

Fred L. Ray in his work, ‘Shock Troops of the Confederacy’, at page 276, estimates, …”in the approximately thirty-six infantry brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia, there were most likely between thirty-six and seventy-two of these rifles (whitworths) in service.”…

A list of a few of the whitworth riflemen, together with their relevant brigade and its composition of regiments, is:

Whitworth Rifleman Brigade Regiments

Ben Powell & McGowan 1 SC, 1 SC (rifles), 12 SC, 13 SC, 14 SC

? Cheatham

Thomas Jackson & Archer 12 AL, 1 TN, 7 TN, 14 TN

William Beasley

Thomas Burgess Kershaw 2 SC, 3 SC, 7 SC, 8 SC, 15 SC, 3 SC (battalion)

Charley Grace Dole 4 GA, 12 GA, 21 GA, 44 GA

Irvin Spivey Gordon 13 GA, 26 GA, 31 GA, 38 GA, 60 GA, 61 GA

Willie Simpson Hays 5 LA, 6 LA, 7 LA, 8 LA, 9 LA
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
Thank you for this valuable ( to me) information.
I am very interested in any information on the Wentwort I can get. I had wondered for several years which regiment carried the rifle during action on my farm. I see from your parcel list the 1 and 7 TN, both of which were a part of that action. I know the position of each of the regiments at the initial formation and at a part of the federal retreat. The place where the W was found on my farm matches that information. I find that amazing!
I didn’t know McGown had them. He was positioned in reserve between the McCrull house and the mule shoe at Bloody Angle. I can imagine how some of those guys must have moved to the front before May12 to “zero in on their range”. McGown is an underrated soldier in my view and doesn’t get nearly the credit deserved.
Thanks again
 

Boomer110

Private
Joined
Jun 3, 2018
Agree with your comments.

From what I've read, my best estimate is that somewhere between 60 to 120 whitworths were likely in use by the Confederacy. (It was probably closer to the lower end of this range).
This the first I have heard of more Whitworths than the original purchase of 15. I have always wondered if any survived to the present day?
 

Nathan Stuart

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2020
Thank you for this valuable ( to me) information.
I am very interested in any information on the Wentwort I can get. I had wondered for several years which regiment carried the rifle during action on my farm. I see from your parcel list the 1 and 7 TN, both of which were a part of that action. I know the position of each of the regiments at the initial formation and at a part of the federal retreat. The place where the W was found on my farm matches that information. I find that amazing!
I didn’t know McGown had them. He was positioned in reserve between the McCrull house and the mule shoe at Bloody Angle. I can imagine how some of those guys must have moved to the front before May12 to “zero in on their range”. McGown is an underrated soldier in my view and doesn’t get nearly the credit deserved.
Thanks again
Glad the information was useful to you.

If it further helps, here are specific regiments for most of the sharpshooters mentioned. One is uncertain.

Ben Powell 12 SC
Thomas Burgess 15 SC
Thomas Jackson 7 TN (?)
Charley Grace 4 GA
Irvin Spivey 26 GA
Willie Simpson 9 LA

If any other relevant information is found, will post it.
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
Glad the information was useful to you.

If it further helps, here are specific regiments for most of the sharpshooters mentioned. One is uncertain.

Ben Powell 12 SC
Thomas Burgess 15 SC
Thomas Jackson 7 TN (?)
Charley Grace 4 GA
Irvin Spivey 26 GA
Willie Simpson 9 LA

If any other relevant information is found, will post it.
Much appreciated. Thanks again
 

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