Discussion Union Generals killed by Whitworth Sharpshooters

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
Much appreciated. Thanks again
Given these unit positions on May 9, Kershaw’s brigade (under Henagan) was clearly nearest to where Sedgwick was shot. (Bearing in mind whitworth marksmen often operated independently from their units, this is less likely to have occurred with the close quarters of massed fighting at Spotsylvania – they were more likely to be in rifle pits alongside other sharpshooters at the critical time).

If Sedgwick was shot by a whitworth, it would most likely have been from a marksman attached to Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade. As mentioned before, Kershaw’s brigade composed 2 SC, 3 SC, 7 SC, 8 SC, 15 SC, and 3 SC battalion.

Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade definitely had several whitworth sharpshooters in its group. This brigade, as part of the majority of Longstreet’s corps, was temporarily sent to help Bragg’s western army during the second half of 1863. It is widely thought that one of the whitworth rifleman from Kershaw’s brigade located nearby also shot Union Brigadier General William Sanders at Knoxville, East Tennessee.
 
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Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
Given these unit positions on May 9, Kershaw’s brigade (under Henagan) was clearly nearest to where Sedgwick was shot. (Bearing in mind whitworth marksmen often operated independently from their units, this is less likely to have occurred with the close quarters of massed fighting at Spotsylvania – they were more likely to be in rifle pits alongside other sharpshooters at the critical time).

If Sedgwick was shot by a whitworth, it would most likely have been from a marksman attached to Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade. As mentioned before, Kershaw’s brigade composed 2 SC, 3 SC, 7 SC, 8 SC, 15 SC, and 3 SC battalion.

Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade definitely had several whitworth sharpshooters in its group. This brigade, as part of the majority of Longstreet’s corps, was temporarily sent to help Bragg’s western army during the second half of 1863. It is widely thought that one of the whitworth rifleman from Kershaw’s brigade located nearby also shot Union Brigadier General William Sanders at Knoxville, East Tennessee.
Agree completely. I think you misunderstood my intentions earlier this week.
What I meant was, since MCGown had them, and becaused he was on the frontline at the Mule Shoe, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the sharpshooters taking careful aim on a frequently exposed federal - I am talking about May 8 - 11, certainly not after the hand to hand of the 12th
Thanks again-
 

ResearchPress

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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?
Pictures have been posted in discussions here in the past and should be found with a search. I have details of on Confederate Whitworth on my web site. Browse the site though, quite a lot on Whitworth in general.

Unusually, two previously undocumented Confederate Whitworth’s surfaced last year.

David
 

ResearchPress

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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).
Where would one look for these reports? I’m interested in primary source documentation of such. I manage a database of around 700 known Whitworth rifles, so tie in of dates and events and matching that with rifle types and production years, and serial numbers of rifles all helps with the Whitworth story. Thanks.

David
 

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
Agree completely. I think you misunderstood my intentions earlier this week.
What I meant was, since MCGown had them, and becaused he was on the frontline at the Mule Shoe, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the sharpshooters taking careful aim on a frequently exposed federal - I am talking about May 8 - 11, certainly not after the hand to hand of the 12th
Thanks again-

Agree with you.

Apparently McGowan’s sharpshooters performed both skirmishing and line roles at the Bloody Angle during May 11 and 12.

On May 11, according to Major William Dunlop in ‘Lee’s Sharpshooters’ (at page 55), McGowan’s sharpshooters exchanged vigorous sniping fire with Federal counterparts at close range, ahead of the main lines that day.

Interestingly, Fred Ray in ‘Shock Troops of the Confederacy’, at page 124, says …”In the days that followed May 12, Berry Benson continued his scouting, often with Ben Powell (a whitworth rifleman) as his companion. On May 11 also, Benson and Powell had gone on an extended scout on the Federal right, and Benson had actually been close enough that evening to the Yankee campfires to converse with some of their soldiers”…..

On May 12, Ray describes (page 122), that the last brigade to arrive to fill the line gap at Bloody Angle was McGowan’s brigade, ‘sharpshooters and all.”….. Without orders, the sharpshooters rushed into the trenches and furiously fought alongside rank infantrymen in the line that day. They suffered heavy casualties. This prompted General Wilcox, the divisional commander, to order that thereafter sharpshooters were not to fight in the line of battle, unless it was extremely necessary.
 
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Location
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Agree with you.

Apparently McGowan’s sharpshooters performed both skirmishing and line roles at the Bloody Angle during May 11 and 12.

On May 11, according to Major William Dunlop in ‘Lee’s Sharpshooters’ (at page 55), McGowan’s sharpshooters exchanged vigorous sniping fire with Federal counterparts at close range, ahead of the main lines that day.

Interestingly, Fred Ray in ‘Shock Troops of the Confederacy’, at page 124, says …”In the days that followed May 12, Berry Benson continued his scouting, often with Ben Powell (a whitworth rifleman) as his companion. On May 11 also, Benson and Powell had gone on an extended scout on the Federal right, and Benson had actually been close enough that evening to the Yankee campfires to converse with some of their soldiers”…..

On May 12, Ray describes (page 122), that the last brigade to arrive to fill the line gap at Bloody Angle was McGowan’s brigade, ‘sharpshooters and all.”….. Without orders, the sharpshooters rushed into the trenches and furiously fought alongside rank infantrymen in the line that day. They suffered heavy casualties. This prompted General Wilcox, the divisional commander, to order that thereafter sharpshooters were not to fight in the line of battle, unless it was extremely necessary.
Excellent!! If you haven’t read it, you might want to get Gordon Rhea’s Carring The Flag. He addresses McGown’s men going forward to fill the gap in the line on May 12.
I am gonna have to get Lee’s Sharpshooters. I knew about the book but it’s been on the back burner.
Thanks again
 

Nathan Stuart

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Where would one look for these reports? I’m interested in primary source documentation of such. I manage a database of around 700 known Whitworth rifles, so tie in of dates and events and matching that with rifle types and production years, and serial numbers of rifles all helps with the Whitworth story. Thanks.

David
In John Morrow’s work, ‘The Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters’, (at page 42), he reports, …”John West, a Georgian in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia wrote; …..’In ’62 General Lee received thirteen fine English Whitworth rifles that were warranted to kill at eighteen hundred yards’…”…

This was apparently based on the published recollections of a 4th​ Georgia whitworth sharpshooter named, John ‘Kildee’ West. See link to thread below:

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/re...ldee-west-of-the-4th-georgia-infantry.155521/

My estimate is based on my own summations of quantities from a variety of secondary sources, published memoirs, and reported first-hand accounts, like in the ‘Confederate Veteran’, as well as inserting the appropriate search terms in internet search engines for further information.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Excellent!! If you haven’t read it, you might want to get Gordon Rhea’s Carring The Flag. He addresses McGown’s men going forward to fill the gap in the line on May 12.
I am gonna have to get Lee’s Sharpshooters. I knew about the book but it’s been on the back burner.
Thanks again
Thanks for your tip.

I’ve got ‘Bloody Roads South’ by Noah Trudeau. I acquired it because it provides a comprehensive and chronological summary of all the battles in Grant’s overland campaign. Although it’s well-written and an interesting read, it does not contain battlefield maps throughout and does not go into any detail of unit movements (McGowan is only referred to in four places).

If you obtain Dunlop’s title, you might be interested in pages 53 to 54, concerning his sharpshooters’ actions in front of the main lines on May 11. Here he describes the terrain they were operating in, which might include your farmland or areas adjacent.
 

Nathan Stuart

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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.
With further information obtained, the list of whitworth rifleman in the Army of NV is increased now to:

Ben Powell 12 SC
Oscar Cheatham 14 SC
Thomas Burgess 15 SC
Thomas Jackson 7 TN (?)
Charley Grace 4 GA
John West 4 GA
Irvin Spivey 26 GA
Willie Simpson 9 LA
 
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Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
Thanks for your tip.

I’ve got ‘Bloody Roads South’ by Noah Trudeau. I acquired it because it provides a comprehensive and chronological summary of all the battles in Grant’s overland campaign. Although it’s well-written and an interesting read, it does not contain battlefield maps throughout and does not go into any detail of unit movements (McGowan is only referred to in four places).

If you obtain Dunlop’s title, you might be interested in pages 53 to 54, concerning his sharpshooters’ actions in front of the main lines on May 11. Here he describes the terrain they were operating in, which might include your farmland or areas adjacent.
Thanks again. MCGown passed by our place on his Wilderness position to his reserve position at Spotsylvania but never stopped except perhaps an unlikely short rest. It’s located along the old Shady Grove Church Road on period maps near the intersection of Shady Grove Church Road and The PO river bridge. Most of the original road is still in use but the name was changed many years after the war. Lee’s entire army ( except most cavalry) used the road.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
I don't think John Reynolds was purposely targeted. I believe he was the unfortunate recipient of 1 oz. of lead from a volley of musket fire from the 7th Tennessee. Wrong place, wrong time.
I think what you say is quite plausible. Maybe it was a random shot. Eyewitness accounts report he was felled from a volley of shots coming from the woods in front of him (that's likely to be from the 7 TN). This view is also supported by no identified shooter later claiming the hit, although there could be various reasons for this.
However, I do not discount the possibility that it was a targeted shot, given the nature of the single head wound which appears to have been made from an elevated position. Also, I am not aware of anyone else around him, at the critical time, being shot. If this is the case, it could have been a targeted shot by one of the sharpshooters advancing as skirmishers of the 7 TN (in the woods), who perhaps perched himself temporarily in a tree for a better aim.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Thanks again. MCGown passed by our place on his Wilderness position to his reserve position at Spotsylvania but never stopped except perhaps an unlikely short rest. It’s located along the old Shady Grove Church Road on period maps near the intersection of Shady Grove Church Road and The PO river bridge. Most of the original road is still in use but the name was changed many years after the war. Lee’s entire army ( except most cavalry) used the road.
Thanks for the extra information.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
With further information obtained, the list of whitworth rifleman in the Army of NV is increased now to:

Ben Powell 12 SC
Oscar Cheatham 14 SC
Thomas Burgess 15 SC
Thomas Jackson 7 TN (?)
Charley Grace 4 GA
John West 4 GA
Irvin Spivey 26 GA
Willie Simpson 9 LA

With further information obtained, the list of whitworth rifleman in the Army of NV is increased now to:

Ben Powell 12 SC
Oscar Cheatham 14 SC
Thomas Burgess 15 SC
Thomas Jackson 7 TN (?)
Charley Grace 4 GA
John West 4 GA
Irvin Spivey 26 GA
Willie Simpson 9 LA
Apparently Lee’s army received 13 whitworths at the end of 1862. His army acquired 2 more of these rifles in early 1864 and a further 2 in late 1864.

Below is my latest list of whitworth sharpshooter names and their nominal units in the Army of NV.

Ben Powell 12 SC (McGowans Brigde)

Oscar Cheatham 14 SC (McGowans Brigade)

Thomas Burgess 15 SC (Kershaws brigade)

Charley Grace 4 GA (Doles Brigade)

John West 4 GA (Doles brigade)

Irvin Spivey 26 GA (Gordons brigade)

Unknown name ? (Gordons brigade)

Willie Simpson 9 LA (Hays brigade)

Thomas Jackson 7 TN (Archers brigade) - from early 1864

Unknown name ? (Hoods Texas brigade) - from early 1864

J. W. Trowbridge 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

Sam Watson 1 TX (Hoods Texas brigade) - from late 1864

I suspect Kershaw's brigade had several whitworth sharpshooters (more than the one identified) attached because generally wherever this unit was deployed on the battlefield, there was some evidence of proximate whitworth rifle activity in the vicinity.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
It’s known that whitworth sharpshooters were engaged by the Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, during May 8 to 13, 1864. (Union General Sedgwick was killed on May 9).

I estimate the number of whitworths in use (shown in brackets) were as follows.

First Corps - Anderson

McLaws (old) Division – Kershaw’s brigade

15 SC (1)

Field’s Division – Gregg’s (Hood’s) brigade

1, 4, 5 TX (1)

Second Corps – Ewell

Johnson’s Division – Hay’s brigade

9 LA (1)

Rode’s Division – Doles brigade

4 GA (2)

Early’s Division – Gordon’s brigade

26 GA (1) (+1?)

Third Corps – A. P. Hill

Wilcox’s Division – McGowan’s brigade

12 SC (1)

14 SC (1)

Heth’s Division – Archer’s brigade

7 TN (1)


By my estimations that’s a total of 10 whitworths used by the Army of NV at the relevant time. As mentioned previously, I suspect there might have been 1 or 2 more in Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade. This number of whitworth marksmen operating in the vicinity and within range, makes it entirely possible that Sedgwick (and Stevenson) were victims of one of their targeted shots. This finding is based on the proximity factor alone.

Afterwards, when Lee detached and sent the Second Corps under Early on his Valley campaign and raid on Washington during mid-1864, I reckon that at least 4 of these specialist weapon riflemen accompanied Early. Similarly, these sharpshooters reportedly took aim and fired at the distinctive figure of President Lincoln standing atop the parapets of Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington DC, possibly on both July 11 and 12. (Apparently several spent whitworth rounds were later found nearby to where Lincoln was standing).
 

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
At the battle of Spotsylvania, there were two Union Generals killed.

Major-General John Sedgwick was killed north-west of Spotsylvania Court House on May 9. Opposite him at the time were McLaws old division (under Kershaw) as well as Field’s division. Within both these divisions I believe there were at least 2, and possibly 4 or even more, whitworth sharpshooters in action that day and within shot distance.

Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson was killed north-east of Spotsylvania Court House on the following day. When this occurred, Wilcox’s division was directly in front of him and within firing range. There were likely 3 whitworth riflemen operating in this division.

Both these Union Generals were killed instantly, by shots to the head. These are the marks of a skilled sharpshooter’s targeted aim.

These combined factors of proximity and wound nature definitely indicate that it’s quite possible Sedgwick and Stevenson were each killed by a whitworth marksman.
 

Harman Farm

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Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
At the battle of Spotsylvania, there were two Union Generals killed.

Major-General John Sedgwick was killed north-west of Spotsylvania Court House on May 9. Opposite him at the time were McLaws old division (under Kershaw) as well as Field’s division. Within both these divisions I believe there were at least 2, and possibly 4 or even more, whitworth sharpshooters in action that day and within shot distance.

Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson was killed north-east of Spotsylvania Court House on the following day. When this occurred, Wilcox’s division was directly in front of him and within firing range. There were likely 3 whitworth riflemen operating in this division.

Both these Union Generals were killed instantly, by shots to the head. These are the marks of a skilled sharpshooter’s targeted aim.

These combined factors of proximity and wound nature definitely indicate that it’s quite possible Sedgwick and Stevenson were each killed by a whitworth marksman.
I don't know how good Civil War era optics were, but if the lines were close enough to each other a sniper with a good pair of field glasses could bide his time and ammunition and pick out high value targets to shoot at. Mmmmm..say hold his fire until he could see one or two stars on the shoulder boards, then BANG!!!
 

Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
Union Major-General Amiel Whipple was mortally wounded by a Confederate sharpshooter at the battle of Chancellorsville on May 4, 1863. He died from his wound three days later.

Captain Charles Weygant of the 124th​ New York State Volunteers provided his own witness account of the incident and its immediate aftermath in his ‘History of the 124th​ Regiment, NYSV’, at pp 121 to 122:

…”About two o’clock I met General Whipple,…..He then walked on a few yards…..and entered into a conversation…..Presently, I heard another thud, and hastily turning round to learn if any of the 124th​ had been struck, saw the general, who was not more than five rods away, reel and fall in the arms of a soldier who sprang forward to catch him…..A few moments after the fall of our general, Colonel Berdan went out with a small squad of picked men, and soon cleared the woods in our front of the enemy’s marksmen, whom they found posted in the tops of several trees. Berdan’s men on their return brought with them, as trophies, three telescopic rifles, one of which surpassed in point of workmanship anything of the kind I have ever seen.”…

Weygant does not identify what type of enemy rifles were recovered. All three were long-range rifles with telescopes. However, he clearly describes one as being unique and of an unusually high quality (it was not a conventional enfield that was used by many sharpshooters). There is a good chance that this particular weapon was a whitworth.
 

VaGent

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Jan 27, 2021
"900 to 1,000 yards. This was well within the rifle's accurate range of almost twice this distance."

2000 yards is well over a mile. Are you suggesting the black powder Whitworth was an effective accurate firearm capable of even firing a bullet over such a distance...?
 

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