1st U.S. Sharpshooters
Shortly after war broke out in 1861, Hiram Berdan, a wealthy business man, engineer, inventor, and world-renowned marksman answered President Lincoln’s call for patriotism by approaching the U.S. government with the idea of a specialized unit consisting of only the best rifle shots in the country. Per Berdan’s firm instructions, no man was to be mustered into service who couldn’t “consecutively put ten shots into a target from 200 yards within five inches of the bulls-eye’s center”. Approved by the Secretary of War, two regiments of roughly 750 men each were raised: the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters. Berdan was awarded the rank of Colonel and given the command of both units.
Berdan intended for his sharpshooters to be special, and as such, equipped them with distinctive uniforms, rifles, and tactics.
Green colored uniforms were selected to aid in blending in with the environment’s natural foliage, and to distinguish the units as elite riflemen.
To arm his men, Berdan chose the Sharps New Model 1859 breechloading rifle due to its superior accuracy at longer ranges compared to the Army’s standard muzzle loading rifles. Breechloading (from the rear of the rifle) capabilities allowed for faster reloading, ability to load without exposing oneself from cover, and the option to reload from a prone position.
Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder like their infantry counterparts, the sharpshooters were highly trained in skirmishing allowing them to operate more freely. Often deployed forward of the main union forces, they would spread out into 5-yard intervals to form a single line while taking advantage of natural cover while engaging targets at their discretion.
Berdan's Sharpshooters in action.
Labor Day weekend, Virginia City, NV 2018