Company "D" 2nd United States Sharp Shooters Fall 1862
by Don Troiani
The Second Regiment United States Sharpshooters was raised in the fall of 1861 to accommodate extra companies organized to meet the nationwide call to fill the First Regiment of Sharpshooters. The Sharp- shooters were the brainchild of New York engineer and inventor Hiram Berdan. Berdan, a celebrated rifleman of his time, envisioned a unit made up of proven marksmen specializing in scouting, skirmishing, and sniping. All men who served in the Sharpshooters had to pass a test by placing ten shots within a ten inch circle at two hundred yards. The Second Regiment was made up of companies from Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and two companies each from New Hampshire and Vermont. The Regiment was commanded by Col. Henry A.V. Post of New York. Berdan became the Colonel of the First Regiment, and was considered nominal commander of the Sharpshooter “Brigade.’

The uniform of the two Sharpshooter regiments was unique in that dark green cloth was used instead of the standard army blue. This may have been an emulation of the European tradition of clothing elite rifle corps in green, or merely a practical decision based on the color best suited to blend with nature. The forage cap, trousers, and frock coat were all of government regulation cut. The coat collar and cuffs were trimmed with lighter green piping. The buttons on coat and cap were specially manufactured of guta percha and impressed with an eagle design. Capt. C.A. Stevens, author of the unit history, Berdan’s Sharpshooters In The Army Of The Potomac, states, “By our dress we were known far and wide, and the appellation ‘Green Coats’ was soon acquired.” One writer has stated that the enlisted men were issued green four-button fatigue blouses. A search of the records in the National Archives fails to show any such special issue, although individuals may have made private purchases of this item. It can be shown from the records and written histories that regulation blue fatigue blouses were issued and worn. It is interesting to note that one proposed plan called for uniforming the Sharpshooters in grey uniforms during the winter months. This scheme was not put into effect.

Although officers and enlisted men wore green uniforms, officers were distinguished by the cut of their uniforms as well as shoulder straps which denoted their rank. The officers also wore a cap device of a wreath which enclosed crossed rifles and the letters USSS, or USSS and the regimental number. Some surviving photographs of enlisted men show the letters USSS placed on the hat, and in one instance, on the left breast of the blouse. It is not known if this was a practice begun early in the Sharpshooters’ service, but it is known that one wag commented that it stood for “Unfortunate Soldier Sadly Sold.” The non-commissioned officers wore regulation chevrons and trouser stripes of green. Early uniforms issued to the Sharpshooters included an ostrich plume for the cap, an alternate hat of grey felt with leather brim, a patented grey seamless felt overcoat (described by Stevens as “stiff as a board when wet”), and russet leather leggings which buckled to the knee. All other equipment carried by the Sharpshooters was standard Federal issue except for the pack. An officer described it as “Of a style then in use by the army of Prussia; they were of leather tanned with the hair on, and although heavier than the regulation knapsack, fitted the back well, were roomy, and highly appreciated by the men. Each had strapped to its outside a small cooking kit, which was found compact and useful.”

Steven’s states in his history of the Sharpshooters “When fully uniformed and equipped, the Sharpshooters made a very handsome appearance, more so upon the whole than many others.”

Actual field service soon forced the Sharpshooters to trim the un- necessary and ornamental parts of the uniform. The grey felt hat and overcoat were discarded due to the very real possibility they would draw friendly fire. The overcoat was replaced by the standard sky-blue infantry greatcoat. While the ostrich plume and leather leggings were not replaced when they wore out, it is noteworthy that the special “Prussian” knapsack was issued and worn right up to the end of the regiments’ service.

Early in the planning of the Sharpshooters, Berdan expected they would he armed with the heavy muzzleloading civilian target rifles of the day. The impracticality of this scheme soon became evident, and Berdan then found himself engaged in a virtual battle with the Ordnance Department over the choice of a suitable arm. General Ripley, Chief of Ordinance, wished to supply only the standard muzzleloading Springfield rifle musket. Based on their observation of the weapon’s performance, the enlisted men of both regiments demanded that they be armed with the breechloading Sharps rifle. Ripley objected that the Sharps cost at least twice as much as the Springfield. Berdan persevered, and an order was finally issued that the Sharpshooters be given Sharps rifles. A near mutiny ensued when five-shot Colt revolving rifles were issued as a stopgap measure until the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company tooled up to produce the required number of rifles.

The rifles delivered to the Second Regiment in June 1862 were the Sharps New Model of 1859. They were specially fitted with double set triggers and a triangular-bladed bayonet which locked around the muzzle of the thirty-inch barrel. The Sharps fired a .52 caliber combustible cartridge made of linen or skin. The cartridge box held forty rounds, but when battle was eminent, then they would carry up to one hundred rounds a piece. If necessary, a skilled Sharpshooter could fire at the rate of ten rounds per minute.

The Sharps rifle was already famous for its accuracy and dependability. In the hands of the specially trained men in the Sharpshooter Regiments, its reputation was magnified: the combination of these weapons with the special tactics and skill of these men was of immense importance to the prosecution of the war. Indeed, it was no exaggeration when William Fox, who compiled a list of the three hundred fighting regiments of the Union Army, stated that the Sharpshooters “un- doubtedly killed more men than any other regiments in the army.”

Robert C. Huntoon .

Print Number----398/750


Uniforms of the
American Civil War

Berdan's Sharpshooters
by Don Troiani

Berdan’s Sharpshooters

In the fall of 1861, a unique regiment of men was being raised throughout several Northern states, from New England to Wisconsin. Those members encamped at Weehawken, New Jersey were described as having the “complete outfit of the Sharpshooters, which consists of a regulation undress bluejacket and Austrian gray pants, a frock coat and fatigue cap of green cloth, an extra felt hat with leather visor and cape, blankets, shoes underclothes, etc.” Colonel Hiram Berdan ultimately recruited 18 companies of proven riflemen for the defense of the Union, and two regiments were formed from them: The 1st and 2nd Regiments of U.S. Sharpshooters. Berdan was a mechanical engineer from New York City who was also one of the top amateur marksmen in the United States prior to the war. He hoped to prove the value of such men in war and to promote his ideas and inventions in the process.
It was Berdan’s idea to clothe his men in distinctive uniforms. Originally he had even proposed a fringed blue sack coat and winter uniforms of gray, but the Sharpshooters, as they became known, did indeed wear an unusual uniform. Their uniform or frock coats were styled exactly as the federal pattern 1858 coats, but were of dark green with emerald or medium green trim on collar and cuffs. Their trousers, first of light blue, were eventually of dark green as well. More distinctive, however, was the gray felt "Havelock" hat. A patent, waterproof headgear, it was accompanied initially with a seamless waterproof gray felt overcoat, edged with green. Both of these items proved of limited value, the overcoats becoming stiff when wet, and both items being too “secessionist” in color to be safely worn at the battlefront. Other unusual clothing included russet leather leggings, originally made by a New York firm for $2.25 a pair. The regimental knapsacks were ordered from “Messrs. Tiffany” of New York City and were of “the hide Knapsack, Prussian Pattern,” and cost $3.75 each. An idea of what was required to clothe the First and Second Regiments of Sharpshooters is gained from a list of articles sent to Washington for distribution on 12 November 1861:

1000 prs. Sky blue trousers,
1600 prs. Leggins,
1100 Ostrich feathers,
1000 Privts. Green trousers
32 Sgts Green chevrons
2 Sergt. Maj. Green chevrons,
2 Q.M. Sergt Chevrons Green,
2 Commy. Sergt. Chevrons Green
32 Green cords & tassels for bugles’
400 Gt Coats, seamless, green trimmings,
500 Knapsacks, similar to those furnished to this corps

This list includes two more items of note. The ostrich feathers were not to trim uniform or Hardee hats as might be expected, but instead were worn on the fronts of the green forage caps. The cords and tassels were used on the bugles, used instead of drums to sound calls for the “chippies” as the Sharpshooters were nicknamed by the soldiers of the 14th Brooklyn because of their use of bugles for reveille. Hiram Berdan wanted his men armed with the new M1859 Sharps breechloading rifle. Instead, in addition to their privately-owned target rifles, the initial issue to the regiments was Colt’s revolving Rifles. Eventually, after a near-mutiny in the 1st Regiment, the regiments received their Sharps’ rifles which they carried and used with great effect through the war. Green coats and Sharps rifles became trademarks of the Sharpshooters, but it was their gallant service through the war that made them a Civil War legend. By Earl JJ Coates

C.A. Stevens, Berdan’s United States Sharpshooters ...,Dayton 1984
New York Tribune, 15 October 1861, p.8
NA, Record Group 92

Print Number 382/500 Published 2002, 500 Signed and Numbered Prints, 75 Publisher Proofs, 2
Proofs for Copyright Registration. © Historical Art Prints, Southbury, CT




"A Good Shot"
by Dale Gallon

Three Union soldiers form one of Hiram Berdan’s elite United States Sharpshooters Regiments take aim with their target rifle at an unsuspecting target. In 1994, "Breechloaders and Green Coats" was released which featured the 2nd United States Sharpshooters at the Battle of Gettysburg. Given the immense popularity of the image,and the fascination with this elite Union organization, I decided once again to feature this famed Union group on my canvas. Formed in the summer of 1861 by New York inventor and battlefield visionary, Hiram Berdan, the Ist and 2nd Regiments of Sharpshooters earned a fine reputation in the Eastern Theater during the American Civil War. Composed of companies from several Northern states, issued special breechloading rifles, and provided with green uniforms in order to conceal them from enemy view, the regiments saw extensive action in several major engagements. While most of Berdan's men were armed with the reliable breechloading Sharps Rifle, some of his soldiers possessed special telescopic shoulder arms. In the hands of an expert, these weapons, although cumbersome and heavy, could eliminate enemy soldiers at distances greater than 1,000 yards. Forever changing the face of the battlefield, Berdan's men were fine examples of modem light infantry. Because Berdan's soldiers contributed significantly to the evolution of military operations in the nineteenth century, the National War College in Washington, DC has chosen "A Good Shot" for their 1998 class print. While most of my work is both time and site specific, this image was repeated so often during the war I did not feel it necessary to fix a precise location or date to the painting. Instead my desire was to illustrate the use of the telescopic rifle, which was not only used against enemy soldiers but also in foraging. Anyone desirous of a limited edition print portraying this unique organization will find "A Good Shot" a welcome addition to their collection.


Breechloaders and GreenCoats
by Dale Gallon

Gettysburg, Late Afternoon, July 2, 1863, along the slopes of Big Round Top east of the Slyder Farm—Contesting every yard of ground with the skirmish line of Confederate Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood’s division, Maj. Homer R. Stoughton’s 2nd Regiment, United States Sharpshooters, withdrew slowly, keeping up a steady and accurate fire. The men of Company F fell back from the Slyder Farm and took up positions in the timber overlooking Plum Run. “Our line being only a skirmish line.., we were obliged to fall back or be either killed or taken prisoner The enemy force in our front was at least ninety men to our one. Still they noticed that there was some opposition to their charge for we were armed with breechloaders and, as we took the matter very coolly, many a brave Southron threw up his arms and fell. But on they came, shouting and yelling their peculiar yell’’”’—from the Civil War Diary of Wyman S. White, Company F, 2nd United States Sharpshooters, edited by Russell C. White, Butternut and Blue, Baltimore, 1991.

The Civil War Diary of Wyman S. White
Cover by Keith Rocco

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