Ohio Sharpshooters - Anyone know where they got the rifles?
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Author:  Mr. Scratch [ Wed Oct 29, 2014 1:23 am ]
Post subject:  Ohio Sharpshooters - Anyone know where they got the rifles?

I'm reading this point on another site, and it says the State of Ohio initially provided their sharpshooter volunteers with "American Target Rifles":


"On October 15, 1861, the 1st departed Dayton for St. Louis, Missouri, traveling via Cincinnati on the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. Officials equipped the company with American target rifles, bear-skin shot pouches, scraped powder horns, squirrel-tailed caps, blue coats, and gray pantaloons."

Does anyone have any idea where I might find out who the maker of those rifles were? There can't have been too many new heavy target rifles on hand in Ohio at the outbreak of the war. I have some reason to presume they might be locally made, but would like to hear from anyone who has any actual data, experience, or observations on this point.

Author:  Bill Skillman [ Mon Nov 03, 2014 7:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ohio Sharpshooters - Anyone know where they got the rifl

Fellow Sharpshooters.

The reference Mr. Scratch cites refers to the Western Sharpshooters. The WSS was organized at Benton Barracks near St. Louis between September & October 1861. Wishing to attract his own ‘best shots in the Union’, Gen. John C. Fremont asked states to provide hand-picked marksmen from Illinois (3 companies), Missouri (2 companies), Ohio (2 companies), and Michigan (1 company). An additional company was mustered in later, but I’m not certain its state of origin. Additional volunteers swelled the ranks hailing from Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana. On November 23, 1861 the regiment was officially mustered into the U.S. Army as (Col. John W.) Birge’s Western Sharpshooters (WSS). On April 14, 1862 (following Shiloh) they received the less inspiring designation as the 14th Missouri Infantry. On November 20, 1863, at the insistence of Gov. Richard Yates, they received their final ‘nom de guerre’ as the 66th Illinois Infantry.

Designated as skirmishers and sharpshooters, the men were armed with the Dimick American Deer and target rifle, a muzzle loading, percussion rifle. Unlike modern repops, the original Dimick featured patented rifling designed by Horace Dimick (whose St. Louis firm employed 26 rifle makers in 1860) “improved mode of rifling by a system of straight grooves, extending from the base of the bore to about the position of the trunnions, and twisting hence on to the muzzle.” They carried the accoutrements you cite in your reference (bearskin bullet bags, brass powder flasks). The men initially wore gray hats with three squirrel tails ‘tied into an indescribable knot’ on the crown. There is some evidence NCO’s wore rank made of dark green material. Otherwise the men wore the standard infantry ‘campaign’ uniform of blue blouse, kersey trousers, Regulation (aka Hardee) hat and bootees. However, the men also enjoyed wearing nine-button jackets, calf high boots and civilian hats. Being skirmishers, they cut down their kit to the barest essentials.

The WSS first used their Dimick rifles with good effect at Mt. Zion, Missouri on December 28, 1861. They silenced Confederate batteries along the Dover Road front at Fort Donelson. They distinguished themselves in numerous battles until December, 1863 when the regiment reenlisted as veteran volunteers. With their bonus money, the majority of men purchased or placed orders for Henry repeating rifles. While the .44 caliber brass rimfire cartridges were considered underpowered for long range skirmishing, the 17 shot Henry (16 in the loading tube, one in the chamber) could be fired as quickly as the sharpshooter could work the lever and was devastating to enemy formations at 200 yards. The WSS learned early on Confederate attackers would duck to the ground to escape the one or two volleys fired by Union infantry, then rise up and charge while they were reloading. The WSS deliberately fired 1-2 volleys then waited until the Rebs were within point blank range before unleashing a ‘sheet of flame’ from their 16-shooters. Private Propser Bowe noted during the fighting at Atlanta on July 22, 1864: “I stood and fired ninety rounds without stopping. My gun barrel was so hot that I could not touch it. Spit on it & it would siz”.

When not serving as brigade or division skirmishers, some WSS (who purchased Henry’s in September 1863), were mounted to assist the cavalry, while small details of Henry armed sharpshooters were sent out to ambush guerillas. The men had supreme confidence in their shooting skills and when armed with a Henry didn’t fear much of anything. The WSS fought during the Atlanta Campaign and accompanied Gen. W.T. Sherman on what the boys termed ‘a picnic’ across Georgia and the Carolinas.

One of the only books published about the Sharpshooters is by Lorenzo (‘Ren’) Barber: With the Western Sharpshooters. Michigan Boys of Company D, 66th Illinois. Originally published in 1905, it was re-released by Blue Acorn Press in 1994. Of the 128 men who served in Company D; most hailed from Michigan’s southwestern counties (Berrien, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Calhoun). Casualties were: Officers killed 1; Enlisted men killed 12; Enlisted wounded 28; “men died in hospital 16-62”; Men taken prisoners 10.

The WSS has been reactivated by men from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. My old comrades Andy Bresnan and Sean Thorton head up the National Henry Rifle Company (http://44henryrifle.webs.com) and (http://www.westernsharpshooters.webs.com/) that have been active in many of the Western campaign events. Andy is a wealth of information on the Western Sharpshooters, Henry and Spencer repeating arms (his boys other impression is Wilder’s Lighting Brigade). Once in a blue moon they come east dressed in green to support us Berdan Sharpshooters.

I apologize for the long post-but hope it answers your question and inspires other readers to research these largely forgotten Sharpshooters.

Bill Skillman
Hudson Squad Mess

Author:  Mr. Scratch [ Tue Nov 04, 2014 1:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ohio Sharpshooters - Anyone know where they got the rifl

Thanks Bill, that was excellent.

How about some of the other Ohio sharpshooter formations that weren't attached to the WSS, such as the 5th Ohio Independent Co. Sharpshooters, and the many Ohio companies that joined Berdan's Regiments? Do we have an idea of where these troops might have sourced the early heavy target guns (of the type the used to be called the "Northern Target Rifle", a 20-45 lb bench rifle) they initially took with them, before those guns were replaced by lighter and more practical combat arms? Is there any documentation of there being a local manufacturer that supplied these men with these somewhat unusual and difficult to source guns?

Author:  Bill Skillman [ Mon Nov 10, 2014 8:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ohio Sharpshooters - Anyone know where they got the rifl

Mr. Scratch and Fellow Sharpshooters;

There were no Ohio companies that served in either the 1st or 2nd regiments of United States Sharpshooters. There were Ohio Independent Sharpshooter companies that seved in the Western theater. Here are the Ohio and other companies that served in Birge's WSS:

"Welker's Company" (WSS's original Company A): Missouri men with some outstate members
Company A: "Boyd's Company", Missouri and outstate members
Company B: Missouri and outstate members
Company C: Illinois (Bureau and Logan Counties) and some Iowa men
Company D: Michigan
Company E: Illinois (Edgar County)
Company F: Missouri and outstate members
Company G: 1st Independent Company of Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters (Reed's Sharpshooters)
Company H: 2nd Independent Company of Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters (Dougherty's Sharpshooters)
Company I: Illinois (Lawrence County)
Company K: 3rd Independent Company of Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters (Taylor's Sharpshooters)

I don't know if the 4-7th Ohio Independent Sharpshooter companies were armed with personal target rifles. I do know that at least one was armed with Spencers, and served for a time as Gen. Wm. T. Sherman's bodyguards. I would suggest posting your inquiry on the Civil War Reenactor Forum or Authentic Campaigner. Curt Schmidt is likely your best bet to answer your questions. He has participated in the North-South Skirmish Association and reenacting organizations as a USSS and Ohio Sharpshooter.

Hope this helps

Bill Skillman
Hudson Squad Mess

Author:  Mr. Scratch [ Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ohio Sharpshooters - Anyone know where they got the rifl

Thanks for the correction Mr. Skillman; I had misread my reference.

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