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PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2016 12:55 pm 
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Location: ROCKPORT, MAINE
Gentlemen,

Some years ago I posted the contents of a letter from Col. Berdan to the then governor of the State of Maine. In that letter he urged the governor to speed up the recruiting and qualifying of the "Maine company" of sharpshooters. Included in that letter was Berdan's promise that the Maine sharpshooters would be supplied with Sharps rifles "equipped with globe sights". We know that did not turn out to be the case.

I recently unearthed another interesting letter at the Maine State Archives from Berdan. This one to a later Maine governor (Governor Abner Coburn). The introduction to this letter (Falmouth, VA 02/13/63 - hard to read the date) says that it is being hand carried by Captain Jacob McClure. In the letter Berdan asks for more recruits due to Co "D" being "much reduced". Additionally Berdan writes; "among other articles, unknown in any other corps, I may mention the following for which my requisitions have been honored. INDIA RUBBER BELT PLATES - IN PLACE OF THE BRASS, WHICH RENDER SKIRMISHERS TOO CONSPICUOUS AND "CREEPERS" WHICH ENABLE THEM TO ASCEND TREES AND IF NECESSARY OPERATE THERE. A LARGE LOT OF GREEN UNIFORMS HAVE ALSO LATELY BEEN ORDERED". I added the capitalization to emphasize the unique information found in that letter.

We all know about the tree climbing "creepers", but has anyone out there heard of the "INDIA RUBBER BELT PLATES" that Berdan talks about? If anyone else has seen a similar reference or has any knowledge of the existence of such items please pass it on. Also, I would love to see a photo of an authenticated set of the "creepers" that have been referred to in this letter and in other sources.

Thank you.

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Captain Dave Sulin
Rockport, Maine
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2016 4:04 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:33 pm
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Location: Old Northwest (Michigan)
Captain Dave.

Look no farther than here: Tree Climbing Spikes: http://www.berdansharpshooter.org/tree_spikes.htm

In the book Berdan's United States Sharpshooters in the Army of the Potomac: by Capt. C.A. Stevens, Stevens wrote the following; "On the 28th of April (1862) the Sharpshooters broke camp in the afternoon and as part of the 3d corps marched down the river to the left of the Union army below Fredericksburg, where they arrived during the night and rested under arms. The men were well equipped, carrying 60 rounds of ammunition, eight days rations, overcoats and rubber blankets. Two men in each company were also furnished with climbers, to be used on special occasions in climbing trees."

So what type of climbers did the Sharpshooters have. I believe they would have had logger tree climbing spikes not telegraph pole climbers.

The basic style of telegraph lineman climbers has not changed since the time of the Civil War. The exception being that metal of choice has switched from iron to steel. Improvements in the leathers and buckle arrangements have changed to provide a firm and tight attachment to the leg.

When choosing a pair of climbers one should determine what they would be used for. Trimmed poles would cause a lineman to prefer the short side spikes while a line erected with poles larger than saplings might be climbed with the longer spike variety, since the spikes would have to dig deeper in order to pass through the bark and into the firmer flesh of the pole or tree.

The climbers with the very long gaffs were for tree climbing to get through the bark, and the short "gaffs" were for trimmed poles. I assume the Sharpshooters would have the "long gaff" type of climbers, probably made by blacksmiths in the area where they had been camped.

Blacksmiths made both types of climbers and therefore there are many variations in style as you can see in the photos below. I have acquired a civil war era set of climbers from a barn in Wisconsin, the iron is still solid but most of the leather has fallen off.


The link also shows a pair of photos of original 'creepers' that enabled sharpshooters to ascend trees.

As part of the March 1863 'Sharpshooter Olympics' (organized by Hiram Berdan to commemorate the first USSS actions at Yorktown), one of the marksmanship competitions featured men who shot at targets from trees wearing creepers. I can't recall the name of the winners, but they are listed in the Steven's book.

Can't say I've ever heard of 'US' waist belt plates made of India Rubber (like the US Eagle buttons), but I suspect Berdan contacted the Goodyear Company in the hopes of securing a contract for them to be made for the USSS. The 'Eagle' coat/cuff buttons were manufactured by Goodyear and Major Geo. Hastings' May 1863 letter (written while he was recovering from his wound at Chancellorsville) mentions he was gong to purchase them drawing from the (1st USSS) regimental funds. However, it is not clear if he purchased them, and how many he had sent to the 1st USSS (it is not clear if any were purchased-issued in the 2nd USSS). It is also unclear if individual USSS officers purchased them for their uniforms directly from the Goodyear Company (or from USSS QM stores). The 'Indian Rubber' waist belt plate poses another tantalizing question entirely. Let the research commence!

Bill Skillman
Hudson Squad


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2016 3:01 pm 
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Location: ROCKPORT, MAINE
Bill,

I knew that this "India Rubber Belt Plate" business would peak your interest and cause you to brush the last layers of snow off your shoulders and start digging around. I suspect that this is another case of wishful thinking (although very creative) on Berdan's part, along the lines of the promised globe sights. You have to give the man credit for trying and for using his inventor's brain and thought process to modernize war fighting.

In the next week or so I will again be at the Maine State Archives trying to unearth more correspondence between from or to Capt. McClure, Berdan, and the Governor. I did find an interesting "rough draft" by McClure done in ink, with several later pencil corrections, that gives a sort of summary of the activities of Company "D" for their first 18 or so months in service. This summary was apparently, at least as far as I can determine, in response to a very sharply worded letter sent by Maine's Adjutant General to all "Maine" unit commanders ordering them to "REPORT" back to him. The report is a few pages long and I only found it at closing time at the Archives last week. More on this later.

Also, many thanks for your excellent information on the "creepers" or "climbers". The photos were great. They are a fascinating tool and I wonder how many times and at what battles they were actually used. I would love to see a letter or diary entry that said something like "private so-and-so scaled a tall locust tree with his climbers from where he did great damage to the enemy".

You, my long distance friend, are a never ending font of interesting information. Thanks for your patience with those of us who are not so gifted.

Captain (wet type!) Dave

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Captain Dave Sulin
Rockport, Maine
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