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PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2021 11:40 am 

Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:33 pm
Posts: 320
Location: Old Northwest (Michigan)
Fellow Sharpshooters,

I discovered the following account of the Sharpshooters at Weehawken while perusing the Ann Arbor Library collection (, that was published in the August 16, 1861 edition of the Michigan Argus (Ann Arbor, Michigan) newspaper.

Berdans Sharp Shooters

Col. Berdan finds so many ‘crack shots’ eager to enlist that he is likely to organize three regiments instead of one. Ten companies now ready with one hundred men in each; every man has been put to the practical test, and has reached the required ‘string’ which is ten consecutive shots at six hundred feet distance, averaging no more than five inches from the center of the target. The governors of thirteen loyal States have agreed to furnish $10,000 each to equip the men; Col. F.J. Blair Jr. has privately become responsible for a like amount and citizens of Kentucky has subscribed the same. Some of the shots made at the camp of the regiment at Weehawken have been remarkable. Col. Berdan himself has, on a windy day, with a strange rifle, put ten balls within an average distance of one inch and one-tenth each from the bulls-eye at 600 feet. At 1000 feet the colonel made a string of 22 inches. Sergeant Major Brown, under more unfavorable circumstances made a string of 33 inches at a distance or a little more than three inches each ball at a distance of 100 yards with a strange rifle. On another day, Col. Berdan shot a dozen times at the head of a target man, at a distance of 600 feet, using a target rifle and a rest. Every shot but one entered the head; and in several instances, the colonel stated where he would hit-naming the eye, the nose, the mouth—and he hit them too. The privates then successfully shot, and not a man missed hitting the body somewhere, while most of the shots were in places where a wound to a man would be fatal. The region of the heart was perforated like a sieve.

What I found particularly interesting is the distances to the targets were 600 feet (100 yards), and 1000 feet (or 333 yards). The famous front page of the October 5, 1861 edition of Harpers Weekly features a series of illustrations of Sharp Shooters (Captain Amos B. Jones’ company of the New Hampshire sharpshooters/Co. E, 1st USSS) shooting at a man sized target at 35 rods (1 rod=15 feet) or 175 yards. This would be within the range described in the Argus article. However, This range is significantly shorter than the account of Colonel Berdan’s shooting exhibitions in Berdans U.S. Sharpshooters in the Army of the Potomac[/u] at Camp of Instruction (President Lincoln as a rifle shot, page 9); that report the ‘Jeff Davis’ target was ten times that distance (600 yards); that Berdan hit with equal precision and accuracy. Unfortunately, we don’t know if the Argus reporter was present during the Weehawken exhibitions, or if the distances are correctly recorded.

Modern precision shooters (civilian and military) note that the two most difficult challenges for a marksman must master is wind deviation and range estimation. Rigorous training combined with technological advances in ballistic qualities of ammunition, laser range finders and the magnification and range estimation features of modern riflescopes have enhanced a shooters ability to accurately predict distance and wind deflection. Today competitive shooters regularly hit targets at 1000 yards (both modern and black powder weapons) that surpass Hiram Berdan’s marksmanship.

Bill Skillman
Hudson Squad Mess

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