A collection of bedtime stories - or sharpshooter & sniper tales

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4v50 Gary

Staff member
Dec 19, 2002
At Cold Harbor, one Indian from the First Michigan Sharpshooters, Co. K, was sent to General Wilcox's H.Q. to dispatch a rebel sharpshooter who had made things uncomfortable for them. Old "One Eye" had use of only his left eye and would normally be disqualfied from serving as a soldier. This did not stop him from enlisting and furthermore, he was one of the best shots in the regiment.

"One Eye arrived at General Wilcox's headquarter and asking no questions and speaking to no one, sat down and observed. After half an hour, he got up, and walked away, his silence never broken. Later in the afternoon, pickets reported seeing a rebel sharpshooter in a tree being hit and falling through the branches onto the ground. Later in the evening, One Eye returned to his camp and laconically reported to his commanding officer, 'Me got im.'"

Elsewhere in the book it is learned that the Indians of Co. K were not only the best shots in the regiment, but that they also taught the rest of the regiment how to camouflage themselves (applied mud and allowed it to dry or rolled in dry dirt until the blue uniform blended with the ground).
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You're welcome Ojibweindian. It was my pleasure as you are an old time member of TFL.

BTW, "One Eye" was the name given to him by the whites of the regiment. The Indians of Co. K were recruited from the reservation in Oceana County, Little Traverse Bay, Bear River, Little Traverse, La Croix and the Mackinac region. Others came from Isabella Reservation & the Saginaw area. I'm not familar with the state (only been to Kalamazoo and I know where Fort Michilimakinac even though I've never been there). See Herek at pages 35-36.

Here's another story that involves a Berdan Sharpshooter: "I was sent to the Ninth Corps and had a long hard day sharpshooting... My orders were to annoy the enemy artillery which was keeping up a tearing fire on our troops... In front of me was a field of standing corn which was about two feet high making me a good screen but the shells came too close and I wanted to go over the summit and get down below the cornfield... I was sure that if I tried to cross the opening that the rebel pickets would get a bullet into me. While on the ridge I met a Michigan soldier and he was under the same orders I was. He was a full blooded Indian. I told him that I wished that I could get down to the cover of brush but the corn was not large or thick enough to cover us from the view of the rebels. The Indian said, 'Make self corn. Do as I do.' He then cut off the stocks of corn and began to stick them into his clothes and equipment. I did as he did and then we worked our way to the fence and cover of bushes without even drawing rebel fire.

The Indian and I had a very fine chance on the rebels. The Indian was good shot and enjoyed his duty, only when the shells came too close, then he would cringe and his eyes would look as wild as a panther's. In front of us was a battery and the earth at the muzzle was too high, so high that they did not try to fire the guns but were digging it down as we came into our new position. They dropped out of sight at our first shot and we kept them from using the guns all afternoon. After dark, the Indian and I returned to our respective commands, never to meet again. To me he was pleasant company although he had little to say." Taken from Wyman White's "The Civil War Diary of Wyman S. White," pages 249-250.

The First Michigan Sharpshooters was also in the area and it is possible the Indian mentioned by White was from Co. K.


Thanks for the follow up ajacobs! We were posting concurrently with one another. Those details are exactly the "little stories" that we "outsiders" love to hear. If I think of anything more, I'll post.
Lessons learned from history

Here's something I found that you blackpowder buffs or Civil War fans may enjoy. I got it from Richard Wheeler's Sword Over Richmond, page 183.

The story is told by Lt. Davis Constable aboard the U.S.S. Naugatuck. The Naugatuck was part of Commander Roger's Squadron that was sailing up the James River (May 15, 1862) to bombard the Confederate Capital, Richmond. Before they could though, they had to pass by Drewy's Bluff. Stationed at the bluff were soldiers and sailors (from the scuttled Virginia). Lt Constable tells of coming under fire:

"A rifle ball passed through my clothing and lodged in a hammock near me... At least three well-directed shots had been fired at me from one spot before I discovered where they came from. I then saw that they had been fired from a thick green bush about eighty yards from me. Once I even caught sight of the muzzle of a rifle as it protruded through the bush to aim at me, and twice I raised a rifle to my shoulder to aim at him, but he dropped out of sight in a twinkling. Finding that I must either shoot him or get shot myself, I tried another plan. I aimed one of our 12-pounders, loaded with canister, at the bush, and directed the captain of the gun to fire at the moment I raised my signal. I then took my former position and watched the bush closely. Sure enough, when the fellow saw me standing without a rifle in my hand he again thrust the muzzle of his gun through the bush, but before he could pull the trigger I raised my hand. 'Bang!' went the 12 pounder, and when the smoke cleared away, rebel, gun, [bush] and all had been destroyed."

What can we learn from this? Well, it's a reiteration of the old rules governing gunfights. Rule 1: Bring a gun (he did). Rule 2: Bring a bigger gun (he did). Rule 3: Bring all your friends with guns (he did).

Oh, by the way, the Confederates repulsed Commander Roger's attempt to sail up the James.
Drewry's Bluff is an excellent spot to vist for those visiting Petersburg (see the Crater and siege works) or the Richmond area (too many to list).
It's sort of tough to find the small park there, but the selection of old Columbiads (?) is awesome. You don't NEED rifled cannon when dealing with ships at those distances, just a big fat shell firing smoothbore.
Another lesson from history

Sometimes it's fun to read these old books because of some of the basic lessons that you can get from them. I just read Theodore Upson's With Sherman to the Sea which is Upson's story of the 100th Indiana Volunteer Regiment in the Sibil War. Instead of being issued with the anticipated Springfield rifled musket, they received the Austrian Lorenz instead (see p 27-28). From page 34 we learn of their first use of these imported arms:

"We reached Cairio (Cairo) and took boat down the Miss[iss]ippi River. There was nothing worth noting on our trip except that we landed once in the woods and stretched our legs by the hardest four mile march over the worst road I ever saw or imagined. We were glad to get on the boat again. We can look across the River here and see the Arkansas shore a mile away. Yesterday about 20 mounted men rode down to the landing. We were told to fire at them as they had a Rebel flag. Our officers could see through their field glasses. We put up the sights on our rifles and began firing. They kept waving their flag. Some of the boys put a double charge of powder in their guns but it was no use; they still waved their flag and put thier thumbs to their noses and other insulting gestures. Just then our men ran a 10 lb rifled gun out of the works and fired a shell at them, and they scampered away quick. We are a little disappointed in our new rifles."

(note: Upson uses "thier" in lieu of "their"). In fairness to the Lorenz, even a Springfield or Enfield would be hard pressed to hit a mile away. A heavy barrel muzzle loading target rifle of the era could reach, but not with certainty of hits. Can't beat Ma-Duece for those mile long shots. However, lesson of the day is in a gunfight: Bring a bigger gun.

Upson finally gets an Enfield (captured from the Corn-feds) which is an improvement. His unit later exchanges the Enfields for Springfields but again they are disappointed since they wanted the Henry lever action. Upson himself manages to get a Henry for $35 from a wounded Union soldier who is going to the rear (and probably out of the war).
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And therein hangs another problem. Upson got a Henry, but when whatever ammo he got with it ran out the gun was not much good, likely being too short for a tent pole and having no bayonet for roasting chickens.

A friend, now gone, was in the Polish Home Army (underground) in WWII. They ran into* a German motorcycle courier who had a Thompson SMG in the scabbard. I asked him what they did with it and he said they threw it in a lake because there was no ammo supply for it.

*Actually, he ran into the piano wire they had stretched across the road; the bike and the body went one way, the head, helmet still in place, went another.

If the troops weren't issued Henrys, they could buy them anywhere from $45 to $50. Upton bought it from a wounded Union soldier going to the hospital (at the rear). While many soldiers bought their own (more were purchased privately than issued), the ammunition was free from Uncle Sam.

I recall reading Berry Benson's memoirs where he states he had a Spencer Repeater. When he ran out of ammo, he discarded it for a single shot rifled musket. The Confederacy could not produce the ammo required by the Spencer.
Thanks for the tip. In my journeys I'll make sure I don't get anywhere near that place.

BTW Mike, probably going back to VA this year. Want to spend a few more days in the Museum of the Confederacy, the VA State Library and also the VA Historical Society.
On the contrary, Gary, I HIGHLY recommend a trip to Cairo, if for no other reason than to stand at the point where the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers come together.

The town has some very interesting old architecture, as well, and it's neat to watch the river traffic go by.

I've read some of the contemporary descriptions of Cairo back when it was a very busy river port. It must have been something else.

Let me know when you'll be in town and I'll try to arrange my schedule this time.
Meet Truman Head

Back in the Sibil War when Berdan's Sharpshooters were raised, one man to rally to the Union was Truman Head, aka California Joe. Not to be confused with another California Joe who scouted for the calvary in the 1870s, Truman Head was an easterner who, upon being rejected as a suitor by his fiance's father, left for California where he made a name for himself as a hunter and as a merchant.

"Old Californny" was perhaps the most famous of all sharpshooters in the two regiments of sharpshooters (1st & 2nd U.S.S.S.). The denizen of the press, he was a mild soft spoken man. 52 years old at the time of enlistment (he lied about his age and looked about 10 years younger), he gained fame during the Siege of Yorktown.

I've got about 3 pages of text on Old Californny, but am saving it for later. Here's an excerpt from a soldier who met him:

I met California Joe in a dry ditch near the chimneys and admired his six foot rifle with telescopic sights on it. It was very heavy in weight, had an octagon shaped barrel and silver mounted ornaments. Two weeks ago, before we had advanced our line of pickets to the chimney, a Rebel sharpshooter had climbed the inside flue of it at night, and by a stick of crosswire had fixed himself near the top from whence he had shot several of our fellows rom his covered perch. Joe came along and at the fourth shot broght the enemy down at 500 yards' distance. The other bullets had struck the bricks which were seen to chip off. The sharpshooter tumbled down the chimeny before it had been burnt. Some days afterwards when our picket line was pushed forward the body was taken down and proved to be an Indian. he had been shot between the eyes and the back of his skull was all blown out! He was buried near the ruins. Joe was a dead shot and had often kept the enemy from firing a gun for half an hour at a time by shooting five, six, and seven one after another... through the embrasure." (That's one heckuva subject to write home about).

Failing eyesight resulted in Joe's discharge late in 1862. No other member of Berdan's Sharpshooters would ever achieve the level of fame that Joe enjoyed. After receiving his discharge, Joe returned to San Francisco where he died in 1875.
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Thanks Kaylee. It is 500 yards and it's a typo on my part.

I visited Truman Head's grave earlier this week and took a few photos for the book. It's a simple gubumint tombstone and is quite invisible in the sea of like gubumint tombstones.
I wonder if he had a Gemmer Sharps, basically a Sharps with a Hawken front end. Neat guns. Pics I've seen had REALLY thick barrels, with a fore-end secured by wedges and very nice furniture.

That's presuming he had a cartridge gun at all, mind you. I don't think the percussion Sharps' ever saw Gemmer conversion.

Neat info tidbit.
Sorry about the delay but I just returned from the Midwest & East Coast.

California Joe carried a single trigger Sharps. It may be seen when he posed while holding Hiram Berdan's horse. This gun was damaged while engaged in sharpshooting at Yorktown and was replaced with a target trigger Sharps.

BTW, finally found his gravesite and in the Presidio, San Francisco. It's a simple grave and unlike I had thought, had no Masonic emblems. The Masons' records were destroyed with the '06 fire (unlike the probate records the Bellesiles purported to have examined ;) ).
From the dustbin of history, THR presents:The poor sharpshooter or the lucky shot

"On the 14th of May, 1864, a soldier was directed to climb a tree standing in front of the breastworks which overlooked the surrounding pines and report his observations of the enemy's line. The sharpshooters discovered him at once, and the first shot aimed at him struck and installed killed Marshall O. Creekmore of Norfolk county, a member of Company 'A,' while asleep in his tent. Isiah Hodges, a new member of the same company, rushed to him and while stooping to raise the head of the dead soldier, was pierced by another bullet and fell dead across the body of his comrade... It was an appalling tragedy, occuring while we were lying around in the shade of the trees... The man in the tree escaped untouched, but he descended from it with lightening speed."

Thus concludes our talke of a lucky scout, a hapless sleeper and his unlucky comrade.
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... And then there's Billy Dixon

Billy Dixon, for those who haven’t heard the story, was among other things in his life, a buffalo hunter during the heyday of the hide hunting business. It is said that he could keep ten hide skinners employed just to keep up with him. In addition to hunting, he was also well known as a target shooter. While later working for the Army as a civilian scout, he would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics at the battle of Buffalo Wallow, but the event that propelled him to fame happened at the second battle of Adobe Walls. Adobe Walls was the remains of an old Spanish mission, that had been occupied for the purpose of supplying the hide hunters in the Texas panhandle. The day of June 27, 1874 found Billy Dixon, 26 other men, and one woman fighting for their lives against a party of Kiowa and Comanche warriors, the number of which is reported to be between 250 and 500 strong, depending upon the account. As the war party was forming for an attack on the people holed up at Adobe Walls, Billy Dixon took a shot at a mounted Kiowa warrior, knocking him off of his horse at a distance that was later confirmed by a surveyor to be 1538 yards, or a full nine-tenths of a mile! Billy never attributed the feat to anything but good luck, but it saved him and his associates from certain death at the hands of the war party. The Indians were so surprised at the power and accuracy of the white man’s rifles that they retreated.

[Ed. Note: the June 2003 issue of the NRA's magazine America's 1st Freedom features an article on Billy Dixon's remarkable shot. Entitled "Gun Smoke Over Adobe Walls", the excellent article was written by Gary Lantz. - Boge Quinn]

The above from: http://www.gunblast.com/BillyDixon_Sharps.htm
Trench mortar - civil war style

The Eleventh NJ was at Petersburg where it, along with other regiments, had to endure the foulness of trench warfare. One bored soldier found a means to amuse himself:

"But one afternoon, being a little tired of the fort and bomb-proof, he thought he would like to pay a visit to the boys on the outer line. He, in company with Corporal Leonard Gillen, reached the line without drawing the enemy's fire, and passed the exposed part leading down to the stream. Some men from his own company were posted south of the stream, and among them Sharp, who had constructed a miniature mortar out of a section of rifle-barrel, and was amusing himself by shelling the enemy, using minie-balls for bombs..."

The Confederates home made larger ones by burning out tree trunks to take a full size mortar shell. With some powder and real mortar bombs given to them by their friends in the artillery, they'd use it to flush out the Yankees.

In reading Grant's memoirs, I learned that the Union forces at Vicksburg didn't have mortars so they also resorted to trees that were burnt out and reinforced with iron hoops.
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Sgt. Chapman pots a looter (Civil War)

At the Battle of Drewy's Bluff (May 14-15, 1864), the Thirteenth New Hampshire Infantry ran short of ammunition and was compelled to fall back before the advancing Rebel Army. They became so pressed that they even abandoned their camp, leaving behind much of their personal possessions.

"Pretty soon the colors of four rebel regiments are planted on the part of the works where the Tenth and Thirteenth fought in the morning; while still other rebel regiments hurry along and past their rear and form, one after another, on their right, until the whole works are manned by them as far as the eye can see. Now the enemy begins to examine the Thirteenth's baggage, to roll up our blankets, to eat our breakfast, to drink our coffee, to put on our clothes, to handle sundry papers and fling them away; one fellow cooly sits down, throws off his shoes, and hauls on a pair of our boots - and last, to rob our dead. [Gary's note: both sides are guilty of this] One of them having just appropriated Capt. Julian's overcoat, proceeds to rifle the pockets, and to strip the clothing from the body of John H. Harvey of E, which we were obliged to abandon lying near the lone apple-tree, at the second angle, near where the right of the 13th rested in the morning. This is a little too much for Sergeant Charles F. Chapman, who puts the powder of two cartridges into his gun, rams home a bullet, runs forward a rod or two to the edge of the brush, rests his gun in the fork of a little tree, and fires; the pilfering rebel lies down and never once moves again - dead or badly wounded. The range is a full 500 yards."

About one and a half year earlier, the Thirteenth Regiment actually had some target practice - with dismal results. "Nov. 7 [1863] Sat. Fair. Rifle practice by the Regiment. Most of the bullets hit the ground - in the course of time; a new newspaper covered target will be required about once in three months." In Dec., they practice again: "Dec. 5. Sat. PLeasant, quite cool. Reg. marches out about a mile and practices at target-shooting, at the usual place, on the right hand of the road, west of camp, just beyond the stockade gateway. There are 250 guns, and the men fire 20 rounds per gun - 5,000 shots - and the irreverent affirm that the vicinity of the target is the safest place to be found within a circuit of half a mile. The Sub and cockney, Reed of E. wants to show the Regiment 'Ow they fire hin the Hold Hinglish Harmy.' He steps to the front, holds his gun at arm's length, fires - and doubles up like an old jackknife, a rod back in the brush. The boys have given him a kicking gun. He takes his place in the rear rank again, and at the next fire singes his file leader's hair and whiskers, and nearly breaks his head. Col. Stevens sends him off to camp; and we turn him into a mess-cook, a good one too, the best in camp."

John Reed transferred to the navy and as for the men, well, they got real practice in battle and with the experience of trench warfare (fixed distances), actually became proficient shots as demonstrated by Sgt. Chapman.

Let me know if you guys want more stories like this. I may link some other threads together.
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Rapid demise of a sharpshooter unit

Now, I've read a lot of books on the Sibil War and have come up with all sorts of nonsense that I'll share in my own. In today's mail I got a package containing two books and I've read one already (it's a small paperback of 180 pages). Anyway, it talks about the 17th Virginia Infantry which was composed of many militia units.

One unit was originally called the Alexandria Sharp Shooters. Sounds impressive enough and certainly the men who formed this proud body of men believed so. At the first meeting, it was agreed that their knapsacks and cartridge boxes be embossed with the unit's initials, so as to readily distinguish them from lesser units. The meeting was adjourned and the men dispersed into small groups.

One small group suddenly realized the significance of their initials: A.S.S. While it probably befitted some egotistical and asinine members, it would be of no service to draw such attention to them or to the others of the group. The banter they would be subjected to by the street urchins would be unbearable and besides, it certainly would not impress any group of young ladies they may wish to meet. :eek:

The meeting was quickly reconvened by their captain and the Alexandria Sharp Shooter were renamed the Alexandria Riflemen.
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