Berdan’s Sharpshooters

Cossa Berdan Sharpshooters

The Sharpshooters were an infantry regiment created by Hiram Berdan that served in the Union Army during the Civil War and began service in November 1861. The volunteer recruits had to pass a rifle test in order to qualify as a member of the Sharpshooters; each man had to be able to place ten consecutive shots with no misses in a 10 inch circle from 200 yards. They wore distinctive green uniforms. A Sharpshooter had to possess a keen eye, steady hands and a great deal of training and skill with a rifle and cool nerves in order to estimate distance carefully, determine trajectory and effect of the wind. Membership today in Berdan’s Sharpshooters requires the same test with iron sights. Successfully passing is indicated by wearing a black feather in the green Sharpshooters kepi.
During their service they fought in every Eastern battle up until autumn of 1864. The mission of the Sharpshooter was to engage at a longer safer distance. The Sharpshooters regiment was armed with various types of rifles; Sharps, Whitworth, sporting arms, and various other custom-made privately owned target weapons. Some of these rifles weighed up to 30 pounds. Many of the Sharpshooters used their own weapons, but this lead to problems of ammunition supply. As a result, Berdan made a request to be supplied Sharps rifles for his men. It was a single shot that could be fired eight to ten times per minute (three times the rate of other rifles) weighed about 12 pounds with a 30-inch barrel. The Sharps rifle was accurate up to 600 yards, so the typical Sharpshooter was able to put twenty bullets in a 24-inch pattern from 200 yards away.
Berdan chose the Sharps rifle mainly because of its fast breech loading and outstanding accuracy from long-range distances. The army denied Berdan’s request because they feared the issuance of Sharps rifles would lead to a waste of ammunition.
Berdan was not satisfied, so he took his request for Sharps rifles directly to President Lincoln. After Lincoln watched Berdan perform a demonstration of the Sharps rifle’s extreme speed and accuracy he was so impressed that he ordered them to be immediately issued to the Sharpshooters.