Pictures curtisy of the Co. B, 2nd USSS Homepage
By late 1861 it had grown apparent to nearly everyone that the Civil War would last longer then the three months that the volunteers were now serving. On May 3rd, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln made his second call for volunteers, this time for enlistments lasting for three years or until the wars end. Among the Regiments raised during this time were two regiments of United States Sharpshooters. Both regiments were enlisted under the supervision of Hiram Berdan, Colonel of the First Regiment United States Sharpshooters. The First Regiment was raised and mustered into United States service by mid-September 1861. After the mustering of the First Regiment United States Sharpshooters, Hiram Berdan received orders from Secretary of War Simon Cameron "to muster and organize into companies and regiments all the men he could raise during the next 90 days from Sept. 28, 1861, and who, on examination, were found equal to the requirements of sharpshooters."
The Second Regiment, under the command of Colonel Henry Post, was composed of eight companies representing six states. Company A came from Minnesota, B from Michigan, C from Pennsylvania, D from Maine, E and H from Vermont, and F and G from New Hampshire. The sharpshooters were uniformed in dark green frock coats and forage caps, the later adorned with a black ostrich plume. They were also issued light blue trousers, later changed to green to match the uniform coats, and brown leather leggins. A knapsack in the Prussian style, made of calf skin, with the hair on the outside, and a special mess kit finished off the outfit. In the winter they were issued grey overcoats with green trim, these were soon discarded however.
Colonel Henry A.V. Post, 2nd U.S.S.S.
The Second Regiment began arriving at the Camp of Instruction in January 1862. When the soldiers got to the camp they realized that the government promises of higher pay, larger bounty and Sharps rifles weren't going to be fulfilled. The soldier jokingly said that U.S.S.S. stood for Uncle Sam's Sad Soldiers, or Unfortunate Soldiers Sadly Sold. Time at the Camp of Instruction was spent learning drill, bugle calls, scaling obstructions, etc. The favorite pastime was target shooting though. The muddy and cold camps invited many diseases to the sharpshooters. Measles and Small Pox were the most common. The report of Charles S. Tripler, medical director of the Army of the Potomac, on January 28, 1862 listed 132 men out of 720 men in the Second Regiment were sick. Despite the setbacks the sharpshooters camp was a popular stop for many of Washington, D.C.'s visitors and residents. Among the guests of the sharpshooters were: General McClellan, Governors Blare of Michigan, Ramesey of Minnesota, and Berry of New Hampshire, Senators Wilkinson, Doolittle, Chandler, and Harris. President Lincoln himself was a frequent visitor to the sharpshooters camp.
On March 18, 1862, the Sharpshooters Broke camp in Washington and headed to Virginia, as part of Augur's Brigade, King's Division, McDowell's Corps. In Virginia the Second Regiment made camp at Fort Ward. On April 4th, weighed down with full knapsacks, the Second Regiment broke camp again. During this time the regiment was equipped with the 5-shot Colt Revolving Rifle. President Lincoln personally signed the order for the Sharps rifles, after seeing the marksmanship of the sharpshooters, however; they hadn't arrived by this point. The Second received it's baptism by fire at Falmouth, Virginia on April 18. After arriving on the field the sharpshooters fired the first shot of the battle, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Peteler scattering dust at the feet of confederate cavalry 700 yards distant, who instantly retreated. Reaching Falmouth Heights, the sharpshooters saw the confederates retreating beyond Fredericksburg, Virginia, past Marye's Heights.
The Sharpshooters stayed in Fredericksburg until late February, when they moved 15 miles to the south hoping to join McClellan's Army. With Word of Jackson's approach. however; the Sharpshooters moved back to Fredericksburg, skirmishing with confederate cavalry the entire time. After reaching Fredericksburg the sharpshooters were sent on a forced march to Front Royal. In a train accident near White Plains on June 1, the sharpshooters lost 44 men injured and one killed. Again in Fredericksburg the sharpshooters traded in their Colts' for the coveted Sharps.
On July 24 two companies, A and C, under Lieutenant Colonel Peteler, accompanied General John Gibbon on a reconnaissance 45 miles from Fredericksburg, to Orange Court House. At Orange Court House the Sharpshooters engaged some confederate cavalry, easily pushing them off the field. Advancing confederate infantry, however; forced the sharpshooters back off the field, and into the camp of their reserves, the Second Wisconsin, still at breakfast. The sharpshooters fell in on Gibbons left and engaged the confederates, pushing them off. On another reconnaissance, August 6, the sharpshooters acting as reserves for the cavalry, engaged some troopers of J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry at Guiney's Station. After forcing back the confederate cavalry the sharpshooters and cavalry continued to Spotsylvannia. The regiment received orders to begin a force march to Ceder Mountain, however; arriving too late to participate in any action they encamped there until the 19th, when they were moved to the Rappahannock River to act as Pope's rear-guard.
Four companies of the regiment were ordered to the river on August 21, to disperse enemy artillery and cavalry that were gathering there. As the cavalry prepared to charge the sharpshooters, the order to open fire was given. This thoroughly confused the enemy cavalry and forced them to retreat. During a brief artillery bombardment following this, Private Jacobs of Company A commented, "Well! By God, our drilling wasn't for nothing." The sharpshooters rested the next day being brought into action again the 23rd. On this day the sharpshooters were ordered to the river to stop the confederate retreat. Because of a heavy artillery exchange the sharpshooters had to take cover in some nearby pines. The confederates retreated in the meantime. Three days later at Sulphur Springs the sharpshooters engaged and drove off a confederate battery. The sharpshooters then continued their advance to Manassas Junction.
At Gainesville on August 28th the Second, as part of Hatch's Brigade were again engaged. Although under heavy artillery fire for most of the time, the regiment took very few casualties. At Gainesville the sharpshooters advanced, quickly discovering a large body of confederates. When Colonel Post reported this too General Hatch, he refused to believe it and continued the advance, costing a large loss of life. The next day at Manassas, the sharpshooters were posted along the Centerville road. Upon reaching the top of the hill, they discovered a whole Corps of confederate infantry. The commanding General dismissed reports of Colonel Post, so the sharpshooters were forced to hold the ground, which they did until midnight, by themselves. On the 30th the sharpshooters advanced on some woods pushing out whatever confederates were in them. Over the three days fighting at Bull Run the Second Regiment lost 42 men. Colonel Homer Stoughton, then a captain, later said that, "They were under fire from August 23rd to the wind up at Chantilly, August 30. No men ever bore themselves more gallantly then the sharpshooters." When the regiment left Falmouth August 10th there was between 600 and 700 men on the roll. At morning roll call September 2nd only 127 men answered.
The Second Regiment, now part of Phelp's Brigade, distinguished themselves again at South Mountain, September 14th. The sharpshooters, on special detachment from their brigade were ordered to lead the attack up the mountain. In doing this they were the first union regiment on top of the mountain, capturing two howitzers and pushing most of the defenders back. Three days later at the battle of Antietam the Second Regiment was heavily engaged in the corn field. The regiment was ordered to the left of Gibbons Brigade, the famed "Iron Brigade", to protect their flank from advancing confederates. During the fight the regiment captured two enemy battleflags. Losses this day were severe, 66 men killed or wounded. Among the killed were Adjutant Parmalee, killed while attempting to capture an stand of enemy colors, and Lieutenant Whitman, commanding Company B. Colonel Post was wounded during the days fighting. Silas Howard, of Company E, was heavily wounded during the fighting. As he laid on the field he took the firing block out of his rifle and threw it as far as he could, so that the confederates wouldn't be able to capture a serviceable weapon.
At the battle of Fredericksburg the Second Regiment, now under Major Stoughton, was put in the Left Grand Division of Burnside's new army. The regiment spent December 13th, 14th and 15th skirmishing with the enemy troops, taking few casualties and earning great praise. Colonel Phelps mentioned in his report, "I cannot speak too highly of the commanding officer of the Second U.S. Sharphsooters, Major Stoughton." Even other brigade commanders were impressed by the sharpshooters performance. Colonel Rogers noted the actions of the sharpshooters in his report, "I take pleasure in testifying to the very efficient service rendered by the Second U.S. Sharpshooters, of Col. Phelps brigade." Soon after the battle the sharpshooters returned to Falmouth, where they made winter quarters. Leaving camp January 20, 1863 the sharpshooters participated in Burnside's ill-fated "Mud March." Shortly after this Burnside was replaced by General Hooker, who reorganized the army. The First and the Second United States Sharpshooters were finally brigaded together.
Adjutant Lewis C. Parmalee, 2nd U.S.S.S.
The army broke camp on April 28th, and headed south west of Fredericksburg. On May 2nd the two regiments of sharpshooters moved off the Fredericksburg Turnpike and headed through some pine thickets. Entering a clearing they were engaged by the enemy. During this the Second Regiment was nearly flanked, but was saved by the quick thinking captain of Company C. After a series of advances the two sharpshooter regiments pushed the confederates back to Catherine's Furnace, where they captured 365 men of the 23rd Georgia. On the 3rd of May the 2nd Regiment was posted as pickets, where they remained through out the remainder of the battle. It was at Chancellorsville that the Second's chaplain, Lorenzo Barber, earned his nickname, "The Fighting Parson." During the battle Chaplain Barber was often seen on the firing line, with his telescopic sighted rifle.
The army again broke camp on June 11th. The sharpshooters were now connected to Ward's Brigade, Birney's Division, Sickles Corps. On the 29th the army reached Tanneytown, Maryland, and continued on a forced march into Pennsylvania. The III corps arrived at Gettysburg well after dark on July 1st. On July 2nd the Second Regiment was posted as skirmishers along the Emmitsburg Road. They then fell back and took up position between Devil's Den and the Slyder Farm. On this line they were attacked by the Fourth Texas. The Second preformed their duty with deadly accuracy, killing both the colonel and the lieutenant colonel. Lieutenant Smith, also of the Fourth Texas, dipped his handkerchief in Plum Run and wrapped it around his head. when his comrades reached his body and took the handkerchief from around his head there were eleven bullet holes in it. Eventually falling back to Big Round Top the Second engaged the 15th and 47th Alabama on their way to Little Round Top. During the first fire of the sharpshooters the 15th's lieutenant colonel fell dead. The colonel of the 15th, William Oates, ordered the two regiment to pursue the sharpshooter over Big Round Top, rather then leave them in their rear. This gave the union time to reinforce Little Round Top. Oates noted that out of 42 officers and 644 men in the 15th Alabama, he had lost 23 officers and 423 men killed on Big and Little Round Tops. Because of the deadly fire laid down by the sharpshooters, several confederates officers claimed that Big Round Top was "a perfect hornets' nest of sharpshooters." The 3rd day of Gettysburg the Second Regiment was posted at the center of the union line, killing the officers and sharpshooters of the approaching confederates.
Chaplain Lorenzo Barber, 2nd U.S.S.S.
The two sharpshooter regiment left Gettysburg at 3 A.M. on July 7th to pursue Lee's escaping army. On July 17th the sharpshooters crossed the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. At Manassas Gap, on July 23rd the Second was held in support at the battle of Wapping Heights. From September 17 until November 7th the Second Regiment was on the March. On the 7th they became engaged at Kelly's Ford. At 1:30 P.M. the First and Second Regiments deployed in a skirmish line, and quickly came under fire. They were ordered to advance at the double quick, pushing the confederates back. They took up positions in rifle pits and behind breastworks. After the two regiments advanced beyond the river, the confederates retreated off the field. Lieutenant Foote, of Co. B, stripped down and waded across the river, taking prisoner the confederates left beyond the river. During this engagment only the sharpshooters were engaged for the union, the rest being held in reserve. As the army advanced to Brandy Plains, the Second Regiment was placed in advance of it. On the 8th the Second Regiment pushed the confederates out of Brandy Station, and occupied the town, until the army reached it. On the 27th the sharpshooters were engaged at Locust Grove, pushing back the confederates. On the 30th, at the Battle of Mine Run, the Second Regiment was placed at the union line. After the enemy reinforced their line the union was forced of the field. During this engagement Chaplain Barber was severely wounded in the leg. In December the enlistments of the Second Regiment ran out, and almost every man reenlisted, the rest being replaced by recruits from each companies home state. The winter of 1863-63 was spent marching and catching up on mail.
The Second Regiment participated in a Demonstration on the Rapidan River in early February of 1864, before retiring to camp until May. On the evening of May 5, after the first days fighting at The Wilderness, General Birney asked the Second Regiment for volunteers to retake a cannon that was abandoned during the days fighting near Orange Road. The men soon returned, not only with the cannon, but also the harnesses of the dead horses. On the 6th the Second went into action early. Taking position on the right of the Vermont Brigade, they moved forward and took up behind breastworks on the Brock Road. During the confederate charge on the works the Second's Color-Sergeant, J. Madison Tarbell of Company E, posted the regimental colors on the works. He remained there, often with the confederate color barer next to him, until he was shot through the arm and had to retire to the rear, taking the colors with him. During this days fighting, a man from the Second fired 150 shots. Protecting the rear of the army as it left the 7th, the sharpshooter were the last union unit to leave The Wilderness. The Second Regiment was also engaged at Laurel Hill the next day.
On the second days action at Spotsylvannia, May 10, Colonel Stoughton was badly wounded, shot through the chest during action along the Po River. The Sharpshooters also suffered heavily on the 12th during fighting near Bloody Angle. On May 19th, at Harris Farm, a portion Second Regiment was placed as a guard near General Birney's headquarter's. The sharpshooter advanced at the double quick on the advancing confederates of General Ewell's command, pushing them back. Between May 23rd and May 28th the sharpshooters were hotly engaged at North Anna River and Pamunkey River. On May 30th the Second Regiment as sent ahead of the army, to act as sharpshooters and skirmishers, during the action at the Totopotomoy Creek. The Second was sent across the river, and took 137 men of the 27th North Carolina prisoner, and occupying the enemies works. During the Battle at Cold Harbor the sharpshooters were used as marksmen, picking of any enemy that showed his head above the works. From June 16th to the 20th the sharpshooter were busily engaged at such places as Harrison's Creek and Hare's Farm. ON the 21st Colonel Stoughton rejoined the unit. On that day the regiment became engaged along the Weldon railroad, at the Jerusalem Plank Road. Here they were engaged against Fitz Hugh Lee's Cavalry. During the days fighting five men, including Colonel Stoughton, were captured by the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry. The sharpshooters captured the colonel and an orderly of the North Carolina troopers. On the 27th the sharpshooters were heavily engaged in thick woods at Deep Bottom. They were under heavy fire until dark. On July 30th, at Petersburg, the Second Regiment was placed in front of the enemies guns, on the right. They kept the enemies guns on this side quiet during the assault on Petersburg.
Between August 14th and 18th the Second was busily engaged at Deep Run and Strawberry Plains. During this time, while on a march against Richmond, the Second flanked and captured a four gun battery. For almost a month the sharpshooters were engaged at Fort Sedgwick, also known as Fort Hell. On September 10 the Second, along with the First Regiment made a charge on, and captured, enemy rifle pits near the fort. On October 2nd the Second Regiment skirmished with and broke the lines of the confederates at Popular Springs Church, ending the battle that had been going since September 29th. Later that month the Second Regiment captured nearly 50 prisoners near Stoney Creek at Hatcher's Run. On the First of December the First Regiment United States Sharpshooters were disbanded, the men being assigned to the Second Regiment.
On February 5 though the 7th, 1865 the Second Regiment had it's last action at Dabney's Mills and Hatcher's Run. The Second Regiment was disbanded on February 16th, 1865, by General Order number 12, of General DeTroibriand.
"The United States Sharpshooters, including the first and second consolidated battalions, being about to be broken up as a distinct organization in compliance with orders from the War Department, the brigadier-general commanding the division will not take leave of them without acknowledging their food and efficient service during about three years in the field. The United States Sharpshooters leave behind them a glorious record in the Army of the Potomac since the first operations against Yorktown in 1862 up to Hatcher's Run, and few are the battles or engagements where they did not make their mark. The brigadier-general commanding, who had them under his command during most of the campaigns of 1863 and 1864, would be the last to forget their brave deeds during that period, and feels assured that in these different organizations to which they belong severally, officers and men will show themselves worthy of their old reputation; with them the past will answer for the future."
Colonel Fox, in his book Regimental Losses in the Civil War says about the sharpshooters that, "They were of a high grade in physical qualifications and intelligence. They were continually in Demand as skirmishers on account of their wonderful proficiency as such, and they undoubtedly killed more men then any other regiment in the army. In skirmishing they had no equal." The companies of sharpshooters were moved to units of their respective states until the end of the war. The last company to muster out of service did so on February 20, 1865. Throughout it's service the Second Regiment United States Sharpshooters had 1178 serve in its ranks. They lost 125 men, 10.6%, killed and 462 men wounded.