by David M. McGlaughlin
(with a new e-mail address May 2005:  olddad68 (at) superpa (dot) net    )


I used to wonder why, in almost any endeavor of historical writing, the author set forth their acknowledgments. Now I know why. Even the most limited efforts could not be completed without help and assistance from others. So it is, that I offer my profound thanks first to Lee 'Woody' Parker for providing hard to find material on the special rifles used by sharpshooters of both sides. Mr. Richard Shuldinger of the Brooks Memorial Library, Brattleboro, VT, provided invaluable quality help, as did Audrey and David Ladd and Steve Zerbe, who pointed me to the few extent sources of historical information on this unusual outfit. Most of all, I owe gratitude to a man I have never met face to face. Ben McAdams, from Illinois, kept me laughing, motivated and my perspective focused by extremely helpful critique. Finally, I wish to offer my extreme gratitude to Mr. Michael Baldwin, of Early American History Auctions Inc., of La Jolla, CA, for his help in supplying a copy of the photograph of Captain Saunders and his squad. I am indebted to each of them.


This article is based on information found in the

  • Official Records of the Civil War, (OR), Guns of the Civil War by William B. Edwards,
  • Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, The Norwood Press, 1932,
  • The Bachelder Papers, Morningside Books edited by David and Audrey Ladd,
  • Massachusetts Soldiers in the Civil War, by James Bowen, 1889,
  • The Story of the Fifteenth Regiment MVI, by Andrew Ford, published in 1890 and
  • The Supplement to the OR.
  • Also used was the Gettysburg account of former Lt. Emerson Bicknell, in volume 3 of the classic Battles and Leaders.

Where ever possible I have made reference to the source in the body of the work.

Whitworth rifle


The American Civil War bred so many major developments in warfare, that it truly deserves the sobriquet The First Modern War. Advances in sniping, or what was then called sharpshooting, further proved the idea that one skilled man with a rifle can be a force to be reckoned with on a battlefield.

The idea for an organized unit of sharpshooters, or expert marksmen first took shape in the Revolutionary War, with the formation of such units as Thompson’s Battalion, from Pennsylvania, or the more famous Green Mountain Boys. Numerous references survive of how these early sharpshooters could kill or wound the other side at great distances.

Yet, these units suffered from some deficiencies. The weapons, usually Pennsylvania or Kentucky long rifles, were highly accurate, but were slow to load, and could not take a bayonet. Not that bayonets were much needed by units such as this, since their ranks were frequently composed of troops barely amenable to military discipline and tactics. Before their absorption into the growing organization of the Continental Army however, they did fine and deadly service.

The most famous sharpshooters unit in the Civil War was, of course, Berdan’s Sharpshooters. There were so many qualified men seeking to join at the start of the war, that the planned size of the unit doubled. Their ‘advance firing maneuver’ on July 2nd at Gettysburg against a superior force became famous as a signal change in infantry tactics.

A look at one of their recruiting posters reveals why many were attracted to such an elite group. It states,

" ...[T]he government supplies each man with one of Berdan’s improved Sharp’s rifle which will fire 1&1/4 miles at the rate of 18 times a minute. We have no drill or picket duty. Our warfare is like the guerilla or indian. Our uniform is green for summer, the color of grass & foliage, and Miller’s Grey for fall and winter. You are privileged to lay upon the ground while shooting, picking your position. No commander while firing." H. L. Hurlbut, 30 Nov1861.

But Hiram Berdan was not alone with his idea. There were Davis’s Sharpshooters and Russell’s Sharpshooters from Minnesota, who traveled with the 1st Regiment. One of the finest such small units was the First Company of Massachusetts Sharpshooters, known as the Andrew Sharpshooters.

The confederates, according to self styled scout-sharpshooter, Berry Benson from South Carolina, were frequently armed with the English made Whitworth rifle. It was a telescoped prize greatly coveted by the confederate marksmen. Confederate sharpshooters were often organized from within established regiments. As the war progressed, both sides grew to fear, but nonetheless respect the Civil War sharpshooter.

In the spring of 1997, I saw an advertisement by Early American Historical Auction Inc. in Civil War Times Illustrated. The eye catcher was an unusual and singularly unique photograph of a group of civil war soldiers. I could see instantly this was no ordinary group of soldiers. Except for the officers and NCO's, eighteen of these men were equipped with a special and unique weapon; a rifle of unusual weight and design. Most striking of all, each had a telescopic sight mounted on top. 1st Co. Andrew Sharpshooters

Click here to see the whole photo.

I had seen two rifles like these on display at the National Museum in my hometown of Gettysburg, and from my early youth, I was fascinated by not only these weapons, but by thoughts of the men who used them.

Seeing this photo launched me on a quest of sorts for knowledge and information. Who were these men? Where were they from? What became of them? What was their record of service? With a certain measure of good fortune, I found the answers to most of these questions, and in the process, learned much about this not so ordinary unit.

In the summer of 1861, a Salem, Massachusetts carpenter, John SAUNDERS, conceived of the idea to form a company of crack shots to serve as a special unit in the Civil War. Many of the 186 men listed in the Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, (hereinafter MSSM), as members of the sharpshooters had served as three months men in early regiments such as the 3rd, 5th and 8th Massachusetts. These units were little more than militia, but the men who had volunteered for them represented the earliest true believers in the Northern cause. Just coming off their 90 day terms of service, their ranks was an ideal place for Saunders to recruit. By September 2, 1861, his idea was realized and the company was formed at Lynnfield, MA. Mustered into the Union Army for a three year term, they left for camp near Washington, D.C. that day. The company numbered 98 men including 3 officers. However, there is some divergence on how many men served in the company during its active life. The most reliable source is the MSSM, as the alphabetical listing of the 186 men who served in the war, gives a succinct history of each man. It is the primary source for this article.

A review of the MSSM shows almost all of the recruits came from Massachusetts. However, Roland Bowen, (no relation to James Bowen), a 15th Mass. infantry private we'll hear more of later, recounted in one of his wonderful letters how early in his service during training, he met a boastful New York sharpshooter who claimed to be able to hit a man every time at half a mile, and every other time at a mile.

Oddly, there were more shoemakers than farmers, 34 to 31. However, the 186 men represent almost 60 different occupations. A partial list shows there were 15 carpenters, including John Saunders, 6 sailors, 3 students, 6 butchers, a lawyer, a naturalist, 9 clerks, 3 teamsters, 4 masons, 5 painters, a fireman and even the odd calling such as artist, music teacher, yeoman, and morocco dresser. One lists his occupation as simply a soldier, and strangely, only 2 list their trade as gunsmith.

There were 17 of them who were only 18 or 19 years old when they enlisted. Exactly 100 of them were in their 20's, 51 were in their 30's, 15 in their 40's and 2 in their 50's. One man has no age given at enlistment. All ages used are those at enlistment in 1861.

Over and above their patriotism, what drew these men together was the common thread of ownership of one of the special target rifles later historians would refer to as the 'heavies', and an affinity to use it well. Competitive target shooting was obviously popular in pre-war New England, as it no doubt was in all of antebellum America.

According to William Edwards, almost everything about these weapons was different. First of all, they weighed between 50 pounds and 17 lbs. Muzzle loaders, the kits in which these beautiful guns arrived to the owner usually had a false muzzle which fit on the end of the barrel by way of four pins. Often cut from the end of the barrel itself to ensure precise alignment, it was used to prevent damage or even normal wear from the loading process, as even the smallest blemish could affect accuracy. Another reason for its use was to ensure a perfect seat for the bullet, which was often cast from a mold provided with the kits.

Of course, these weapons were not designed for war. Rather, they were manufactured with a great deal of sophistication for use by the serious competitive target shooter. Their excessive weight required they ideally be resting on something when fired. Often, the telescopic sight, which could be as powerful as 25X, was made by someone other than the gun maker, and while crude by today’s standards, was fully functional. For instance, the thirty six pound rifle on display at Gettysburg has a scope marked Syracuse N.Y., while the rifle itself is stamped Geo. H. Leonard, Keene, N.H. They were often presented with special accessories, and a small powder flask of rather standard design. These men wasted neither powder or lead.

While it seems only a few of these rifles were used by the sharpshooters in Berdan's famous outfit, it appears that most or even all of the Andrew recruits owned one. Initially, the government was to allow $50.00 to each man for using his own rifle.

Because of their weight, these rifles were often carried in the baggage train, certainly something the men thought well of. But their weight could be a certain liability in combat. They were slow to load, and they naturally could not take a bayonet. As mentioned, they required some sort of rest to maximize efficiency which further curtailed mobility. Yet in a war where thousands of rounds were often fired unaimed or worse, reaching out to touch someone with a single well placed deadly shot at a distance of half a mile made these men extremely valuable, and overtly dangerous.

By September 3, 1861, the company was at Camp Benton, Poolesville, MD assigned to the brigade of then colonel, and later General F.W. Lander. A curious story surrounds the Andrew Sharpshooters in that it seems for reasons lost in time, they resisted being absorbed by any larger unit, particularly Berdan's Sharpshooters and specifically petitioned the Massachusetts Governor, John Andrew, for permission to remain as a separate and distinct outfit. Because this petition was granted, instead of becoming Saunders's Sharpshooters, they were first known as the Andrew Sharpshooters, in his honor. It was a name which stuck with them throughout their service and beyond.

After arriving at Camp Benton, they did not have long to wait before their baptism of fire. In less than a month's time, 40 of them found themselves positioned behind a fence at Edwards Ferry, where they checked the advance of an entire confederate regiment. The confederates must have been shocked at the losses and how quickly they occurred. They skirted combat at Balls Bluff in October. Then, an inactive winter ensued, for there is no record of just where they were, or what they did, other than the record in the OR Supplement that by February, 1862 they had moved to Camp Chase at Paw Paw (West) Virginia. By April, they had moved to Camp Winfield Scott. One thing is nearly certain. The photograph which motivated this study, was probably taken during this period; most likely in Washington, D.C.

Thereafter, the sharpshooters were mis-used for a time as General Lander's bodyguard. I suppose we can forgive him in view of their proficiency with their weapons. Indeed, after his death from disease in March, 1862 the OR Supplement notes Capt. SAUNDERS and 20 men accompanied his remains from Camp Chase, all the way back to Salem for burial.

By March 22, 1862, the company was again engaged at Winchester, under the command of General James Shields. There was no loss reported. The following day, the company left Winchester, and joined General John Sedgwick's division of the 2nd Corps then at Harper's Ferry. They would remain with the 2nd Corps for the rest of their service. The sharpshooters had moved to Camp Scott, Virginia by April 30, but not before skirmishing for three days, April 16, 17 and 18 at Lee's Mills. First blood was drawn at that time with the wounding of Sgt. Henry L. MARTIN, a 24 year old carpenter from Newburyport. Later that year, he would take command of the remnants of the company after the disaster at Antietam. Private Timothy HEALD was also wounded here, and ultimately discharged in October. Two other Healds served with the Andrew Sharpshooters, but due to a divergence of listed residence, it is impossible to tell if they were all related. Tim HEALD's service was a mere 30 days, as he had joined the company in March. On April 22, 1862, David LITTLEFIELD was wounded while engaging confederate artillery on Warwick Creek. Killing and wounding enemy artillerists at a great distance would be one of the most valuable roles for the sharpshooters. Mr. Littlefield was a resilient sort. The 23 year old farmer would recover from this wound only to be one of the casualties at Antietam five months later.

The company did not remain idle long as it was engaged at the battle of Malvern Hill on June 28, and July 1, 1862. No specific details of the actions survive, and there are no reported losses. After a stop at Harrison's Landing, the company marched to Newport News by August 22, and then to Alexandria, Va. by the 28th. On that date, the company's official designation became the First Company of Massachusetts Sharpshooters, although the name Andrew Sharpshooters would always stick with them. Also on that date, they were officially attached to the 15th Massachusetts Infantry; an event which would have tragic results less than a month later. This would be especially so for the company's founder, Captain John SAUNDERS.

September 17, 1862 would be the darkest day of the war for the Andrew Sharpshooters. During the battle of Antietam, the company lost 11 killed, and 18, possibly 21 wounded. Among the dead were Captain SAUNDERS and First Lt. William BERRY, a 36 year old publisher from Somerville. Berry enlisted as a sergeant, but was quickly promoted to 2nd Lt. and then to 1st Lt. by April, 1862. Five months later, he lay dead on the field, killed outright when the 15th was flanked, shattered and overrun. An unascribed reference by William Edwards speaks of their heavy, slow loading rifles being of little more use than sophisticated clubs in the melee.

Indeed, the fortunes of the 15th Massachusetts were also at their lowest ebb during this battle as they not only suffered their greatest number of single battle casualties, but some were even inflicted by friendly fire. The OR report of Colonel John KIMBALL, commanding the 15th, relates that panic stricken, the 59th New York, fired into the backs of the 15th.

Attaching the sharpshooters to the 15th Mass. was an extremely bad idea, for according to Kimball, they were deployed as the third line regiment in Brigadier General Willis Gorman's brigade. According to General Gorman's report, the Andrew Sharpshooters were courageous under a terrible fire, in spite of being used so poorly in relation their intended role. Still, the sharpshooters were able to do some of what they did best. Together with the left of the 15th, they silenced an entire enemy battery for the remainder of the fight. On the enemy came, however, and slammed into the left and rear of the regiment. Kimball freely admitted in his report, he gave an order to fall back on his own authority.

But the order came too late for the 1st Company of Massachusetts Sharpshooters, as their first and last use as traditional infantry ended with at least 30 casualties. Perhaps it is little wonder that 6 of their number deserted that day. For John AMBROSE, Samuel BARKER, Otis ATWOOD, Frank BRYANT, Joseph ORCUTT and Otis PRAY, their service abruptly ended that day, but with a stain on their records which would endure for all time.

For 9 others, their service also ended abruptly. Along with the 2 officers killed, were Samuel ABBOTT, a 23 year old molder. John Q. ADAMS was obviously named for our 6th President. But, the fate of this 36 year old farmer from Boston, was to die on a battlefield. Edwin HILLS, just 18, simply vanished from the face of the earth that day. Strangely, the MSSM listings make a distinction between Hills and the deserters. The dead included Joseph INGALLS, a 36 year old stone layer, Marcus PARMENTER, a 22 year old farmer and Warren SNOW, a 22 year old storekeeper. The same fate befell Richard van MOLL, a 21 year old shoemaker from Newburyport. The lone lawyer, 24 year old corporal George WHITTMAN, would argue cases no longer. His young promise extinguished by a confederate bullet, or perhaps one from his own side.

That was just the dead. Aside from Edwin SNOW, a 22 year old Boston clerk, listed as a prisoner that day, there were 19 or 20 wounded. There was Alonzo BARTLETT, a 20 year old shoemaker. He not only survived this wound, but a second one nearly 2 years later at Cold Harbor on June 6, 1864. William BLODGETT, a 34 year old shoemaker was hit that day. He was discharged directly from the hospital at Fort McHenry on November 19, 1862. John BROWN, a 19 year old store keeper, not only survived his wound, but upon his discharge in late October 1862, promptly joined the engineers.

Alvin COLE, a 21 year old carpenter from East Lexington was discharged a corporal in December. George CURTIS went on to distinguish himself a year later. He earned specific mention for bravery in combat at Bristoe Station in October, 1863, and is referred to by name in the battle reports of 2 separate officers. He apparently left the service briefly, in 1863, for his record shows he re-enlisted in February, 1864, only to be shot again on May 18, 1864 at Spottsylvania. He died 10 days later at Emory Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Henry DIKE, a 23 year old clerk from Stoneham, was discharged because of his wound, as was Orrin DODGE, 20. Dodge was gone from the service by November, but did join the Veteran Reserve Corps.(VRC)   Henry EVEREST, 25, must have been severely hurt, for he was discharged at Boston only 11 days after the battle. Asa FLETCHER, a 41 year old carpenter was probably on the same train to Boston, because he was also discharged there on October 21st. Blacksmith, Sanford FULLER, 31, received the first of two separate wounds. The second, at Gettysburg, would prove fatal. Joseph GRAY, a 39 year old currier from Salem must have been friends with John SAUNDERS, as his younger brother, George, was the company’s first 2nd Lieutenant. However, his return to Salem was to the living upon his discharge on January 27, 1863. John HOLSTON, 34, and a manufacturer, may have been the last man from the sharpshooters to leave the service. He was transferred to the V.R.C. in June, 1863, only to re-enlist in the sharpshooters April, 1864. He was not mustered out until November, 1865, having gone to the 13th V.R.C. after the 1st Company ceased to exist. Our friend David LITTLEFIELD, one of the first wounded in the company, was struck again at Antietam. He did not return to duty. Frederick WHEELOCK, 21, and Frederick WHITE, 25, were also hit. When White was discharged on January 5, 1863, he promptly joined the regular army.

Finally, there were Samuel WILLIAMS and Joseph WOOD. Samuel, a 30 year old shoemaker, was discharged on April 16, 1863. Young master Wood, only 18, was hit again at Mine Run in November, 1863. The resiliency of youth was evident, as neither wound prevented young Wood from mustering out as a corporal 2 years after Antietam.

For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that Albion ADAMS, a 22 year old student from Boston, along with COLE, DODGE and EVEREST, are not specifically listed as being wounded at Antietam, but merely as wounded in September, 1862. Considering that was the only action of any significance they fought that month, and that the unit was in no shape to engage thereafter, it is logical to assume these men were wounded in the battle. It should also be noted that while Samuel CAMPBELL, a 31 year old shoemaker from Reading was listed as missing, he was back with his comrades by July 24, 1863 when he was transferred to the V.R.C. This brings the company's losses from all causes to nearly 40 men, a terrible rate for a company which had no business in a line of battle in the first place. The sharpshooters would, however, recover and return with a vengeance.

Command of the unit now devolved to Sgt., now 2nd Lt. Henry MARTIN, who took control of the shattered company. He was quickly promoted to 1st Lt. two days later when Emerson BICKNELL, a 22 year old student from Boston, was commissioned a 2nd Lt., in spite of a wound he had received in the battle. Bicknell must have been an outstanding soldier, because within one year of his enlistment, he had been promoted to Sgt. He would go on to figure prominently in the company's actions at Gettysburg while serving as its 1st Lt.

The lowest ebb in the war for the company came in December, 1862. History records it could field only 18 men. However, on December 9, a new Captain, William PLUMMER, commissioned in October of that year, arrived with 40 new men. The special services of the Sharpshooters were sought only two days later on December 11, when they were detailed to protect the engineers at Fredericksburg. They were deployed along the northern bank of the Rappahannock, where they pinned their southern counterparts while the engineers laid a pontoon bridge. Later, they were deployed near the Gordon house and cemetery where they were engaged in their familiar activity of making life exceedingly dangerous for the southern artillerymen.

Although James Bowen reports two men were wounded, in one of the few OR reports specifically related to the Andrew Sharpshooters, written by Captain PLUMMER, reference is made to only one wounded man, Robert WILSON, a 35 year old mason from Boston. Bowen mistakenly thought a man listed as missing in Plummers’s report was wounded. But that man, James ARCHER, was not hurt. This 18 year old teamster turned up unscathed, and survived the war without a scratch. Wilson too, would not only survive his wound, but recover and return to the company until the end of its service.

After their actions at Fredericksburg, the company spent another quiet winter along with the rest of the Army of the Potomac. By mid December, they were at Falmouth, Va., and remained there until April, 1863. On April 17, they were officially unattached from the 15th Massachusetts, and attached directly to the headquarters of 2nd Division, 2nd Corps. This represents a recognition not only of the value of their service, but an appreciation of their special abilities and the need for command flexibility in deploying them.

From the battle of Chancellorsville, we have the other OR report from Captain PLUMMER. Dated May 14, 1863, he describes how the company marched toward the Lacy house about noon on May 3rd, only to be diverted by orders to cross the river, which was accomplished by 11 A.M. Deploying as skirmishers, they advanced about 2 miles, meeting little resistance. The capture of three prisoners is noted. They re-crossed the river late in the day and encamped for the night at the Lacy house. The following day, May 4, 1863, the company was ordered to report to Colonel Norman Hall as 'picket protection'. This duty was well fulfilled, as Captain PLUMMER noted the enemy firing,".... was soon silenced with considerable loss to him." In an interesting concluding passage, the captain said that he was,"....happy to bear testimony to the good conduct of his men, who well upheld their former good reputation" There was no reported loss.

However, the unit saw some action after Chancellorsville, since there is a reference to the death of private Lysander MARTIN, a 26 year old farmer, who was hit on June 10th, at Fredericksburg, and died nine days later in Washington. Further, the company returns, listed in the Supplement to the OR, set forth the interesting reference to the actions of the company on June 9th. Our boys were attached briefly for special duty with the 6th Corps. Perhaps General Sedgwick remembered them and their special skills from his days as a division commander with the 2nd Corps. They were assigned to the south bank of the Rappahannock to protect the pickets. The reference is made to the company, "....killing and wounding not less than 100 of the enemy." Their fire was so deadly the confederates actually sought a truce. James Bowen notes that on the 9th of June, the picket lines being much annoyed by enemy sharpshooters, Captain Plummer and 10 men went to the scene. The next day Bicknell and a larger force deployed. After one or two days of sharp practice, they forced the rebels to ask for a cessation of picket firing.

Curiously, reference is also made to Ferdinand CROSSMAN as being wounded, although no such reference is given in the MSSM. Crossman is discussed later as he was captured at Spottsylvania the following year. Moreover, we have a totally independent reference to how these two losses may have been sustained.

A confusing reference is made at this time to Lt. Henry MARTIN. According to James Bowen, Martin resigned his commission on May 4, 1863. However, in the MSSM, Martin is listed as being discharged for disability on July 30th. I can offer no explanation for this confusion of dates, except to suggest that Bowen was not as exact as the compilers of the MSSM.

From repeated and detailed scanning of these entries, it appears that as many as 54 men out of the 186, were discharged for a disability during the war. No details of the disability are given, i.e. whether from a wound or illness.

Of course, after Chancellorsville, comes Gettysburg. In that titanic struggle, which left roughly one man in three a casualty, the Andrew Sharpshooters acquitted themselves well. Unfortunately, neither Captain PLUMMERr or Emerson BICKNELL filed an OR report on the company's actions at Gettysburg, but did correspond with historian, John Bachelder. Bowen states that both men left for disability in July.

In view of BICKNELL's later description of his duty at Gettysburg, it is suspected his primary trouble was illness. Captain PLUMMER's discharge was almost certainly due to illness, since there is absolutely no record of him being wounded. In The Bachelder Papers, important letters from both men are found, with details of the service performed by the company at Gettysburg. (It should be noted that Bicknell also offers an account of the 1st Company's service in volume 3 of Battles and Leaders, which differs only slightly from his accounts to J.B.)

As part of the 2nd Corps, the unit missed the first day's fight. However, they were engaged against the attack of Wright late on the second day. But, their hottest service came in the repulse of Longstreet's assault. BICKNELL wrote to Bachelder in August, 1883 and January, 1884 concerning the part he, Captain PLUMMER and the sharpshooters played in the battle on the 3rd day.

On July 3rd, after occupying a portion of Ziegler's Grove near the Bryan house, BICKNELL, 20 of the sharpshooters, and a scratch force organized under Brigadier General Alexander Hays, and placed under Bicknell’s command, eventually executed a left wheel down to a small lane and fence which connected the Emmitsburg Road with the grove, and poured what must have been a devastating fire into the left flank of the North Carolina troops of Generals Davis and Lane of Hill's Corps. In this he was not alone, as the 8th Ohio occupied the extreme right of this fence-lane line until hit itself in the flank by the Virginians of Brockenbrough and Colonel Robert Mayo. In this movement, they left their position in Ziegler's Grove, and ended up astride the Emmitsburg Road. When flanked by Mayo's Virginians, they fell back, but not before disrupting the left portion of the assaulting and supporting lines. They were also ably assisted by Woodruff's battery which fired down the lane further shattering the extreme left of the attacking lines.

BICKNELL wrote in his letter of August 6, 1883,

"When the enemy made their grand charge I gathered a few men about me on the ridge and when the pressure upon our lines was at its height, picked off two or three mounted officers, who were pressing their men against our line just to the left of my position. Then, when that part of our line which stood on the ridge to the north of a lane running down from the grove to the Emmitsburg road swung forward to the lane, and thus flanked the right (sic-left) of the charging columns, I went down with them and fired into the mass of men until they retreated. Then following up on the retreating enemy I cut off and brought in 130 prisoners losing two men by their resistance to capture. Afterwards, just before evening, I went forward with the 13 or 14 men I had left of the 20, and, in conjunction with the 15th Mass. on my left and the 200 men from a Pennsylvania regiment, (who were detailed, and with their officers placed under my orders,) on my right, drove back the enemy's skirmish line, and established our own for the night."

Five months later, on January 8, 1884, BICKNELL wrote,

" In a few words, when Pickett jammed a hole in the 2nd Corps, we swung down on the left flank of his supports, and when Hill's men would, in turn, crush in the flank of our line, at the lane, our artillery held them back with grape and canister."

While we may forgive Mr. BICKNELL if he assumes a bit too much glory over 20 years after the fact, there is no question he and 20 sharpshooters fought side by side with the 8th Ohio and the scratch force put together by Hays to do much to wreck the left flank of Hill's attackers. They were under fire, as their dead and wounded attest.

The remainder of the sharpshooters under Captain PLUMMER were not idle. While he is strangely silent about the grand charge, and his own role in its repulse, from his letter to Bachelder dated March 20, 1885, he relates,

"On the morning of the 3rd, at the personal request of General Hays I detailed Lt. BICKNELL, with a few men, to take a position in General Hays division, to silence, if possible, a battery of the enemy's. Lt. B. remained in this position the whole day, doing most excellent service, and taking a large number of prisoners. For his valuable service, he was personally complimented by general Hays. Shortly after I had detailed Lt. B. I was ordered to take a position opposite the town of Gettysburg, where the Co. did very effective service against the enemy's sharpshooters stationed in the front and the houses near, from which they killed and wounded many of our men. It was here that Sergeant Edward HUTCHINS of my Co. was mortally wounded. He was one of the coolest and bravest men I ever knew and a splendid rifle shot. He was the clerk of the Co. and was respected and beloved by all. I believe there never lived a better type of the citizen soldier than Sergeant H....."

The remainder of his letter is devoted to the question of the monument to the Andrew Sharpshooters, and its proper location. He had been elected president of the Andrew Sharpshooters Association, and the sum of $500 had been collected for the handsome monument which stands today to the left of the Bryan house on Hancock Avenue. In the only other PLUMMER letter to Bachelder, dated April 15th, 1885, we learn the monument is of Italian Marble from Torrey, N.C. It is only natural a figure shown firing a telescoped rifle is depicted. While the inscription on it reads, "In God we put our trust; But we kept our powder dry", an alternative selection was proposed, " Our aim was man; We rarely missed the mark" Although not selected, this latter inscription summed up the service of the Andrew Sharpshooters far better than the former.

It is difficult to say which casualties occurred where or when at Gettysburg. We do know there were 4 killed, and 4 wounded. While we cannot doubt the loss of Sergeant HUTCHINS in Plummer's group, it is likely that the bulk of those hit were with Bicknell, and that the figure of 14 men remaining by the evening of the 3rd, is generally accurate.

Sharpshooter Monument

Along with Hutchins, a 36 year old printer, George ROUNDY, a 23 year old miner was killed outright. Alfred BATCHELOR, 19, and a wheelwright from Worcester, was apparently a man who liked the sharpshooters so much he transferred in from the 15th Massachusetts in October, 1862. Hit on July 3rd, he died a week later in a hospital in Baltimore. The same fate awaited Sanford FULLER. His second wound would prove fatal, dying also in Baltimore a week after Batchelor.

Among the four wounded at Gettysburg was Edwin HATCH, a 24 year old fireman from Boston. He would recover from his wound, only to be captured at Cold Harbor on June 2, 1864. He spent nearly a year in captivity, being released a week before the war ended. John VARNELL, a 41 year old marble worker, recovered in the comparative luxury of a Philadelphia hospital. The fourth man, William WARNER, one of the few non-Massachusetts members of the company, was a 22 year old mariner from Connecticut. He likewise recovered and returned to duty, as did Henry WHEELOCK a 29 year old farmer.

While little is known of the actions of the company immediately after Gettysburg, no doubt they moved with the Army of the Potomac, trailing and skirmishing with Lee’s retreating army. They ultimately found themselves at a camp near Morrisville, Virginia, during August. On the 12th, they ended their floating status by officially being attached to the 20th Massachusetts Infantry. Within 2 months, they found themselves engaged in hostilities at Bristoe Station on October 14th. It was here that the sharpshooters, particularly George CURTIS, would pull off an impressive feat of arms.

Before recounting that tale, we must divert briefly to tell of the strange fate of Lt. Oscar CLEMENT. Clement, was just 22 at his enlistment. Like so many of the Andrew recruits, he was a shoemaker. Enlisting as a private, he was promoted to sergeant, and by May 30, 1863, he was commissioned a 1st lieutenant. He took command just after Gettysburg, with the departure of Captain Plummer and Emerson Bicknell. However, his fall from grace was swift, as by September 27, 1863, he was dismissed from the service, and then court martialed on October 5th. The company was then placed under the able command of newly commissioned Samuel GILBRETH. His lieutenant's rank obviously coincided with the disgrace of Lt Clement, as it was dated September, 26, 1863. Unfortunately, there are no details as to why this occurred to Clement. What ever he did to be dispatched so, it must have been serious. There is, however, a tantalizing clue to what may have caused this discussed later.

Sam GILBRETH was also an up from the ranks officer, who, along with his younger brother, John, hailed from Belfast, Maine. They both enlisted when the company was formed. Neither man would survive. John, 20 years old and a farmer, died of disease on St Patrick's Day, 1863. Samuel, 11 years his senior, and a former sailor, would become the only other officer to die in the line of duty, and one of the last from the company to fall in battle.


While at Bristoe Station, on October 14, 1863, in the face of a confederate assault, the company was instrumental in not only blunting, and then repulsing the attack, but 10 men, on the right of the main battle line of the regiment aided in the capture of numerous prisoners. When a battery of rebel artillery was abandoned, due in large part to the deadly accuracy of the sharpshooters, George CURTIS and only a handful of others, advanced and captured 2 guns, bringing them into the union lines. He is mentioned by name in the OR reports of Major Edmund Rice, commander of the 19th Mass. infantry, and Major Henry Abbott, the leader of the 20th. Abbott’s report is particularly illuminating. He states,

" The First Company of Andrew Sharpshooters, attached to this regiment, thrown out as skirmishers immediately after the enemy retired, gradually advancing at first, finally at a run, captured two pieces of a battery which the enemy had placed in front of our line, but which had been deserted except by a few skirmishers. The first man at the guns was Corpl. George CURTIS, of the same company, to whom belongs the credit of originating and effecting the capture of these two guns, the first which were taken from this battery.

Although these skirmishers suffered no loss in this attempt, I think they deserve the highest praise for the well timed audacity of a scheme which only a very brave man could have originated and been the first to execute, since the enemy's skirmishers could still be seen among the trees about the battery, and were very likely to be there in force sufficient to repel such an assault, as, in fact, they were shortly afterward. I would therefore respectfully call the attention of the colonel commanding the brigade to the conduct of the company generally, and that of Corporal CURTIS in particular."

Bowen relates that it was the sharpshooters that drove off the gunners to begin with. All these guns save one which was damaged, were eventually brought into service of the union.

The action at Bristoe Station was not without some loss, as Sergeant Nathan ELLIS, a 27 year old boot maker, and a transfer from the 25th Mass. Infantry, was wounded, as was Cyrus HATCH, a 30 year old shoemaker. Both men survived their wounds, however, and returned to the company.

The company was not yet finished for the year. In action at Mine Run on November 27 and 28, 1863, three casualties are reported. George BANCROFT, a 21 year old mason from South Danvers, was wounded as was Joseph WOOD for the second time. The other loss on the 27th was James SHEPARD, a 21 year old brakeman, who was captured. Not exchanged, Shepard remained a prisoner until March 16, 1865.

Thus closed the fighting for the year 1863. While there are no details of their specific activities after November, they remained attached to the 20th Massachusetts. The supplement to the OR records that the company was stationed at Stevensburg, Virginia from November, 1863 to April, 1864. 1864 was not going to be a quiet year, however. Still to come were The Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and the siege of Petersburg. The sharpshooters would be there.

The campaign season for the last year of service for the Andrew Sharpshooters began in April, 1864. Still attached to the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, they participated in the battles at the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania. Although little or no detail was found regarding the specifics of their service, May, 12th was obviously a day of action for them.

Although no one was listed as killed, they incurred 6 casualties that day and 1 the next. Nathaniel PENNIMAN, our 40 year old Lexington music teacher, was wounded and later discharged. Amos PLIMPTON, the 19 year old yeoman from Northbridge, was also hit, but not seriously. He was one of several men who kept on fighting with the 19th Mass. Infantry after the sharpshooters were mustered out. And, a man with the name of Theodore WILLIAMS, 19 years old and from South Boston, was wounded. This Ted WILLIAMS was captured at Harper's Ferry on July 18, 1863. He benefitted from exchange, for he was back with the company by October 15th. Under what circumstances he was taken prisoner are not known.

Four others were not so fortunate. Anselm HAMMOND, a 36 year old soldier from Cambridge, was promoted to sergeant the very day Ted Williams was captured. He was himself captured less than a year later. His captivity was not long, however, since he is shown to have mustered out with the rest of the company in early October. Henry MORSE, only 18 at enlistment, was also captured on May 12th. He survived captivity, being exchanged on March 8, 1865. His muster out date of June 12, 1865, makes him one of the longest serving member of the sharpshooters, but due of course, to extenuating circumstances. Ferdinand CROSSMAN, a 28 year old farmer, has the dubious distinction of being the only man known to have died at Andersonville. Listed as missing on May 12th, he died on August 9, 1864. It is not known if he died from wounds, or simply succumbed to disease. If wounded, it was his second. One Austin UPTON, a 35 year old shoemaker was hit on the 12th, and never heard from again. He is listed as missing with no later record found. It should be noted that an eighth casualty was recorded at Spottsylvania on May 18th in the form of Thomas SMITH, a 41 year old butcher.

In the fighting at Cold Harbor, 6 more men were lost in action. George ALLEN, a 21 year old shoemaker, was wounded on May 31st, only to die the following day. Young Benjamin McLAUGHLIN, a 22 year old farmer, lingered for 3 weeks after being shot, but died in a hospital at David's Island, N.Y. Charles WALCOTT, a 31 year old carriage painter, was wounded on May 30th, but survived, as did Albert YOUNG, a 36 year old carpenter from North Bridgewater. On June 2, 1864, Edwin HATCH, recovered from his wound at Gettysburg, was captured and imprisoned. He was not released until April 2, 1865, and his muster out date of June 25th, gives him the honor of serving the longest on the rolls of the Andrew Sharpshooters. Four days later, Alonzo BARTLETT also received his second wound. Bartlett was too tough to kill though, as he was mustered out in September.

2 weeks later, during the siege of Petersburg, the company suffered its only other officer casualty with the death in battle of Samuel GILBRETH. He had served since the dismissal of Lt. CLEMENT, the previous September, and had been slightly wounded in May. He was shot and killed on June 18th.

Gilbreth's replacement, Isaac MUDGETT, did not serve long before he too was captured at what must have been a nasty little fight at Reams Station in August, 1864. MUDGETT, a shoemaker, was just 23 when he enlisted. He was promoted to sergeant in October, 1863, and directly to captain, on July 5, 1864, after Gilbreth's death. Although captured, Mudgett was quickly paroled and exchanged, as he was back with the company, and listed as their commander at muster out in September. He even went on to serve in the 19th Mass. He had started as a 3 months man with 8th Mass. Infantry. Considering the length and depth of his service, it is little wonder he was the natural choice for command when Sam Gilbreth was killed. Three others were also lost at Reams Station that August 25th. Daniel EATON, a 21 year old shoemaker, was wounded but survived. Charles HARRINGTON, although only 18 at the time of enlistment, had been promoted to sergeant just after Gettysburg, no doubt to replace Sgt. HUTCHINS. This clerk from Boston was wounded on August 25th, and it must have been a serious wound, because he was not mustered out of service until December, 2 months after the bulk of the company was discharged. Another NCO, Corporal Charles STONE, a 21 year old tanner from Salem, was captured while serving as a teamster. Although listed as simply missing, he was an exchanged prisoner by March 10, 1865, and was mustered out with Wilderness prisoner, Henry MORSE on June 12, 1865.

The Andrew Sharpshooters had been mustered into service for three years on September 2, 1861. There is no question they served with distinction and efficiency in many of the major battles and engagements of the eastern theater of the war. As their term approached expiration, they were pulled from the line to begin the trip back to Massachusetts. They were then under the command of Captain Isaac MUDGETT, their sixth commander, only recently released from captivity. Officially mustered out on September 2, 1864, there were only 32 men listed as mustering out at that time or the following month.

While many of the men surely returned to their civilian lives, a few obviously liked the service enough to take the opportunity to join the 19th Mass. Infantry for the remainder of the war. Still others had transferred to various units. Suffice it to say that by October 1864, the Andrew Sharpshooters had passed into history.

In considering some other details of their service, undoubtedly one of the oddest stories is the sad case of a sharpshooter simply named John SMITH. He is listed in the MSSM as a 35 year old mechanic from Boston, and did not enlist with the bulk of the company. He joined in November, 1862, only to desert less than 2 months later on January 11, 1863, while at Harper’s Ferry. Apprehended near Falmouth, he was court martialed and shot on August 28, 1863 at Munsonville, VA. His case is strange and unique, in that he is not the only man to desert, and be caught. Nor did he desert in the face of the enemy or during battle. Yet, unlike any other in a similar situation, he paid the ultimate price for his deed. His name may not have been John Smith, for there was a convention of the times which substituted that name for the real one in such delicate situations, most likely to save profound embarrassment and disgrace to loved ones. Considering the timing of his execution, could this be the event which led to Lt. Oscar CLEMENT’s dismissal in September, 1863?  While we can not be sure, the execution did occur during the rather small window of his command. Further, an illegal or improper execution is the type of event which could lead to court martial. Unfortunately, the OR contains no reference to this particular case.

Mr. 'Smith' was not the only deserter. Depending on the way the roster is viewed in the MSSM, approximately 20 men deserted during the service of the sharpshooters. However, one intriguing fact emerges. The bulk of the desertions occurred on just two dates, The day of Antietam, and October 10, 1862. The one standout as a deserter was Samuel BARKER, a 22 year old sailor from Andover. He was a 3 months man with the 5th Mass., joined the sharpshooters only to desert at Antietam, and eventually enlisted under another name in the much safer environs of the Potomac Home Cavalry Brigade. It is not known what actually triggered the multiple desertions of October 10th, but coming so shortly after the Battle of Antietam, there is little wonder why.

Not all who left the sharpshooters did so to get out of the service. A few transferred to other units. Some, after being wounded, found a position with the Veteran Reserve Corps. William BLODGETT, Samuel CAMPBELL, Orrin DODGE and John HOUSTON were all mentioned previously as casualties. Each of them joined the V.R.C. after recovery. The V.R.C. also attracted men who had not been wounded. Josiah HUNT, a 28 year old farmer, was transferred to the V.R.C. in March 1864, only to be discharged due to disability 6 months later. Horace KIMBALL, a 34 year old mason left the service from the V.R.C. as did 27 year old Jerome LEAVITT, and 37 year old painter, Solomon WILDES.

Others were simply transferred. John BERKEY, a 22 year old Andover farmer, and John BROWN, after his wounding at Antietam both transferred to the engineers. James CHERNEY, a 19 year old student, was discharged in order to receive a commission in the volunteer service, while Peter GRAUS a 30 year old laborer and Louis MORRIS, a 24 year old butcher both transferred to Company B of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. It is likely they were close friends since both were from Boston. The case of George GRAY a 25 year old carpenter from Salem is interesting. There is little question he was a friend of John Saunders, since he was not only a carpenter from Salem as was Saunders, but was one of the original officers, a second lieutenant, when the company was formed. His older brother Joseph was mentioned earlier as one of the wounded at Antietam. George left the unit in 1862, and served as a captain in the 178th New York Infantry. Of the original three officers, the last, William GLEASON, a 54 year old farmer from Lexington, must have underestimated the effects of Civil War service on a middle aged man, for he resigned in April, 1862.

Then there is Stephen GOODWIN. This 22 year old shoemaker from Newburyport, also left the sharpshooters in April, 1862. However, Goodwin ended up in the 9th Massachusetts Artillery, where, at Gettysburg under the command of Captain John Bigelow, in their first engagement, he and the rest of the battery made their famous and bloody stand at the Trostle Farm, covering themselves with 19th century glory and everlasting military fame. If he left the sharpshooters to see action, he surely found it on July 2, 1863

Although mention has been made of some of the prisoners, a few comments are in order. It appears that the men captured in 1862 or 1863 fared much better than those taken later, as far as parole and exchange are concerned. While this does not hold true for officers, some enlisted men, taken after 1863, endured captivity of over a year, and a few, like Ferdinand CROSSMAN died there. Ceaser DOBBYN, a 26 year old grocer, was captured on June 20, 1863, and was quickly paroled. Comically, Albert INGALLS, a 20 year old from the big city of Boston could not even desert properly since he was captured while awol on September 23, 1862. Not surprisingly, he disappeared after his parole in November. Sgt. William PACKARD was one of the unfortunates. The 22 year old manufacturer, was captured on August 19, 1864 at Weldon Railroad. He spent the rest of the war confined, being released the following March. William RHOADES was a 28 year old butcher from Saugus, who apparently died after capture and parole in November, 1862. It is likely he was taken at Antietam, as was the elusive Mr. Ingalls.

And what of the loss to disease? Although there is some overlap with others mentioned, 12 of the 37 dead, succumbed to disease. Men like Nathan TRAVIS, a 30 year old farmer, one of the first losses to illness in October, 1861, and Edward ANDREWS, a 25 year old farmer who died in March 1862, to Walter PINGREE a 30 year old farmer who died in Washington in September, 1864, and Joseph SMART, who succumbed on October 23, 1864 while a prisoner in Salisbury N.C. Their deaths confirmed that disease took no holiday.

Which brings us to the survivors. The MSSM contains the names of less than 20 men who survived their service with the Andrew Sharpshooters unscathed from start to finish; although some interrupted their service with discharge and re-enlistment. Of one, we have a fascinating look at the man, and his character, and a brief, but intense portrait of a small part of his service.

During the war, a private soldier in the 15th Mass., Roland E. Bowen, a mill worker from Millbury in his mid 20's, and no relation to James Bowen, wrote a remarkable series of letters. These letters have been masterfully edited and presented by noted author, Gregory Coco, in his book, From Balls Bluff to Gettysburg..And Beyond. (see Resources) In one of his letters he makes reference to one of the Andrew Sharpshooters which speaks volumes not only as to the type of service they performed, but its quality. In a portion of a letter dated June 11, 1863, he writes:

"David TEMPLE is a member of the Andrew Sharp Shooters, and more commonly known as "old dave", is called the best shot in the Company. [He] is a reckless old Cuss and cares nothing for any body. He has been detailed in the Commissary Department for sometime past. Yesterday he volunteered to go over, he says "And kill a few God damned Johnnys in revenge for the death of Capt. Saunders at Antietam.["] So down he goes with two more men, gets the most advanced position he can find and proceeds to give them Hell. He bangs away all day. Both men that go with him get badly wounded. He returns at night unhurt himself and glorifying over the fact that he has caused 20 of the damned Skunks of Hell to have a reckoning with their Eternal Creator. It is my opinion that he can beat Theedie Barton in the way of Profanity"

It is intriguing to speculate whether the two wounded men are from Bowen's regiment, or are in fact Lysander MARTIN, who subsequently died, and Ferdinand CROSSMAN. Both men are indeed reported wounded at this exact time in the Supplement to the OR, and not necessarily in connection with their actions on those days supporting Sedgwick.

TEMPLE, 33, was one of six butchers to join the company. He was from Marlboro, and he, along with 44 year old Thaddeus TOWNSEND, another butcher, survived the war without a scratch. Both he and Townsend not only shared the same peace time job, but obviously possessed rare qualities which not only made them survivors, but efficient killers as well. Men like Temple would be at home on any battlefield in any war.

In stark contrast, Roland Bowen, who saw heavy service and significant combat, only thought he hit just one soldier he fired at in October, 1861, at Balls Bluff. He never spoke of seeing any other person fall who he was aiming at. Further, an OR report from the 12th Corps mentions that on just the 3rd day alone at Gettysburg, their troops fired over 270,000 rounds of ammunition. Yet in TEMPLE, we have one man, with perhaps no more than 50 to 100 shots if that, responsible for the killing or wounding of 20 men. While there is always the chance one man or both was exaggerating, I tend to take Roland Bowen, and David Temple at face value. In reading his letters, Roland Bowen does not seem the type to embellish, nor is Temple likely the sort to do so either.

There in lies much of the historical importance of the Andrew Sharpshooters, and other units like them. It must be remembered, that the tactics of the sharpshooters were generally looked down upon by the rank and file of both sides. To shoot a man from as far away as a half mile away was considered pushing the ‘fairness envelope’ to the outer limits. While these feelings probably changed when the importance and good use of sharpshooters increased, the stark efficiency of these specialized killers was something even the hide bound officers of the day had to pay attention to. One only need consider the sharpshooters most effective type of service; that of deployment to make life deadly for confederate artillerists, to grasp their immediate military value. In that, John SAUNDERS was a master of organization and a visionary thinker.

While the idea for the sharpshooters belonged to a previous century and the Revolutionary War, their organization, use and service was refined in the American Civil War. Naturally, the development of surprisingly good and effective telescopic sights did much to speed this refinement for both sides. The legacy of elite units like the Andrew Sharpshooters is the small sniper team employed on battlefields and elsewhere with deadly efficiency throughout 20th Century warfare. Today, even the cover of darkness provides no safety to one skilled man with a special rifle a thousand yards away.

While their overall record of service is not easy to find, once uncovered, it is a record these men could feel justly proud of. Of course, this record is really nothing more than the record of the men who served. It is hoped you have enjoyed meeting them, and considering their unique place in the annals of the American Civil War.

15th MVI