Hiram Berdan Recruits His Sharpshooters

18 01 2018
Hiram Berdan sharpshooter

Colonel Hiram Berdan from this site

While skimming though one of the newspapers from which nearly all the soldier accounts archived on this site are gleaned, I came across this little bit regarding the recruitment (actually, the recruits in this case are applicants, so this is more like interviewing or auditioning than recruiting) of Col. Hiram Berdan’s famous sharpshooter regiment. I thought many of you might find it interesting, as did the Yates County Chronicle on 8/1/1861. I was unaware of the proposed winter grays, and got a kick out of Hiram going all Quigley Down Under on the whining applicants.

From the New York Herald.

Berdan’s Regiment of Sharpshooters — Interesting Examination of Applicants at Weehawken. – This corps of riflemen was some time since accepted by the government, and in the interval the selection of the men has proceeded with considerable activity. Col. Berdan, who is one of the best, if not the best, marksman in the United States, has restricted the qualifications for joining to the following terms: The candidate (who is allowed to use his own rifle), before being enrolled, is tested as to his skill, and required to shoot with precision enough to put ten consecutive balls within and average distance of five inches from the center of a target, placed at the distance of six hundred feet. The range of each shot is measured from the center point of the target to the center of the bullet hole, and the sum total of these distances must not exceed fifty inches. This precision is imperatively required, and no person is accepted into the regiment who cannot fulfil all that is set forth above. Upon this point Col. Berdan is decided, and an excess of even a small fraction of an inch beyond the limits prescribed, disqualifies the applicant. The regiment is being recruited from all the States, and will number about 1,500. The Governor of each State is charged with the selection and enrollment of the men, but in Missouri, where the gubernatorial department is rather in confusion, Frank Blair is to raise and command the quota of that State. — The number so far recruited in New York State does not exceed seventy, very few of whom are from our city. An agent is stationed at Albany for the examination of candidates there, and Colonel Berdan’s Secretary, Mr. J. Smith Brown, is the agent in New York. His targets and grounds are located on the heights back of Weehawken, where, for a few days past, the examination of candidates has been going on. Yesterday some twenty five or thirty Swiss riflemen from the city and vicinity proceeded to the ground and tried their skill. Many of them have already seen active service in the Alps, at the Crimea, and in the last Italian campaign; but whether on account of their disuse of firearms while engaged in business in New York, or other reasons, their marksmanship did not come up to the required standard. The shooting of course was excellent and seldom equaled; but as the Colonel exacts the very creme de la creme of skill, no one of them had the confidence enough in his abilities to submit to the rigid test. The weapons used were generally of exquisite workmanship, and may of them were the regulation Swiss ordnance rifle. Many complaints have been made that the requirements are too strict, and that such precise shooting could not be made by the Colonel himself. To stop these grumblers, Colonel Berdan, while on the ground Monday afternoon, leisurely took up the rifle and put ten balls in the target, at a total distance of eleven and a half inches from the center, or at an average distance of one inch and a half for each ball. Col. Berdan is at present in New York. He has telegraphed to Secretary Cameron for a mustering officer, and as soon as a reply is received the regiment will be rendezvoused at Weehawken, preparatory to their departure for the seat of war. The drill will not be according to the usual manual, inasmuch as the men are intended to deploy in small squads in the field of battle and manoeuvere at will in picking off commanders, officers and artillerists of the enemy. A code of signals will be adopted among the men to warn each other of the approach of the cavalry – the only effective branch of the service in cutting up riflemen. The men will also be drilled to load and fire in lying, sitting and other postures, and to make their weapons effective if possible at a range of five hundred to one thousand yards. The uniform will be green throughout for summer and gray for winter, without any appendages or brass buttons or plates that might serve to make the men targets. — The uniforms are intended to so assimulate to the colors of nature as to render the men almost indiscernable to the enemy, thus permitting them without any extra risk to themselves to approach and pick off their foes. Col. Berdan is devising a model for an improved rifle which, when manufactured, will be supplied to those of the regiment preferring them to their own private arms. It is expected that the men will be encamped at Weehawken in the beginning of next week.

Yates County Chronicle, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy


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