Western Sharpshooters, 66th Illinois, Co. D

Reenactors portraying the Civil War sharpshooters and skirmish companies that were armed with state of the art target and repeating rifles.

Our Impressions

Listed below are some of the units that we portray followed with a brief description of them, a snapshot of their campaigns and their weapons.

  • 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry (Wilder's Lightning Brigade)
  • Birge's Western Sharpshooters (66th Illinois Volunteer Infantry)
  • 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry
  • Holman's Battalion of Sharpshooters (26th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Co A)
  • 65th Indiana Volunteer Infantry
  • Berdan's 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters

 

17th Indiana Mounted Infantry               Wilder's Lightning Brigade (Dismounted)

     The 17th Indiana was one of the four original regiments that made up Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. The brigade consisted of the 17th and 72nd Indiana and the 98th and 123rd Illinois. Wilders "Hell Hounds", as characterized by Nathan Bedford Forrest, brought notoriety to Spencer’s seven shot repeating rifle, though Wilder's initial choice was the Henry rifle.

     The 17th was mounted and received their Spencers in the late winter and early spring of 1863 respectively. Though the vast majority of the brigade was armed with Spencers, the brigade's scout platoon; led by Sgt. William Birney of the 17th, was armed with Henry repeating rifles. They first used their Henrys during the Tullahoma Campaign and were in the vanguard at Hoover’s Gap. The 17th's repeaters, whether Spencers or Henrys, were purchased at the soldiers own expense.

     Several of our members have acquired Spencer rifles which allow our unit to accurately portray both of the repeating arms carried by Wilder’s Hoosiers and Suckers.

     Read the research article about "Wilder's Hell Hounds" and their Henry rifles under the Henry & Spencer Research tab.

 

 Tom Wojcinski, Todd Koster and Steve Rossio

as 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry, Wilder's Brigade, Chickamauga 150th, 2013

 

Zach Bishop, Todd Koster and Noah Bishop at Chickamauga 150th

 as the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry "Wilder's Scouts"

 

Birge's Western Sharpshooters                                        66th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

     Mustered in on November 23, 1861 at Benton Barracks, Missouri, "Birge's Western Sharpshooters" was under the patronage and special favor of General John Freemont, who intended to make of it a model sharpshooting regiment, and one that would represent the whole West. With this view, recruiting officers were appointed in nearly all the Western states, to recruit for Birge's Sharpshooters.

     Six companies were raised in Illinois and Missouri, three each. The balance of the regiment came from Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Thus forming a regiment different from any other in this, that it represented every state in the West. Commenced under the most favorable auspices, it would have been, before taking the field, a large and splendidly equipped organization, had not Fremont been superseded in command of the department. His pet scheme of a complete regiment of sharpshooters was partly squelched by General Halleck, who stopped all recruiting for it and hurried it into the field, before it was thoroughly equipped and organized, with nine companies, which was below the minimum required for a regimental organization.

     In February of 1862, the sharpshooters were first shipped by railroad to St. Louis and then by steamboat to Fort Henry, where they eventually arrived on the 9th, too late to take part in the action. As they passed through St. Louis, Maj. Gen. Halleck ordered Company A, Captain John Welker's Company, stripped out of the regiment and reassigned as Company B of the newly forming 26th Missouri Volunteer Infantry,  temporarily reducing the regiment to nine companies. Welker's company had previously been Company B of Holman's Battalion of Sharpshooters. However, some of the men and arms of Welker's Company did return to the WSS within a few months. That spring the WSS were also designated the Western Sharpshooters-14th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, but this was short lived as Illinois' Governor Yates had petitioned to have them re-designated as the 66th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (Western Sharpshooters), which took affect on November 20, 1862.

     The WSS were initially armed with Dimick Target rifles and had to place a three shot group not to exceed 3 1/3" at 200 yards with open sights, in order to gain acceptance. Along with their Dimick, they were given a matching bullet mold, a bearskin covered  bullet pouch, waist belt, cap pouch and either a powder horn or flask. They wore the standard blue coats, a gray sugar-loaf felt hat; adorned with squirrel tails, and gray pants. As the war progressed the hats were replaced by more practical styles and the pants became the standard sky blue. Running around as skirmishers between the armies and wearing gray was not a sound practice for the WSS.

(Todd Koster-left, Steve Rossio-right; as WSS Twin Rivers Campaign 2010)

   In April of 1863, while stationed at Camp Davies, Mississippi, the sharpshooters received $52, four months of owed wages. The next month 42 Henry rifles were purchases at a cost of $40 each. Worn out Dimicks continued to be replaced by both brass and iron frame Henrys for the next six months. As of November 1, 1863, the time the WSS left Camp Davies, over half of them were armed with Henry rifles. As they marched eastward, there is no doubt that their Dimicks and Henrys would be put to good work in the upcoming Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea.

 

7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

     These men of the "Sucker State", were first mustered in as a three month and later as a three year regiment on April 25 and July 25, 1861, respectively. Though they were designated the 7th Illinois, they were actually the first regiment of Illinois troops to be organized for service in the Civil War. The regimental designations 1st through 6th had already been garnered by the troops from Illinois that fought in the Mexican War.

     The 7th fought in the campaigns of the Army of the Tennessee and found  themselves garrisoned in the Corinth, Mississippi area for much of 1862.  They were brigaded with  and in garrison with other future Henry and Spencer rifle armed regiments, such as the Western Sharpshooters (66th Illinois Infantry) and the 9th Illinois (Mounted) Infantry along with the unattached Yates' Illinois Sharpshooters (64th Illinois Infantry). They veteranized on December 22, 1863, were sent to Illinois for their furlough and returned to the field in February of 1864 when they served as mounted infantry until the following June, when half were dismounted. The 7th was now shipped east for the Atlanta Campaign and rejoined the 66th Illinois, in the second Division of the XVI Army Corps.

     A veteran bonus of $400 was awarded to each man of the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, as with all regiments that re-enlisted as veterans. Many of the 7th took the initiative and used it to privately purchase a Henry rifle. Captain John Alexander Smith, of Company E, secured a personal leave of absence in the hopes of purchasing the "sixteen- shooters" for the men of his regiment. He learned that 500 of them had been shipped to Chicago where he purchased them for $52.50 per rifle and had them shipped south. The Henrys arrived at the camp of the 7th, just in time, and a few days prior to the October 4 and 5 Battle of Allatoona Pass, where they did good service.

(Todd Koster-left, Andrew Bresnan-right; as 7th Illinois with "newly arrived" Henry rifles 2009)

     The 7th and their Henrys continued to fight and march with the Army of the Tennessee through the remainder of the Atlanta campaign and into the Carolinas. Though they never were designated as a sharpshooter regiment or even possessed a company as such, they served as some of Sherman's "shock troops" and became one of the most renown Henry armed regiments of the war. At the Grand Review on May 24th, General Sherman turned to his wife and said, "There are the Seventh Illinois and the sixteen-shooters that helped save my army in the great battle on the Allatoona Hills."

(Portraying the 7th Illinois Infantry at Bentonville 2010)    

 

Holman's Battalion of Sharpshooters                 26th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Company A

     In August and September of 1861, Holman's Battalion of Sharpshooters started with 30 men, their Sharps rifles and an endorsement from then a little known Midwestern Brig. General Grant. Holman's command grew to three companies and requisitioned 100 Sharps rifles. They were mustered in on September 19, 1861 and disbanded on December 31 of that year. They in turn were re-mustered as the 26th Missouri Volunteer Infantry which was organized from recruits across the state of Missouri, under Special Orders No. 14, December 31, 1861. It was mustered in for three years of service under the command of Colonel George B. Boomer and immediately joined General Pope's expedition against New Madrid. The regiment was attached to the Department of the Missouri in February 1862.

     Birge's men, of Welker's Company, were sworn in as Company B of Major John H. Holman's Battalion of Sharpshooters. Major Holman, who was also the commander of Company A, was the "battalion's" Major. This gave Holman command authority over Welker who had previously been his his co-equal. It also gave Holman a free company of picked men, and their Dimick rifles. This arrangement fell apart shortly afterward when Fremont was relieved and Brigadier General Samuel Curtis took his command. Some of the men and arms of Welker's company were returned to the WSS, but Welker continued on as the captain of Company B in the 26th Missouri and Company A  played a valuable role as the sharpshooters/skirmishers for the 26th.

     On October 4, 1862, Lt. Colonel Holman, now commanding the 26th Missouri, made good use of his "Sharps rifle skirmishing company", that was held in reserve at the Battle of Corinth. He used them to halt and then rout a rebel flanking attack; that threatened to overrun his command and a battery. Lt. Col. Holman later reported that "they went to their work with such alacrity and precision as to completely rout the enemy". The 26th reported 70 Sharps rifles in their December 1862 ordnance report.

 

65th Indiana Infantry, Company A

     This regiment was organized at Princeton in the summer of 1862. From it's earliest beginnings it served in Kentucky and was tasked with chasing pro-confederate guerrilla forces. The regiment was mounted in April of 1863 to facilitate it's anti-guerilla ajenda and joined Graham's cavalry brigade. They fought alongside an early Henry rifle armed unit, Wilson's 12th Kentucky Cavalry. 

     The 65th served in the Knoxville campaign and took part in capture of the city. The regiment was dismounted in April of 1864 and assigned to the XXIII corps, joining Sherman's army for the Atlanta campaign on April 30. It was engaged in all the battles and skirmishes of that campaign, commencing at Resaca; until it joined in the pursuit of Hood into Alabama and Tennessee.

     November 30th, 1864, found the 65th Indiana in Franklin, Tennessee; placed behind a set of earthen breastworks and a screen of an osage orange hedge, east of the Carter's cotton gin. They were in a large part armed with the Henry rifle and used them with great proficiency against the men of Quarles' brigade, who were struggling to remove the makeshift abitis from their front. Two views from the opposing sides described the 65th's Henrys in action as such.....

     "There was nothing but death for anybody that came in front of them."   

     Tillman Stevens, 65th Indiana, Casement's Brigade

     "It was far the most deadly fire of both small arms and artillery that I have ever seen troops subjected to."

     Maj. Gen. Edward Walthall, Stewart's Corps, Army of Tennessee

     With its service completed in Tennessee, the 65th left for Alexandria, Virginia, in January of 1865 and then onto Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina. It bore the brunt of the attack on Fort Anderson, and was conspicuous in the skirmish at Town creek. It then moved to Greensboro, where it was mustered out June 22, 1865

Berdan's 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters

     More than enough has been written about the USSS. We have done this impression in the past, when we go out east. Many of our members have the proper uniform to do so.