Aug 3

Colonel Hiram Berdan, in civilian clothes takes a shot at a target nicknamed “Jeff Davis” at the camp of the Berdan Sharpshooters in Weehawken, New Jersey. Notice how he is using a telescopic scope at this target that was 200 yards away. This image was produced for Harpers Weekly in their issue of August 24, 1861.

Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips is our host for a series on the 2nd United States Sharpshooters. Gar is a retired police officer from Columbus, Ohio (25 years on the force), and has been a Licensed Battlefield Guide since 2006. He still lives in Ohio. Gar’s first visit to Gettysburg was 25 years ago and he was “hooked.” He had to come back every year on what his wife called Gar’s “Annual Mecca to Gettysburg.”

To email Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips, click here to reveal his email address.

In our first post, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips introduces us to the series on the 2nd United States Sharpshooters and shows where they were first deployed at Gettysburg.

In today’s post, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips provides some background of the qualifications to be a sharpshooter and shows us their targets (10 inches in diameter) at 100 yards and 200 yards.

This map shows the location of where our United States Sharpshooters videos were produced. Videos #1-#3 were shown in our previous Sharpshooter post. Videos #4 and #6 were taken at the monument to Companies E and H of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters in Slyder Lane. Video #5 was taken in the Slyder Lane near the John Slyder farm buildings. This map was created facing north at approximately 7:00 AM on Saturday, July 30, 2011.

Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips is the host for our program on Berdan’s Sharpshooters. He is standing by the monument to Companies E and H of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters, who were from Vermont. One of the buildings of the John Slyder Farm is in the left background. In the right background are trees along Seminary Ridge/Warfield Ridge. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

In Video #4 (Videos #1-#3 were shown in our previous post, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips is by the monument to some Vermont members of Berdan’s 2nd United States Sharpshooters. He provides some information about Hiram Berdan. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.
Colonel Hiram Berdan (1824-1893) was a mechanical engineer, an inventor, and a well known marksman. He recruited eighteen companies from eight states, which became the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters. This image was taken circa the 1860s and is courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This image is titled “Sharpshooting- Trial of Skill of Berdan Riflemen Before General McClellan and Staff at Washington, September 20th 1861. This image was produced for the October 5, 1861 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips is standing by a tree to which a target was expertly attached. The buildings in the left background are part of the Michael Bushman Farm. The trees above the building are on Seminary Ridge/Warfield Ridge. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

The target is 10 inches in diameter, which was the size of the target that the individuals used to qualify to become a sharpshooter. Their target would have had a “bulls-eye” and the rest of it would have been white, not the numbers and the black color on this pistol target that Gar provided. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

In Video #5 Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips is standing in the Slyder Lane. He shows us the distance of 100 yards to the target and 200 yards to the target. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

We are walking down the Slyder Lane to see where 100 yards would be from the target. The dark green treeline is on top of Seminary Ridge/Warfield Ridge. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

Being the detailed people that we are, we used Gar’s 50 foot measuring tape to measure out the 200 yards. Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Bobby Housch is closest to the camera. Gar Phillips is marking the distance 50 feet away. The buildings in the background are to the John Slyder Farm. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

Gar Phillips, thinking he can confidently hit the target from this distance is now standing at the 100 yard mark. The target on the tree in the distance is to the left of the Slyder Lane and to the right of the fence. Although recruitment posters and advertisements for Berdan’s Sharpshooters stressed that someone had to hit a target at 200 yards (some of the advertisements stated with open sights), when the soldiers came for the trials they had a choice. As Roy Marcot stated in his book, U.S. Sharpshooters, Berdan’s Civil War Elite: “At the trials, each man was free to use any rifle with telescopic or target globe sights while firing at 200 yards. The shooter could stand at 100 yards, if he fired a gun with open sights” (page 44). This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

Licensed Battlefield Guide Gar Phillips, a little less confidently, is now standing at the 200 yard mark. The target on the tree in the distance is to the left of the Slyder Lane and to the right of the fence. As Roy Marcot stated in his book, U.S. Sharpshooters, Berdan’s Civil War Elite: “He could fire at rest, supporting his rifle on any object he chose, as long as the butt was in contact with the shooter’s shoulder.” (page 44). The monument to Companies E and H of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters is on the left. The Berdan Sharpshooter’s green-colored Port-O-Potty is on the right. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

The Colt Revolving Rifle Model 1855 (this is actually the carbine) was the first weapon issued to Berdan’s Sharpshooters. There were some drawbacks to its use, however. The principal problem was that gunpowder would sometimes leak from its paper cartridges in field conditions, and lodge in various recesses around the firing cylinder. Hot gas leaked from the gap between the firing cylinder and the barrel would ignite this powder, which would in turn, ignite all of the powder in the chambers waiting to be fired. This would not be the weapon of choice for Berdan’s Sharpshooters for very long. This image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gar Phillips is back at the monument to Companies E and H of the Second United States Sharpshooters. It was erected in 1889. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

In Video #6 Gar Phillips is standing by the monument to Companies E and H of the Second United States Sharpshooters. He explains how Hiram Berdan was able to get Sharps Rifles for his men. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

A closer view of the weapons on the monument to Companies E and H of the Second United States Sharpshooters. This image was taken facing northwest at approximately 5:00 PM on Thursday, July 28, 2011.
This is a drawing of the “Jeff Davis” target at which Hiram Berdan was aiming in Weehawken, New Jersey. To the left of the target is a drawing of a target rifle with a scope. This image was produced for Harpers Weekly in their issue of August 24, 1861.

The Sharps Rifle Model 1859 was the weapon of choice for Berdan’s Sharpshooters. This breech loading weapon was manufactured by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. This image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A short, easy to read book on Berdan’s Sharpshooters is Roy M. Marcot’s U. S. Sharpshooters: Berdan’s Civil War Elite from Stackpole Books.

To see other posts by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, click here.


About Us  •  Support  •  Archives  •  Subscribe  •  Creative Commons License