Sharpshooters: Ad-Hoc Duty at Petersburg (1864)

Most Civil War soldiers volunteered for federal service.  However, a few were draftees or substitutes (paid replacements for men drafted).  Regardless of how they entered service, all Union soldiers left a paper trail.  Compiled Military Service Records, often requested from the National Archives, include a synopsis of an individual’s stint in the Old Army.  Compiled Military Service Records usually list the dates the soldier was present for duty and provided general pay, death, hospitalization dates, and death or discharge dates.  However, much of the day-to-day or provisional duties performed by the soldier are often omitted from compiled service records.   

While completing a request for information from records generated by the U.S. 10th Army Corps, we came across General Order 14 assigning over 100 men for temporary duty.  Short-term duty assignments were common in the Old Army.  However, Order 14 is unique in that it formed a provisional unit of sharpshooters near Petersburg, Virginia. 

10th Army Corps (South Carolina to Pertserburg)

Organized in September 1862, the 10th Army Corps served mostly in South Carolina before joining the Army of the James in the winter of 1864.  In late May 1864 portions of the Corps were transferred to support the Army of the Potomac in Virginia.  The order, forming the ad-hoc sharpshooter detachment, came shortly after the 10th Corps arrived on the Petersburg front in June 1864.  

According to a history of the 48th New York Infantry (assigned to the 2nd Division, 10th Corps), “[o]n June 23d we finally reached the position in the forti­fications in front of Petersburg which we were destined to occupy for weeks; that position was in the immediate neighborhood of the Jerusalem Plank Road, and just to the left of where the fortifications crossed it. We were immediately on the right of Burnside’s Ninth Corps.  We were now confronted by Lee’s entire army, behind formidable lines of redans, redoubts, and infantry parapets, with skillfully contrived outer defences [sic] of abatis, stakes, and chevaux de-frise.”

Union troops often positioned themselves within yards of the fortified Confederates around Petersburg.  The proximity resulted in heavy casualties, especially from marksmen, inflicted upon Union soldiers.  The conditions prompted senior commanders to organize provisional units of marksmen to counter the Confederates.  Consequently, “[a] detail of sharp-shooters was made from the 97th P. V. [Pennsylvania Volunteers and other units in the 10th Corps] on June 27, the best marksmen of each company being selected for this arduous and dangerous service.”  Because they served under the 18th Corps, the sharpshooters were often referred to as belonging to that organization.

Three Historic photos of the fortifications & trenches outside Petersburg, Viginia, 1864 where sharpshooters fought. Images from page 542 of "The Civil War through the camera : hundreds of vivid photographs actually taken in Civil War times, together with Elson's new history" (1912)
In 1864, 10th Corps and Confederate troops fought in close proximity near Petersburg.  These images illustrate some of the fortifications near the city. Photos taken by Henry William Elson and Mathew Brady.
“The following…are hereby organized as Sharpshooters…”
1st Sergeant Herman Sixby, 112th New York Infantry and provisional 10th Corps sharpshooter, circa 1863. oldarmyrecords.com
Three veteran officers commanded the 10th Corps provisional sharpshooters. They included 1st Lieutenant Herman Sixby (112th New York Infantry) shown here as a 1st Sergeant. Photo courtesy of the Chautauqua County Historical Society, Westfield, NY.

General Order 14, issued by the 2nd Division, 10th Corps on June 27, 1864, lists 114 officers and enlisted men for duty as sharpshooters.  Captain True Sanborn, Jr. (4th New Hampshire Infantry) commanded the provisional unit.  Lieutenants Herman Sixby (112th New York Infantry) and John W. Filkins (115th New York Infantry) assisted Sanford.   Sanborn served as an officer with the 4th New Hampshire since 1861.  Sixby and Filkins both attained commissions after stints as enlisted men.  Sixby, for example, mustered in as a sergeant in Company E, 112th New York Infantry in August 1862.  Promotions to first sergeant and first lieutenant occurred by early 1863. 

Eight noncommissioned officers (NCO), four sergeants and four corporals, assisted Sanborn, Sixby, and Filkins.  The NCOs represented eight different regiments.  Jack Sheppard, from Company K, 117th New York Infantry, served as senior sergeant.  Sheppard enlisted in Remsen, New York in August 1862.  He served as sergeant since June 20, 1863.  Fittingly, he listed his civilian profession as hunter. 

Diverse Background of Privates

The 103 privates detailed as ad-hoc sharpshooters represented 13 different infantry regiments:

13th Indiana                                        112th New York

9th Maine                                            115th New York

4th New Hampshire                          117th New York

3rd New York                                      142nd New York

47th New York                                    169th New York

48th New York                                    76th Pennsylvania

                                    97th Pennsylvania

Just as importantly, the enlisted represented a wide-range of backgrounds.  For instance, Isaac Pawling (or Pauling) enlisted as a 21-year old blacksmith in August 1861.  Alfred Young was a 22-year old former printer from Chelsea, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  Significantly, his captain considered him a “brave, faithful and fearless soldier.”  Private George J. Switzer entered service in October 1863 as a draftee. 

Service Without Fanfare

The 10th Corps sharpshooters did not wait long before getting into action.  On June 30, 1864 the ad-hoc unit formed a critical component of an assault on Confederate positions, which yielded few gains.  One of the rare official instances that mentioned 10th Corps sharpshooters occurred in July 1864.  Brigadier General John W. Turner stated that “[d]uring the night of the 29th Colonel Bell [4th New Hampshire Infantry] dislodged the enemy’s pickets in a point of timber some 100 yards in front…and secured a position for forty sharpshooters, which partly enfiladed and with considerable command over the enemy’s line.  These men did good execution during the following day” (emphasis added by me).  

Unfortunately, available records fail to provide the complete operational history of the 10th Corps provisional sharpshooters.  Significantly, several of the histories of the regiments, from which the sharpshooters served, offer little narrative on their activities.  However, we know that several of the soldiers littered the casualty rolls shortly after being detailed as marksmen.

Temporary Yet Deadly Duty

Lieutenant Sixby, for example, received wounds on July 30th while engaged outside Petersburg causing him to resign early in 1865.  Former carpenter Robert M. Williams joined the 117th New York Infantry shortly after the war began.  Unfortunately, Williams received serious wounds about a month after being detailed as a sharpshooter.  He died, as a result of the wounds, in August 1864.  Additionally, privates Charles D. Hall (4th New Hampshire, killed in action July 2nd) and Alonzo Harrington (117th New York killed in action July 17th) did not survive the war.

Privates Charles Sauer and George A. Houghtaling, both detailed from the 115th New York Infantry, survived the war, but counted as casualties in late July 1864 at the Battle of Deep Bottom.  Sauer, from Company E, received two wounds while Confederates captured Houghtaling.

Sharpshooters 18th Corps. oldarmyrecords.com
An 1864 drawing by Alfred R. Waud depicting “Sharpshooters on the 18th Corps Front” outside Petersburg.   However, the 10th Corps served under the 18th Corps. Are these figures actually men from the 10th Corps detailed by General Order No. 14? Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Important Information Missing From Most Compiled Military Service Records

The military service for Civil War soldiers included a wide-array of duty.  However, Compiled Military Service Records often omit important assignments, such as messengers, clerks, aides, and even sharpshooters.  Are you getting the complete military service history of a 19th century soldier?  We can help!  Contact us for more information.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Chautauqua County Historical Society, Westfield, NY, and especially Shari Gollnitz permitting Old Army Records to publish the photograph of Herman Sixby.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
10th Army Corps, General Orders and Circulars (2/1864-7/1865)

Published Sources (in Old Army Records digital library)

The History of the Forty-Eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers, in the War for the Union, 1861-1865 (1885)

History of the Ninety-Seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry During the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (1875)

A History of the One Hundred and Seventeenth Regiment, N.Y. Volunteers, (Fourth Oneida,) from the Data of its Organization, August, 1862 Till That of its Muster Out, June, 1865 (1866)

The Iron Hearted Regiment:  Being an Account of the Battle, Marches and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th Regiment N.Y. Vols. (1865)

Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-5 (Fox 1889)

Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866 (1895)

Government Documents
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  Series 1, Volumes 40 and 42.

Other Sources

Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Year 1903 (Serial No. 34)

Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Year 1903 (Serial No. 35)