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.
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.
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.


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


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)

Old Army Duty: Officer of the Day

As previously discussed, the military service record of 19th century U.S. Army officers included duty on various ad hoc panels.  Duty included temporary appointments to boards of survey and councils of administration.  Besides the daily administration and training soldiers, for junior officers no other duty was as frequent as officer of the day.  The position required the officer to serve as the on-call commander of a camp or military installation for a 24-hour period.  Although temporary, the position of officer of the day held great responsibility.

Unidentified soldier in Union Captain uniform with crimson sash denoting Officer of the Day holding cavalry saber.
A crimson sash, worn over the right shoulder, denoted an officer of the day. This unidentified captain wears the sash during the Civil War. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The adjutant of each station maintained a roster of available officers and established the rotation schedule for the temporary position.  Those serving in the position wore a crimson sash.  According to the Army Regulations (1863) the sash was “worn across the body, scarf fashion, from the right shoulder to the left side, instead of around the waist, tying behind the left hip as prescribed.”

“The Officer of the Day has charge of the camp or garrison…”

Kautz (1868) outlined the specific responsibilities of an officer of the day.  The officer detailed “…receives his orders and instructions from the Commanding Officer, and transmits them to his subordinates.  All the guards of the camp or post are under his general direction; all the police parties and fatigue parties, when on duty, within the line of the guards, and often fatigue parties sent beyond the lines receives their orders from the Officer of the Day.”  The 1834 edition of army regulations stated that “[n]o other officer except a general officer will interfere with or give any order on the parade to the staff officer on duty there.”  However, the officer of the day reported all significant events/ actions directly to the commanding officer of the installation.

In addition, the officer of the day ensured that the camp or garrison remained clean, exercised control of prisoners in the guardhouse, and had the discretion to detain or release prisoners.  Not surprisingly, some prisoners took exception to directives issued by the officers.  For instance, on June 23, 1868, 1st Lieutenant Theodore Kendall, 33rd Infantry, while serving as officer of the day at McPherson Barracks near Atlanta, Georgia, ordered a prisoner, Private Thomas McDonough (Company I, 16th Infantry) to “carry a log”.  Taking offense McDonough refused the order and physically and verbally assaulted the officer.  A general court martial panel found McDonough guilty of the crimes and imposed several punishments, including a 15-month incarceration in the Dry Tortugas.

In times of war, when larger military units were constituted, field officers of the day were also detailed.  Brigade (compromised of 2 or more regiments) adjutants maintained rosters of officers with the rank of captain to colonel to fulfill the responsibilities referenced above.

Officer of the day rosters.
Post adjutants maintained rosters of officers available for duty as officer of the day. Similar rosters were kept at the brigade level for field officer of the day. The top example was maintained at Fort Assinniboine, Montana (1893). The bottom roster dates to September 1863 for the Department of Missouri, Army of the Frontier. 1st Division. 1st Brigade.

Posting and Checking Guards

An officer of the day’s tour began at the daily guard mount which typically occurred in the morning.  The new officer of the day held a prominent position in front, and slightly off-center from the guard; the outgoing officer stood directly in front of the guard.  Perhaps the most important responsibility of the 24-hour job was ensuring that the guard was all present, outfitted, and properly posted.  To that end, the officer visited the guard posts, referred to as grand rounds, frequently during the day and at least once after midnight when arguably, the command was most susceptible to attack.  Proactive security measures required the officer of the day to issue daily code words (countersigns and paroles) to the guards.

The military service record of an Old Army officer included various duties, many performed simultaneously.  An 1867 diary entry by Captain Tenodor Ten Eyck typifies those various tasks performed in a day.  Ten Eyck attended guard mount at 9 a.m. as officer of the day on May 7th.  He then served as the president of a general court martial, trying two cases, before attending to company paperwork.  Before turning in for the night, Ten Eyck made his grand rounds at 12:30 a.m. on May 8th.

Photo of Pennsylvania, 114th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Guard Mount, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, reviewed by Officers of the Day.
Guard mount of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, ca. 1863. The outgoing officer the day (officer wearing the sash with his back turned on the right of center) stands next to his counterpart assuming the duty.

The Cost of being Inattentive

Inattention to guard duty was, for good reason, a very serious military crime punishable by death.  Not surprisingly, most infractions on guard duty occurred at night.  For that reason, officers of the day visited guard posts at least once at night and more frequently in times of hostilities.   Officers tending to the nightly grand rounds often found sentinels sleeping.  Court martial records from the 19th century contain frequent reference to those offenses.  For instance, in May 1870, 4th Cavalry private James Devine was posted as a guard at the post guardhouse in San Antonio, Texas.  The officer of the day discovered Devine sleeping in a chair between 3 and 4 a.m.  The respite cost the private $84 from his monthly pay and confinement at hard labor for six months.

Failure by an officer of the day to visit guards or pickets in the night was just as serious.  The case of Captain Henry Hase, 103rd New York Infantry, illustrates the point.  Hase joined the 103rd New York Infantry in 1861 as a sergeant and rose through the ranks.  On March 8, 1864, Hase, serving as field officer of the day, failed to obey written instructions to visit the brigade picket line on Folly River, South Carolina between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m.  The transgression found Hase defending against two charges (neglect of duty and disobedience of orders) at a general court martial.  The court panel found Hase guilty and abruptly dismissed him from the army; a permanent blemish to his military service record.

Although mundane, officer of the day assignments were critical in the 19th century U.S. Army.  As shown above, the duty factored into the service of officers and enlisted men.  Old Army Records continues to identify these details to complete the military service history of the soldiers who served during the period.  Check back in two weeks for an overview of duty affecting both officers and enlisted men:  countersigns and paroles.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or comments. 


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
General Court Martial Orders, Department of the South
General Court Martial Orders, Department of Texas
Lists Relating to Safeguards, Details, and Other Matters, Department of Missouri, Army of the Frontier, 1st Division, 1st Brigade
Rosters of Officers and Organizations, Fort Assinniboine (1893), Fort Assinniboine Records, Box 6, Folder 11, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives, Helena, Montana

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1834)
Revised U.S. Army Regulations (1863)

Published Source
Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1868)

Unpublished Source
Tenodor Ten Eyck Diaries (1860-1871), Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries, Tucson.  Digital copies in the possession of Kevin O’Dell.