|1st Sharpshooters South Carolina Volunteers|
1st Company Sharpshooters South Carolina Volunteers
Image by Wm. Dunniway & Co.
The sharpshooters of McGowan's Brigade of South Carolinians were initially formed as a provisional unit sometime in January of 1863, under the command of Captain William T. Haskell.
Young, active men, with proven marksmanship, intelligence, unfaltering courage and fidelity to the southern cause were hand picked from every company in the brigade and formed into three companies of approximately forty men each. These companies were designated, First Company, Second Company, and Third Company, which comprised the battalion of sharpshooters for McGowan's Brigade.
First Company, along with the other companies of the battalion, was originally designed to be used as pickets and skirmishers when it was determined that aimed fire from long range was extremely effective against Union pickets, officers, and artillerymen. It was soon discovered that these volunteers could be utilized in other areas as well, such as scouts and spies, and using their stealth, were very successful in capturing prisoners for interrogation.
The sharpshooters were always deployed on the flank and in the front of the army when it was on the march to protect it from surprise. in a general engagement, being a highly mobile unit, the sharpshooters could move rapidly to where accurate, devastating rifle fire was needed, such as a breach in the battle line or to initiate or repulse a flanking movement.
First Company, either working independently, or with the sharpshooter battalion, participated in every major engagement fought by the Army of Northern Virginia from 1863 to 1865, including the tragedy of Gettysburg, where they covered the withdrawal of Lee's army back into Virginia. The success of the sharpshooters earned them the distinction of "Lee's Sharpshooters" and they were used extensively as the eyes and ears of the Army of Northern Virginia for the remainder of the war.
The sharpshooters were initially issued three banded Enfield rifles, imported from England. However, the Whitworth and Kerr rifles, also imported from England and prized for their long range and accuracy, were issued to the very best marksmen in each company, which was determined by competition. These men, working independently, would roam the battlefront looking for targets of opportunity.
Tactics developed by the sharpshooters during the Civil War are still being employed today in our modern army by snipers and Special Forces units.
Unit Commander: Captain John Lee
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