Sniping, or sharpshooting, was a recognized psychological weapon at the outset of the Civil War. Champion marksman Hiram C. Berdan of New York, authorized to raise a regiment of sharpshooters for Federal service, began recruiting competitions in the summer of 1861. Qualified recruits had to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle at 200 yards, firing any rifle they chose from any position they preferred. In this way Berdan organized companies in New York City, Albany, New York, and in the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Mustered in as the 1st Regiment Sharpshooter/U.S. Volunteers, November 25, 1861, the unit saw service in every Eastern campaign through autumn 1864. The 2nd Regiment Sharpshooters/U.S. Volunteers was raised similarly, its companies mustered in individually in autumn 1861, and its men were drawn from New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Vermont. It too served in the Eastern Theater and in December, 1864 its veteran volunteers were briefly consolidated with reenlisted veterans of the 1st Regiment.
While the history of Berdan's Sharpshooters is well documented, many other Union marksmen also saw action in the Eastern and Western campaigns, and though no records have been preserved, a Confederate sharpshooter unit similar to Berdan's was authorized by act of Confederate Congress in 1862.
But the formal muster of entire sharpshooting regiments in the north and south was found to be unwieldy. In correspondence with Rhode Island Gov. William Sprague September 19, 1862, Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton expressed the view of the general staff that snipers were best organized in units no larger than companies and attached to regular regiments for special deployment at a field general's order in a specific action. An approximation of this system was adopted in both Union and Confederate armies.
Armed with Sharp's rifles, Whitworth rifles, sporting arms, and custom-made, privately owned target weapons (some weighing over 30 lbs) Northern and Southern marksmen performed efficient service at Yorktown, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, and Petersburg, and were valued in any protracted battle or small combat. The unpleasant results of this service and the moral climate of the day make finding specific records of sharpshooting duty a rarity, but the efficiency of Confederate sharpshooters in the Devil's Den at Gettysburg and the demoralizing effects of the sniping deaths of such prominent soldiers as Union Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick demonstrate the sharpshooters worth.
Chosen by a regiment's officers or appointed by the state Governor
Paid $100.00 a month
Reported to the colonel of his regiment
There were 3,559 seperate units in the military.
These included regiments, seperate battalions, companies, or batteries. Of these regiments:
61 heavy artillery
9 light infantry battalions
432 seperate batteries
The Union Signal Corps that saw service in the Civil War never amounted to more than 3,000 officers and men; the Confederate Signal Corps, not so extensive or organized as the Union corps, had only about half that many members. Because of the small number of men involved and the secrecy of their work, little has been witten about the valuable and dangerous services they performed. Excerpts from an article written by a signalman in 1889 give some insight into the duties of members of the Signal Corps:
When a message is about to be sent, the flagman takes his station upon some elevated object and "calls" the station with which he desires to communicate by waving the flag or torch slowly to and fro. The operator, seated at the glass, watches closely the distant flag, and as soon as it responds by dipping, he is ready to send his dispatch. Holding the written message before him, he calls out to the flagman certain numbers, each figure or combination of figures standing for a letter. The flagman indicates each separate figure by an ingenious combination of a few very simple motions... There are a few sylables which are indicated by a single stroke of the flag; otherwise the word must be spelled out letter by letter. Experienced signal officers, however employ many abbreviations by omitting vowels, so that scarecely a single word, unless a very unusual one, is spelled out in full.
The rapidity with which all this is executed by experienced operators is astonishing. The flag is kept in such rapid motion that the eye of the inexpert can scarecly follow... An ordinary message of a few lines is dispatched in ten minutes; a whole page of foolscap occupies about thirty minutes in the transmission... The distance also through which signals can be transmitted, without an intermediate station is surprising. [Messages were sent] regularly from Ringgold to Summerville, on Lookout Mountain, a distance of eighteen miles... But these instances required remarkably favorable conditions of the atmosphere, locality, etcetera. Ordinarily, messages were not sent a greater distance than 6 or 8 miles.
The greatest recorded distance of a successful message transmission was 24 miles from Maryland Heights, Maryland, overlooking Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to Sugarloaf Mountain, near Frederick, Maryland.
Typical Signalman's Kit:
The kit would normally contain several flagstaffs, night torches with a fuel can, and several flags. The flags were always of 2 colors. A white flag with a red square, or red flag with a white square. The largest flags, 6 feet square, were used for long-distance work.
The founder of the Signal Corps was a New York physician named Albert J. Myer. While serving in the Army, he devised a system of simple flag wigwags by which operators could relay messages across miles of terrain.
At the start of the war, he was called to Washington, D.C. to set up a Signal Corps training school in nearby Georgetown and began outfitting telegraph units that would accompany Union armies in the field.
The first use of the Signal Corps was during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Gen. Ambrose Burnside deployed the corps on the hills overlooking the battlefield. The Signal Corpsmen would send messages to Burnside headquarters in the rear. At the same time, signalmen with Burnside flashed orders over telegraph wires to command posts on his left and right flanks.
The use of the Signal Corps would profoundly affect later Civil War campaigns and change the way future wars would be fought.