Modeled on Berdan’s Sharpshooters, this group would provide for tests for marksmanship and form bodies of sharpshooters for service in the field.
On June 13, 1861, Hiram Berdan, mechanical engineer and expert rifleman, met with President Lincoln advocating the formation of regiments of sharpshooters. Lincoln approved the idea of recruiting eighteen companies, from eight states, to be formed into two sharpshooter regiments (the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters). Command of these crack troops devolved...
On June 13, 1861, Hiram Berdan, mechanical engineer and expert rifleman, met with President Lincoln advocating the formation of regiments of sharpshooters. Lincoln approved the idea of recruiting eighteen companies, from eight states, to be formed into two sharpshooter regiments (the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters). Command of these crack troops devolved on Berdan, and the regiments have gone down in history as Berdan’s Sharpshooters. His men, who had to pass rigorous marksmanship tests, were dressed in distinctive green uniforms and equipped with the most advanced long-range rifles featuring telescopic sights. Even when assigned to a brigade, the regiments were usually detached for special assignments on the field of battle. They played a key role at Gettysburg and numerous other engagements.
"…most praiseworthy and patriotic."
Major W.S. Rowland was one of Berdan’s officers and was credited with arranging for participation of a number of the states that contributed companies to Berdan’s regiments. On August 14, 1861, during an interview with the President and cabinet, he offered to raise two additional regiments of sharpshooters for the government.
But soon Berdan and Rowland had a falling out. In November 1861, Rowland accused Berdan of falsifying his [Berdan’s] pay records, and Berdan responded in December offering Rowland the choice of resigning or facing a court martial. Rowland resigned; but he was not through trying to contribute to the war effort. In early 1862, the governors of New York and Pennsylvania authorized him to raise independent companies of sharpshooters. The First Battalion New York Sharpshooters was raised and its units joined the army in Virginia in March 1863.
Rowland next sought to organize a national corps of sharpshooters. He spoke to the press, and in the July 1863 Harper’s Weekly endorsed Rowland’s idea, saying it would “naturally provide for tests for marksmanship, and would, by offering prizes for good shots, gradually form bodies of sharpshooters who would prove most valuable for actual service.” He wrote the President promoting the idea and sending details of such an organization. Lincoln, too, agreed with the concept. John Hay recollected later that "Rowland himself was rather a humbug, but his idea is a good one.”
This is the very letter in which Lincoln endorsed the National Rifle Corps. Letter Signed, on Executive Mansion letterhead, text in the hand of Hay, Washington, apparently dated and sent a week after composition, October 27, 1863, to Rowland. “I have received your letter and the accompanying circular, and have only time to say in reply that your proposed organization, if effected in accordance with the militia laws of the several states, seems to me to promise very beneficial results, and that your object as expressed in your circular is certainly most praiseworthy and patriotic.”
However good an idea it may have been, nothing ever came of it, and Rowland spent the post-war years misrepresenting his rank and part in the struggle, along with the nature of his present employment. Later Hay wrote of this incident, “I was not old enough to know that a good idea is worthless in the hands of a humbug.”
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