Even simple images can tell interesting stories. At a quick glance, this sixth-plate tintype simply appears to be of three unidentified Union soldiers. But a closer look uncovers interesting hat badges on two of the men and unique, non-military issue rifles. Those clues reveal that these men are members of Vermont’s Company E of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, one of two regiments of sure shots raised by Hiram Berdan, an enterprising inventor and marksman from New York. The regiments were nicknamed “Berdan’s Sharpshooters” and earned acclaim on many battlefields. By 1864, both regiments were combined into one: the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters.

Unlike most volunteer units, the men in the Sharpshooters came from many different states: Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin. It was not easy to get into the Sharpshooters. To do so, a man had to place 10 consecutive shots in a 10-inch circle from 200 yards away while resting his weapon, then repeat the feat while hitting a target 100 yards away and firing offhand, or without resting his weapon on a stabilizing device. Recruits tried out with their own weapons brought from home, similar to those carried by the three men here—one of the clues to whom they served with.

The forage caps of the left and right soldiers provide other important clues. They bear the hat brass figures “E” and “2” arranged horizontally or vertically within a wreath. “E” stands for Company E, and “2” indicates the 2nd regiment. The wreath is key, in that placing company letters and regimental numerals within a wreath was unique to Berdan’s men.

Sharpshooters wore dark green frock coats, which appeared no different than the more typical blue in Civil War photography. This trio wears an early version of the green uniform produced by Martin Bros. of New York City. The photographer tinted the brass buttons. Later in the war, the Sharpshooters were issued coats that used non-reflective, black hard-rubber buttons. The man in the middle also has a painted rain cover on his forage cap.

Each man shoulders his personal small-caliber civilian rifle. These were no doubt used in the shooting trial that qualified them to join Berdan’s Sharpshooters. All test shooting was done with open sights, no scopes.

Civil War Times would like to thank Brian White for the use of this image and for his expertise on Sharpshooter clothing and equipment.

this article first appeared in civil war times magazine

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