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100 Years Ago

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Sharp Shooters

Each side had expert riflemen whose job it was to locate and fire on selected enemy soldiers from a distance away. Advances in weaponry such as the Enfield rifle enabled a sharpshooter with a good eye and a steady hand to pick off an enemy soldier (officers were preferred) from as far away as 600 yards.

C. L. Ruggles of the 20th Ohio enlisted as a sharpshooter but served mostly as a spy and sccaptainwilliamdneal.gif (74788 bytes)out. He recalled engaging in some of the former activity with William Grinnell of the 20th in May of 1863 outside of Vicksburg. "We succeeded in sheltering ourselves from view, in close-range of the (enemy) guns, behind a large clump of bushes, and then commenced paying our respects to the gunners. We were doing excellent execution..." Col. Force of the 20th Ohio recalled after the war that General Grant had personally presented Ruggles with a new rifle. One day Ruggles, dejected, reported to Force: "Colonel, I ain't had no kind of luck today. I hain't killed a feller."

Lt. Dwight of the 20th recalled one of the tricks sharpshooters used: "Sometimes they will all raise a tremendous shout, and when the enemy bob up to see what is going on they give them a telling volley, and then roll over and kick up their heels in great joy."  Some Shelby County men received the same treatment from rebel sharpshooters. Silas Young of Anna was hit by a sharpshooter's musket ball in the Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi. The ball struck the corner of his right eye, passing through his nose, and lodged next to his left eye. "Lay me where a rebel bullet will find me," he told the surgeon, as he preferred death aaronswander.gif (60464 bytes)to total blindness. Young eventually recovered the sight of both eyes.

Captain William D. Neal (shown at left) of the 50th Ohio had just stopped to salute General Leggett and Lt. Stewart at the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia. A rebel sharpshooter's bullet struck him in the back, passed through his body, and killed Lt. Stewart's horse. The Neal post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Shelby County was named after him.

Franklin Township soldier Aaron Swander (shown at right) of the 99th Ohio was also killed by a sharpshooter's bullet during the same battle. Inches separated life from death on occasion. Tom Honnell of Port Jefferson understood that. The bullet that killed Aaron Swander at Kenesaw Mountain passed through the crown of Honnell's hat, striking Swander.

'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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