Civil War Sharpshooters

Thomas' Legion
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The Civil War Sharpshooter

Civil War Sharpshooters
(Confederate Sharpshooters)

Photograph of Officers of the Thomas Legion
Conley's Sharpshooters.jpg
(North Carolina Office of Archives and History)

Thomas' Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders
("Conley's Confederate Sharpshooters")

(Right) Photos 5 to 8 are officers from Company F or "Conley's Sharpshooters."
Photo is Courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History

When General Jubal Early aborted the campaign to sack Washington during the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns, Union cavalry approached the rear of the Confederate army. "Old Jube" ordered sharpshooters from Thomas' Legion to engage the cavalry. Lt. Robert T. Conley (number 5 in the above photograph) and twenty-five marksmen from Company "F" of Love's Regiment were instrumental in forcing the enemy across the river. General Gabriel C. Wharton wrote to James R. Love, December 8, 1864, and complimented Lt. Conley and Thomas' Legion for their "coolness and bravery in the fight." East of the Mississippi River, Lt. Robert T. Conley fired "The Last Shot" of the American Civil War. Company F was in the thick of the fight during the Battle of Piedmont, Virginia, and it lost several good men, including Lt. James Conley, number 7 in above photograph.

Lt. Robert T. Conley previously served in Company L*, Sixteenth North Carolina Infantry Regiment; transferred to Company A, Sixteenth North Carolina, Mar-May 1862; wounded and captured at Seven Pines, VA, 31 May 1862; confined Fort Delaware, DE, until paroled; transferred to Aiken’s Landing, James River, VA; exchanged 5 Aug 1862; Appointed 2nd Lieutenant, Company F, Infantry Regiment, Thomas' Legion, 19 Jul 1862; residence, Jackson County, North Carolina. Company F was also known as "Conley's Sharpshooters," and it was initially commanded by Captain James M. McConnell, who enlisted on 19 July 1862, and was wounded in June 1864. Then, in June 1864, the command transferred to Lt. Robert T. Conley. And, perhaps, because in 1864 it only numbered about 30 troops, Conley was never promoted to captain.

Civil War Sharpshooter
Civil War Sharpshooter.jpg
Civil War Sharpshooter killed-in-action, Harper's Weekly, November 15, 1862

In 1870, Robert T. Conley resided in Talladega, Alabama. He died on December 18, 1892, at Munford, Alabama, and his widow and 6 children survived him.

* In May 1862 Companies A and L of the 16th North Carolina Infantry Regiment reorganized into Thomas’ Legion, however, they transferred to the legion after they fought in the Battle of Antietam. Soldiers from the Sixteenth North Carolina had fought in the battles of Seven Pines, AntietamSeven Days Battles around Richmond, and Second Bull Run. Thomas' Legion warmly welcomed these battle-hardened soldiers.

(Sources and additional reading listed below.)

Recommended Reading: Shock Troops of the Confederacy (Hardcover: 432 pages). Description: Fred Ray's Shock Troops of the Confederacy is primarily focused on the "sharpshooter battalions" of the Army of Northern Virginia. In a Civil War context, "sharpshooter" was usually more akin to "skirmisher" than "sniper," although these specialized battalions also used innovative open order assault techniques, especially late in the war. Continued below...

Ray includes, however, a detailed study of Union sharpshooter battalions and Confederate sharpshooters in the West. Remarkably, little has been published about such organizations in the past, so Fred Ray's book offers a unique study of the evolution of Civil War infantry tactics, revealing a more complex, sophisticated approach to the battlefield than is usually understood.

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Recommended Reading: Sharpshooters of the American Civil War 1861-65. Description: When the American Civil War commenced in 1861, both Confederate and Union officials decided that specialized sharpshooter units should be formed. These highly trained marksmen served in a front-line role and, due to the technological developments of the 1850s, were equipped with weapons that could guarantee greater accuracy over increased range than traditional muskets. Continued below...

This title examines the recruitment, training, tactics and deployment of sharpshooters from both sides of the conflict. It also takes a close look at the specialized weaponry of the sharpshooter, the rifle and its accoutrements, as well as the sharpshooters' unique insignia and identification patches. It includes full color photos and action-packed battle scenes.
Recommended Reading: U.S. Sharpshooters: Berdan's Civil War Elite (Hardcover). Description: This detailed and beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Col. Hiram Berdan’s brilliant conception: the U.S. Sharpshooters, a specialized 2-regiment unit of marksmen recruited from the farming and backwoods communities of the North. Known for their distinctive green uniforms, Sharps breech-loading rifles, and risky tactics, the Sharpshooters fought at battles such as the Peninsula, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. Continued below...

The book covers their training, tactics, and weapons and is a must-have for Civil War enthusiasts and anyone interested in the history of special forces. Features paintings by acclaimed Civil War artist Don Troiani. About the Author: Roy Marcot has written several books, including Remington: America s Oldest Gunmaker, The History of Remington Firearms, and Hiram Berdan: Chief of Sharpshooters. He is a member of the American Society of Arms Collectors.


Recommended Reading: Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia: Arms, Uniforms and Equipment of the Union and Confederacy. Description: This comprehensive and exhaustive reference identifies and describes the use and application of more than 800 items. Arranged alphabetically by topic, subjects range from artillery accouterments and boats to tools and patriotic sheet music. "Everything an interested reader would want to know . . . A must-have book." — Antiques & Auction News. Over 350 rare illustrations. Continued below...

The Civil War buff and even serious collector of Civil War arms, uniforms and equipment should purchase the Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia: Arms, Uniforms And Equipment Of The Union And Confederacy as an indispensable reference and core guide in this specialized area of military antiques and collectibles with noted authority Francis A. Lord covering almost everything to do with Civil War memorabilia--from equipment to Union and Confederate uniforms.

Recommended Reading: Lee's Sharpshooters (Hardcover: 496 pages)

Recommended Reading: Rebel Private: Front and Rear: Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier. Description: First published in 1907, the memoirs of a former Confederate soldier who fought at Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Second Manassas, and Chickamauga reveal the ground-level perspective of a Civil War private. Continued below…

From Publishers Weekly: William Fletcher joined the Confederate Army in 1861. He served with the Army of Northern Virginia's elite Texas Brigade until the Battle of Chickamauga. Unable to march because of wounds, he transferred to the cavalry and finished the war with the Texas Rangers, then wrote his memoirs 40 years later. Most of the original copies were destroyed in a fire. The current edition presents unvarnished images of hard marches, short rations and battles in which being wounded could prove worse than being killed. Fletcher describes the horrors of being a Civil War casualty as vividly as any firsthand account from either side. The author emerges from these pages as fighting less for a cause than for his own pride in being a good soldier. His narrative does more than many learned monographs to explain the Confederacy's long endurance against overwhelming odds.


Recommended Reading: Hardtack & Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life. Description: Most histories of the Civil War focus on battles and top brass. Hardtack and Coffee is one of the few to give a vivid, detailed picture of what ordinary soldiers endured every day—in camp, on the march, at the edge of a booming, smoking hell. John D. Billings of Massachusetts enlisted in the Army of the Potomac and survived the hellish conditions as a “common foot soldier” of the American Civil War. "Billings describes an insightful account of the conflict – the experiences of every day life as a common foot-soldier – and a view of the war that is sure to score with every buff." Continued below...

The authenticity of his book is heightened by the many drawings that a comrade, Charles W. Reed, made while in the field. This is the story of how the Civil War soldier was recruited, provisioned, and disciplined. Described here are the types of men found in any outfit; their not very uniform uniforms; crowded tents and makeshift shelters; difficulties in keeping clean, warm, and dry; their pleasure in a cup of coffee; food rations, dominated by salt pork and the versatile cracker or hardtack; their brave pastimes in the face of death; punishments for various offenses; treatment in sick bay; firearms and signals and modes of transportation. Comprehensive and anecdotal, Hardtack and Coffee is striking for the pulse of life that runs through it.


Recommended Reading: Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers (Thomas' Legion: The Sixty-ninth North Carolina Regiment). Description: Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains, spent 10 years conducting extensive Thomas Legion's research. Crow was granted access to rare manuscripts, special collections, and privately held diaries which add great depth to this rarely discussed Civil War legion. He explores and discusses the unit's formation, fighting history (including "Conley's Sharpshooters"), and life of the legion's commander--Cherokee chief and Confederate colonel--William Holland Thomas. Continued below...

Numerous maps and photographs allow the reader to better understand and relate to the subjects discussed. It also contains rosters which is an added bonus for researchers and genealogists. Crow, furthermore, left no stone unturned while examining the many facets of the Thomas Legion and his research is conveyed on a level that scores with Civil War students and scholars alike.

Sources: Jackson County Genealogical Society; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Walter Clark, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865; National Park Service: American Civil War; National Park Service: Soldiers and Sailors System; Weymouth T. Jordan and Louis H. Manarin, North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865; and D. H. Hill, Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865; National Archives and Records Administration; Moore's Roster.

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