As our armies are now confronting the enemy within rifle range, the effectiveness of the sharp-shooters is becoming a matter of much consideration. The large number of our General and line officers who have been picked off in their gallant advance have no doubt been the marked victims of Rebel sharp-shooters; in fact, late numbers of the Rebel newspapers specially boast of the success of this arm of their service. We have in our army sharp-shooters equal, if not superior, to any in the world, but it is possible that, with that characteristic generosity which has governed our method of warfare, this service has not been pushed to the extent to which it is readily susceptible. It has been claimed for the Rebels that they have better skill with the rifle than our own soldiers. We do not believe this assertion. We have in the West and in the rural districts of the East, men who have handled the rifle from their youth, and perfectly understand its uses. In our large cities the same opportunities have not been afforded, but it is peculiar of a city-raised people to be apt to learn. War is eminently a practical matter, and the best training which can give success to practice should be included, particularly in that which relates to aim and [illegible] of the service—the defeat of our enemies. Were target-firing introduced more generally as a part of the manual exercise of our infantry soldiers, they would very soon become as steady and proficient in aim as they are in every other movement and duty. The great fault found by the officers is that their men fire too high. This is owing to two causes. First, rifled pieces, with a full charge, naturally carry high at ordinary range; and second, the men are taught to bring their pieces too quickly to admit of deliberate aim when acting in company and battalion movements. The usual simulation of firing in drilling exercises, while it teaches the soldier to handle his gun with precision, and to keep time with the motions, does not teach him to aim or shoot with accuracy; he is more intent on pulling the trigger in accord with his companions, than covering any object which may be in view. It is only the sharp-shooters, and those on picket duty, who usually take the time to make their aim the primary object of the use of their gun. Perhaps one reason why target-shooting is not more generally encouraged is owing to the fact that it involves a waste of ammunition, but in war times, when men are trained for the actual conflict or battle, this would be a necessary expense, while the result of the experience gained would most simply repay the outlay. Our artillery practice in every engagement where it has been used, has been superior to that of the Rebels. Our cavalry has now driven the Rebel cavalry, on which they so much boasted, almost entirely, as a distinctive arm of the service, from the field; our infantry bayonet charges have on every battle-field proved irresistible; and there can be no reason why their aim, with the necessary training, should not be as unerring as their eyesight, and as steady as their own heroic nerves, for soldiers soon learn to handle their guns as things of [illegible]. Every soldier in the service can be taught to fire his piece with the accuracy of an expert marksman, and all he wants is to see the effect of his practice in real shooting, and under this stimulus he will soon become a sharp-shooter.1
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
- “Sharp-shooting.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 14, 1864, p. 4 col. 2 ↩