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Missouri Mule

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About Missouri Mule

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  • Birthday February 28
  1. The Western Sharpshooters (Birge's WSS/WSS-14th MO Vols/66th IL Vet Vol Inf [WSS]) were intended as the Western Theater counterpart of "Berdan's" 1st and 2nd U.S.V.S.S. The were raised at Benton Barrack (St. Louis), entering service on Nov 23, 1861. 4 x Missouri Companies, 3 x Illinois Cos, 2 x Ohio Cos, 1 x Michigan Co. Members from 7 other states. Their mission was permanently assigned skirmishing regiment. They also carried out the sniper mission in fixed/siege situations. Fought at Ft Donelson as part of Lauman's brigade, and participated in Smith assault on the Confederate right on the Afternoon of 15 Feb. They were assigned on both flanks of the column of regiments to suppress artillery and prevent the rest of the assault force from being flanked. At Shiloh on 6 April, they fought (as "Birge's Western Sharpshooters") on the extreme Federal right along Tighlman Branch (Creek) and held the Snake Creek Bridge to ensure that Wallace's Division could join the Federal Army. They fought Terry's Texas Rangers (8th TX Cav) at about 14:30 and (Brewer's) Alabama and Mississippi (Cav) Battalion at about 16:30 [eventually turning back both CSA Cav units]. The WSS were armed with unique weapons: hand-made, octagonal barrel, half-stock Plains Rifles. St Louis Master Gunmaker, Horace (H.E.) Dimick contracted with MG John Fremont to "provide" 1,000 Plains Rifles for the WSS. [st. Louis was at the time the center of western gunsmithing at the time. Dimick was a competitor of St. Louis' Hawkin Brothers.] Dimick was was a successful entrepreneur, and employed 26 gunsmiths in his "Western Emporium" in St. Louis. Despite this large number of craftsmen, the Plains Rifles were a hand-built works of art built to high tolerances, and Dimick knew that his shop would not produce all the rifles. Horace Dimick served as purchasing agent scouring Western (and even Eastern] gun-smiths (or completed rifles) which could meet his requirements. Dimick's shop produced 150 of the rifles, which featured his distinctive trigger guard, hammer, curved butt stock, and pewter fore-stock cap. Dimick's signature rifle, called the "American Deer and Target Rifle", was usually about .40 caliber. Because the WSS weapons came from so many different gunsmiths, and often were purchased off the shelf, there was no uniform caliber. The WSS weapons ranged from around .30 caliber to .69 caliber. To manage the ammunition issue created by the different barrel diameters, Dimick provided a matching bullet mold with each rifle. Each sharpshooter was responsible for casting his own bullets. To ensure that the sharpshooters didn't get their personal molds mixed up, each mold was stamped with a serial number and that matching number was stamped on the muzzle of the matched rifle. So a sharpshooter with a .41 caliber rifle, would have a matching .41 caliber bullet mold, both stamped with a matching serial number. Like the rifles, the ammunition was unique. Dimick was an inventor with fire-arms patents. He he shot competitively, and conducted experiments to establish (in his opinion) the best bullet form for long rang shooting. He selected a sharply pointed minie-ball type bullet popularly known as the "Swiss Chasseur". Every one of the bullet molds Dimick provided produced the "Swiss Chasseur" bullet. The bullet molds were scissor-type, and had an extra insert to create a cup with a center nipple in the base of the bullets. Later in the war, many of the sharpshooters lost this separate piece and the bullets produced either had an empty cup or flat base. Although Dimick produced only 15% of the WSS weapons, members of the unit called all of their Plains Rifles "Dimick Rifles". Although a number of critics mocked the idea of a regiment armed with "squirrel rifles", the Dimick supplied weapons proved exceptionally effective. Unit members could hit a man-sized target at 600 to 1,000 yards. At Ft Donelson, Gen Smith specifically commended the WSS effectiveness in suppressing the artillery of Porter's and Grave's Batteries. At Shiloh, the WSS [birge's Western Sharpshooters at the time] fought in the tangles around the Tilghman Branch ravine, frustrating Confederate cavalry and skirmishers. The St. Louis Plains Rifle was the ultimate evolution of the American single-shot, muzzle-loading, craftsman built rifle. As the war went on, members of the sharpshooters realized that the typical range of engagement was 100-200 yards, far inside the Dimick's effective range. They also realized that volume of fire was a key to victory in the war. Beginning in the autumn of 1863 members of the unit began arming themselves with the advanced 16-shot, lever-action, Henry Repeating Rifle at an average cost of $42 a man (over 3 months pay for a private). [by agreement with the government, the Army provided free Henry ammunition for any soldier who purchased the repeating rifle.] By early 1864 members of the [renamed] 66th Illinois (Western Sharpshooters) had purchased over 250 Henry's, the second largest private purchase in the war (only the men of the 7th IL bought more Henrys). Senior commanders realized the firepower the Henrys provided (in the hands of competent marksmen) and increasingly used the WSS as shock-troops, in addition to their primary skirmishing mission. They were used to break through Confederate lines (as they did on 9 May at Resaca) or turn back Confederate attacks (as they did during the 22 July, 1864 Battle of Atlanta [Dalton]). Thanks for reading about this elite regiment and their unique weapons. yours James
  2. Missouri Mule

    Hello! Researching Western Sharpshooters (Birge's/14th MO/66th IL)

    Dear Perry, I am not a WSS descendent. I stumbled on them when looking into sharpshooting in the Western Theater's Fedreal Army. The more I found out, the more I became astounded that this highly successful elite regiment had been more-or-less lost to history. I'm now dedicated to recovering the regiment's history and help put them in their rightful place in the story of the Army of the Tennessee. I know a little about the 25th MO, which I found our during my research visit to Shiloh. Like many recent experiences in Civil War studies, I was surprised to find out about Colonel Peabody's reconnaissance patrol, their discovery of Hardee's Division, and the stand of the 25th MO and the rest of Peabody's brigade. He, and they, prevented the Federals from suffering complete tactical surprise and gave the rest of the Union Army to get on line in time to avoid a rout. I think that Peabody (an unsung hero) did well, and I think that the 25th MO did well as well, although they were eventually overwhelmed. I do not agree with Peabody's dying cry, that "the 25th Missouri is disgraced!" I'm interested in finding out about the regiment. Their origins were interesting, and I'm interested in finding out more about the 25th. I have been visiting the Missouri State Archives, and can look into their regimental correspondence the next time I go to Jefferson City. How did you get interested in Colonel Peabody. Yours, James
  3. Dear Shiloh Historians, I am working to trace the activities of "Birge's Western Sharpshooters" during the Battle of Shiloh. They are also known as "Birge's Squirrel Tails" and the "14th Missouri" (although technically they were not redesignated as the 14th MO until after the battle). On April 6th the WSS were on the extreme Federal right with the 81st Ohio. Later, when the Ohio reg was transferred to the left of the battlefiel,d the Sharpshooters were stretched even farther right, becoming detached to the "Right of the Line". They held a long stretch of tangled creek along Tilghman Branch out to the Snake Creek Bridge. Around 14:30 they fought the 8th TX Ca (Terry's Texas Rangers) under Col Wharton (probably) near Glover's Field and Tilghman Branch until the Rangers were pulled out by Beuregard and sent south. Later, an attempt was made by Confederate Cavalry, Brewer's "Alabama and Mississippi Battalion", to flank the Federal right and get into Pittsburg Landing. The Sharpshooters met this attack around 16:30, and assisted by a scratch force of re-assembled remnents under Col Jesse Hildebrant, turned back the Confederate horsemen. The WSS continued to hold the Snake Creek Bridge until after dusk when Col Alvin P. Hovey's 24th Indiana (Lew Wallace's lead unit) marched up to a WSS picket, where they mutually challenged. Hovey stated that the sentry identified himself as a member of the "Western Sharpshooters" and that he identified his force, wherein the sentry responded "Welcome Hoosiers!" On the following day, part of WSS skirmished in front of Wallace's and supported Thurber's Battery (while a smaller element appears to have continued to guard the Snake Creek Bridge). I am very interested in hammering out the details of the WSS's service on April 6, which is not completely clear due to the lack of senior leaders on the extreme right (they had other fish to fry elsewhere). The positioning of the WSS on the ragged end of the Federal line appears to have been a lucky accident, as their focus on fighting in skirmish order and operating independently made them the perfect force to deny Confederate access around the tangled but lightly held Federal right. Looking forward to sharing and discussing. James PS: I am also interested in the actions of other Missouri units at the battle...including John Bowen and the 1st MO CSA.