KN, p. 277 “Snipers” – Sharpshooters in Blue and Gray

by Guest Writer, Tom Rizzo

The young Union soldier, his face damp with sweat, blinked a couple of times to clear his vision, and braced the rifle against his shoulder.


Looking downrange, he squinted, aimed at the distant target, and squeezed the trigger. His accuracy would determine his qualifications to join an elite regiment of army sharpshooters.


A well-known marksman by the name of Colonel Hiram Berdan arranged regional shooting competitions to identify the most skillful shooters.


The competition involved two phases. Participants were required to place ten consecutive shots in a circle ten inches in diameter from a distance of 100-yards.


The second part of the event required the same accuracy but at a distance of 200 yards.


Anyone who missed the targets by an average of more than five inches from the center faced disqualification.


After evaluating the results, Berdan decided who displayed the necessary skill to qualify for an elite unit of crack riflemen he was forming for the Union Army.


Those recruited for Berdan’s Sharpshooters in 1861 had to be cool-headed men with eagle-eyed vision and steady hands capable of calculating each shot’s trajectory and wind velocity.


For fifteen consecutive years, most people considered the New York City mechanical engineer the top rifle shot in the country.


The politically connected self-made millionaire had invented a repeating rifle, a patented musket ball, a twin-screw submarine gunboat, and a torpedo boat.


Berdan invited President Abraham Lincoln to observe a demonstration of his units’ firepower. Following the

impressive display, Lincoln authorized the formation of twenty Sharpshooter companies.


The four-foot-long breech-loading Sharps rifle became the weapon of choice for Berdan’s Sharpshooters. Christian Sharps had designed and patented the design for the Sharps Rifle in 1848.


The term sharpshooter did not originate with the rifle.

Commanders often chose sharpshooters for specialized battlefield assignments, such as targeting Confederate officers and other high-value targets. They also provided support for combat units and conducted surveillance.


Berdan’s Sharpshooters usually wore distinctive green uniforms, a green forage cap with a black ostrich feather, and black leather brogan shoes.


The unique clothing enabled them to blend into the foliage, which they used for camouflage. But the special uniform proved both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Most important of all, the green color gave the sharpshooters a clear edge in the ability to camouflage.

However, the green color made it easier for Confederates to spot them. The South considered the Sharpshooters high-priority kills.


The Confederate Army had its version of sharpshooters.


These marksmen often served as semi-permanent detachments at the regimental level.

Rather than the breech-loading M-1859 Sharps rifle, Rebel sharpshooters used the Enfield Rifled Musket or British Whitworth rifles.


Author Fred L. Ray, in his book Shock Troops of the Confederacy, wrote: “Confederate sharpshooter battalions had a far greater effect on the outcome of the conflict.”


The Berdan Sharpshooters paid a steep price for success. Even though they were credited for a higher percentage of kills than any other unit in the war, they also suffered the highest casualties.


In 1863, the Sharpshooters fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Mine Run Campaign and suffered significant losses.

Of the original 33 commissioned officers and 981 enlisted men in the First Regiment, only 11 officers and 261 enlisted men survived by year’s end.

When the war came to a close, the Sharps rifle became even more popular.

Buffalo hunters, frontiersmen, and U.S. troops throughout the Great Plains and the Desert Southwest adopted the weapon because of its powerful, long-range accuracy.

Many thanks to Tom Rizzo, consummate Old West Storyteller, for bringing the story of Hiram Berdan and the army sharpshooters to Kerrian’s Notebook!


Please check out his website: for information about his books and more fascinating true stories of the Wild Old West.


KN, p. 271 “The Impact of Weather on Guns and Bullets”


Not long ago, a writer mentioned in a Facebook thread that cold must have an adverse effect on firing accuracy. Well, yes and no. Assuming that the shooter is a crack shot, it depends on the firearm, the type of bullet, the type of shooting involved, and how extreme the weather is.


Both extreme heat and extreme cold can affect the trajectory of a bullet. ‘Extreme’ in this post refers to temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and below zero.


Cold air might cause a more noticeable variation in the bullet path than warm air. Cold air can slow down bullets because cold air is more dense, so it’s harder for the bullet to move through it when longer distances are involved. Hunters might choose a different shaped bullet to help with this issue, but the bullet shape and air density really only comes into play for most shooters when the deer is over 300 yards away – the distance of three football fields. But, even at 200 yards, tests have shown that any bullet drop caused by the cold is only going to be a tenth of an inch.


Cold can cause misfires as a result of using the wrong cleaning oil for the weapons – one that’s not meant for cold temperatures. Oil that gets gummy with temperature variation doesn’t help any shooter, whether using rifles or handguns. Read “Did you clean your gun this week?”


‘External ballistics’ refers to what happens after the bullet leaves the firearm.


It can get really windy in the dead of winter, what with huge storm fronts moving in. I wouldn’t want to step a foot away from my toasty house when the wind chill makes me miserable just to be outside, but law enforcement officers in our far Northern States sometimes don’t have a choice. SWAT teams have to take into consideration the effect that the wind, added to the cold, will have on any distance shots they need to take. Wind is unpredictable and rarely constant, and can affect the shot anywhere along the path of the bullet. However, most hostage situations or other interactions with the bad guys, take place at under a 100 yards, which greatly reduces the firing challenges law enforcement might face, to practically non-existent.


Over 300-400 yards (mainly applying to snipers in the field, or hunters in the mountains) a windy day does make a fairly large difference when adjusting for the shot. Experts and charts tell us that at temperatures around zero, a bullet can shift wide by as much as four inches off target and drop as much as 2 inches, than if the same shot was made at 90 degrees Fahrenheit at that range. Plus, the greater the distance, the more the variation.


Here’s an interesting comparison of shots made by those long distance shooters in different air temperatures, without wind or other factors to interfere.

The target is 1000 yards away – about ten football fields:

  • In 68 degree weather, moderate by most standards, the target can be hit dead center.
  • On a slightly colder day, 50 degrees, without making adjustments to body or gun position, the shooter will miss low, by 6-12 inches.
  • On a hot day of 86 degrees, again without making any body or firearm adjustments, the shooter will miss high, by 6-12 inches.


But wait. The gunpowder in the bullet can be affected by the cold as well. Some gunpowder is temperature sensitive, so if you load your own bullets and live in an area with extreme temperatures, you need to buy the temperature insensitive type. The wrong gunpowder in the bullet can slow its velocity. Added to the dense cold air issue, it’s a recipe for missing the long distance target. To be honest, today’s ammo manufacturers are more in tune with customers wanting fewer misses related to this issue, and several temperature insensitive options are readily available.


These days, there doesn’t have to be much guesswork involved in adjusting for wind and temperature variations. There are apps for that. If a phone has enough bars out in the woods, the average hunter can get online and check out a ballistic calculator with charts to help with corrections for the conditions being experienced.


Law enforcement officers in the steamy South face different obstacles when dealing with heat. Higher temperatures result in gunpowder burning faster, which then causes higher bullet speed. A competitive shooter from North Carolina shared that in the summer he shoots in the early morning, when temperatures never get all that high. But, he’s more concerned about his grip slipping because of the sweat on his palms than from any effect of the temperatures on his ammo. His experience taught him to purchase handguns with non-slip surfaces and grips. In any case, his targets are all under 100 yards away, so the only thing affecting his shots are a bad day at the range and his own sweat.


A gun store owner told me recently that hunters out in extreme temperatures are usually accompanied by big game guides who make sure the equipment is properly selected for the conditions.


Long distance shooters need to take these temperature variations into account. People using their handguns at under 100 yards? Not so much.

KN, p. 189 “Fifth Anniversary Thank You from the Kerrians”


Kerriansnotebook_FINAL copy

It’s with great pleasure that we thank you, the readers, for hanging out with us for five years.


We’ve taken some really amazing trips to American Civil War battlefields, endured fog and pouring rain on both American and international golf courses, been trapped in elevators, survived bomb scares, witnessed bloody crime scenes, and lived to tell the tales.


Some intriguing people have agreed to do interviews about their jobs and in the process, have opened the eyes of our readers far and wide about the rigors of law enforcement in its many forms.


Police Academies, Fire Fighter Academies, Emergency Medical Training Schools, Firearms Training sites, Criminal Investigation Facilities –  have all generously allowed us to take photos and chat with the instructors at length. Fascinating stuff.


We’ve met with Visiting Detectives – an assortment that included a psychic detective, a vegetarian detective, and a time-traveling detective from the 1800s. Sheila chimed in while they worked on puzzling cases with me. The Vegetarian Detective brought brownies. Yum.


Kerrian’s Notebook, Volume 1, which included stories from 2011 and 2012 no longer available on the website, was published in response to the readership that wanted the (over 50) stories from the first year collected into one ebook. Don’t have your copy yet? Click on the link and find it at Amazon:


You’ve made the journey fun. And then some.  🙂

During the years, we kept track of which posts were the most popular, which ones you kept visiting over and over again. For research? For another laugh? To prove a point? For some of you, all three. Here is the result.


Click on the links and take a look at your Top 10 Favorite Kerrian’s Notebook posts in reverse order thru 2016:


  1. Who are the Texas Rangers?” (p.144)


  1. Are all handcuffs yellow?” (p.68)


  1. What does a Texas Ranger do?” (p.145)


  1. How big is that jail cell?” (p.51)


  1. Kerrian’s Favorite Chocolate Cheesecake.” (p.45)


  1. 100 Ways to Die an Unnatural Death.” (p.100)


  1. What does a firefighter wear?” (p.119)


  1. I Like Pie.” (p.67)


  1. How many bodies at the scene?” (p.87)


And the most popular post?

  1. How to become a Texas Ranger.” (p.146)


Thank you, one and all!  🙂
Next time you’re in town, give us a call. We’re always happy to chat about the latest trip or the trickiest case. If you’re lucky, you might even meet one of the Visiting Detectives. There’s always a pot of coffee on and a piece of pie just begging to be eaten.


*Fingerprint photo taken by Patti Phillips at SIRCHIE, in Youngsville, North Carolina.












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