Academic journal article Military Review

SHOCK TROOPS OF THE CONFEDERACY: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia

Academic journal article Military Review

SHOCK TROOPS OF THE CONFEDERACY: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia

Article excerpt

SHOCK TROOPS OF THE CONFEDERACY: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia, Fred L. Ray, CFS Press, Asheville, NC, 2006, 414 pages, $34.95.

Fred Ray's Shock Troops of the Confederacy covers a little-known but important aspect of the Civil War: the "sharpshooter battalions" of the Army of Northern Virginia. Overall, though, this book is really about adaptation and innovation on the battlefield.

In 1862, a Confederate "sharpshooter" was more of a skirmisher than a sniper, but as the war progressed, the Confederacy formed specialized sharpshooter battalions of volunteers who demonstrated superior marksmanship skills and boldness in battle. These units adapted to the battlefields of their day, leveraging the latest weapons technology and modifying tactics in a way that we often associate with the non-linear methods of late World War I German shock troops. Through extensive research, Ray has created a scholarly work that is worthy of serious study. His is the first book in over 100 years on Confederate sharpshooter units, and it fills an important gap in the study of Civil War history and tactics.

Although Ray uses a multitude of credible sources, including many firsthand accounts from sharpshooters on both sides, his best source is a diary kept by Major Eugene Blackford, a Confederate sharpshooter battalion commander in General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Blackford trained his unit in skirmish drills and marksmanship out to 600 yards. Lee took notice of the battalion's performance at Chancellorsville in 1863, and soon ordered each infantry brigade to form a permanent sharpshooter battalion. By the opening of the 1864 campaigning season, over 7,000 sharpshooters had been trained and formed into battalions. …

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