when silence was requisite, by the wave of the sword of the officer in command.
The sharpshooters were armed with the improved Enfield
rifle; the scouts with rifles of Whitworth
make, with telescopic sights.
In order to preserve the elan
of the corps, and to make the service sought after, it was ordered that this body should be exempt from all regimental or camp duty, and from all picket duty except in the face of the enemy.
They were also assigned to the right of the column — the front in advance, the rear in retreat.
This freedom from the irksome and distasteful duties of the camp, which were always especially detested by the average Confederate soldier-unaccustomed as he was to do any menial service for himself-made a place in the ranks of the sharpshooters an honor much to be desired.
There was, in the very joyous nature of the service, something that had a great charm for the soldier, to which, to descend from sentiment to business, may be added the very general ambition at that time prevalent, and by no means confined to the line, to be among the first to handle the plunder of the enemy's camps.
It was in this manner, as briefly above related, that the opening campaign of 1864 found every brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia provided with a body of picked troops to guard its front or clear the way for its advance.
It was truly a “spike-head” of Toledo
steel, which was not suffered to rust from disuse in the days that so quickly followed.
It was kept bright and sharp by constant employment in the series of actions that lasted throughout that eventful year, beginning with the great battle of the Wilderness
Though the sharpshooters were not employed in this engagement with any exclusive or even special reference to the method and distinctive purposes of their formation, it was the first action in which they fought as a separate organization, and as such deserves our notice; especially as some of its incidents, well worthy of record and remembrance, have never been honored by historic notice.
Almost as soon as the leading divisions had engaged the enemy, the sharpshooters were detached and sent to the left of the plank road, to protect the flank of the troops ordered to Heth
's support, and to fill a gap between Ewell
and the troops on the right of the road.
Moving forward, they passed long lines of artillery going into bivouac, well-knowing from the nature of the country that their services would not be needed; while riding about in a restless and eager manner, Colonel William Johnson Pegram
was to be seen, asking through many a courier, dispatched one after another, if he could not get in a battery, or at least a section, and highly disquieted that his pieces should be silent at such a time.
He forcibly recalled, in