Here’s a question: the term sharpshooter is commonly used in this period of history and confused to refer to both light infantry and sniper..
You can see here an excellent video on the Sharps Rifle used by the Bucktails and other sharpshooter guns..Civil war digest YouTube video on weapons of the sharpshooters
What was the role of the Bucktails…? Were they mostly used as Light Infantry or is there evidence to show they were deployed as snipers? One would think because of the blue uniforms and the easy to spot tail they were mostly deployed as light infantry skirmishers.
Col Kane recruited the original 4 companies with the intention of starting a Mounted Rifle Battalion. This wasn’t sanctioned by the PA government. They wouldn’t be taken into State service as an independent 4 company body and so Kane was encouraged to bring in other independent companies that had made their way to Harrisburg. Most of these also hailed from the ‘Wildcat’ Regions of PA and the 10 combined companied were mustered into the Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps as a Rifle Regiment.
They were intended to be a skirmishing force for the Division, however when you read the Divisional records it’s not uncommon for the skirmishing and screening to have been done by other units within the PRVC. At South Mountain, Antietam, in the Shenandoah, during various points of the Seven Days’ campaign and in the Wilderness; there are accounts of the Bucktails heavily engaged either in the vanguard or rear-guard as Skirmishers.
Additionally, it appears that the Bucks fought in line numerous times throughout the war, the biggest examples being 2nd Manassas and Gettysburg. Fredericksburg even combined the two – they were deployed as skirmishing squads to protect the artillery until the PA Reserves began their fateful assault, before they were ordered to join the main battle line advancing on Jackson’s line.
As for Sharpshooting, the best reference We can think of is In Rauch and Thompson’s unit history that talks about a group of the Bucks, armed with their new Spencers, beating a detachment of the US Sharpshooters in an impromptu sharpshooting competition across a river at a ‘nest’ of Rebs in 1864. The killing of Reb Gen Turner Ashby also has an element of ‘sharpshooting’ to it but most of these instances of shooting feats appear to have happened whilst engaged as skirmishers already. It just probably helped that given their pre-war lives and skillsets – they were bloody good at it!
In summary We would say they were quite the all-rounder … adept at mostly successfully overcoming most situations, using a variety circumstances.
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