September 21, 1861
Beginning in September, 1861, James Fessenden attempts to find men who can meet standards set forth by Colonel Hiram Berdan for would-be marksmen to form Company D, of the 2nd United States Sharp Shooters. (See Hiram Berdan story, 1861-9-4).
Fessenden writes to Maine Governor Israel Washburn that he has had little luck in his home town of Portland or in the surrounding suburbs. One problem, Fessenden says, is that "There are very few men in this county who own rifles sufficient to shoot with accuracy such a distance, and in that part of Oxford which I have canvassed I find, to my surprise, scarcely any."
Fessenden, serving as a Captain, may have owned such a weapon that candidates could use, but he urged those who owned target rifles to bring them to the trials.
Some men he tested had served in the State militia as infantrymen and would have been competent in loading and firing muzzle-loading muskets. The muskets’ accuracy, however, was limited to 100 yards, so the men had no training for precise shooting from longer distances.
Prior to and during the Civil War, infantry units were often deployed using Napoleonic tactics of forming "lines of battle" where the men fired in unison in the direction of the enemy – which was usually in point-blank range – and thus brought concentrated firepower to bear upon their objective.
Berdan, however, wanted the Sharp Shooters to fight in a different manner, hitting individual targets at long distances but with deadly accuracy.
Fessenden manages to recruit five men from Portland, but none in the rest of Cumberland, Oxford, and Androscoggin counties. Fessenden’s Lieutenant, Jacob McClure, a 29 year-old manufacturer of headstones and monuments from Rockland, has better success in Knox and Washington counties, bringing the total of acceptable recruits up to 93 men to be mustered into service.
Few, however, could fully meet the marksmanship requirements, and the men are sent to an instructional camp before taking the field.
Fessenden, a 28 year-old Bowdoin College graduate, was the son of U. S. Senator William Pitt Fessenden. He would soon obtain a transfer from the Sharp Shooters to become a staff officer to Major General David Hunter, and would later raise one of the first regiments of African-American troops for the Regular Army.
- Would men from Knox and Washington Counties necessarily be better shots than the men Fessenden tried to recruit in Cumberland, Oxford and Androscoggin Counties?
- Would they be more likely to own target rifles?
- What else might account for James Fessenden’s failure as opposed to Jacob McClure’s success in recruiting?