Kentucky Sharpshooters

The Breckinridge Greys

The Kentucky Sharpshooters

During the winter of 1863-64, General John C. Breckinridge received 11 British Kerr rifles from an English friend.  These muzzle loading rifles were accurate at a distance of a mile or more.  The general sent the rifles to his old First Kentucky Brigade, which, organized an elite unit of sharpshooters to make use of the weapons.  The corps was organized in May 1864, when the Army of Tennessee left winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia, and took position at Rocky Face Ridge.

Made up of two of the best marksmen from each of the five regiments of the brigade, the daring Lt. George Hector Burton was given command of the unit.  The sharpshooters numbered from 9 to 11 men at any time.  One of the rifles was disabled during training, and another was lost on the field during the campaign.

For their dangerous work, members of the sharpshooters acted in groups of 2-4 men when on duty, and spread themselves across the entire front of the brigade, usually choosing federal artillery as their targets.  Because of this, the men were rarely together except at night.  At times they operated beyond the Kentucky brigade’s position along the line of Lt.Gen. William J. Hardee’s corps, silencing federal artillery wherever needed.  Hardee considered them his most valuable unit.

As casualties took their toll, volunteers were chosen to fill their places.  About 20 men served in the unit.  Almost all of the original 10 members (besides the Lieutenant) were wounded, some of them 2 or 3 times.  Seventeen were killed or wounded during the campaign.  When the brigade was mounted in September 1864, this special unit disbanded, the men turning in their Kerr rifles for Enfields, and returning to their former companies. 

Members of the unit included:

Lt. George H. Burton – Company F, 4th Kentucky Infantry

Sgt. Thomas Owens – Company I, 4th Kentucky Infantry

Sgt. William Ambrose – Co.B, 9th Kentucky Infantry (replacement, June 1864)

Cpl. Taylor McCoy – Company A, 4th Kentucky Infantry

William H. Anderson – Company E, 6th Kentucky Infantry

Pvt. Henry S. Dedman – Co. A, 5th Kentucky Infantry (killed at Dallas May 28, 1864)

Steve Estill – Co. H, 2nd Kentucky Inf. (died at West Point GA October 27, 1864)

John Y. Milton – Company A, 6th Kentucky Infantry

William H. Morgan – Company A, 6th Kentucky Infantry

Walker Nash – Company G, 9th Kentucky Infantry

N. Frank Smith – Company F, 2nd Kentucky Infantry

Pvt. Jerry Spalding [Spaulding on his gravestone] – Co. K, 5th Kentucky Infantry

James Tennell – Company A, 6th Kentucky Infantry

William H. VanMeter – Co. H, 6th Kentucky Inf. (mortally wounded at Jonesboro)

Our mess portrays these members of Kentucky’s finest at selected events.

The best information available on the Kentucky sharpshooters can be found in History of the Orphan Brigade, Ed Porter Thompson (1898), available from Janaway Publishing, Inc.

Their service is also noted in Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade, A. D. Kirwan, ed. (1956), The University of Kentucky Press.

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