Wednesday, May 15, 2024

U.S.Sharpshooters at Gettysburg


USSS concealed in a cornfield and taking pot shots at Confederate artillery.

Click on the pictures to enlarge

If you have ACW armies to fight the Eastern Theatre (largely in Virginia) then you probably have had the urge to add a unit of the U.S. Sharpshooter's to your army. They are akin to the British rifle regiments in the Napoleonic wars, such as the 60th Royal American and the 95th Rifles regiments that fought in Spain.

The 1st USSS ("USSS") fought at Gettysburg, attached to Daniel Sickles' Third Corps (everything Gettysburg eventually comes back to Dan Sickles),  fought in Pitzer's Woods, basically on a scouting mission to see what Confederate forces might be in said woods. They were driven back, of course, as only several companies of USSS were sent on the mission and didn't have sufficient numbers to hold back the formed regular regiments of Confederates (as opposed to being trained open order skirmish troops as were the USSS).

They are probably better suited for fighting small actions rather than being part of a larger battle such as the Peach Orchard/Wheatfield or Pickett's Charge battles at Gettysburg. Nevertheless, I wanted them in my Union army so I painted a force of 30 figures, all sourced from Armies In Plastic. I divide the unit into two groups of 15 figures and base them 3 figures per stand rather than the 6 figures per stand that I use for regular regiments.

A group of sharpshooters run up the road to take up a position.

The sharpshooters have moved out of the cornfield and onto the turnpike road,
resting their rifles on the post and rail fences for better aim.

In my rules, I don't want the sharpshooters to be more powerful than their numbers would indicate, so I divide them into smaller groups of 6 to 15 figures. They "hit" on a die roll of "1" on a D6 dice, but even with a 17% probability of getting a hit, they are still fairly deadly. Do I think that I will resort to using D10 dice and scoring hits on "1" only. This will make them annoying to their opponents, but not turn them into walking machine guns. 

I had this problem when I used skirmishers in my AWI games, allowing hits on a 1 or a 2. With up to 20 figures at a time rolling for 1 and 2, the skirmishers were too deadly. They could hit up to 4 figures per turn using 20 figures, which is almost a full stand of formed opponent's figures. Two regular players in my SYWA convention games, Tom M. and Daniel H., were particularly adept at finding loop holes in the rules and they quickly figured out the favorable math in which the skirmishers were hitting more opponents per turn than a formed regiment of 30 figures could inflict on them.

So I broke them down into smaller groups and decreed that there could not be more than 6 skirmishers in a group. Of course Tom and Daniel still got around the new rules by amassing three groups of 6 figures, generating similar deadly results. You have got to hand it to them, they are good. LOL!

OK guys, now I'll fix you by scattering the skirmishers over different ends of the game table so that they could not gather in the same area of the table. And I reduced the "hit" score down to hitting only on a 1. That seemed to solve the problem, although Tom and Daniel were still searching for a way to utilize their skirmishers to deadly effect. My final counter-measure might come down to removing skirmishers from the game completely. I have to say that I had fun trying to match wits with the fellows.

So getting back to the USSS in my Civil War games, I want them to be a little bit annoying, but not too powerful that they produce better results than Confederate formed troops. I could paint some Confederate skirmishers to (he, he, he).

In any event, the U.S. Sharpshooters are a good looking unit with their dark green uniforms and brown leather equipment and are probably a unit that any ACW gamer should consider adding to their armies.


  1. It sounds strange to have '1s' hitting instead of '6s' but, in any case my system is much bloodier with hit potential greater as high as 4+ for short range. I do have modifications though, such as minus one for troops moving and shooting, cover saves, saves for being in skirmish and minus 1 for shooting from skirmish (for this period) ut I'd probably dispense with the last for elite shooters. etc.

    1. I use a "1" because it looks like a bullseye. LOL. I am keeping the rule simple since it is a convention game and looking for a certain pip on the die is easy and quick.