The Vicksburg Sharpshooters go to War

Having worked at the Old Court House Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi, for nine years, I have a soft spot for Civil War units from the Hill City. One of these units was the Vicksburg Sharpshooters, a pre-war militia unit that became Company G, 12th Mississippi Infantry, which served in the Army of Northern Virginia. The following letter was written by a member of the Sharpshooters who used the pen name “Phoenix.” Written on May 14, 1861, it was published in the Vicksburg Weekly Citizen on May 20, 1861, and describes the first heady days of the war, when most people thought the conflict would be short and relatively bloodless. In this letter “Phoenix” writes of the departure of the Sharpshooters from Vicksburg, and their trip to Corinth, Mississippi. This young soldier wrote at least one other letter, which I plan to publish in my next article.

Letter from the Sharpshooters – Their Departure from Home – Scenes along the Route – Noble Conduct of Captain Miller – Good Health of the Boys, &c.

Corinth Miss. May 14th, 1861

Dear Citizen: When I left your city I promised to write you all that would transpire on our journey to Corinth, and will now proceed to sketch a few outlines of the incidents connected therewith.

I need not describe the scene at our departure from home, as all the good citizens of Vicksburg were present to witness the affecting scene. As we reached Bovina, we were received by cheers from the men and the ladies presented us with a large number of boquets and flags. This was the way all along the railroad. Arrived in Jackson about 5 o’clock where we received our new tents, and also an additional recruit, your old friend H.R. Marshall. The train being ready to start for Canton we left Jackson, after stopping there about two hours. Reached Canton about 9 o’clock where we partook of a magnificent supper at the hotel. After supper we changed cars and proceeded on our way. This was the first time that a great many of us had slept in the cars, but all the boys enjoyed themselves finely by singing, &c until they fell asleep.

Wartime illustration of Jackson, Mississippi, from HARPER’S WEEKLY, June 20, 1863

We were awakened in the morning by the stopping of the cars, owing to a tree having fallen across the track the night before. Our company assisted in removing the obstruction, and we passed on arriving at Holly Springs about 8 o’clock on Friday morning where we were compelled to lay over, having missed the connecting train. Here we were received by the Mayor and Council of this city, who treated us to a breakfast, after which we were escorted up town through an ankle depth of mud to the Court House, where speeches were made by several gentlemen, and responded to by Capt. Miller. During these proceedings a number of gentlemen of this city made up a purse of about thirty dollars and presented it to our Captain, who declined to accept the generous offer, on account, as he said, that we did not need anything. We also were the recipients of magnificent boquets from the hands of Miss Long, Miss McLean, Miss Daniels, and several other ladies.

Wartime illustration of Holly Springs, Mississippi, HARPER”S WEEKLY, January 10, 1863

We accepted a kind invitation to supper, and soon after, the train to convey us to the Grand Junction arrived, and we left the patriotic city of Holly Springs and we can truthfully say that the Sharpshooters will never forget the generous people of that city [as long as] they live. Three time three cheers and a bumper for Holly Springs rent the air as our company left that city.

We arrived at Grand Junction about 9 o’clock on the same night, and there being nothing ready for our transportation except box cars upon which they wanted us to proceed but our noble Captain told them that his comrades were gentlemen, and not dogs or horses, and that he would not go in them, that if they did not have cars there in the morning for his company he would take the next train by force, if he could not get it in any other way. So we laid over and slept in the offices of the depot until morning when to our surprise we found the cars ready for our transportation. Here we were also cleverly treated by the proprietor of the Perry Hotel, to hot coffee for the whole company.

Wartime illustration of Grand Junction, Tennessee, HARPER’S WEEKLY, December 20, 1862

We arrived at Corinth at 20 minutes to 12 o’clock on Saturday and were received and escorted to camp by the Natchez Fencibles. There are now companies enough here to form a regiment, and they have determined to run our captain for Colonel of the regiment. The tickets have been printed and the election is expected to take place tomorrow.. I have heard of none other for the position, except Gen. Griffith, who was defeated in the regiment which left here on last Sunday week for Lynchburg, Va.

There is much dissatisfaction about the muskets which are in use here by the companies. The Natchez Fencibles, who were armed with Sharp’s Rifles when they left home, had them taken away from them by the Governor at Jackson, and they have determined not to use any if they cannot get their own. On Saturday the company notified their Captain (who it is said has treated them like dogs, instead of men,) that they would not go if they could not get their own rifles. He called them together and said if there were any in the company who would not fight with anything that was given them, to step out in front, and he would endeavor to have them sent home, whereupon about thirty stepped out, but up to this time they have not gone, though determined to do so if their demand is refused.

Civil War Period Illustration of a Sharp’s Rifle

We have a beautiful drill ground here, and good water, but wood is somewhat scarce. The boys all enjoy themselves I can assure, and all keep in good health and lively spirits, there having not been one complaint of sickness so far. All they think about is fighting, and our Captain is tormented with the question a hundred times a day when we will start. For the information of your readers I will state that it is expected we will go to Lynchburg, Va.

Wartime illustration of Corinth, Mississippi, HARPER’S WEEKLY, June 21, 1862

Our camp was the scene of great rejoicing about 10 o’clock today on account of the arrival of our second lieutenant, Richard Richardson, from Louisville, Ky., with our new uniforms. They are a beautiful suit. We have received a great many new members since we left home, among whom is the Nicaraguan warrior, Columbus Jackson, of your city, who was at the time of our leaving, first lieutenant of the Willis Rifles, but joined our company as a private. One of our men deserted at Vicksburg, and the Captain has sent a dispatch back from Holly Springs to Mayor Crump, for his arrest and to send him on here.

As we are to have a regimental parade this evening, I must bring my correspondence to a close. We will be instructed by Major Barksdale. All letters directed in care of Captain Miller, Vicksburg Sharpshooters, will be received by those they are addressed to; even if we leave here, the letters will be forwarded to us wherever we go. I will endeavor to give you the names of all the companies here in my next. The boys are all well and doing well.

Yours Truly,


5 thoughts on “The Vicksburg Sharpshooters go to War

  1. Jeff, Was the term “sharpshooter” in the name written as one or two words? A local company here in Essex county, Virginia, (that became an element of the 55th VA Inf) insisted on two words, taht they were the Essex “Sharp Shooters,” and abbreviated as ESS, making me wonder if running the two together was a later/modern backformation, original being intended much as “keen shooters,” or the like, would have been.

    1. David,
      In the newspaper article on which this post is based, it is spelled as one word – and they are very consistent about it, as the Sharpshooters were mentioned often during this time period, and it’s always spelled as one word. I have not looked at any original letters from the Sharpshooters in quite a while, but as best I can remember, the most consistent spelling by the men was “Sharpshooters” as one word.

    2. David,

      I suspect that it was two words. They had their own pre war belt buckle with VSS in caps.

      Mike Merritt

      1. Mike,
        In the article, it is spelled “Sharpshooter” – it is also spelled as one word in several subsequent articles about the company from the same newspaper. I think you will find, however, that in the 19th Century, where grammar was much more flexible than it is now, you might find it spelled either way, depending on who was doing the spelling.

      2. Hey Jeff, Thanks for the reply. Yes, I agree that you are correct in your assessment. I have also found that they would over emphasize syllables, just as we still do in the South. I also think that some folks may tend to confuse a company nick-name, in this case, with the sharpshooter bn’s that would come a little later in the war. Thanks again, Mike

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