Skip to content

“An Unceasing Roar”: 160th Battle of Cedar Creek

The next year and a half are going to be exciting here in Virginia as we progress from 1863 to 1864 – the myriad of changes that had emerged by this point in the war signaled the evolution of American military tradition. What began as a war between armies without significant experience, showcasing nearly Napoleonic style tactics, evolved into the modern age. Lessons learned from observing European conflicts and their development of light infantry tactics coupled with newfound experience on the battlefield to institute change. Commanders on both sides recognized the need for light infantry units, which had been neglected in the Antebellum period, to swiftly maneuver and fill specialized operational needs that were lacking. This led to the establishment and development of sharpshooters.

Today’s association of the word “sharpshooter” with marksmanship, particularly as snipers, overlaps very little in studying the role of sharpshooter units during the American Civil War. Closer examination shows that these men were (while rage estimation and marksmanship were valued) developed as highly proficient light infantrymen rather than as snipers. They were the most loyal, disciplined, well-trained, and capable infantrymen on any battlefield. Hand-picked from their home units, sharpshooters assembled into lighter battalions intended for hard duties where heavier infantry could not function as easily or with as much effectiveness.

Whether addressing the need to post truly cohesive grand guards and pickets along critical fronts or making forays behind enemy lines… to initiating actions as skirmishers and guarding vulnerable flanks, sharpshooters frequently found themselves at the forefront of any army’s location and operations. However, these men did more than just amass in line of battle and press in together as heavier line infantry units did. They adopted the latest doctrines from around the world, developed new maneuvers and tactics on the battlefield, and moved in ways that initially drew callous remarks about their “cowardly” departure from American military tradition. Moving in smaller teams, taking cover, fighting from prone positions, and aiming at specific targets rather than pouring indiscriminately into the enemy was foreign (and to some degree considered dishonorable) to the armies of North and South.

Nevertheless, war necessitates innovation. War challenges old norms and paradigms. The fluttering colors and neat battle lines of old would slowly give way to something new over the course of 1861-1865. As more troops gained experience and trained, more of these light infantry units guarded armies and joined battlefields. The sharpshooters changed how Americans experience war in a grim way as opponents recognized two things: “I am aiming at someone” and “someone is aiming at me.” America’s romantic perception of warfare was over. It had come of age and joined the emerging modern world.

Join us at Cedar Creek – both this fall and next, to participate in a unique portrayal that goes well beyond the average experience of line infantry. This fall’s effort will be smaller, centered on a company or two on each side, to offer a chance to practice skirmishing skills and develop a sense of what will be expanded upon.2024’s focus on sharpshooters will culminate in the goal of fielding not one, but two sharpshooter battalions (one US and one CS) as the campaigner adjunct at the 160th Cedar Creek in support of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s event and their preservation efforts. To our knowledge, this is the first time opposing sharpshooter battalions can be recreated to clash on original ground as the original cast did. Care is being taken to ensure that these campaigner battalions get a quality experience out of this adjunct effort. You won’t want to miss this one!