American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt


Do you remember the sharp-shooters who came into Washington's camp during the Revolution? Do you remember how they used to amuse themselves while they were encamped outside of Boston, by shooting at targets just for the practice?

Well, there were sharp-shooters in the Civil War, too, both among the Unionists and among the Confederates. Their business was to be always on the watch when the armies were encamped near each other; and, if one of the enemy showed himself anywhere in sight, to shoot at him.

John D. Champlain, who has lately written a history of this war for young folks, tells this story of sharp-shooting:

"One of the most skilful of the Confederate marksmen was a large negro, who used to perch himself in a tree and lie there all day, firing whenever he saw a chance for a good shot. He had in this way killed several Union soldiers, and the sharp-shooters had watched a long time for him. At last the Union trenches, which were gradually being dug nearer and nearer, reached a place only about twenty rods from the tree. One morning the darky came out early and took his accustomed place in the tree. The sharp-shooters might have easily killed him as he came out, but they did not want to frighten others who were coming. He was followed soon by several Confederate pickets, on whom the men fired, killing some and driving the others back. The darky, of course, was now "in a fix", or, in other words, was "up a tree," for he could not get back without running the risk of being shot.

"I say, big nigger," called out one of the Union marksmen from the trenches, "you'd better come down from there."

"What for?" he asked.

"I want you as a prisoner."

"Not as this chile knows of," he answered.

"All right. Just as you say," called out the marksman.

In about an hour Mr. Darkey, hearing nothing from in front of his tree, concluded that it was safe to take just one peep; so he poked his head out far enough to get a look at the Union lines. But the sharp-shooter had not taken his eye from the tree for an instant, and no sooner did the head appear than he pulled the trigger of his rifle. A little puff of blue smoke—a flash—the whiz of a bullet—and down came the negro to the ground shot through the head.