Manley appears to be county’s only Civil War sharpshooter

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton John Manley Hoyt, buried here in the Sheffield Cemetery, appears to be the only Civil War soldier from Warren County to serve as a sharpshooter.

2.6 million men fought for the Union during the Civil War.

You can guess the color of the uniforms of the vast majority of those men.

For John Manley Hoyt, though, your guess would be wrong.

That’s because he was one of the best marksmen in the entire army. As a member of the 2nd Regiment, United States Sharpshooters, he would have been one of about just a couple thousand men out of that total to wear green.

Don’t let the sharpshooter title fool you.

While they were used differently than we might use a sniper today, that’s the equivalent.

Now you’re probably expecting here that I launch into a full story on who John Manley Hoyt is.

I wish I could.

But finding detailed information about each of those 2.6 million men is quite often like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I can’t tell you where he fought.

I can’t tell you whether he was wounded in his service.

But I’ll tell you what I can about Hoyt and generally what it would have taken to become a sharpshooter.

Because I can say one thing for certain – this Sheffield man was one of the finest marksmen in the entire Union army.

I was tipped to Hoyt’s service by the Warren County Historical Society’s listing of the county’s Civil War soldiers.

That says Hoyt was born in Oneida County, New York in 1825 and was a member of Co. C, 2nd Regiment, U.S.S.S. That list links him to Sheffield.

Findagrave says he was born in 1824 (we won’t squabble about early 1800s birth years).

From there, the National Park Service has developed a database of all the men that served on both sides during the war.

John M. Hoyt can be found there in Co. C., 2nd Regiment, U.S. Sharpshooters.

He’s listed as enlisting as a private and leaving as a private.

There’s a category for notes in that database and we’re given one word – “none.”

I found something – and I honestly don’t remember where – that he lived in the Austin Hill area.

That would fit with a Findagrave listing at the Sheffield Cemetery for “John Manley Hoyt,” who died in 1902.

Unfortunately, that’s all I’ve got directly on Hoyt.

An NPS overview of the regiment states that Co. C – Hoyt’s company – was organized in Pennsylvania on Oct. 4, 1861.

After some months in Washington D.C., the regiment – known as Berdan’s Sharpshooters – would remain in field service until the end of the war.

An article posted at npshistory.org details the qualification standard for men looking to entire these exclusive ranks.

“Each applicant had to pass a shooting test by hitting a target at 200 yards, standing or kneeling, placing ten consecutive shots into a ten-inch diameter,” the article states.

And, from there, the shots had to be accurate enough so that the average distance of all 10 shots was less than five inches, measured by a string.

“Even for expert marksmen in Northern rifle clubs, this test proved remarkably difficult,” the article explains. “In Albany on July 13, 1861, 100 men tried out, but only six passed…. A reporter remarked, ‘Colonel Berdan exacts the very crËme de la crËme of skill….’

A site specifically focused on the regiment (berdansharpshooter.org) outlines several other promises made to sharpshooters – a special order rifle, higher pay, no guard duty as well as special tactics and uniforms.

The NPS article mentioned earlier gives us a sense for how these men operated and the objectives they had.

“Rare admissions by Civil War soldiers in their private letters reveal that they intentionally shot at individual enemy soldiers or killed them willfully, confirming that such behavior was commonplace on the battlefield, especially after 1863,” the article states. “Whenever these letter-writers admitted to the deliberate killing of another soldier, they followed it with an expression of shame or regret or an immediate warning to those at home not to brag about what they had done.

“As standard practice, every commander, from major general to sergeant, sent out a cloud of skirmishers and sharpshooters to “feel out” enemy positions and determine strength and deployment. Also, skirmishers and sharpshooters performed other essential roles: They guarded flanks and forward positions, detected the approach of an enemy assault, and sometimes paved the way for grander assaults against fortified positions. Quite often, skirmishers and sharpshooters followed a Napoleonic truism, serving as ‘light infantry,’ dispersed formations that led the way across the deadly ground, shielding the heavy assault that was soon to follow.”

A Union observer cited in that piece calls the sharpshooters the “greatest terror to the enemy and well they may be for no sooner does one of them Rebels show himself then plunk goes a bullet into his body, and he is done from secession for this world.”

Over two years of sustained service would take the regiment to nearly every major battlefield in the east – Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Petersburg.

With that kind of long, sustained service comes casualties – eight officers and 117 men killed; 2 officers and 123 men dead by disease.

As the numbers fell over time, and the Union high command opted to deploy sharpshooters in small groups rather than entire regiments, consolidation became necessary.

The 1st and 2nd regiments were consolidated at the end of 1864.

The regiment was discontinued entirely the following February, with Co. C being transferred to the 105th Pennsylvania Infantry.

That would take the men to Appomattox and the end of the war.


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