Marvin Lurie

Birge’s Western Sharpshooters (2020)


Father wasn't much for farming.
My brothers doing the work.
He'd sit in the woods, his back to a tree,
long rifle across his knees,
sharing his lunch biscuits with the birds.
Most days he'd bring home meat for the pot.
I was his youngest.
As soon as I could sit still and quiet, he'd take me along.
I was of a generally quiet nature
so it suited me.
When I was almost tall as the rifle,
he taught me to load and shoot it.
It wasn't long before I could hit a squirrel in the eye at 100 paces.
One day, Mr. Ellis Mercer, who owned the saw mill at Pond Creek,
came by to say he was looking to form a regiment
of Bureau and Logan Counties sharpshooters.
That's how I came to be in Company C,
66th Illinois Infantry Regiment
at Pittsburgh Landing an early morning in April, '62,
sitting high up, my back to a tree,
my Dimick Target Rifle across my knees,
watching some Rebels unlimber their cannons.
They were so far away
they didn't seem more than uniforms.
I waited until they came around
and tumbled the first one.
They crouched down behind their gun.
I heard the Henry repeater to my right go off
and another one tumbled.
They ducked around the other way
and the sharpshooter to my left chased them back.
An officer spotted our smoke with a glass.
One of their guards tried to get a bead on me.
I put him down too.
By then there were three big muzzles pointed our way
so we scattered into the woods behind us.
I dodged rebel pickets most of the afternoon.
One spotted me and got a shot off
but only splattered me with tree bark.
I still have a mark on my cheek.
At dusk I caught up and made made camp
with some soldiers from one of Colonel Tuttle's brigades
that'd been shot up and scattered by rebel charges.
We sat quiet around the fire cleaning our guns.
At first light I filled my canteen,
stuffed biscuits in my pockets
and looked for a likely spot.
After the war I came home to try farming.
But like my father,
I'd rather sit in the woods,
my back to a tree,
my rifle across my knees.
I've tried to write down my thoughts about the war,
but the the words jumble.


Pittsburgh Landing was the Federal name for the battle that the Confederacy called Shiloh.

The Western Sharpshooters were formed by Colonel John Burge. For most of the war they were used a scouts and skirmishers. They are listed on one of the Shiloh battle maps as "Burge's Sharpshooters (14th Missouri)" and mentioned by General Sherman. General Buell claims they weren't there and that Sherman inserted a false description of their and his positions to make it look like General Grant's lines were extended further than they actually were.

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