Micah Jenkins' Palmetto Sharpshooters
by Gordon Thorsby
"A noble brother lost somewhere there around the trenches
but no trace could I find of him.
O' Solitude, where are the charms, Sages have seen in thy face?
Better to dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than stay in that horrible place.
He cautions other veterans:
"Do not go there alone,
you will regret it."
-Lt James Hough 6th SC Cavalry (referring to revisiting the killing ground of Petersburg)
The Union Army had the Berdan regiments, the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters Birge’s 66th ILL Sharpshooters and others. The Confederates had a unit that made a name for itself for being in the tick of battle, fighting tough, and sustaining some of the largest casualties of the war. They were sharpshooters of course and they were the Palmetto Sharpshooters.
By the end of 1861, several South Carolina regiments required reorganizing due to casualties. With enlistment terminations came an opportunity under a special act of the Confederate Congress. Unfortunately, there was a permanent shortage of Confederate regiments so sharpshooter units in the South served full infantry duty, not primarily skirmish/sharpshooter duty.
At Culpeper, then Col. Micah Jenkins scoured the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, and Hampton’s Legion South Carolina regiments to create an elite regiment for marksmen. Fully outfitted, the ten company, 1100 man unit was equipped with Enfield and/or Whitworth rifles. The men liked their Enfields. In the forthcoming years, the regiment added 550 men via conscription.
The men consisted of the Boys of the King’s Mountain Academy, the Johnson Rifles, the Calhoun Mountaineers, the Palmetto Riflemen, the Darlington Sentinels, the Cowpens Guards, and others.
An early commander was Richard Anderson who went on to command the 1st Corps after Longstreet’s wounding. Micah Jenkins who led the regiment and then the brigade that included the sharpshooters was killed when Longstreet was wounded at the Wilderness. Joseph Walker served as its Colonel from 1862 on. During its service, the Palmetto Sharpshooters served in the South Carolina brigade commanded by General R.H. Anderson's, Jenkins, and John Bratton, in several divisions, all in Longstreet’s Corps.
Col. Joseph Walker (LOC)
Battles included Seven Pines where the Sharpshooters suffered 222 casualties, and where the brigade went in with 1900 and came out 700 fewer but the Carolinians made the difference. At Gaines Mill, 83 more were added to the "butcher's bill" but it seized the 16th Michigan's colors in the dark and chaos. At Frayser's Farm, the regiment lost 254 of 375 and by the end of of the Seven Days Campaign, the regiment was a fragment of its original muster.
At Second Manassas, the South Carolina Brigade took Bald Hill, went onto Henry Hill and where it ran into several Federal regiments. Said one soldier in the 5th South Carolina, "the attacking South Carolinians and Texans tumbled and melted away."
Months later at Suffolk, a soldier reported, that they (Palmetto SS) had to "go down and charge the gun boats. 'Volunteers were procured...when we got in good range they opened on us with shells about the size of flour barrel heads.”
In June 1863, they went to Richmond instead of Pennsylvania. One soldier reported, that the regiment did “police duty in town." They guarded Richmond and were therefore ordered to Chickamauga. In the Chattanooga campaign, the brigade made a night assault at Wauhatchie. Attempting to surprise a sleeping Union brigade they advanced minus the Confederate yell and they were surprised instead by almost a division of Federal veterans from the AOP ready for them. In short order, The brigade’s fierce attack was assailed on three sides and where the PSS lost another 44.
In the Overland campaign where at the Wilderness Jenkins' life ended with a bullet to the head along Longstreet's wounding by their own forces. Most of the men who served, experienced the war from First Manassas to Appomattox and they served in both theaters.
At the surrender at Appomattox, the regiment had 29 commissioned officers, and 356 enlisted men. It was the largest of any surrendering regiment.
Note: Many original applications for membership in the Palmetto Riflemen are available for inspection at the Pendleton District Historical Commission in Pendleton, South Carolina.
A Bloody Day at Gaines Mill by Woodard III, Elmer R., McFarland and Co., 2019, p.194.
The Palmetto Riflemen, Co. B, Fourth Regiment S. C. Volunteers. CO. C, Palmetto Sharpshooters. An Address by James A. Hoyt, 21 July, 1885. Greenville, S.C., Hoyt & Keys, Printers, 1886.
To The Gates of Richmond, by Sears, Stephen W., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992, P.296.
Sons of Confederate Veterans of the Civil War.
Second Manassas, by Patchan, Scott C., Potomac Books, Dulles, VA., 2011, PP85-86.
The Reunion of Palmetto Riflemen. From the Anderson Intelligencer, July 23, 1885.