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History of Cuyahoga County Ohio

compiled by Crisfield Johnson, 1879.

The Sharpshooters.

In the autumn of 1862 Gov. Tod undertook to raise ten independent companies of sharpshooters, to serve on special duty, without field officers. Capt. Gershom M. Barber raised a company which was largely composed of residents of Cuyahoga county, and which was demonimated the Fifth Independent Company of Sharpshooters. The Sixth and Seventh companies were also recruited in this county; the captains having free access to the large camp of drafted men at Camp Cleveland. A portion of their men were actual resident of the county, though generally credited to other counties in which the captains resided. The Ninth and Tenth companies were also largely composed of Cuyahoga-county men, but, as previously stated these were mustered into the Sixteenth Infantry and served with that regiment.

On the companies being completed, the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh were organized in a battalion, and Capt. Barber, as the senior officer, was placed in command. The men were all picked with reference to their physical ability, and before being mustered each was required to make a "string" of not exceeding twenty-five inches in five shots, at one hundred yards off-hand or at two hundred yards at a rest. Their uniform was the same as that of the infantry, except that the trimmings were green, and they were armed with Spencer's seven-shooting rifles.

They remained at Camp Cleveland, drilling as infantry and also practicing at the target, until March, 1863, when they joined Rosecrans' army at Murfreesboro, and were attached to the general's headquarters for special service. The battalion was never brigaded, but remained permanently attached to the headquarters of the Army of the Cumberland throughout the war; being detailed on special duty whenever necessary. The battalion was there joined by the Fourth and Eighth Independent companies; the whole being under the command of Capt. Barber. The Fourth company, however, was detached just before the battle of Chickamauga.

First Ohio Sharpshooter monument at Widow Glenn's, Chickamauga Battlefield National Park
At the battle two companies, of which the Fifth was one, were in charge of the department headquarters. On Sunday, the third day of the fight, while they were on their way, under orders, to join Gen Rosecrans, and while in rear of Gen. Jefferson C. Davis' division, there was a general break along the Union lines, and that division retreated; leaving the sharpshooters directly in front of the enemy. Unable to join Rosecrans, Capt Barber reported to Davis who ordered him to fall back four hundred yards and form line of battle. He did so, and Davis attempted to rally his division in the rear. It broke, however, and a similar order was again sent to Capt. Barber and obeyed. Four times the sharpshooters formed in line and engaged the enemy's advance; thus covering the retreat of Davis' division, and at length following it from the field.

When, after that battle, the rebels cut off the supplies from the army at Chattanooga, Gen. Rosecrans had a road built westward along the north side of the Tennessee. But the rebel sharpshooters from across the river, at the point where it passes through the Cumberland mountains, broke up the first supply train; killing many of the men and horses. A regiment of Kentucky infantry and a battery of artillery both proved unable to protect the exposed point. Capt. Barber was then ordered to detail fifty men for that purpose. He obtained permission to go in command himself.

Taking his detail to the locality on the rainy afternoon of the 13th of October, 1863, he went over the exposed road, attended only by a guide, to lay out his plans. Nearly a hundred shots were fired across the river at the two men, but by keeping on the move they escaped injury. Having thus ascertained just where the enemy was posted, the captain at three o'clock the next morning let his men on to the ground, and stationed them in squads opposite the positions occupied by the rebels.

At dawn both parties began firing across the river. A series of lively duels was kept up until ten o'clock, at which time the rebels withdrew up the mountain, leaving Capt. Barber and his men complete masters of the position. Only one man was wounded and he but slightly. They afterward learned from spies and prisoners that the rebels suffered very severely in killed and wounded before they abandoned the position. The detachment was joined by the rest of the battalion, and held the ground in question until Hooker's two corps arrived and communications were entirely restored.

At Mission Ridge the sharpshooters were held in reserve. After that, they were at headquarters most of the time till the first of May, 1864, though they were engaged in a protracted scout between the hostile lines in February, and the Fifth and Eighth companies were located forty miles up the Tennessee, to protect Union citizens, during part of March and April.

From about the first of May until the first of July the battalion manned a gunboat in the Tennessee, to keep the banks and vicinity clear of rebel guerrillas and raiding parties.

On the 12th of May about sixty-five men came near being massacred through the management of the pilot of the gunboat, who turned out to be a rebel spy. The negro huts and storehouses of a plantation on the south side of the Tennessee had been made the base of operations for rebel guerrillas who were accustomed to cross the river, do what injury they could to the Union forces and return thither. Captain Barber determined to clear them out. The pilot suggested, and the captain agreed, that the boat should lie near the town, as it was called, through the night, then land below it and march up the river road, under the protection of the boat, to attack it.

In the night the pilot got ashore, and warned the rebels what they might expect. On landing , the captain found the river road so favorable to ambush, and so little protected by the gunboat, that he struck across to another. On the sharpshooters nearing the forks of the two roads, near a hundred Texans sprang up out of the ambush in which they had placed themselves on the river road. Thirty or forty shots were fired on a side, when the rebels fled. The sharpshooters advanced into the so-called town, and attacked a store-house filled with plunder from the other side of the river. Immediately the rebels, concealed in other houses and in masked works on the hillside opend a heavy fire, driving the Unionists to the shelter of the gunboat, with a loss of three killed and wounded. The negroes were then warned to leave, and the gunboat shelled the town from end to end, soon driving out the rebels. Afterwards a detachment was sent ashore to burn it, as was done to all houses from which the Union troops were fired on. The rest of the sharpshooters landed to repel attacks. The Texans, not knowing of the covering party, charged across an open space to destroy the burners. The sharpshooters met them with a terrific fire from behind cover, with their Spencer rifles, and more than half the assailants were killed or wounded. These operations entirely broke up the nest of marauders which had previously lurked in the vicinity. The negroes were taken on the gunboat and sent to the contraband camp an Nashville, which was where they were anxious to go.

The sharpshooters, while patrolling the river, passed through several other interesting experiences, which we have not space to relate here. After their gunboat service was over, they joined Sherman's army at Big Shanty. The Seventh company became that general's headquarters guard, and the others were in charge of the amunition train of the army of the Cumberland, from that point to Atlanta. Afterward the battalion of three companies returned to Tennessee and was made Gen. Thomas' headquarters guard, which position it held till the close of the war. In April, 1865, Capt. Barber was mustered out to accept the lieutenant-colonecy of the One Hundred and ninety-seventh Infanty, and the battalion was mustered out on the 19th of July following.

Roster of the 5th Independent Ohio Sharpshooters
Fall 1863 New Recruits in the 5th Ohio Sharpshooters
Biographies of the Men of the 5th Ind. Ohio Sharpshooters
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