The men who would serve in the 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters came from the mountainous region of southwestern Virginia. The counties of Monroe, Mercer, and Carroll, and the area around Roanoke provided many of the recruits. Virtually all of the men found on the 30th’s rolls were farmers, farm laborers, or laborers. While most were literate, the majority were relatively poor with few owning property worth much more than $1,000. Corn and wheat were the predominant crops grown in the region, with flax and potatoes also occupying significant acreage. The growth of the road and railroad network had finally given many access to the Lynchburg and North Carolina markets by the late 1850s, encouraging some to begin growing cash crops such as tobacco. A search of the 1860 census shows that few, if any, of the enlisted men on the battalion’s rolls were slaveholders, however.
Formed in September and October 1862 from Virginia artillerymen who had been captured at Fort Donelson and later paroled, the six companies of the 30th would spend the majority of their time in service in the Shenandoah Valley and eastern Tennessee. Organized at various times under the Department of Southwestern Virginia, Department of North Carolina, Department of North Carolina and South Virginia, and Department of East Tennessee, the battalion saw little action until the spring campaigns of 1864 while serving in the Department of Western Virginia under General John C. Breckinridge.
The 30th was trained to be used as skirmishers and would serve almost exclusively in that role through all of their engagements in 1864. During their first significant action at New Market on May 15, the 30th would lead the advance of their brigade, suffering 7 killed and 43 wounded. Soon sent to support the Army of Northern Virginia near Richmond, the battalion would skirmish at Totopotomoy Creek and aid in the repulse of Grant’s June 3 assault at Cold Harbor, inflicting many casualties while suffering only a handful of wounded. Quickly sent back westward with General Jubal A. Early’s newly formed Army of the Valley to defend Lynchburg, the 30th would skirmish near the city in mid June with the only casualty being the loss of their commander, Lieutenant Colonel J.L.
Clarke, who was badly injured by a falling tree. The battalion would advance into Maryland with Early in July, was held in reserve at Monocacy, and would march to within sight of the U.S. Capitol before retreating back to Virginia. On July 24 at 2nd Kernstown, the battalion would suffer 1 killed and 5 wounded on the skirmish line. Throughout July, August, and into September, the 30th would participate in numerous small engagements against Sheridan’s troops including at Purcellville, Castleman’s Ferry, Kernstown, Spout Spring, Winchester, Bower’s Hill, Charlestown, Payne’s Chapel, Kearneysville, and Berryville, suffering small numbers of casualties. At 3rd Winchester on September 19, the battalion was overrun during Custer’s cavalry charge and joined the routed army, leaving behind 2 dead, 11 wounded, 66 prisoners, and its colors. Three days later at Fisher’s Hill the 30th would lose another two men to wounds and several prisoners. In the retreat from Cedar Creek on October 19, the battalion, already reduced to under 75 men, would leave at least 6 more casualties on the field.
The 1864 campaigns had been devastating to the 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters. Aside from attrition due to illness, the battalion had lost 18 men killed or mortally wounded, 90 wounded, and 86 captured—more than two thirds of its number. They had marched more than 1,500 miles during the year, most of it over the course of only six months of active campaigning. Having retreated southward into the Shenandoah Valley for the winter, the battalion’s few remaining veterans were reduced to rags. The Army of the Valley would attempt to use the winter months to resupply, bolster its numbers, scatter its horses to find forage, and improve morale by providing much-wanted furloughs for its veterans.
By early 1865, few of the men on the 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters’ rolls were Fort Donelson veterans. With many men on furlough or on detached duty, barely half of those in camp, generally the younger men, had been present for the 1864 campaigns. The remainder had been recruited or conscripted over the course of the winter. A large portion of the reinforced unit was composed of men over 40 years old that had not been required to perform military service until recently. Some new members were over 60, including one veteran of the War of 1812.
Friday, February 10, 1865:
Companies D, E, and F of the 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters once again leave their positions on the picket line, are replaced by Companies A, B, and C, and make the short trek back to the wooded campsite that had been their home since mid-December 1864.
Early’s army of 14,000 that had marched into Maryland the previous summer was but a shell of its former self by early 1865. The entire Army of the Valley, now scattered in small camps from Staunton to Rockfish Gap, had but 1,000 infantrymen, 200 cavalrymen, 500 artillerymen, and 100 officers—a total strength of about 1,800.
Forsberg’s Brigade, the larger of the two infantry brigades remaining with the Army of the Valley, constituted about 30 officers and 650 enlisted men of that number.
Morale was low in the Army of the Valley. Defeats on the battlefield, bad news from across the South, short rations, a lack of officers, and the under strength army’s barely functioning military structure contributed to a lack of discipline. Furloughs, which were granted somewhat liberally, were much sought after by the troops. The poor spirits of the command were widely noted by government inspectors from Richmond.
“The men of this command are principally from Southwest Virginia, in which department they have served more or less constantly since their organization. The domestic, home loving character of the people of that country, held in common with the peoples of all mountainous and inaccessible regions, taken with the fact that their country has been since the war began the disputed territory of friend and foe, has given its stamp to the character of the military organizations. A frequent visit home, always demoralizing to the best disciplined corps, soon came to be regarded as the right of each man, and this claim, freely granted among troops located in small detachments or passing frequently to and fro among their homes, led inevitably to homesickness, dissatisfaction, and desertion when transferred to more remote districts. The almost entire impervity afforded by mountain fastnesses, and the vicinity of hostile lines, has made the arrest of absentees and the consequent infliction of penalties of little disciplinary value to the command. Men thus are encouraged to bolder violations of law and order, and officers in many cases too fearful of losing their men to enforce the proper discipline. The detached condition of these organizations in the past has rendered the immediate and personal inspection and control of commanding officers, and the prompt transmission and enforcement of orders in organization and discipline, impracticable in many cases, doubtless culpably neglected in others.”
Between regular rotations on the picket line and detached duty to procure supplies, the men of the 30th settled into the routine of camp life. Meals prepared by the battalion’s cooks changed little, composed mostly of corn and/or peas, salted beef or pork, and occasionally a bit of coffee and sugar. The daily schedule of roll calls, inspections of quarters, drill, occasional target practice, and dress parade was monotonous, but maintained the organization’s limited discipline.
The 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters in February 1865:
“There has not been, and does not exist, a thorough Division organization, nor a single complete Brigade organization. . .”
Army of the Valley District – Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early
Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton’s Division
Colonel Augustus Forsberg’s Brigade
Brigaded with the 45th, 50th, and 51st Virginia.
Despite their exceptionally small strengths, the individual units in the Army of the Valley were generally not consolidated and attempted to function as tiny companies, regiments, and brigades with only limited success. The 30th fielded fewer than 60 officers and men in six companies in February 1865 and did not have a complete battalion staff. The unit’s field and staff officers consisted only of the major commanding the battalion and a lieutenant serving as the adjutant. Due to furloughs and attrition, only one company was commanded by an officer, the rest being led by noncommissioned officers.
“. . . suits of most excellent dark gray clothing, of English manufacture, which had recently run the blockade. The clothing came none too soon . . .”
By February 1865 the Army of the Valley had finally been resupplied and was better clothed and equipped than it had been at any point since beginning the march into Maryland the previous summer. December and January had seen the 30th severely wanting, with military inspectors from Richmond noting that some men had shown up for inspections lacking hats, while others, unable to mend their pants or jackets any further, were reduced to only their drawers or cotton shirts. Some officers lacked swords or sword belts, having lost them during the previous campaign. In response, a small wagon train bearing clothing had been sent from Richmond. Containing a sufficient number of uniforms made of British kersey, wool flannel overshirts, and good quality shoes to supply the little army, the wagons were nonetheless plundered by the neediest soldiers immediately upon their arrival.
Participants are strongly encouraged to wear a blue grey kersey jacket such as a Tait jacket or any blue grey kersey Richmond Clothing Bureau jacket. Pants of royal blue British kersey are preferred. Lacking those, generic Confederate pants made of jeans or blue grey kersey are acceptable.
Other clothing should largely be of a government issue type. Wool overshirts are encouraged as are cotton osnaburg Confederate issue shirts and imported British shirts. Blue grey kersey kepis are preferred with slouch hats also acceptable. Similarly, equipment should be of a government issue type including both leather and painted cloth accoutrements appropriate to the Eastern Theater in 1865. Painted cloth and leather Richmond Arsenal/Clarksville Ordnance Harness Shops roller buckle belts and cartridge box slings are encouraged. Captured and arsenal refurbished Federal canteens on “split- leather” slings are encouraged, with tin drum and wooden canteens acceptable as well. Any documented Eastern Theater haversack is acceptable. Domestically-produced or imported Confederate issue blankets are encouraged. Civilian coverlets and blankets are also acceptable. Participants may choose to bring a knapsack of either British or domestic production or wear a bedroll. Overcoats of either British or domestic manufacture or reissued Federal overcoats are acceptable in limited numbers. Outside of the above noted, please refrain from bringing a large amount of Federal clothing or equipment. While some might have been issued to members of the unit, the 30th had had little opportunity to acquire Federal supplies from the battlefield in their previous few engagements.
The 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters was fully armed with P-53 Enfields and .58 Springfields and Richmonds. Many men lacked bayonets and participants may choose to not have a bayonet or scabbard.
The battalion will be issued rations matching what the 30th Battalion Virginia Sharpshooters was issued throughout the winter of 1864-1865. Participants are to arrive at the event with an empty haversack. Plenty of additional food items will be available for purchase from the sutler.