Birge’s Squirrel Tails

It’s always interesting to read about the “special forces” from the war, not only for their rarity but also their colorful histories. Birge’s Sharpshooters, like the Bucktails, made hunting prizes part of their uniform and unit pride.

The unit was the brainchild of John Birge, a St. Louis eye doctor and adventurer. Birge had been a member of the Hunter Patriots, a group of Americans who in 1838 tried to invade Canada to break it away from the British Empire.

Birge patterned the regiment after the units being raised in the East by Hiram Berdan, who had gained nationwide notoriety for his sharpshooters. To qualify, each recruit had to hit a target 10 times at 200 yards. To make the grade, the shooter had to hit “three shots to measure no more than 10 inches,” meaning his three most inaccurate shots were no more than 3¹/³ inches from the center of the bull’s eye.

“They were one of the longest-lived elite units,” Sullivan said. “The more you learn about this unit, the more extraordinary they are.”

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