Captain William Harkness of Company H, Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry Regiment was killed by a sharpshooter from the First Kentucky Brigade in what has become known as the battle of Kenesaw Mountain. Kenesaw Mountain is just outside Marietta, Georgia, some twenty miles northwest of Atlanta.
There is an interesting sidelight to the story of William's death. The Kentucky Brigade specially trained and armed a group of sharpshooters. In the winter of 1863-1864, Confederate General Breckinridge received eleven guns known as the Kerr rifle, which he allotted to his old brigade, the First Kentucky. The Kerr rifle was a long-range muzzle loading rifle, that could kill from a distance of a mile or more.
A large number of men engaged in a prolonged target practice with the rifle. From these, ten who had proven themselves to be the best marksmen and were known to be otherwise reliable were finally chosen.
The general plan was for the sharpshooters to work themselves between the Confederate and Federal lines at night to reconnoiter and cover the front of the Confederate army. They would particularly look for opportunities to kill off pickets, men who exposed themselves along the lines of the Federal breast-works, and officers who came in view while directing the operations of their troops.
The rifle required a peculiar type of powder. The use of ordinary powder required the barrel to be swabbed out after every fourth or fifth shot. The gun was also difficult to charge or load. A very disconcerting problem from the shooter's standpoint was that the rifle did not use smokeless powder. It gave off a very telltale whiff of smoke each time it was fired and the shooter was easily spotted during daylight hours. This, in turn, would cause Federal forces to devise ways of dispatching the sniper. Casualties were very high among the corps of sharpshooters.
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