The Essex Sharpshooters


The history of the 55th VA began with its assembly of local militia units from Essex and Middlesex Counties, Virginia, in response to John Brownís raid in 1859. Additional companies were eventually attached from Lancaster, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland Counties. In 1861and early 1862 the 55th found itself on the southern banks of the Lower Rappahannock River with Col. Francis Mallory as the regimentís commander.

With Col. George E. Pickett as commander of the District of the Lower Rappahannock, the 55th defended the river ports and crossings with flintlock muskets against Union gunboats, spies from the North, and fugitive slaves from the South.  Pickett demanded and finally received .69 cal. smoothbore muskets for the 55th in response to a perceived Federal threat on the Rappahannock.

When Pickett was promoted, the 55th was attached to a brigade under Gen. Charles Field, consisting of the 40th, 47th, and 55th Virginia infantry regiments. After defending and slowly retreating from the Fredericksburg/Rappahannock line under Gen. J.R. Anderson, the brigade was assigned to Gen. A.P. Hillís Light Division before the June 1862 Peninsular Campaign.