Wainwright’s Diary, April 24, 1864: “With the warm days have come clouds of rumours”

With April coming to a close, Colonel Charles Wainwright began his diary on this day in 1864 with a notation about pleasant weather, yet predicting storms rising from the south:

April 24, Sunday. Spring is upon us now, almost at a jump. The last three days have been fit for June; fires are abandoned and replaced by open doors and windows. Today the air is heavy with the moisture of a strong south wind, betokening rain.

But he went on to point out gathering clouds… not not the type hanging in the sky…

With the warm days have come clouds of rumours as to the spring campaign and all that is to be done. The newspapers are full of dark hints, principally meant to make the public believe that the editors and correspondents know more than other people; which is all bosh. Every officer returning from Washington brings down his pockets full; quartermasters, having more transportation than anyone else, bring the most and the biggest.  But among them all I have yet to see the man bold enough to attempt predicting what the first move of this army will be. One report says that Burnside’s corps has left Annapolis, in steamers for somewhere; another that Baldy Smith, of whom Grant is said to have the very highest opinion, is getting up a strong army on the Peninsula. Common sense would say that these two were to make one command, to advance on Richmond from the James while we looked after Lee here; but then common sense has always been the rarest of the military qualities at Washington, and one cannot well imagine Burnside and Smith acting together after all the trouble that had at the time of and after the “mud march.”….

As of that April, Grant’s objectives were set, but not communicated down the ranks. We, with the luxury of 150 years distance, know Grant was to focus on the Confederate forces in the field and hold Richmond as a secondary objective.

The burr under Wainwright’s saddle remained – wagons… or as he put it “waggons.”

I have figured out our transportation allowance, which is about as absurd as it well can be.  I often wonder whether General Meade himself apportions the waggons or whether it is done by Ingalls; also, whether whoever draws up these orders has a special spite against artillery horses, or is utterly ignorant.  The order allows one waggon to each battery for baggage, mess furniture, desks and the like, and three waggons for subsistence, and forage.  Ten days’ small stores and one day’s meat for 140 men, about the average of my batteries, will with its forage take up one waggon (Captain Cruttenden says more), which leaves us two waggons to carry ten days’ forage for 120 horses, or 6,000 pounds per waggon, beside the forage for its own teams!  Five days’ forage is all we can possibly manage, and then the loads will be very heavy at the start.  As for loading five days’ more on my artillery carriages, I can’t and won’t do it.  Such absurdities as this take away all my pleasure and pride in my command.  I wrote it all out for Hunt and sent it up to him.  He replies in a most characteristic note, beginning: “The Jews of old were required to make brick without straw; anybody could do that if not responsible for the quality of the bricks delivered. You lose one waggon and are required to increase the forage carried from seven days to ten.  Now that beats the Jews.”  Hunt is evidently discouraged, and beginning to give up all hope of our ever getting what is right….

In Ingalls defense, there was a lot to the logistic and transportation system which escaped Wainwright’s notice. Sending meat to the front “on the hoof,” for instance, would greatly reduce the need for rolling stock.  For greatest efficiency, military logistics must be arranged at the highest practical level.  Simply determining the needs of one battery, then multiplying that times the number of batteries in the army would introduce many inefficient allocations.  And those, multiplied across the army, would translate to burdensome trains and other impediments to movement.  And in the spring of 1864, the army needed no additional impediments.

However, as Wainwright argued with vigor, logistic efficiency does not always bring “freedom from want” in the ranks.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, page 342-4.)

150 years ago: Grant rejects any further offensive against Charleston

On April 21, 1864, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren passed a summary report to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells.  As Dahlgren had at other occasions since September of the previous year, the commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron offered operational options to employ the forces then outside Charleston, South Carolina (and note that Dahlgren was in Washington at the time, and not with the fleet off South Carolina):

Sir: As the demands of the public service elsewhere will prevent the detail of more iron-clads for service at Charleston, which will necessarily postpone any serious attack on the interior defenses of the harbor, I directed combined operations to would suggest that be the occupation of Long Island, with the view of an attack on the works of Sullivan’s Island, to be prosecuted as far as the force ashore and afloat may permit. If Sullivan’s Island can be occupied, it would enable the iron-clads to maintain position in the harbor permanently, and in the end to drive the rebels from Charleston.

And for emphasis, Dahlgren’s suggestion to operate against Sullivan’s Island was not a new proposal.  Dahlgren had pressed for such since the fall of Morris Island.  But nothing so concrete as to commit a plan to paper.

As with other similar suggestions, Wells referred the matter over to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, for comment.  In those earlier events, Stanton had turned to Major General Henry Halleck for a response.  And Halleck had, like Dahlgren, remained non-committal.  And neither Halleck or Dahlgren would leave any remark which the opposite branch of service might interpret as a reluctance to support further operations.

But this was April 1864.  Stanton did not turn to Halleck, but rather to Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant.  For his response, on April 24, Grant requested direct input from Major-General Quincy Gillmore, who was at that time preparing to leave Charleston.

General: Herewith I send you copy of letter from Admiral Dahlgren to the Secretary of the Navy, and from the latter to the military authorities, recommending certain movements near Charleston, S.C. The letters explain themselves. Please read them and send me your views on the proposed movements. Not knowing the situation of affairs about Charleston, and particularly since the withdrawal of so many of your forces, I can give no specific directions. I would state, however, that it will be of great advantage to us if the force at Charleston can be safely employed in keeping up a demonstration that will force the enemy to keep large numbers there to watch their movements.

While giving some consideration to resuming some operations against Charleston, Grant’s mind seemed fixed.  Charleston was not on his list of objectives.  There was no room offered for Gillmore to even suggest more troops. In Grant’s view, any operations would remain limited to demonstrations.  And, reading between the lines, the reason for Gillmore’s input was to qualify, and quantify, the response back to the Navy.

Grant was not in favor of non-specific plans against elusive goals.  Nor was Grant willing to curtail or compromise his larger scheme of operations for the chance to settle a score at Charleston.  The cradle of secession was no longer a top objective.

For what it was worth, Halleck offered his opinion on the matter:

If the iron-clads and the large number of troops off Charleston for the last year could not take and hold Sullivan’s Island, how can they expect to do it with forces diminished more than one-half? Moreover, if taken, it would simply result in the loss from active service of 5,000 troops to garrison it, without any influence upon the coming campaign. It will require 60,000 men three months to take Charleston. The capture of Sullivan’s Island would not have much influence upon the siege of that place, as it can be conducted with greater advantage from other points. I am satisfied that Admiral Dahlgren’s letter was intended simply as an excuse in advance for the inability of the iron-clads to accomplish anything against Charleston.

Give Halleck credit, as he appeared to best characterize the nature of Dahlgren’s original letter starting this chain. With no ironclad reinforcements, Dahlgren was not ready to “damn the torpedoes.”

But at this point, I have to ask why Halleck had not expressed this view five months earlier?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 64, 67-8.)

Henry Hunt on “short howitzers for vertical fire”

When discussing artillery’s ballistic properties, the terms “horizontal fire” and “vertical fire” come into play.  As the names imply, these refer to the path of the projectile relative to the earth’s surface.  Due to gravity and other natural forces, horizontal fire is not ruler-straight, but a flat curve.  Vertical fire, likewise, is not straight up (or one hopes not), but rather a tall curve.  The early gunners of the first artillery pieces learned that different trajectories offered advantages that could be applied to a tactical situation.  In a nutshell, horizontal fire worked well to batter an obstacle while vertical fire could put projectiles over and beyond the obstacle.  Tactical application of basic physics.

By the time of the Civil War, vertical fire had become somewhat a “specialty” technique.  Field artillerists were certainly aware of vertical fire and employed it on occasion.  But on the open battlefields, field artillery fired directly on targets – or horizontally.   The hausse sight saw more use than the gunners’ quadrant.

That in mind, consider correspondence from Brigadier-General Henry Hunt, Artillery Chief, Army of the Potomac, to Brigadier-General George Ramsay, Chief of Ordnance for the US Army:

Artillery Headquarters, Army of the Potomac,
April 21, 1864.
Brig. Gen. George D. Ramsay,
Chief of Ordnance, Washington, D.C.:

General: I have at your request examined the proposition of Capt. [Adolph] Schwartz, aide-de-camp, for the introduction into our service of short howitzers for vertical fire.

As to the necessity, there are but few occasions in which the light 12-pounder gun will not, by reducing the charge and giving high elevations, perform the service required of the short howitzers. The caliber being smaller, a greater number of guns must be brought into requisition and a greater number of shells used, but these field batteries can supply.

In the few cases in which the 12-pounder field gun cannot accomplish the work of the proposed howitzers, from the enemy occupying hollows or low grounds which cannot be seen, or where he is behind works or cover at short ranges which the shells of the gun cannot reach, a few Coehorn mortars would answer the purpose required. These mortars form a part of our system of artillery. Four of them, with their bed, can readily be carried in a common wagon; they have ranges from 500 to 1,000 yards, and eight or a dozen of them, with 50 or 60 rounds each of ammunition, would, with the 12-pounders of an army corps or of an army, answer all the purposes likely to be required.

I do not undervalue the howitzer for its special service, but I think the evil of adding to the number and variety of our kinds of guns and ammunition would outweigh the advantage.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Henry J. Hunt,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac.

“Captain” Adolph Schwartz was at that time of the war “Major” Adolph Schwartz, a staff officer serving in the Thirteenth Corps, posted on the Mississippi.  And Schwartz is an interesting character.  Early in the war Schwartz commanded Battery E, 2nd Illinois Artillery (though formed in St. Louis, Missouri).  He served with distinction on many early war battles in the west, in particular at Shiloh.  His wartime service was closely linked to Major-General John A. McClernand.  From Belmont to Vicksburg, Schwartz served as McClernand’s adviser, artillery chief, ordnance chief, and at times adjutant.  The congratulatory order issued after Arkansas Post, which angered William T. Sherman and to some degree U.S. Grant, came from Schwartz, by order of McClernand of course.   (However, I am at a loss to put together Schwartz’ pre-war background.  If any readers have leads, I would appreciate it.)

I’ve looked far and low for a copy of Schwartz’ suggestion.  As an “artillery historian” I have long wanted to see the details suggested and determine what tactical observations Schwartz offered.  And at the same time, this particular letter from Schwartz might help explain the context of Hunt’s response.  I suspect Schwartz suggested use of short-length howitzers of 24-pounder caliber (basing that on the details offered in Hunt’s response).

Because Hunt was asked to respond, one might assume the suggestion was directly addressed to the Army of the Potomac.  But the first strike against that is the reference to “Captain” Schwartz. I doubt that Hunt knew Schwartz directly.  And thus was probably using the rank he saw on the referenced document.  I’m not certain when Schwartz received promotion to major, but do know in January 1863 he was signing orders as a major.   Thus the suggestion likely dated from 1862 or earlier.

So was this a general observation offered by a lowly captain, sent directly to the Ordnance Department following field experience in the Western Theater?  Or was this a suggestion passed up the chain of command, slowly, and eventually landing at the Ordnance Department for comment?  Or does it really matter?  OK… I’ll leave that determination until Schwartz’s suggestion is available.

But let us focus on Hunt’s dismissal of the proposal.  He offered that 12-pdr Napoleons and Coehorn mortars would fill the needs.  And the bottom line, echoing Hunt’s experience from several major campaigns – there was no need to introduce yet another “system” to the field artillery.  He preferred to keep the guns, their trains, and their support arrangements very simple and uniform.

But wait… Coehorns?  Those were not part of the Army of the Potomac’s formal artillery park.  Hunt said, “These mortars form a part of our system of artillery.”  I read that to mean the “big Army’s system of artillery” as in that approved by the War Department and posted to the manuals.  I don’t think he is saying, as of that date, the Army of the Potomac had formally incorporated Coehorns into the artillery park.  There are several references, by Hunt, including Coehorns in the siege train setup to support the Army of the Potomac.  One of which was in April 1864, when Hunt requested twenty Coehorns set aside in Washington as part of the siege train to support the army.  But that siege train was not included with the force about to crash into the Wilderness, but rather a force held in reserve, should the situation call for formal siege operations.

So why am I picking on this response from Hunt about some letter written by an obscure artillerist from the west?  Here’s the point – Hunt didn’t have Coehorns on hand to “answer the purpose required” as a formal part of his artillery reserve when he wrote in April.  However, he did have Coehorns on hand in May.  To be exact, “eight 24-pounder Coehorn mortars with 100 rounds each of ammunition were served by a detachment of Fifteenth New York Foot Artillery.

So… did Schwartz’s suggestion have some influence on Hunt’s inclusion of two wagon loads of Coehorns?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 935.)