Wainwright’s Diary, April 17, 1864:

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright offered a short diary entry for April 17, 1864.  As his custom, he began with the weather:

April 17, Sunday. We have had another wet spell since Friday; yesterday it rained steadily. The spring is more backward and colder than it was at this time last year; much as in 1862. I trust we are not going to have a whole summer of rain as we had then….

Those living in Virginia today might relate.  Since Monday evening, the weather’s been almost wintery cold, with frost warnings.  Though with perhaps less rain.  But close enough for Mother Nature’s 150th.

On Friday I got the order assigning the battery of heavy artillery to my command. They have had terribly bad weather to get their camp in order, which has come very hard on them as over half the men are recruits, and the rest have always been accustomed to garrison duty. The Fourth New York Heavy was originally commanded by a brother of General [Abner] Doubleday, who I believe proved to be worthless; then de Russy was colonel and now Tidball; the two last ought to have made a good regiment of it. They look very much like rats drowned out of their holes as I pass the camp….

The “battery” was according to the organizational tables actually a battalion.  Specifically 2nd Battalion, 4th New York Heavy Artillery under Major William Arthur.  The battalion consisted of Companies D, H, K, and E.  In their regimental history, the chapter detailing these assignments in the Army of the Potomac carries the title “Good-bye, Cannon.”  As Brigadier-General Henry Hunt had requested earlier in the winter, the 2nd Battalion was assigned to support the field batteries providing details for guard and other duties. They brought no heavy artillery pieces of their own to Wainwright’s brigade.

The battalion reported to Wainwright on April 15, and “The tents were pitched in an orchard near an old house occupied by an elderly lady and her daughter, also by the Brigade Commissary.”

In this picture of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery’s camp at Fort Marcy, Virginia, William Arthur is seated under the tent fly at the right:

William was the brother of President Chester A. Arthur.

(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; Hyland C. Kirk, Heavy Guns and Light; A History of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery, New York: C.T. Dillingham, 1890, page 145.)

“I would propose … the train be intrusted to Colonel Abbot”: Organizing a Siege Train for the 1864 Campaign

Earlier I posted about the reorganization, or if you prefer, consolidation, of the field artillery in the weeks before the start of the Overland Campaign.  Another organizational action, no less critical to the ultimate objective of the campaign, for the artillery supporting the Army of the Potomac was the re-creation of the siege train.  If the upcoming campaign were completely successful, and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia outside of Richmond, then there would be little need for a siege train or any artillery.  But the most likely scenario (and what did come to pass) involved a siege of Richmond in some form.  Acting on prompts from his superiors, Brigadier-General Henry Hunt put forward his recommendations on April 16, 1864:

Artillery Headquarters, Army of the Potomac,
April 16, 1864.
Major-General Humphreys,
Chief of Staff:
General: I have respectfully to submit the following proposition for the organization of a siege train, should one be required for service with this army near Richmond:

The train should be prepared in Washington, and as a minimum composed of forty 4 ½-inch siege guns, six spare carriages: ten 10-inch mortars, two spare carriages; twenty 8-inch mortars, four spare carriages; twenty Coehorn mortars.

With the proper implements and equipments, tool wagons, sling carts, battery wagons and forges, mortar wagons, &c., the eight 4½-inch siege guns of Abbot’s regiment (First Connecticut Heavy Artillery), lately sent to Washington, to constitute a part of the train. If the material can be brought by water or rail to within a reasonable distance of the point at which the train is to be used, the horse teams of the two siege batteries and those of the Artillery Reserve would be available for transporting the guns, and such additional mule teams as are required to bring them up can, it is supposed, be furnished from the quartermaster’s trains. The ammunition trains of the Artillery Reserve and artillery brigades attached to corps can be employed for the transport of the ammunition.

There should be provided for each siege gun 1,000 rounds of ammunition: for each siege mortar 600 shells: for each Coehorn mortar 200. Of this ammunition 200 rounds per piece should be brought up before opening fire; the remainder to be near enough to enable the supply to be kept up. At least 500 sand-bags should be supplied for each gun and mortar of the train, with an equal number in reserve.

I would propose that the organization of the train be intrusted to Colonel Abbot, First Connecticut Artillery, whose regiment served with the siege train at the siege of Yorktown. That the work may proceed with the utmost rapidity, another regiment of foot artillery (Kellogg’s, Warner’s, or Piper’s) might be added to Colonel Abbot’s command. Colonel Kellogg served with credit in the First Connecticut Artillery at Yorktown and is familiar with the duties. The two regiments of foot artillery in the reserve will be available as reliefs, guards for working parties, fabrication of gabions and fascines, filling sand-bags, &c.

The instruction of the regiments with the train in the mechanical maneuvers, laying of platforms, &c., should commence at once. A thorough knowledge of these duties will save much time when every hour is valuable. The material and working directions for constructing magazines, one for every four guns, should also be prepared in advance, that workmen drawn from the foot artillery regiments with the army may assist the engineers or construct them themselves.

It is understood that there are rifled 32-pounders, 4-inch caliber, in the works at Richmond. Should it be considered necessary to oppose to them guns of corresponding power (100-pounders) the ordnance officer should be instructed to prepare them and their material. This would be a timely precaution.

In case it should be thought necessary to move the train by water up the Pamunkey to the neighborhood of Hanover Court-House, instructions should be given to load the material on barges, double-decked ones if possible, such as are used on the Hudson River for transportation of flour, and do not draw more than 5 feet. This depth I understand is found as far up as the bridge at Widow Lumpkin’s, near Crump Creek, and within 5 miles by land of the railroad. The depth of water and the nature of the road from the bridge to the railway should be ascertained positively before procuring the barges. A decked scow or two and 100 or 200 feet of trestle bridging, similar to that prepared by Major Duane for the pontoon train, but of stronger dimensions, should be provided to enable landings to be effected at any point.

Henry J. Hunt,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Artillery.

Hunt knew exactly the make of weapons he wanted in the siege train.  Notice he still preferred the 4.5-inch rifles over the Parrotts of similar caliber (30-pdr).  And for someone who had worked primarily with field artillery over the last three years, Hunt knew the value of high angle mortar fire in siege operations.  Lower in the proposal, he turns to the heavy 100-pdr Parrotts, but only as a counter to similar caliber Confederate weapons.  Such leads me to believe Hunt saw the artillery’s primary role during any such siege to be firing in support of the engineers advancing parallels, and not demolishing enemy works.

Hunt called for 500 sandbags per gun, with another 500 in reserve.  Given the number of sandbags used the previous summer on Morris Island, I would say his estimates were low.

Notice also, in the last paragraph, how Hunt called out specific locations from which to base the siege trains and how they might be moved forward.  The lessons from the 1862 Richmond Campaign hold up while planning for 1864.

And Hunt knew exactly who he wanted manning the guns and leading those gunners.  Two batteries of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, armed with 4.5-inch rifles, had performed well as part of the Army’s artillery reserve.  And the 1st  Connecticut earlier served with the Army of the Potomac in the 1862 campaign against Richmond.  The man to lead the siege trains was Colonel Henry L. Abbot.  Hunt knew exactly what he was getting there.  Abbot was one of the best artillerists of the war, though you’ve probably never heard of him because his specialty was heavy artillery.  For those unfamiliar with Abbot, I hope to introduce him and his work over the last year of the sesquicentennial … that is if Brett does not beat me to it!

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 880-1.)

150 years ago: “… a number of Hale’s War Rockets were thrown from Dixon’s Island…”

For his journal entry on April 15, 1864, Major Edward Manigault noted an uncommon, though not too unusual, weapon employed by the Federals:

At about 5 P.M. a Yankee Gunboat came up the Stono and Commenced Shelling our advanced Pickets about Legare’s Overseer’s House. At the same time a number of Hale’s War Rockets were thrown from Dickson’s [Dixon's] Island at the Stations occupied by the pickets and a force of probably 200 men was thrown forward from “Horse-Shoe Island” on to Bottany Island. Our Pickets, however, maintained their ground and the enemy soon retired.

Some of the Rockets thrown were picked up. The entire Case included a recess on the side for the escape of gas generated by the Burning Composition, also an opening at the rear end for escape of Gas. These Rocket cases empty, I judged to weigh about 18 pounds.

The cases were entirely of cast iron, the head rivetted on to the body post.

These were not the Congreve Rockets cited in the “Star Spangled Banner.”  Rather, as Manigault indicates, these were the type refined by British inventor William Hale and introduced in the 1840s. The 1861 version of the Ordnance Manual described these:

The war-rocket used in the military service is made after Hale’s patent. It consists, 1st. Of a sheet-iron case lined with paper and charged with rocket-composition. 2d. Of a cast-iron cylindro-conoidal head, with a small cavity communicating with the bore of the rocket, and pierced with three holes, oblique to the surface, for the escape of gas.  3d. Of a wrought-iron plug welded into the rear end of the case, and having a hole in its axis for the escape of gas.

The rocket is driven forward by the escape of gas through the hole in the rear end, and a motion of rotation around its axis is given to it by the escape of gas through the holes in the head, whereby its direction is preserved without the use of a directing-stick.

The composition is pressed solid in the case by means of a powerful press, and the bore of the rocket is drilled and reamed out to the proper size.

The sixes of rockets are indicated by the interior diameter of the cases. The two sizes used are the two-inch and three-inch.

Hale refined the rocket several times, with the main variation being the placement and shape of the vent or hole for propelling gas.  An 1866 patent carries this illustration:


Compared to the War of 1812 Congreve Rocket, Hale’s rocket lacked the stabilizing stick on the rear of the rocket.  The illustration below, from John Scoffern’s Projectile Weapons of War, 1858, compares Congreve’s, Hale’s, and an ordinary signal rocket:


While not a “debut” of the rocket as a weapon, the use outside Charleston was a rare employment.  A few days later, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig wrote a very complementary report about the operational tests with rockets (including that of April 15).  Schimmelfennig requested more rockets.  I’ll continue with the “rocket’s trail” in a post discussing that request in a few days.

(Citation from: Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, page 140;  The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army, Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1862, page 314.)