Monthly Archives: March 2010

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of March 29

Only thirty new entries for the Civil War Category at the Historical Marker Database this week.  These are from Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

- City markers in Florence, Alabama note wartime activity at Rogers and Wesleyan Halls on the University of North Alabama.

- A marker in Madison, Alabama notes a successful Federal saber charge which routed a Confederate force on December 23, 1864 at nearby Indian Creek Ford.

- Markers on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa allude to damage done when the Federals swept through in 1865.  Comer Hall is named for Braxton Bragg Comer, who as a cadet at the school witnessed the burning.  Comer later became governor of Alabama.  Former Confederate Brigadier General John T. Morgan worked, as a U.S. Congressman, to obtain reparations for the destruction.  Morgan Hall is named for him.  Woods Hall, patterned after structures at the Virginia Military Institute, was rebuilt after the war using scrap from the destroyed buildings.

- A memorial in New Preston, Connecticut lists the community’s veterans buried in the town’s cemetery.

- The Westville Soldier’s Memorial in New Haven, Connecticut lists the men who enlisted at that location to serve in the Civil War.

- Two state markers around Atlanta, Georgia notes a detour made by the Federal Fifteenth Corps, stopping at Henderson Mill on July 18, 1864 while moving from Roswell to Decatur.  Other markers from Atlanta this week note the line occupied by Scott’s Brigade of   Loring’s Confederate Division during the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

- A plaque in Decatur, Georgia discusses a cavalry skirmish fought on July 22, 1864 in the Decatur Cemetery.

- Rose Cottage, in Corinth, Mississippi, was General A.S. Johnston’s headquarters prior to the advance to fight at Pittsburg Landing in April 1862.  Another stop in Corinth for the Civil War Discovery Trail discusses Batteries Robinett and Williams.  These were part of the Federal defensive lines during the Battle of Corinth, October 1862.

- A memorial in Graham, North Carolina lists the Alamance County men who died in service during our nation’s wars, including a sizable number of those from the Civil War.

- A marker near Castle Hayne, North Carolina notes the location of a large prisoner exchange held in the closing weeks of the war.

- A memorial in Findlay, Ohio notes the five Medals of Honor awarded to residents of Hancock County for Civil War service.  Three of those mentioned participated in the “Great Locomotive Chase.”

- A 42-pdr Seacoast Gun tops the Ada, Ohio Civil War Memorial.  Originally cast as a smoothbore by Tredegar Foundry in 1859, the gun was banded and rifled during the war.

- Finally got around to cataloging the War Department tablet for Robertson’s Cavalry Brigade in Orrtanna, Pennsylvania.   The brigade arrived too late to directly affect the battle of Gettysburg, but saw action covering the Confederate retreat.

- Wassamassaw, South Carolina contributed the “Wassamassaw Cavalry” who became Company D, 2nd South Carolina Cavalry.

- A state marker notes the location of General Sherman’s headquarters during his eventful stay in Columbia, South Carolina.

- A Civil War Trails marker adds more information about the delaying action fought outside Columbia, Tennessee on November 24, 1864 by Federal cavalry, parrying that of General N.B. Forrest at the van of General Hood’s 1864 Tennessee Campaign.  A state marker mentions Hood’s maneuvers to cut off General Schofield between Columbia and Spring Hill as that campaign took shape.

- A center in Texas’ cotton country before the Civil War, Walker County was originally named for Senator Robert J. Walker.  But as a marker in Huntsville, Texas notes, when Senator Walker declined support for secession, the county was renamed in honor of  Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker.

- A state marker in Jarrell, Texas notes the service of Daniel Harrison spanning from Texas Independence to the Civil War.

- A state marker in Hampton, Virginia describes the June 10, 1861 battle of Big Bethel, noted as the first battle in Virginia.  Nearby a memorial honors Henry Lawson Wyatt, a private from the 1st North Carolina Infantry with the distinction of being the first Confederate killed in the battle.

- I am adding new markers for the Malvern Hill battlefield and tweaking those already in the database to improve the location data.  This week’s additions include the welcome kiosk marker and a “small brown” marker noting failed Confederate infantry advances.

70-pdr Whitworth Rifles

Practically every gun on display at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. has a story to tell.  And in some cases a couple.  Such is the case for a 70-pdr Whitworth rifled cannon on display just outside the Naval Museum.   Contemporary sources label this gun based on the old weight of shot calculations, but modern historians opt for the land diameter of the rifling, or 5-inch.  I’ll cite the former, as it seems proper from the sources.

70-pdr or 5-in Whitworth Rifle

The history of this four-and-a-quarter ton steel weapon begins in Manchester, England with the Whitworth Ordnance Company.  Yes, you read correctly, steel.  Sir Joseph Whitworth was among the first gun-makers to benefit from the Bessemer process.   As seen in the photo, the gun construction consisted of several reinforcing bands or hoops over a central tube.   The construction of this piece should have matched the diagram provided by J. Emerson Tennent his 1864 book “The Story of the Guns.”

70-pdr Whitworth Plan

70-pdr Whitworth Plan

Overall the gun measured 133 inches.  The base layer of hoops extended 90 inches, with a second 63 inches long mounting the trunnions.  A 37-inch long breech reinforce ended just behind the trunnions.   As noted on the diagram, the gun-maker applied the interior hoop layers with hydraulic pressure.  The outer breech reinforce was threaded into place.  If Whitworth used the same method employed on his smaller weapons, the bands were forced onto the gun tube, with a very slight taper toward the rear of the gun.   Such will factor in later in the “story.”

Muzzle of 70-pdr Whitworth

Whitworth also used a distinctive hexagonal rifling system, as seen in the photo above.  If you consider the rifled grooves of a cannon as load-bearing, hexagonal rifling offers a wide surface area to impart the spin to the projectile.  Whitworth also found the shape easier to machine, and maintain.  (see Tennant, pp 43-46)   Suffice to say I’m being overly simplistic noting the details of the rifling, saving the discussion for another day.  However, for practical purposes, this rifling system required the gun to use special Whitworth projectiles.

Whitworth Projectile

Whitworth Projectile

The 70-pdr promised a range of 5,000 yards firing a solid bolt.  I would imagine that Confederate agents in England, desperate for modern ordnance, were quick to disregard any special munitions requirements for the Whitworths.  Aside from the more familiar (due to its display at Gettysburg) Whitworth field guns, agents ordered at least four of the “70-pdr Whitworth Rifles.”  My speculation is, due to the breeching loop seen on the example at the Navy Yard, is the Confederates intended these rifles for naval applications.  As reinforcement, I would point out the four rifles known to be purchased at that time were shipped on the steamer Princess Royal along with two engines destined for ironclads under construction.

That sets up the first story about these guns.  Four days out from Bermuda, the Princess Royal arrived off Charleston on the morning of January 29, 1863 and attempted to slip through the blockade.  At around 3:15 a.m., lookouts on the U.S.S. Undilla spotted a light heading toward the harbor.  Commander of the Undilla, Lieutenant-Commander S.P. Quackenbush, brought the ship to quarters and slipped anchor.  Aided by rockets fired from the nearby USS G.W. Blunt, the Undilla maneuvered to intercept the Princess Royal, and fired two shots.  The blockade runner altered course and headed to ground on the beach.   With her crew abandoning ship, Quackenbush sent a detachment to take possession of the Princess Royal.  By dawn, the navy inventoried “rifled guns, arms, ammunition, steam engines for ironclads building in Charleston, and an assorted cargo.” (ONR, Series I, Volume 13, page 554)

Inscription on the Breech

As a testament to the capture, the piece on display at the Navy Yard bears the inscription on the breech: “Whitworth 80-pdr [sic] Rifle // captured with 3 others // blockade runner // Princess Royal”.

The Navy later outfitted the Princess Royal as a steam gunboat, serving off Texas and Louisiana.  One of the steam engines carried as cargo powered the USS Kansas, a North Atlantic blockader.  But at least two of the Whitworths remained in the Charleston area.  On July 22, 1863, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren ordered Commander Foxhall Parker to organize a detachment to man a “naval battery” ashore.  Consisting of two 8-in Parrotts and two Whitworth rifles and located on Morris Island, the battery was to aid the Army in the bombardment of Fort Sumter. (ONR, Series I, Volume 14, p. 385)  And we know the Whitworths were 70-pdrs because of a wartime photograph of the battery.

The Naval Battery at Morris Island

The Naval Battery at Morris Island

And I must say for the record, a more unkempt battery you will not find!  Boots drying on one gun, rammers laying about, and ropes haphazardly draped over the carriages.  Makes me wonder if the sailors’ morale was affected by the service ashore.  Perhaps.

On August 23, Commander Parker offered a rather detailed report of the battery’s activities:

The whole number of Parrott shells expended amounts to 703, of which 373 struck the fort, 252 fell short of went over it, and 78 tumbled.

From the Whitworth guns 222 solid projectiles were fired, of which 98 hit and 124 missed the fort.

Upon the 19th instant one of the Whitworths was entirely disabled by the reinforce bands starting forward, and upon the 21st I discontinued firing from the other, as the shot were continually jamming in the bore, in ramming home one of which four men were killed by a premature explosion of the charge. (ONR, Series I, Volume 14, p. 472)

I could see where the crews might be a little demoralized.

Brigadier General John W. Turner, Chief of Artillery for General Quincy Gilmore’s Department of the South, left no doubt his opinion of the Whitworth in his report, dated November 30, on the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  Turner mentioned premature explosions, wedged projectiles, and inaccurate fire.  He then details the slippage of the bands when:

…subsequently one of them became disabled by the the gun apparently sliding through the re-enforce to the rear.  A displacement of nearly an inch took place, closing the vent completely.  (OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, p. 223)

I agree with the conclusions of other historians.   The slippage noted was due to a design flaw – the hoops were not welded nor was the taper sufficient to arrest movement of the gun’s composite layers.

The vent of the survivor at the Navy Yard appears, today, open and unaffected by such slipping.

Vent of the 70-pdr

However, a base ring supporting a sight bracket, apparent in both the plan from Tennant’s book and in the wartime photograph, is missing from the Navy Yard’s trophy.  In the plan, the ring appears separate from the other components of the gun.  Maybe that the ring broke free due to handling.   Or perhaps the slippage due to firing.  Another surviving piece is on display at West Point’s trophy park, and does show signs of the slippage.

So the old 70-pdr Whitworth at the Navy Yard offers a history which blends aspects of technical innovation, a touch of daring with the blockade runner, and perhaps a bit of tragedy with its dangerous, ineffective service.  Today it stands as a trophy of war, honoring those who maintained the blockade during the Civil War.

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation

Some time back, I engaged my fellow blogger “X Brad TC” with regarding the writings of S.L.A. Marshall.   Most historians have zeroed in on Marshall’s very controversial thoughts regarding the effectiveness of infantry in combat as outlined in “Men Against Fire.”  Others recall Marshall as the father of the modern “after action review” process, indicating either the shortcomings of Marshall’s approach or the great advances made in recording oral history.  On the other hand, I find Marshall’s essays pertaining to combat loads and logistics to be the more intriguing of his work.

Part of One Soldier's "Load"

Marshall originally posted his thoughts on soldier pack loads and logistics in The Infantry Journal and the Combat Forces Journal in the years following World War II.  Later the Association of the United States Army collected these into a single booklet titled “The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation.”  Originally published in 1950, my copy is a reprint by the Marine Corps Association from 1980.   (Ironically, my copy of the book is badly worn and beaten, having been carried along as excess weight on many a field deployment! )

In these essays, Marshall stressed the relation between the weight of the equipment a soldier is expected to carry into combat and the effectiveness of that soldier in combat.  True to his style, Marshall laid the cornerstone to his argument early on:

The machine has made warfare more ponderous but has also given it greater velocity.  In the other direction there has been no change at all.  For it is conspicuous that what the machine has failed to do right up to the present moment is decrease by a single pound the weight the individual has to carry in war. He is still as heavily burdened as the soldier of 1000 years B.C.  (Marshall, page 5)

Thus Marshall identified an over-arching limitation, somewhat a universal governing factor, on logistics and combat mobility – the amount of equipment and supplies an average man might carry into combat.  Obvious points came out early in the writing.  There is no dispute that a less encumbered soldier moves quicker on the battlefield.  However Marshall stepped up another point, which is much less obvious.  “Overloading has never steadied any man or made him more courageous.” (Marshall, page 8)  Perhaps more to the point, “Tired men take fright more easily.  Frightened men swiftly tire.” (Marshall, page 46)   In Marshall’s view, there was a clear linkage between fear and fatigue.  Or perhaps with our present day terminology applied, physical and mental stress have a cumulative effect.

Marshall proposed practical limitations on what soldiers should carry into combat.  The marks set in his essays range between 30 to 40 pounds.   Sounds reasonable, if you are the soldier packing the load.  But what should that consist of?

Ammunition?  Well, drawing on accounts from the World Wars, Marshall contended the average foot soldier arrived on the battle line with up to ten times the number of rounds needed in action.  Field Marshall Helmuth von Moktke (the younger) determined pre-World War I German soldiers required a load of 200 rounds.  In World War I, U.S. soldiers assaulted beaches with 80 rounds plus eight hand grenades.  All too much, said Marshall.  Based on expenditures within the first day of combat, Marshall indicated the load could be cut in half.   And note for effect, Marshall’s ammunition consumption rates match to those mentioned by Whittaker for mounted operation during the Civil War.  However, Marshall would certainly argue against the eighty rounds Whittaker suggested as a trooper’s load.  Then again, Whittaker wrote at a time when horseflesh, not internal combustion engines, carried resupply.

Food and Water?  In a statement that runs against every “take care of your troops” leadership lesson, Marshall contends that troops should carry less than a day’s ration into combat!

… we learned by actual survey on the battlefield that only some three per cent of the men along the combat line touched any food at all in the first day’s fighting.  And that water consumption was only a fifth what it became on the second day and thereafter.  Such is the economy that can be achieved by virtue of a churning stomach.  (Marshall, page 10)

Ouch!  And personally I would contend that hunger factors into physical and to a degree mental fatigue.  Yet on the other hand, did not the Texas Brigade perform quite well in the Cornfield at Antietam in spite of missing breakfast?  Well not many Texans walked away from that fight, so perhaps that is not the best example to serve up.

Granted, much of Marshall’s work is based upon information gathered from World War II.  But as mentioned up front, the ultimate governing factor regarding a soldier’s load has not changed over time.  Thus these considerations certainly applied, in terms of pounds if not actual round counts or number of hardtack crackers carried, to Civil War soldiers.   And no amount of seasoning and training will overcome overloading.  As Marshall pointed out over and over, seasoned troops performed better more often than not because on the march they dumped out the “prescribed” loads, opting for the bare essentials.  Consider that when reading about the marches of Stonewall’s foot cavalry in the Valley, the Army of the Potomac discarding equipment on the march, or the movements of both armies in the last year of the Civil War.

The second half of the essay collection, as indicated in the title, focused upon mobility at a higher level – more operational and strategic.  Again, Marshall makes the obvious conclusions then adds more based on his observations.  Certainly the more equipment and supplies shoveled into a theater of operations places more demand on transportation resources.  In turn, the more logistic support required, the more personnel needed to handle, process, and deliver said supplies.   Such imposes a friction upon the logistical system, taxing efficiency.  In Marshall’s view there was a direct correlation between the cases of Coca-Cola shipped to Europe in the winter of 1944-5 and the suffering of the men at the front for want of proper cold weather gear.

Marshall cited examples of Generals who stripped down their logistical requirements as the standard to adhere to.  But beyond that, he indicated the need for creative and flexible approaches to logistical support.  Like some of the inter-war (1920s and 30s) theorists, specifically citing J.F.C. Fuller and B.H. Lidell Hart, Marshall admired the approach of General William T. Sherman in the later half of the Civil War.  He saw the march to the sea as an example of strategic mobility achieved through proper management and balancing of logistical requirements.

From my research, I would add examples that strengthen Marshall’s stance.  Consider General U.S. Grant’s campaigns, particularly the Overland Campaign in 1864.  Grant reduced the baggage trains at the start of the campaign.  He also put pressure upon his logistical team to shift the base of operations throughout.  From Brandy Station-Culpeper, shifting to Fredericksburg, then to White House on the Pamunkey, and eventually to the James River ports.  Unlike predecessors in the East, Grant gained strategic and operational mobility by reducing his trains while at the same time shifting his supply base to adapt to the changing tactical situation.

Consider the orders issued to the Second Army Corps on May 3, 1864, stepping out on the Overland Campaign:

…The men previous to marching will be supplied with three day’s full rations in haversacks and three days’ bread and small rations in knapsacks, and 50 rounds of amunition on the person.  Three days’ beef on the hoof will be drawn by commissaries of divisions and indpendent brigades. (OR, Series I, Volume 36, Part II, Serial 68, page 357)

Then consider the statement attributed by Marshall to General George S. Patton prior to making his breakout from Normandy in 1944:

Gentlemen, I’ve got three days of POL, ammunition and food.  That’s all we need for the start.  It’s up to you back there to get the rest of it up to me. (Marshall, page 102)

In either 1864 or 1944, three days supply was the limit of the combat formation’s organic capacity to carry.  While some contend Patton (and perhaps Grant) did not fully appreciate logistical constraints upon an army.  I would, on the other hand, submit that Patton and Grant understood the principles quite well.  Knowing the limitations of his army’s organic logistic capacity, Patton and Grant challenged their quartermaster and transportation staff to find solutions that met operational demands.

An army may travel on its stomach.  But that does not mean the Army moves from meal to meal.