Category Archives: Rifle Siege Guns

Artillery support when the Petersburg mine went off

As you might guess, when thinking of the Crater at Petersburg, a subject which crosses my mind is the use of artillery in the operation.  Not to diminish the other aspects of the battle, but the artillery of the Army of the Potomac played an important role there… and is somewhat overlooked in my opinion.  I’m not an expert in the battle.  So I would direct you to one of many folks who have written book length treatments of the battle.

My schedule has prevented me from writing up more on Petersburg up to this time.  Likely, given the sesquicentennial pace, I’ll have to put that on my “after April 2015″ stack.  But I did want to mention the artillery’s role and provide a graphic depiction, by way of Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s map:

PlateLXIV_3

The map, and a busy map it is, includes a table breaking down by battery the type and number of guns engaged on July 30, 1864:

PlateLXIV_3A

For those who are squinting, the roll call is eighteen 4-½-inch rifles, two 20-pdr Parrotts, fifty-two 3-inch rifles (3-inch Ordnance or 10-pdr Parrotts), thirty-eight 12-pdr Napoleons, ten 10-inch mortars, sixteen 8-inch mortars, and twenty-eight Coehorn mortars.  Grand total is 164 guns and mortars brought to bear on the Confederate lines in support of the assault.

Some of that number were in the 18th Corps sector and not firing directly in support of the assault.  Others were, likewise, firing on the 5th Corps front well to the south of the crater.  But all were firing at some time that morning to suppress or pin down the Confederates in conjunction with the assault.  For comparison, the “great bombardment” by the Confederates on July 3, 1863 during that “contest” at Gettysburg involved about 140 guns.

Hunt’s map indicates not only the battery positions, but also what the targets were.  This adds to the “clutter” on the map. But this is an incredible resource for determining his intent with respect to the fires placed upon the Confederate lines.

PlateLXIV_3B

The snip above looks at the area of the mine, and just south.  Notice there are more dashed blue lines leading to the Confederate redoubt south of the mine than there are the redoubt above the mine.  Suppression of the Confederate line was the intent there.

Another Federal position worth noting is that of Company C, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.  Battery number 8 on Hunt’s map contained ten 10-inch mortars.  Circled here in blue.

PlateLXIV_3C1

Those mortars fired on approximately 1,000 yards of the Confederate front, to the south of the crater (blue shading in the snip above).  Recall, these mortars were firing, for at least part of the day, case shot as constructed under Colonel Henry Abbot’s instructions.  Battery Number 19, Company B, 1st Connecticut, with six 4-½-inch rifles, located north-east (center-right on the snip above) of the mortars also covered a large section of the Confederate lines.

One problem with these arrangements is that suppressing fire requires a high rate of ammunition expenditure.  Suppressing fire cannot be sustained, even by a master artillery chief such as Hunt, for longer than a few hours.  At some point, fresh ammunition chests must be rotated in.  The assault had to quickly achieve the initial objectives, or lose the suppressing fire support.

Abbot to Hunt: “Every step has been taken to hurry forward…”

In April 1864, Brigadier-General Henry Hunt sent recommendations and instructions to form a siege train supporting the Army of the Potomac’s next campaign.  On the first day of May 1864, Colonel Henry Abbot sent an update on his preparations toward that end:

Fort Richardson, VA., May 1, 1864.
Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt,
Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac:

General: Yours of the 29th ultimo is received. I will at once make requisition for the sand-bags, as you suggest. I propose to take ten 8-inch siege howitzers. I have the following ordnance, and ordnance stores afloat at the present time, and the list is daily increasing: 4 ½-inch guns–18 guns, 20 carriages, 10 sets implements, 10 platforms, 3,600 rounds; 30-pounder Parrotts–2 guns, 10 carriages, 10 platforms, 2,600 rounds; 10-inch mortars–10 guns, 10 beds, 1,000 shells; 8-inch mortars–20 guns, 8 beds, 2,290 shells; Coehorns–1,900 shells; 1 battery wagon (D); 1 forge (A); 1 large sling cart; with many smaller articles. Every step has been taken to hurry forward the remainder, and it is loaded as fast as received. I have now 7 schooners, about 200 tons each.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Henry L. Abbot,
Colonel First Connecticut Artillery.

Notice that Abbot chose to work with the slack Hunt offered in regard to the 8-inch siege howitzers (which Hunt accepted with reservations).  Instead of forty 4 ½-inch siege rifles, the siege train contained a mix of 4 ½-inch and similar caliber 30-pdr Parrotts.

Hunt wanted 1,000 rounds per gun.  But the number accumulated by May 1 fell far short of that goal.  Hard to believe in the vast storehouses and magazines around Washington and Baltimore there were not many thousands of these projectiles.  I would offer a similar observation about the battery wagon and forge.  Far more was needed for a siege train of the size requested.

But with seven schooners to transport the siege train, Abbot had the means to deploy this force at almost any point in tidewater Virginia.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 36, Part II, Serial 68, page 320.)

“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.)