Category Archives: Rifle Siege Guns

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.)

150 Years Ago: Hunt prefers the big siege rifles

One-hundred and fifty years ago (and one day, as I had other pressing news to report yesterday), Brigadier General Henry Hunt offered a report on the effectiveness of the heavy rifles employed at Fredericksburg the previous week.

I have the honor to report that the practice in the recent battle with the 20-pounder Parrott was in some respects very unsatisfactory, from the imperfection of the projectiles, which, notwithstanding the pains which have been taken to procure reliable ones, are nearly as dangerous to our own troops as to the enemy, if the former are in advance of our lines. In addition, the guns themselves are unsafe. At Antietam two of the twenty-two, and on the 13th instant another, were disabled by the bursting of the gun near the muzzle. The gun is too heavy for field purposes, and can be used with advantage only as batteries of position. For the last purpose it is inferior to the 4½-inch siege-gun, which requires the same number of horses and only half the number of drivers. I therefore respectfully propose that, as the allowance of artillery in this army is small, the 20-pounders be turned in to the Ordnance Department as soon as they can be replaced by light field guns,. and that a portion of the siege train (sixteen guns) be organized to accompany the force in the field for service in such positions as require heavy guns, and, in case of a siege, to form a part of the train. Seven such guns are now here. Twelve were asked for, and it is a misfortune they were not furnished. Two companies of the First Connecticut Artillery are serving with the guns now here. I propose that two other companies of that regiment be detailed, each company be organized as a battery with four guns, the whole to be placed under the command of a field officer of the regiment, and attached to the Reserve Artillery.

Ever since the Peninsula Campaign, the Army of the Potomac included a substantial siege train.  Recall the varied set of guns used at Malvern Hill.  By December 1862, the Army’s artillery park was more uniform in composition.  The field batteries assigned to the infantry formations were by and large 10-pdr Parrotts, 3-inch rifles, and 12-pdr Napoleons – although a few batteries of 12-pdr howitzers remained.  The siege batteries used, as alluded to in Hunt’s report, 20-pdr Parrotts and 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles.

Lending weight to Hunt’s comment about the weight, the 20-pdr Parrott rifle was the heaviest weapon mounted on a field carriage.  On its modified 32-pdr howitzer carriage, a 20-pdr Parrott on the march – with limber, ammunition chest, gun, and carriage – weighed 4405 pounds.  The caisson with three more chests weighed about an other 4000 pounds.

On the other hand, the 4.5-inch rifle rode on a siege carriage.  With limber (no ammunition chest) the 4.5-inch rifle traveled weighing around 7300 pounds.  But before you go second guessing Hunt, the 4.5-inch rifle’s ammunition traveled in separate wagons, in loads that were better configured for transport.

The difference here is “field carriage” verses “siege carriage.”  The 20-pdr on field carriage arrangement allowed the gun to go into action from the march.  The 4.5-inch rifle required more time to prepare for action.  But Hunt felt the 20-pdrs “ready for action” configuration was of little value as the gun was too difficult to maneuver into action.  On the other hand, the weight of the 4.5-inch rifle was of less consequence as it was employed with more deliberation.

Regardless if you follow that logic, the greater concern with the 20-pdr was, as with all the Parrotts, the tendency to burst.  Three failed guns in two actions.  That is compared to the near flawless record of 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  The 4.5-inch rifle had not seen extensive service to this point, but would enjoy an air of reliability – at least for the moment.  Even later in the war main complaint against the bigger rifle was vent erosion, not bursting.

Despite Hunt’s requests, seven months later the Army of the Potomac still marched with a mix of 20-pdr Parrotts and 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Ironically, given Hunt’s concerns about mobility, it was the 20-pdrs of Taft’s 5th New York Battery on Cemetery Hill on July 3, not the 4.5-inch rifles of the 1st Connecticut.  The bigger guns were held back because they took up too much valuable space on the roads to Gettysburg.

(Citation is from OR, Series I, Volume 21, Serial 31, pages 189-90.)