Category Archives: Kelly’s Ford

Case-shot, shell, and canister at Kelly’s Ford: Ammunition analysis

Yesterday’s post about the employment of Pratt’s 4.5-inch Rifles at Kelly’s Ford ran a little long.  And there’s one more interesting angle to look at, given the records from the engagement. The participants provided a remarkably well detailed list of ammunition expended in the engagement.  While not a major battle, the action at Kelly’s Ford on November 7, 1863 is a good case for reviewing what ammunition the battery commanders and section commanders selected for the tactical requirements.

Captain George Randolph provided a list of ammunition expenditures, by type, in his report of the action.  Let us start with the 10th Massachusetts:

  • Schenkl case-shot, 3-inch – 300
  • Hotchkiss percussion shell, 3-inch – 40
  • Hotchkiss fuse shell , 3-inch – 50
  • Schenkl percussion shell, 3-inch – 10

The total given by Randolph – 400 rounds – does not match that reported by Captain J. Henry Sleeper – 459 rounds.  So either eight ammunition chests, with fifty rounds each, of 3-inch projectiles were used up.  Or a little over nine were used.  Of course the expenditure does not indicate any canister or bolts were fired.  So there were more than just eight or nine chests opened up.

And you are also thinking about Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s concerns about mixing different rifled projectile types.  Sleeper had his Schenkl and Hotchkiss shells all mixed in.  Regardless, it was the case-shot Sleeper and his gun-chiefs selected most for their targets.  In his report, Sleeper mentions firing on a brick mill building where Confederate sharpshooters were posted.  He later replied to Confederate artillery attempting to drive his battery off.  After the Confederate artillery retired, Sleeper fired on Confederate infantry that attempted to reform on the hills beyond Kelly’s Ford.  Based on the wording of his report, and that of Randolph’s, the battery engaged those infantry targets for the longest period of the engagement.  So it is logical to presume that is when most of the Schenkl case-shot were fired -targeting infantry inside a wood line.

As mentioned yesterday, Captain Franklin Pratt’s Battery M, 1st Connecticut Artillery fired but 15 Schenkl shells with percussion fuses.  These were fired at brick buildings where the Confederate infantry sheltered and later on the Confederate battery.

Moving next to Lieutenant John Bucklyn’s Battery E, 1st Rhode Island artillery, Randolph indicated they fired a total of 181 shots from their 12-pdr Napoleons:

  • Solid shot, light 12-pdr – 80
  • Spherical case, light 12-pdr – 72
  • Shell, light 12-pdr – 24
  • Canister, light 12-pdr  – 5

Bucklyn’s guns went into battery about 300 yards from the ford itself.  Their first targets were the skirmishers on the distant bank.  When Captain John Massie’s Confederate guns opened upon Slepper’s battery, Bucklyn turned his Napoleons on that target. Likely most, if not all, of the solid shot fired were expended at those targets.

Later, when supporting the Federal infantry crossing at the ford, Bucklyn fired a few rounds of canister.  Again, let me pick at how, and how few of, the canister were used. Five rounds fired to cover the advance of the infantry.  Bucklyn’s guns fired those so close that he later lamented the death of one of the friendly infantry, “but they were so nearly between me and the enemy, the accident could not have been avoided.”  Or what we’d call today “Danger Close.”  Keep in mind the maximum effective range of the canister rounds was between 300 and 400 yards.  If Hunt’s earlier complaints were valid, then the canister was designed with engagements at that range in mind.  So let’s dispense with the notion canister was only a defensive projectile.   At Kelly’s Ford those canister rounds were useful in the offensive because of their “reach.”  But of course, with the crossing effected so quickly (as compared to say a crossing at the same point on March 17, 1863), only five canister were needed.

One other note about Bucklyn’s expenditure.  In his report he complained, “I found my fuses very unreliable; some shell did not burst at all, while others burst soon after leaving the gun. I could place no dependence on them.”  Those 12-pdr shells used Boremann fuses.  Randolph seemed perplexed by this issue, “for I have seldom known them to fail.”

Finally, and this is a bonus round, Captain Frederick Edgell’s 1st New Hampshire Battery fired sixty rounds during a separate action on November 8:

  • Schenkl case-shot, 3-inch – 20
  • Schenkl percussion shell, 3-inch – 10
  • Hotchkiss time fuse shell, 3-inch – 30

about a mile north of Brandy Station, a section of Edgell’s guns deployed and opened fire on a Confederate battery at the range of 2,000 yards.  After a few rounds, the Confederate battery fell back.  Edgell then moved up to the “left of and near Brandy Station.”  There at a range of 1,800 yards, Edgell’s 3-inch rifles traded shots with two 20-pdr Parrotts and two smaller rifles.  Edgell reported expending 56 rounds, while Randolph recorded an even 60.  The preference, Edgell’s 3-inch rifles firing in counter-battery mode, was shell, with some case-shot mixed in for good measure.

From the expenditure figures for these four batteries in two engagements, consider these preferences:

  • 3-inch rifle firing on troops in the woods – case shot.
  • 3-inch rifle firing counter-battery – shell
  • 12-pdr Napoleon firing counter-battery – solid shot, though the preference cannot be stated for a fact.
  • 12-pdr Napoleon firing in direct support of infantry advance – canister, within range limitations.
  • 4.5-inch Rifle – shell at anything.

There’s a lot more I could suggest or speculate towards.  But what I see with the artillery employment and ammunition expenditures is a lesson in how Civil War era armies effectively employed artillery in the offensive.  The guns firing over the Rappahannock on November 7, 1863 (and those later firing around Brandy Station on November 8) succeeded in pushing the opposing forces back and then kept them back.  That accomplished, the infantry was able to conduct their most important mission on the battlefield – occupy terrain.

(Sources, OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 49, pages 566-574.)

150 Years Ago: Kelly’s Ford

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Kelly’s Ford. I’ll be out on the battlefield most of today, involved with a couple of activities looking back at the battle. So treat this as a “live blogging” placeholder. I’ll post photos as time (and bandwidth) permits.

My pal Don has hinted at a St. Patrick’s Day post on his Regular Cavalry in the Civil War blog. So please check his site.

Looking at the ford site, 150 years ago to the morning:

Kelly's Ford 011

The markers that once stood on the “Yankee” side of the Rappahannock now stand on the southern end.  Not as easy to visualize the actions from this point, but safer to stop.

Kelly's Ford 014

Where the “Gallant” Pelham fell:

Kelly's Ford 021

The new interpretive site on the north end of the battlefield:

Kelly's Ford 022

Looking south towards Carter’s Run and the location of the closing actions of the battle:

Kelly's Ford 033

And we did have our coffee on hand to toast the men who fought in the battle:

Kelly's Ford 034

Kelly’s Ford Sesquicentennial and Interpretive Site Dedication

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kelly’s Ford is just a few days away.  And just in time for that date, a new interpretive site has gone up on ground preserved at the end of last year.  The site will be part of the Virginia Civil War Trails system.  The spot is just off Newby’s Shop Road, overlooking ground now covered by a preservation easement.

The event is scheduled for Sunday March 17 at 2:30-3:15 pm, roughly 150 years to the hour when the fighting occurred at the site.

Kellysford

While the focus of this event is to recall and consider the events that took place 150 years ago, it will also mark the formal opening of this new interpretive site.  The site came together with contributions from the land owner and several local businesses. The additional interpretation will aid those visiting the site, going a long way to aid understanding the 1863 battle.

At the event, the folks who organized and promoted the new interpretive site will recognize those donors who helped bring this to a reality.  A representative from the Civil War Trust will also speak.  In addition, I will be speaking about the closing stages of the battle and on the importance of Kelly’s Ford.

If you plan to attend, please contact me (comment or email is fine).  The event organizer needs a headcount, and I’ll make sure you are counted.

Oh… and bring some coffee with you!  We shall have our toast!