Use of the 32-pdr Field Howitzer

Even with a limited production run ending in 1857, the Model 1844 32-pdr Field Howitzers saw service in the war, and were actually issued to the Federal field armies.

The writers of Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War linked the 32-pdr Field Howitzer currently on display at Petersburg to Battery H, 5th U.S. Artillery.

24-pdr (left) and 32-pdr Field Howitzers – Petersburg NBP

The 32-pdr on the rails has the registry number “12” from Ames Manufacturing, and also bears the inspectors initials -LABW for Louis A. de Barth Walbach.  The authors of the above mentioned work, citing records from Rock Island Arsenal, identified registry number 12 from Ames as the issued to Battery H, and seeing service at the battles of Shiloh, Murphreesboro, and Chickamauga.

32-pdr Field Howitzer Muzzle – Petersburg

Readers may recall I’ve often mentioned Battery H, 5th US Artillery with regard to the Shiloh Battlefield (first and second positions indicated by War Department tablets).  In his report on the battle of Shiloh, Brigadier General William Nelson, commanding the Army of the Ohio’s Fourth Division, identified the battery, commanded by Captain William Terrill, armed with “four 12-pounder brass guns and two 10-pounder Parrott guns,” adding “It was handled superbly”  (OR, Series I, Volume 10, Serial 10, p. 325).   In his official report, Captain Terrill specifically mentioned the employment of Napoleon guns, but nothing about howitzers (Ibid., pp. 321-3).   And, to add more weight here, in his report of the ammunition expenditure during the battle, Captain J. H. Gilman, inspector of artillery for the Army of the Ohio, tallied the ammunition used by Terrill’s battery, setting the total at 242 rounds – 76 from the Parrott guns and 166 from “his light 12 pounders” (Ibid., p. 301).

After action reports from the battle of Murphreesboro stated that Battery H, 5th US Artillery, then under the command of Lieutenant Francis Guenther, was similarly armed with Parrotts and Napoleons (OR, Series I, Volume 20, Serial 29, p. 238).  Later, in an ordnance report dated June 30, 1863, the battery’s armament is listed again as Parrotts and Napoleons (OR, Series I, Volume 23, Serial 35, p. 967).   Clearly the battery did not go into action at Shiloh (or at later battles) with 32-pdr howitzers.  I would offer that Battery H was among those formed early in the war as the regulars expanded.  As such, the battery may have received 32-pdr howitzers initially, before re-equipping with handier pieces by April 1862.

Better documented is Battery D, 1st New York Artillery Battalion (later becoming the 32nd Independent Battery) , which served the Army of the Potomac.  The battery served, under the command of Captain Edward Grimm, with the rest of the 1st Battalion, as part of the Third Brigade of the Artillery Reserve during the Peninsula Campaign (1862), and with six 32-pdr howitzers.  Both Henry Hunt (then a Colonel commanding the reserve) and Major Albert Arndt (commanding the 1st NY Battalion, and the 3rd Brigade of the reserve) mentioned Grimm’s battery in their official reports.  While not conspicuous, the 32-pdrs were mentioned several times, particularly with regard to Malvern Hill (OR, Series I, Volume 11, Serial 13, pp 236-241, 264-5).

At some point later that summer, command of the battery shifted to Captain Charles Kusserow but Battery D retained the 32-pdrs.  Although placed under the V Corps, along with the rest of the 1st NY Battalion, no returns indicate the battery saw action in the 2nd Manassas.  However, as the Army of the Potomac reacted to the invasion of Maryland, the 32-pdrs rolled north towards Sharpsburg, Maryland.  On September 17, 1862, Kusserow’s Battery deployed on a ridge line east of the Middle Bridge, just north of the Boonesboro Pike.

Tablets on Boonesboro Pike

The ridge is in the background, behind the War Department tablets in the photo above.  In this position, the 32-pdrs certainly commanded the approaches to the bridge, and could thwart any Confederate counter attack in the sector.  But with a range of only 1500 yards, the gunners could not support offensive actions up the road.

Battery D’s Position at Antietam

On this cut from the War Department maps, I’ve indicated the battery’s position with a blue box.  The two blue lines, measured to 1500 yards, indicate the range of the 32-pdrs from that position.  The howitzers fell just short of Confederate positions on the Sunken Road and skirmishers along the Boonesboro Pike.  The 32-pdrs may have offered significant firepower if sent forward, but one must question how easily that could be accomplished.  If Captain Tidball advanced Battery A, 2nd US Artillery with 3-inch Ordnance Rifles by hand into position, how well could 32-pdrs at twice the weight, pulled by eight horses each, have moved closer to the enemy?

By the time of Fredericksburg (December 1862) the battery received six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Battery D continued to serve with the Army of the Potomac through June 1863, as part of the Artillery Reserve.   However by the time of the Chancellorsville Campaign, the battery was then re-designated the 32nd New York Light Artillery (OR, Series I, Volume 25, Serial 39, p. 247).  The battery served the rest of the war in the XXII and VIII Corps, notably around Harpers Ferry.

Burnside reported two 32-pdr howitzers during operations on the North Carolina Outer Banks (OR, Series I, Volume 9, Serial 9, p. 369).  Likely those 32-pdrs were still in use in the theater and served at the siege of Washington, N.C. in March-April 1863 (OR, Series I, Volume 18, Serial 26, p. 251).  And in far away New Mexico, Brigadier General Edward Canby forwarded on battery equipped with four 12-pdr Field Guns and two 32-pdr Field Howitzers to New Mexico in June 1862 (OR, Series I, Volume 9, Serial 9, p. 679).

After 1862, the Federals moved most of the 32-pdrs to the fortifications.  Battery Garesche, of the Alexandria line of fortifications outside Washington, D.C, received two 32-pdrs.  One, and possibly a second, armed the fortifications on the east side of the Anacostia River.

Based on Official Records, the Confederates used the 32-pdr howitzers in fortifications also.  Details related of some fortifications, such as Fort Donelson in Tennessee or Fort Walker defending Port Royal Sound in South Carolina, mention “32-pdr howitzers” but these may also be references to carronade-type weapons of the same caliber.  Although not explicitly mentioned in the weapons mounted in the defense of Island No. 10, Confederate reports state 32-pdr howitzer ammunition was on hand, carried as a separate line item from munitions for 32-pdr guns (OR, Series I, Volume 8, Serial 8, p. 183).   A Major J. Kellersburg, engineer operating in Texas, reported placing “two brass 32-pounder howitzers” in a battery along the Sabine River in October 1862 (OR, Series I, Volume 15, Serial 21, p. 834).   At least two 32-pdr howitzers were used in the Charleston, South Carolina defenses, although these are hard to trace due to references to 32-pdr carronades as howitzers in some accounts.

Strictly speaking for the year 1862, sixteen (and possibly up to nineteen) of the 32-pdrs can be identified within the Official Records.  Certainly impressive considering only twenty-five of the weapons were produced!

The 32-pdr howitzers served right up to the end of the war.  During the siege of Petersburg, the 1st Connecticut Artillery employed two 32-pdrs at Battery Pruyn, along with a 24-pdr howitzers, a 20-pdr Parrott, and two 30-pdr Parrotts.   The three howitzers were later moved forward to an advanced redoubt named Dutton.  The Confederates assaulted the position on June 2, 1864.  Colonel Henry L. Abbott, of the 1st Connecticut Artillery reported:

After driving in the picket-lines on June 2 the Twenty-second South Carolina Regiment, Colonel Dantzler, made a determined assault upon this redoubt.  It was repulsed with severe loss by canister fire, the colonel himself being among the killed, of who 17 were counted.  So demoralized was his command that a lieutenant and 22 enlisted men surrendered to the garrison rather than attempt to retreat under the fire. (OR, Series I, Volume 36, Serial 68, p. 193)

So while the range limited the weapons’ effectiveness at battlefields such as Antietam, the weight of shot and canister made the 32-pdr devastating in the close confines of the trenches.

2 thoughts on “Use of the 32-pdr Field Howitzer

  1. I appreciate the info you mentioned on the 1st NYLA Battalion since I had a relative in that unit. Would you be so kind to send me any info you might have on this and subsequent units (29th – 32nd batteries). Thanks.

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