Monthly Archives: June 2010

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of June 14

Twenty new entries this week for the Civil War section of the Historical Marker Database, from the states of Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Buckhorn Tavern, near New Market, Alabama was a depot during the War of 1812.  During the Civil War opposing cavalry forces fought “a brisk firefight” there on October 12, 1863.

– A new marker in front of the Averasboro Battlefield Museum orients the visitor and offers photographs of important battlefield landmarks.  A nearby state marker notes the location of Lebanon, house of Farquhard Smith, which was used as a hospital during the battle.  These add to our Averasboro battlefield by markers set.

– In Clyde, Ohio, a state marker identifies the boyhood home of General James B. McPherson.  A local marker notes the general’s birthplace, were a log cabin stood a half mile away.

– The Hugh Culbertson farm near Orrtanna, Pennsylvania was used as a hospital for those wounded in the fighting at Fairfield on July 3, 1863.

– Several wayside markers this week from Wrightsville, Pennsylvania relate actions during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Confederates attacked Pennsylvania militia in the town on June 28, 1863 with the aim of securing the wooden, covered bridge crossing the Susquehanna River.  Outnumbered, the militia retreated over the bridge and burned it to deny use to the Confederates.  Another marker in town discusses Confederate interactions with the townspeople afterward.

– The William C. McElheran House in Charleston, South Carolina was a carriage factory at the time of the Civil War.  During the war, the factory produced artillery carriages for the Confederate army.

– A memorial in Georgetown, South Carolina lists every member of Company A, 10th South Carolina.

– A marker in Palestine, Texas details the salt works operating during the Civil War to support the Confederate war effort.

– From Richmond, Virginia, a stone marker along the Jefferson Davis Highway notes the location of Battery 17 in the inner defense line around Richmond.  Another marker entered this week from Richmond highlights Frederick William Sievers, famous Virginia sculptor, whose works include the Virginia memorial at Gettysburg.

– In Wylliesburg, Virginia, a state marker touches upon one of my pet peeves.  The marker discusses an action at Staunton Bridge fought on June 25, 1864…. nine miles to the west of the marker!

–  A wayside marker at Boydton, Virginia notes the Boydton and Petersburg Plank Road which served as an important route for troop movements during the Civil War.

– A marker at Montpelier Station, Virginia discusses the 1863-4 winter encampment of General Samuel McGowan’s Brigade.  After the war, the Gilmore family, local freedmen, farmed the land.

– A state marker in Madison, Wisconsin notes that over 70,000 men trained at Camp Randall during the war.

Fort Pulaski: A Study of Massed Firepower

Years ago while touring Fort Pulaski with one of my fellow Army officers, I was asked the question, “Why should one study Fort Pulaski?”  My friend was looking at the visit from a professional aspect and thus searching for the lessons one might learn from the battle fought there in April 1862.   My answer was that on the surface, Fort Pulaski was a study in old weapons against old style defenses.  However, passing beyond that summary, the reduction of Fort Pulaski is a very good example where the principle of mass was applied directly on the battlefield.

In a separate post, at some point, I will break down the details of the investment, siege, and reduction of Fort Pulaski.   For now let me focus on the tactical deployment of the siege artillery.  Captain Quincy Gilmore (he was later made acting Brigadier General during preparations for the siege) first laid out the general concept in a report in early December 1861.  Gilmore refined the plan over the months, later providing a very detailed report of the operation.

Reduction of Fort Pulaski, from the OR Atlas

From the notes on the margin, and from Gilmore’s official report the composition (see note below) of these batteries and the range to their target is known to the last yard:

  • Battery Stanton.  Three 13-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars. Range:  3400 yards.
  • Battery Grant.  Three 13-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars. Range: 3200 yards.
  • Battery Lyon.  Three 10-inch Model 1861 Columbiads (Rodman) Guns.  Range: 3100 yards.
  • Battery Lincoln.  Three 8-inch Model 1844 Columbiads.  Range: 3045 yards.
  • Battery Burnside.  One 13-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars.  Range: 2750 yards.
  • Battery Sherman.  Three 13-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars. Range:  2650 yards.
  • Battery Halleck. Two 13-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars. Range: 2400 yards.
  • Battery Scott.  Three 10-inch Model 1861 Rodman Guns and one 8-inch Model 1844 Columbiad.  Range: 1740 yards.
  • Battery Sigel.  Five 30-pdr Parrrott Rifles and one 48-pdr James (24-pdr siege gun, rifled).  Range:  1670 yards.
  • Battery McClellan.  Two 84-pdr James (42-pdr seacoast gun, rifled) and two 64-pdr James (32-pdr seacoast gun, rifled).  Range:  1650 yards.
  • Battery Totten.  Four 10-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars.  Range:  1650 yards.

As the map indicates all these batteries stood on Tybee Island, firing over the South Pass of the Savannah River.  Plans to place other batteries further upstream and around the fort were tabled before the bombardment.  As events worked out, the additional batteries were not needed.  The photo below was taken standing on the banks of the Savannah River, about 300 yards east of where Battery Scott stood.   Just right of center is the Fort Pulaski flagpole.  And further to the right is the Cockspur Island lighthouse.   Range to the fort is just over 2000 yards in this view.

Savannah 5 May 10 155

Looking at Fort Pulaski from Tybee Island

Today the battery positions are bisected by U.S. Highway 80 or on private property.  This vantage point is part of a new wayside exhibit built-in partnership with a property development company and the National Park Service.

Orders to the batteries reflected Gilmore’s intent – a systematic reduction of the fort.   The orders were specific as to the powder charges, elevation, fuse settings, rate of fire, and projectiles.  Furthermore, each battery was assigned a specific target and desired effect.  From orders issued April 9, 1862 (recorded as General Orders No. 17 in Gilmore’s official report, OR, Series I, Volume 6, Serial 6, pp. 156-7):

  • Batteries Stanton and Grant (with mortars) fired over the south face of the fort with shells exploding upon impact.
  • Batteries Lyon and Lincoln (with columbiads) fired at high elevation to pass shells over the parapet landing on the inside of the north wall of the fort with shells exploding on impact.
  • Batteries Burnside, Sherman, and Halleck (with mortars) fired on the arches of the north and northeast face of the fort, with shells exploding on impact.
  • Battery Scott (with columbiads) aimed to breach the corner where the south and southeast faces joined.
  • Battery Sigel (with rifles) would also breach the corner, but only open fire after the Confederate parapet batteries were silenced.
  • Battery McClellan (with rifles) was also directed to the corner to breach the walls, but further instructed to focus between the last southeast face embrasure.
  • Battery Totten (with mortars) fired shells over the northeast and southeast faces of the fort, with instructions to focus on any Confederate battery that prepares to counter-fire.

The ranges for the breaching batteries was about double that recommended in the artillery manuals of the day, for smoothbore weapons.  However, experiments with rifled artillery, which Gilmore cited in his report, indicated breaching at those ranges was possible due to the improved technology.  And Gilmore massed his most effective weapons in an effort to breach the closest corner of the fort, with his other weapons firing in support with specific intended effects.

Savannah 5 May 10 271

30-pdr Parrott on Siege Carriage -Fort Pulaski

Prior to the siege of Fort Pulaski, none other than General Robert E. Lee, then commanding the coastal defenses of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina at the time, considered the possibilities of a siege.  Recall that early in his career, Lee had directed the construction of Fort Pulaski.  So he knew the area and the fort well.  Lee commented to the effect that Federal batteries on Tybee Island could not breach the Fort’s walls, but they would make things difficult on the defenders.

Savannah 5 May 10 223

Fort Pulaski Parapet - Northeast Face

At about 8:15 AM on April 10, following a formal demand to surrender, Federal batteries opened fire upon Fort Pulaski.   Some of the Columbiads jumped off their carriages due to recoil, but were brought back into service.  And the mortar fire appeared unsatisfactory, with only one of every ten fired landing within the fort.  Yet by the evening of the 10th, the Federals had severely damaged the south-southwest corner, starting the breach. Federal mortars and one of the Parrotts fired at intervals through the night.

At sunrise on April 11th, all batteries resumed firing.  Within a few hours the breach was enlarged.  By noon two entire casemates were torn open.  Finally at 2 PM the fort’s commander, Colonel C. H. Olmstead, raised the white flag.  The breaching was completed with about fourteen hours of firing on both days.

Breach at Fort Pulaski

The Federals scored a victory at Fort Pulaski with the loss of only one man.  This was not by happenstance, but by design.  Gilmore described Confederate fire as “vigorous” but with little effect.  The Federal columbiads and mortars disrupted the Confederate gunners on the parapets.  Furthermore, the Federal batteries were placed in a way to exploit a geometrical disadvantage of the fort.  Only guns on the southeast face of the fort could directly engage the Federals without firing over their comrades.  Thus of the 48 cannon and mortars in Fort Pulaski, less than half were brought to bear on Tybee Island.

Savannah 5 May 10 259

SW Corner of Fort Pulaski Looking at Tybee Island

Breech in Fort Pulaski’s walls occurred on the angle where the south and southeast face joined, exactly as directed in Gilmore’s orders.  The fires of three batteries with four heavy caliber smoothbores and ten rifles focused upon that corner eventually tearing away the brick.  Victory was sealed by using the most effective weapons, massed to concentrate fire on the southeast corner of the fort.

Savannah 5 May 10 338

SW Corner of Fort Pulaski Today

Although repaired later, some of the battle scars remain at the breached corner.  The new brickwork (some of which I’m told dates to 1930s era projects) provides some measure of the extensive damage.

The breach serves as testament to the power of rifled artillery, in both range and destructive power.  Yet, that power pales in comparison to 20th and 21st century weapons.  But the basic principle of massing firepower at a single point to achieve the greatest effect remains today, as it did in the 1860s.


NOTE:  I personally have some concerns about the types of weapons noted in Gilmore’s report (which was written in October 1865, well after the event).  The calibers are likely correct.  However, the cited use of several of the newer model weapons is difficult to match with known ordnance acceptance dates.

Ten prototype 10-inch Rodman Gun were produced and received in October 1861.  The type had just entered production in early 1862, with only five proofed by March 1862.   There were five Model 1857 10-inch Columbiad, but all those were destroyed in testing.  Quantities of Model 1844 Columbiads existed (with 149 total produced).  So either Gilmore had six of those ten prototypes.  Or he mistakenly identified the Model 1844 Columbiads as Rodmans in his report.

The 13-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortar was in production and in use by this time, so I cannot dispute that weapon’s presence at the battle.  However, Cyrus Alger produced the first 10-inch Model 1861 Seacoast Mortars for proofing in July 1862.  A 10-inch Model 1861 Siege Mortar existed, but the earliest proofings were recorded in April 1862.  However, Cyrus Alger did produce five 10-inch mortars to the Model 1840 pattern by October 1861.  These were originally ordered under a contract for Model 1861 mortars, but evidently in the haste to receive weapons the older pattern was accepted.  Perhaps Gilmore was issued mortars from that lot, and he opted to cite them as Model 1861 due to the contract date.

Memorial Day at Woodlawn National Cemetery

Part of my Memorial Day weekend this year was spent in Elmira, New York.  Sure, I was hunting down historical markers, but my focus was on the infamous prison camp that operated in the town.  And one stop on that tour was Woodlawn National Cemetery, where I found several surprises.

For those unfamiliar with the site, Elmira was one of many prisoner of war camps operating across the North, but was dubbed “Hellmira” by some due to the camp’s poor conditions.  Early in the war, rail lines brought troops mustering into service to Elmira.  At a camp along the Chemung River, the new units formed, drilled, and marched off to war.  Facing an increase of prisoners due to the “no exchange” stance, Federals opened a prison at that camp in June 1864.

Conditions were, as with most Civil War prison camps, horrible.  But Elmira was by many measures the worst of the lot.  Unsanitary conditions brought disease.  Sleeping in tents and receiving only basic rations, the prisoners suffered from exposure and malnutrition.   While the camp operated, over 12,000 Confederates were held in Elmira.  And nearly 3,000 of them died.  By comparison, 45,000 Federals spent time at Andersonville, Georgia, and over 12,000 died.  In Chicago’s Camp Douglas, 6,000 of 26,000 Confederates died.  In statistical terms, Elmira had the highest death rate.  (NOTE:  I don’t think of this as a North vs. South issue.  There were no clean and healthy prison camps in the Civil War, on either side.)

The Confederate dead from the prison were buried in nearby Woodlawn Cemetery.  The cemetery’s sexton, John W. Jones, buried the Confederates, meticulously recording the names.   When Woodlawn became a national cemetery in the 1870s, Jones’ records facilitated easy identification of most of those buried.  Very few unknowns lie within the Confederate section of the cemetery. If you clicked on the link above, you know Jones was an escaped slave.  He supported the Underground Railroad.  And… was originally from a plantation just outside Leesburg, Virginia.  (So look for a follow up post after I spend some time locating local cemeteries here in Loudoun County.)

As I entered Woodlawn, appropriately for Memorial Day weekend, all the graves near the entrance, all U.S. veterans, displayed a small American flag.  I figured this would make my task of locating the Confederate burials easier.  I was in for a surprise.

Confederate Memorial at Woodlawn

Yes those are peaked Confederate headstones, with US flags at each grave.  And this was not just for one portion of the Confederate cemetery.  All had small US flags.

Confederate Cemetery at Woodlawn

Every single Confederate grave had a US flag.

James Mayo, Co. D, 5th Virginia Cavalry

And some of the graves were clearly not soldiers.

Jno. J. Powell, Citizen

No indication on the stone why Powell (or any of the others) was detained.  So there’s a thread I’ll have to follow and see where it leads.  But I think it significant Powell is identified as a “citizen” and not “civilian” or other term.  And of course also received veterans’ honors with a flag on Memorial Day.

I do know that a Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter has placed Confederate flags on the graves in the past.   From what I can tell that was for Confederate Remembrance Day.  I don’t know if the US flags placed this Memorial Day were simply the result of an over zealous team placing flags that week, or if the US flags were knowingly placed to form a message.

And I can say, and you can see in the pictures, the ground was not undulating.  So nobody was rolling in their graves!

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of June 7

Forty-three new entries in the Civil War category for the Historical Marker Database this week.  The additions cover Civil War related sites in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia.

– A marker north of New Market, Alabama recalls skirmish between Federals and Confederate partisans on August 5, 1862.  Federal General Robert L. McCook was killed in the action.

– Near the Georgia Institute of Technology campus in Atlanta, Georgia, a marker notes the spot where Mayor James Calhoun surrendered the city on September 2, 1864.

– Two Civil War memorials in Indiana added this week.  Henry County’s memorial in New Castle features a statue of a soldier at rest.   More elaborate is the Randolph County memorial in Winchester, with five figures, reliefs, and guarded by a 6-pdr Field Gun.

Nineteen additions to the Richmond, Kentucky battlefield this week.  Now we can offer a tour of that battlefield by markers.

– A simple memorial honors the unknown dead from the war in a cemetery in Chapman, Nebraska.

– A state marker in Elmira, New York indicates the site of the infamous prison camp along the Chemung River, which operated in 1864-65.

Seven more entries to round out our set of markers at Fort Macon, in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

– Further down the coast from Fort Macon, a marker in Swansboro notes a Confederate fort on Huggins’ Island.  The fort was burned by Federals on August 19, 1862.  I read the remains of the works are well preserved, but only accessed by boat.

– We continue to plot Sherman’s march through North Carolina by way of markers.  Kilpatrick’s Cavalry, followed by infantry, passed through Rockingham, North Carolina on March 7-8, 1865.

– A Civil War Trails marker near Wade, North Carolina tells us the Left Wing of Sherman’s Army halted at Old Bluff Church prior to the battle of Averasboro, March 15-16, 1865.

– A marker in Goldsboro, North Carolina continues with the march, indicating Sherman’s men arrived in that city on March 21, 1865.  Other Civil War markers from Goldsboro this week mention William T. Dortch, Confederate Senator, and Foster’s Raid into the city on December 17, 1862.

– On April 13, 1865, Raleigh, North Carolina fell to Sherman’s advance.  A marker in the city records the surrender of the town by the mayor.

– So with the Atlanta marker mentioned above and this one in Raleigh, we have “bookends” of sorts to Uncle Billy’s long march.  What next?   A “headless” Sherman statue in Pickerington, Ohio.  Eric Wittenberg first brought this to our attention, and one of our Ohio marker hunters promptly gathered the details for an entry.  I echo Eric’s comments and hope the statue can be restored.

– A marker along a river walk in Georgetown, South Carolina discusses Joseph Hayne Rainey.  Rainey escaped slavery early in the war, then returned to become serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.  His house in Georgetown was the subject of a marker entered earlier.

– Just outside of Georgetown, South Carolina is a United Daughters of the Confederacy memorial noting the location of Battery White.  The battery protected Winyah Bay from Federal raids.  It is well preserved today, complete with two 10-inch Confederate Columbiads which armed the battery during the war.

– A marker in Midlothian, Virginia discusses the coal mining operations there which supported the Confederate war effort.  At one time the mine produced 200 tons of coal a day.

Dahlgren Boat Howitzers, Part 6

So on June 6, the anniversary of the greatest amphibious landing in history, I shall discuss landing operations… well those of the Civil War era!

In earlier posts I discussed the design history, carriages, variants, ammunition, and employment of the boat howitzer family.   Much like the discussion of the Army’s mountain howitzer, the service history of Dahlgren Boat Howitzer begins before the war and extends nearly to the 20th century.  And like the mountain howitzers, the Dahlgrens show up in many interesting stories set in exotic places.

In Boat Armament of the U.S. Navy, published in 1856, then Commander John A. Dahlgren included several service vignettes.   The earliest involved the famous frigate USS Constitution.  On what would be the ship’s last operational cruise in 1853, “Old Ironsides” came to the assistance of American colonists (part a project to resettle former slaves) near present day Harper, Liberia.  Commander Isaac Mayo at first attempted to negotiate a settlement between native tribes and the colonists.  But after failing to make a landing due to heavy surf, and finding the tribal leaders unwilling to talk, Mayo ordered the ship’s boat to fire shells over the coastal village.  The weapon used was a 12-pdr heavy howitzer, mounted on the boat.  After thirty rounds, the village leaders asked for a truce. This operation validated the howitzer’s use to arm boats operating in shallow waters.

The second incident Dahlgren records occurred in April 1854.  In a joint U.S. and British operation against “Chinese Imperialists” in Shanghai, China, a detail from the USS Plymouth manned a 12-pdr boat howitzer.  In the action, the crew fired at close range, and reported using canister to clear the parapets of fortifications.  Dahlgren, of course, provided glowing reports from those involved in the operation, which highlighted the use of the field carriage and operations ashore.

Dahlgren’s vignettes continued with additional accounts of actions in Asian waters.  In 1855, a locally acquired boat armed with a 12-pdr howitzer, and several smaller guns, suppressed a group of pirates near Hong Kong.    However, in a role not anticipated by the weapon’s designer, some of his howitzers were used in a less combative manner in Japan.  Commodore Matthew Perry landed several boat howitzers when going ashore during the “opening of Japan” in 1853.  So impressed were the Japanese with the howitzers, they asked for three as gifts.  Although only one was given, according to one account the Japanese made several copies.   (And I would greatly enjoy seeing a photo of one such copy!)   The boat howitzer system, without firing a shot, served as an impressive “diplomatic” weapon!

These activities brought acceptance within the Navy’s ranks, and proofed the type prior to the Civil War.  From the very start of the war, both sides employed boat howitzers, particularly to arm light craft defending and patrolling coastal waterways.  Even before shots were fired, the Navy laid out plans to defend the Washington Navy Yard employing boat howitzers (Naval OR, Series I, Volume 4, p. 413).  On April 12, 1861 the USS Pawnee arrived off Charleston intending to relieve Fort Sumter.  Commander S.C. Rowan readied boats armed with howitzers, but did not act due to the heavy fire upon the fort (Naval OR, Series I, Volume 4, p. 253-4).   On April 23, the crew of the USS Powhatan landed boat howitzers on Santa Rosa island to ward off local forces aimed to outflank Fort Pickens at the entrance to Pensacola (Naval OR, Series I, Volume 4, p. 207).   To stem the flow of supplies south through the Chesapeake Bay and with threats to the troops then moving to Washington, D.C. the Navy armed several light craft with boat howitzers to patrol those waters in May 1861 (Naval OR, Series I, Volume 4, p. 397 and 443).   All roles for which the boat howitzers were designed.

Boat howitzers appear frequently in both the Naval and Army Official records, and were widely used throughout the war.  Practically every landing operation included such weapons in support, if not playing a prominent role.  When the Army-Navy team put troops ashore at Cape Hatteras, Port Royal, Tybee Island, Morris Island, and countless points along the coast, they were escorted with boat howitzer armed launches.  And often when those forces proceeded off the beach, the crews shifted the howitzers onto field carriages and continued the support.  Particularly in the waterways of the Carolinas, howitzer armed launches were used by patrols and raiding parties.  On many occasions the Navy lent boat howitzers to Army forces.  Such occurred in October 1862 for an Army expedition up the Coosawatchie River near Pocotaligo, South Carolina.  Troops from the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery manned three boat howitzers in that operation (Army OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, p. 150, and Naval OR, Series I, Volume 13, p. 402-3).

Among the dozens of actions and incidents involving the boat howitzer, one in particular stands out as it involves the weapon’s designer.  In late December 1863, Dahlgren, who had been promoted to Admiral and commanded the Southern Blockading Squadron at that time, ordered an expedition to Murrells Inlet (south of Myrtle Beach) in order to destroy a Confederate blockade runner in the process of fitting out.  Earlier in the month, a Federal landing party attempting to do the same was dispersed with many men captured.  So Dahlgren’s orders were laced with a vengeful tone.  Six ships, 100 Marines, and four boat howitzers were detailed to the task.  The force arrived at the inlet on January 1, 1864 and made a landing.   After working one of the boat howitzers within 300 yards of the Confederate schooner, the landing party opened fire.  After five shells, the ship’s cargo of turpentine caught fire and the ship burned (Naval OR, Series I, Volume 15, pp. 155-159).   I would think Admiral Dahlgren felt no small measure of pride considering HIS weapon system had once again performed to expectations.

Beyond Naval use, several Army units, on both Federal and Confederate formations, were armed partly or completely with Dahlgren boat howitzers.  The 71st New York brought two Dahlgrens to First Manassas, only to lose them in the retreat.  Company K, 9th New York used three 12-pdrs and two rifled boat howitzers at Antietam.  Grimes (Portsmouth, Va.) Battery also brought boat howitzers to Antietam, using them to great effect at the Piper Farm.  Reilly’s (Rowan, NC) Battery, issued the two boat howitzers captured from the 71st New York, also may have used the type at Antietam.

I shall, at a later point, review the use of boat howitzers in these four units in particular.  And I’ll also look at each variant of the boat howitzer family in detail.  But for now I’ll close this series of posts on John Dahlgren’s boat howitzers with a simple observation.

Heavy 12-pdr Boat Howitzer - Fairfax CH, Va.

Damn fine gun!

The Fourth of June, 1942

Allow me to take a beak from Civil War topics for a day.  This time of year, we armchair-type generals tend to think about events at Normandy on June 6, 1944.  We anticipate day long documentary marathons and at least one showing of The Longest Day, perhaps Saving Private Ryan also.   I don’t want to take anything away from that important event.  However I would call my readers’ attention to an event which occurred on June 4, 1942, which was just as important, if not more so.

If you said Midway, you are right.  Perhaps because it was fought on the high seas, with no “battleground” to walk, we tend to overlook what some consider the turning point of the war in the Pacific.  Or perhaps it’s because Hollywood provided only that sloppy 1976 depiction of the battle.  (Sort of makes you cringe just thinking about it, right?)  More likely, as one must work hard to visualize and understand the three-dimensional air-sea battle that was Midway, we simply consider the battle in brief.

From even a cursory summary of the battle emerge some incredible stories.  There’s the codebreakers’ work in the lead-up, providing an intelligence coup.  The story of VT-8 is heartbreaking.  Equally heroic and desperate were the Japanese strikes against the American carriers later in the day.  Commanders on both sides made cold, calculated risks as they fought out the second major carrier battle in history.

SBD Dauntless (Patriot's Point, SC)

Personally I tend to focus on the American dive-bomber attacks delivered around 10:20 that morning.  SBD Dauntlesses from the USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown appeared over the Japanese fleet at nearly the same time.  Rarely does a leader arrive at the right place, at the right time, and with the right weapon.  Lieutenant Commanders Clarence Wade McClusky (Enterprise) and Maxwell F. Leslie (Yorktown) arrived to just such a situation with 54 aircraft.  The Japanese carriers below them were conducting rearming and refueling operations.  And to boot, the Japanese fighters were out of position to break up the American attack.  Within minutes three Japanese carriers were on fire, later to sink.  Later in the day Americans crippled a fourth Japanese carrier, which would sink the next day.

IJN Hiryu Burning

Despite the loss of the USS Yorktown later in the battle, the balance of power in the Pacific shifted.

USS Yorktown Under Attack

Twelve months later, the U.S. Navy had replaced the aircraft lost at Midway (and even those from the Guadalcanal fighting for the most part!).  New, and rather well-trained, pilots replenished the American ranks.  Within a year, a “new” USS Yorktown replaced that lost at Midway.  And more aircraft, ships, pilots, sailors, marines, and soldiers entered the fighting in the Pacific, as the American war machine surged to the challenge.

The "new" USS Yorktown (CV-10) at Patriots Point, SC Today

On the other hand, the Japanese could not readily replace the ships, planes, and men lost at Midway.

Perhaps the epic air-land-sea campaign fought around Guadalcanal later in 1942 was the true “turning point” in the Pacific.  But damage done to the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway effectively closed the door on any further expansion by the Axis powers.   Before Midway, the Japanese carriers ranged the high seas from Pearl Harbor to Ceylon, projecting power and threatening to open new theaters in the war.  But with the loss of those four carriers, that power projection ceased.   Therefore, Midway deserves ranking among World War II’s most important battles.

Dahlgren Boat Howitzers, Part 5

I’ve drug out the discussion of boat howitzers, and will now talk about dragging boat howitzers!   In earlier posts I discussed the design history, carriages, variants, and ammunition of the boat howitzer family.  Now I turn to the manning and drill of the weapons.

Once landed, unlike the Army’s weapons, the boat howitzer relied upon the muscles of its crew for mobility.  A drag rope attached to the trail allowed the crew to pull the howitzer on three wheels.  The Navy’s Ordnance Instructions of 1866 provided an illustration indicating the stations of the crew when servicing and moving the piece:

Crew Positions on Boat Howitzer

The Navy specified a crew of twelve for operations, compared to the Army’s staffing of nine for standard field pieces.   There were several differences with the roles of the individual crewmen.  Avoiding a long-winded description of the roles and responsibilities, the chart below summarizes the positions for Army and Navy crews, by position number.

First off, confusing somewhat, the Navy and Army did not consult each other on the numbers.  The Army’s gunner (technically #9) corresponds to the Navy’s #1 position who was the captain of the piece.  Position #1 for the Army and #3 for the Navy performed duties of ramming and sponging.  And loading duties were performed by the Army’s #2 and Navy’s #4.  Then duties diverge.  The Army required #3 to work the vent, place the primer, and aid with traverse while manning the handspike.  The Navy’s #2 at the vent did similar duties, but did not aid with traverse.  Instead the Navy assigned one man (#5) to handle traverse.  Four men (#5, #7, #9, and #10) were placed at the wheels to draw the piece back to position after firing.    The Army detailed #4 to attach and pull the lanyard, while the Navy asked the captain of the piece to handle that duty.  While the Army placed three men at the limber and had one of the crew detailed to pass ammunition, the Navy had two standing at the ammunition chests (as they didn’t have limbers) with two ammunition passers.

Hard to follow?  The bottom line is the Navy detailed three more crew than the Army, as extra hands to handle and maneuver the piece.  Keep in mind the twelve man crew for a Navy boat howitzer were dragging a piece which dressed out at around 1560 pounds for a 12 pounder, or 2300 pounds for a 24-pounder.  That translates to a burden of between 130 to 190 pounds per man.

Navy instructions did not elaborate on battery level operations.  In the littoral operations the howitzers were designed for, the crews were not expected to fight in massed batteries.  If deployed on land, the howitzers were there to cover naval landing parties acting against lightly armed adversaries.  The force would shun any regularly equipped infantry or heavy forces if encountered.  So the Navy’s light discussion regarding battery operations is logical.

However, the Navy did publish a very detailed set of instructions for the use of launches armed with boat howitzers.  In The Naval Howitzer Afloat, Commander Foxhall A. Parker discussed the employment of howitzer armed craft individually, in squadrons, divisions, and even flotillas commanded by senior officers.

Plate Showing Divisional Drill

Of course this begs a couple of questions.   Where might one employ dozens of light craft in such manner, but not be able to use conventional ships?  And where would all those launches and howitzers come from?

Parker’s introduction offers some response.  The instructions were scoped for operations covering landing forces en route to the beaches.  Think of a naval force providing cover for a major landing operation such as Veracruz or Burnside’s North Carolina expedition.   In that light, consider Parker’s instructions as a precursor to the doctrine used during World War II, where modified landing craft directly covered amphibious landings.

The Navy manned and employed its howitzers differently than contemporary Army field artillery.  This was not because of some oversight or failure.  Rather because the Navy used the howitzers in that brackish area where the sea meets the land, and where tactical situations are far different than those seen in pitched battles on firm soil.