Barry and the Artillery Organization of the AOP: Part 8, Siege Train

Continuing with the examination of the initial organization of the artillery in the Army of the Potomac, I turn now to William Barry’s recommendation for a siege train to accompany the army.  Barry intended for the siege train to operate as part of the artillery reserve, calling for “guns of position” to full some of the batteries.

As the army organization took shape in the late summer and fall of 1861, most heavy garrison guns in Barry’s area of operation were concentrated around the Washington defenses.  In August 1861, Barry noted the composition of those batteries.  The works, at that time, supported 78 guns – thirty shell guns, five rifled guns, thirty-four 24- and 32-pounders, and a number of field guns.  Works then under construction would require fifty more guns.

Barry didn’t address a siege train for the maneuver army in his 1861 recommendations.  However in September 1862, he elaborated briefly on the subject stating, “A siege train of fifty pieces.  This was subsequently expanded (for special service at the siege of Yorktown) to very nearly 100 pieces, and comprised the unusual calibers and enormously heavy weight of metal of two 200-pounders, five 100-pounders, and ten 13-inch sea-coast mortars.”

A report posted in May, 1862 offered more details of the siege train at Yorktown, indicating two 200-pdr (8-inch) Parrotts, eleven 100-pdr (6.4-inch) Parrotts, thirteen 30-pdr (4.2-inch) Parrotts, twenty-two 20-pdr (3.67-inch) Parrotts, ten 4.5-inch siege rifles, ten 13-inch seacoast mortars, ten 10-inch seacoast mortars, fifteen 10-inch siege mortars, five 8-inch siege mortars, and three 8-inch siege howitzers.  Volunteers from Connecticut and New York served most of these guns.  Field guns also supplemented the heavy “guns of position,” adding even more weight.  Of course, this concentration of firepower turned out to be overkill as the Confederates withdrew before all the guns could sound off.

I would point out the Yorktown siege lines used none of the 32- or 42-pdrs, or even the shellguns, mentioned as forming the greater part of the Washington defenses as the Army of the Potomac was formed.  Already identified as obsolete by the Ordnance Department, these guns had little use on the Peninsula.  Instead the artillerists used rifled guns, mortars, and a few smoothbore howitzers.

Some of the siege train accompanied the Army of the Potomac further up the Peninsula.  The 4.5-inch rifles played a minor role in the Seven Days.  But for the most part, experience demonstrated the very heavy guns were an encumbrance for an army on the move.  But when the same army opened siege operations around Richmond and Petersburg in 1864, the heavy guns returned.  But that is another story for another time!