150 Years Ago: The Federal artillery at Stones River

With the battles of Fredericksburg and Stones River occurring in close proximity, calendar wise, we can make an easy comparison between the artillery parks of two major Federal armies – one in the east and one in the west.  Brigadier General Henry Hunt provided a very detailed report about Fredericksburg (along with a supplementary letter complaining about the 20pdr Parrott rifles).  The Army of the Potomac’s cannoneers manned 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, 10-pdr Parrotts, 12-pdr Light Field Guns (Napoleons), and a few 12-pdr field howitzers.  Hunt’s siege train included 20-pdr Parrotts (to his displeasure) and a few 4.5-inch rifles.   So with the exception of the 12-pdr howitzers, the Army of the Potomac fought with “new stuff.”

The Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Cumberland, Colonel James Barnett, filed a detailed report for Stones River in February 1863.   (Again, Fourteenth Army Corps, Army of the Cumberland, and Department of the Cumberland designations are interchangeable, somewhat.  Barnett prefaced his report as “Department of the Cumberland”.  I’ll ask the reader’s indulgence with the use of “Army of the Cumberland” to make the “army to army” comparison here.)  That report included a tally of the guns supporting each wing of the army:

Right wing, Second Division, composed of the following batteries: Battery A, First Ohio Artillery, Lieutenant Belding commanding, attached to General Willich’s brigade; Battery E, First Ohio Artillery, Captain Edgarton, attached to Colonel Kirk’s brigade; Fifth Indiana, Captain Simonson, attached to Colonel Buckley’s brigade, having the following guns: Nine James rifles, three 6-pounder smoothbore, two 12-pounder howitzers, two 10-pounder Parrotts, and two 12-pounder light field guns…

The artillery of the First Division is composed of the following batteries, and had the following guns: Fifth Wisconsin, Captain Pinney, attached to Colonel Post’s brigade; Second Minnesota, Captain Hotchkiss, attached to Colonel Carlin’s brigade; Eighth Wisconsin, Captain Carpenter, attached to Colnel Woodruff’s brigade.  Four 10-pounder Parrotts, eight 6-pounder smooth-bore, four 12-pounder howitzers….

The batteries of the Third Division are as follows: Battery G, First Missouri, Captain Hescock, attached to Colonel Schaefer’s (Second) brigade; Battery C, First Illinois, Captain Houghtaling, attached to Colonel Robert’s (Third) brigade; Fourth Indiana Battery, Captain Bush, attached to General Sill’s (First) brigade, with the following guns: Two 10-pounder Parrotts, four 12-pounder light field guns, two James rifles, six 6-pounder smooth-bore, and four 12-pounder howitzers….

Center – The artillery of the First Division consists of the following batteries: Captain Stone, First Kentucky Battery; Lieutenant Van Pelt, First Michigan Battery; Company H, Fifth U.S. Artillery, Lieutenant Guenther, with the following guns: ten 10-pounder Parrotts, two James rifles, two 6-pounder smooth-bore, and four 12-pounder light field guns….

The batteries of the Second Division, Brigadier-General Negley, are as follows: Company M, First Ohio, Captain Schultz; Company G, First Ohio Artillery, Lieutenant Marshall; Company M, First Kentucky [Second Kentucky Battery], Lieutenant Ellsworth, with the following guns: Two 12-pounder Wiard steel guns, two 6-pounder Wiard, four 12-pounder howitzers, two James rifles, one 6-pounder smoothbore, and two 16-pounder Parrotts….

Left Wing – The batteries of the left wing are the following: Company M, Fourth U.S. Artillery, Lieutenant Parsons; Company H, Fourth Artillery, Lieutenant Throckmorton; Company B, First Ohio Artillery, Captain Standart, attached to the Second Division; Tenth Indiana, Captain Cox; Eighth Indiana, Lieutenant Estep; Sixth Ohio Captain Bradley, attached to the First Division; Seventh Indiana Battery, Captain Swallow; Third Wisconsin, Lieutenant Livingston; Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania [Battery B, Pennsylvania Light Artillery], Lieutenant Stevens, attached to the Third Division, with the following guns: Four 3-inch rifles, ten 12-pounder howitzers, six James rifles, twelve 6-pounder smooth-bores, and sixteen 10-pounder Parrotts.

In addition Barnett mentioned the Chicago Board of Trade Battery under Captain Stokes with four 3-inch rifles and two James rifles.  Not mentioned in Barnett’s report are ten batteries assigned to the Center Wing’s unengaged forces (Third, Fourth, and Fifth divisions if you are counting).  Barnett also left out Lieutenant Nathan Newell’s section of the 1st Ohio, Battery D in support of the Cavalry Division; and Captain Cockerill’s 1st Ohio, Battery F which was in the Second Division of the Left Wing.

By Barnett’s count, the Army of the Cumberland at Stones River had 137 guns engaged at Stones River.  By type those were:

  • Thirty-two 6-pdr field guns
  • Twenty-four 12-pdr field howitzers
  • Twenty-three James rifles
  • Thirty-six 10-pdr Parrotts (The “16-pdr Parrotts” in the Center Wing is a transcription error)
  • Ten 12-pdr Napoleons
  • Four Wiard rifles
  • Eight 3-inch Ordnance rifles

Certainly a varied lot compared to the artillery supporting the Army of the Potomac.  Indeed, if you throw out the James and Wiard rifles, the list of types is closer to what armed the Army of Northern Virginia.  However, the Army of the Cumberland had a more favorable mix of rifles, with 71 total.  Although we know that the James and Wiards were not as well received as the Parrotts and Ordnance rifles.

I cited Barnett’s organization of the artillery above not only to show the weapon quantities and types, but also the assignments.  The Army of the Cumberland did not centralize control of the artillery at higher levels, and retained the “one battery to each brigade” pre-war practice for the most part.  Furthermore, there are a lot more junior officers commanding those batteries.  Consider even the Army’s chief of artillery was wearing colonel’s eagles and not brigadier’s stars.

Another point with the order of battle is the number of U.S. regular artillery formations.  There were really only two – Battery H, 5th US and combined Batteries H and M, 4th US.  And this translated into a shortage of “regular” artillery officers.  Barnett himself is a good example.  He was a senior officer in the Cleveland Light Artillery, a militia formation, before the war.  While a capable officer, he was not a Hunt or William Barry, with a career spent in the practical study of how to use artillery on the battlefield, notions of how to use it with greater impact, and a recently published manual on the use of artillery.

But I would not read too much into the differences between the artillery of the respective armies.  At Stones River the artillery played just as important a role in the outcome as at the major eastern battles.  The western artillerists could and did practice their deadly trade just as well as their eastern counterparts.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

6 thoughts on “150 Years Ago: The Federal artillery at Stones River

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