150 years ago: A privateer meets an untimely end on the Ogeechee

The steamer Nashville came to a fiery end on this day in 1863.

The ship began her career as the US Mail Steamer Nashville doing service between New York and Charleston. In that capacity on April 11, 1861 she entered Charleston harbor (having been fired on by the USRC Harriet Lane in the process). After the firing on Fort Sumter, Confederates seized the Nashville, turning her into an cruiser. The CSS Nashville was the first warship to fly the Confederate flag in Europe, making a run to England. On return, she was sold for service as a blockade runner, and a turn under the name Thomas L. Wragg. But she ran too deep in the water for that role. So she began a refit for service as a privateer, and received a new name – the Rattlesnake. By early 1863, the Rattlesnake sat upstream of Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River.

Regardless of the outfit, her Federal opponents knew her as the Nashville. And they considered her a great threat that must be be neutralized if not destroyed. On the morning of February 28, 1863, Commander John Worden took the ironclad USS Montauk into familiar waters near Fort McAllister, followed by a few wooden the USS Seneca, USS Wissahickon, and USS Dawn – all veterans of the earlier bombardments of the fort.

By moving up close to the obstructions in the river I was enabled, although under a heavy fire from the battery, to approach the Nashville, still aground, within the distance of 1,200 yards. A few well directed shells determined the range, and soon [we] succeeded in striking her with XI-inch and XV-inch shells. The other gunboats maintained a fire from an enfilading position upon the battery, and the Nashville at long range. I soon had the satisfaction of observing that the Nashville had caught fire from the shells exploding in her several places, and in less than twenty minutes she was caught in flames forward, aft, and amidships. At 9:20 a.m. a large pivot gun mounted abaft her foremast exploded from the heat; at 9:40 her smoke chimney went by the board, and at 9:55 her magazine exploded with terrific violence, shattering her in smoking ruins. Nothing remains of her.

However Worden was incorrect. Something did remain of the Nashville. And those remains are on display at Fort McAllister today.

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 011
Salvaged parts of the CSS Nashville

The Montauk almost came to ruin herself. While backing down from the obstructions, she encountered a Confederate torpedoe. At 9:35 a violent explosion under the Montauk prompted the evacuation of the starboard side of the engine room. Damage included bent ribs, sheared rivets, and buckled plates under a boiler.

Engineer’s Diagram of the Damage

Despite fears, the boilers did not burst. Although taking in water, the crew managed to pump out enough to get the boilers re-fired. That afternoon the Montauk made safe anchorage in the sound.

While the Federals were able to repair the Montauk, the Nashville, or Rattlesnake if you prefer, was but an obstruction in the river.

(Citation from Naval OR, Series I, Volume 13, pages 697-8.)

A lost gun at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis

A long time back, I wrote about the battle of Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River at the Arkansas-Missouri border. Since that battle occurred close to my boyhood home, it has always been a favored research topic. Even if scant resources exist for that nearly forgotten battle.

As I mentioned in the earlier posts, Confederate forces under Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke managed to slip over the St. Francis in the evening of May 1, 1863. A bridge constructed by Colonel M. Jeff Thompson allowed Marmaduke to cross the rain swollen St. Francis and thus escape to fight another day. During the crossing, Thompson dismounted several artillery pieces in order to move them by rafts across the river.

Growing up in southeast Missouri, I had often heard stories about buried Confederate “stuff” – be that treasure or cannons. With time, I reconciled those stories with what I knew of the records. I’d never accounted for any lost cannons (and don’t even get me started on the treasure stories).

But yesterday my father forwarded a newspaper clipping of an article run in the Daily Dunklin Democrat (our newspaper in Kennett, Missouri) on February 2, 1929. The article read:

To Remove an Old Cannon from the St. Francis River

Bloomfield, Mo, Jan 28. – An old cannon, dumped into the St. Francis river 60 years ago, during the Civil War, is to be removed from the river bed. It was recently located at what is known as Chalk Bluff, near the Missouri-Arkansas state line.

The Rev. R.L. Allen of Bloomfield has obtained permission from the War Department to take charge of the cannon and keep it until such time as the department wishes to take charge of it.

An interesting history is attached to his old war machine. It was one that J.W.R. Allen and his company captured during the war between the states. Allen was an uncle of the Bloomfield minister.

The exact date of the engagement is not exactly known here, but circumstances under which the fight took place has been handed down by tradition so that it is known it was a hand to hand battle with breastworks enclosing the old court house here.

Mr. Allen’s uncle was captain of the company which captured the old cannon. After taking this cannon according to the old stories, the Confederate troops started south. They were hard pressed by the Union forces and when crossing the St. Francis river they decided to dump the cannon overboard from an improvised raft upon which they were crossing.

Inquiry has brought out that the cannon never was taken from the river. Allen planned to make a search for the instrument until reports were received here that it had been found by people living along the river.

The War Department made it plain that it would bear no expense of having the cannon removed from the river or reconditioning the historic relic.

From what is provided in the article, nothing definitively links the cannon to the May 1, 1863 battle of Chalk Bluff. But the account details, to include the use of rafts, mirrors the accounts of Thompson’s handling of the guns. And of course the place name matches. However, Marmaduke did not mention losing any guns.

And more importantly, what happened to this artifact… er… instrument of war? I don’t know of any surviving guns laying about. So I suspect the cannon was scrapped at some point, perhaps during World War II.

One-hundred and fifty years after the war, how many times do we find a new piece of information that only leads to more questions?

Tactical Exercise: Analysis of yesterday’s “game”

First off, yesterday’s exercise went over better than I expected.  Thanks to everyone who commented and voted.  I’ll have to do more of such exercises.

Now what about the placement of those guns?

Our Map

Of the responses, about a third preferred to put cannons on the flanks (positions 4 and 7).  Of the reset, the second most favored was alined, but within, the main infantry line (positions 5 and 6).  But massed to the front (position 2) and “Other” received their share of votes.

That “other” was perhaps a flaw in the exercise.  I didn’t build any way to provide a description of what “other” was supposed to be.  From the comments on the post, many folks were looking to mix and match approaches and positions. Part of that is due to the incomplete description I provided.  Not enough information on the enemy, the nature of the friendly force, or even the overall situation.  Just a stack of playing pieces on the chess board.

That leads to the real solution to the exercise – no “right” answer exists.  Rather there are preferences, alternatives and options.  So what would what were a good battery commander’s preferences 150 years ago?  Well billiard table flat chessboards aside, I would offer John Gibbon’s answer:

Batteries are usually placed at least 60 yards in front of the intervals between regiments and brigades, and upon their flanks, so as not to offer two marks for the fire of the enemy, or subject the troops placed in rear to a fire directed against the artillery….

I would translate Gibbon’s preferences to be positions 1, 3, 4 or 7.  But to be sure, Gibbon was not merely positioning guns where the supporting infantry were safe from enemy counter-battery fire.  The other part his selection was to “clear” the guns to allow the best possible field of fire.  He recognized that long before the infantry begins to engage, the artillery must bring fire upon the advancing enemy.  “The greatest cannonading takes place at from 800 to 900 yards.”  So placing the guns out in front of, or to the side of, the infantry line would clear the batteries for that long range fire.  It is line of sight the battery commander needs.  And in this unnaturally flat terrain offered in the scenario, we didn’t have to account for terrain.

Personally, I’m not much into armchair generalship. I wasn’t there 150 years ago, so how can I contend to have a better vantage over those who were.  However, what I get out of contemplating gun placement, in hypothetical exercises like this, is a template to lay across time and space.  It becomes a tool to help interpret the actions on the battlefield.  What was done and why was it done?  What were the factors driving decisions?  What turned those decisions into success … or failure?

Oh, but for a artillery version of Gray’s Cavalry Tactics!

Tactical Exercise: Where would you put your guns?

Let’s talk tactics today.

Say you are a battery commander. You have six guns. For simplicity, six 12-pdr Napoleons.

Your assignment is to support a brigade of infantry. The brigade has four regiments. The brigade commander arranges these regiments with three on line and one in reserve.

The ground is the standard billiard table flat terrain as seen in all military tactics manuals.

Now things being what they are in the army, you don’t get to pick your position. But rather as the battery commander, you can “suggest” to the infantry commander where to place the guns. So what is your preference?

The Map

The “bad guys” are up at the top of the map. The blue rectangles are the positions of the infantry regiments. The red octagons are possible positions for the guns.

Do you….

  • Split the guns into sections to the front at positions 1 and 3?
  • Mass the battery at position 2?
  • Split sections and align with the infantry at positions 5 and 6?
  • Post sections to the flanks at positions 4 and 7?
  • Mass all the guns at position 8?
  • Hold a section in reserve at position 9?
  • Or is there another plan?

Feel free to drop a comment… or here’s a poll:

What factors do you consider when selecting a position? Is your decision based on the doctrine of the time? Or is it based on “experience” handed down from those who worked the guns 150 years ago?

Does your selection change if you are the brigade commander?

Call it a Monday morning open thread. But I’ve got an agenda here, segueing nicely into some discussions about tactics.

Field artillery mobility and the labor of a horse

Think I’m being harsh to say Jackson’s artillery was immobile in February 1863?

I’ve discussed the importance of horses to the Civil War artillery a number of times.  Maybe this is an axe I like to grind, but my sense is some overlook the practical considerations of horse drawn artillery while interpreting tactical and operational (arguably even strategic) movements.  Artillerists of the Civil War planned movements with the ability of their animals in mind.  That translated to considerations at the division, corps, and army level as to the rate of march.  The rate of march derived from the practical weight a horse could draw.  John Gibbon expressed it well in his Artillerist’s Manual:

A horse of medium strength can draw a load of 3,000 lbs. from 20 to 23 miles per day, over a paved road, and about 1,900 lbs. over a macadamized road.  This includes the weight of the carriage.  From 1,500 to 1,600 lbs., not including the weight of the carriage, is therefore a proper load for a horse over ordinary roads; and in case rough, broken ground is to be passed over, he should not be required to draw more than 1,100 lbs.

A horse moving at a trot can draw at the same rate as above, a weight of 800 lbs., not including the carriage, the weight of which would bring the load up to about 1,100 lbs. These numbers comprise the maximum load; and if the carriage is to move at a trot across fields, or in the open country, the weight, including everything, should not exceed 733 lbs.; or, if the carriage is not well constructed, 600 lbs.

Given the advice from “He who limps”, as the Nes Perce would later call Gibbon, how mobile were Jackson’s batteries that February?

Line engraving of a field gun on a limber used...
Field Gun and Limber

Let’s look at Pegram’s Battery (Purcell Artillery).  At that time the battery had two 10-pdr Parrotts and two 12-pdr Napoleons, ranking it as one of the better equipped in the army. Given standard arrangements for batteries, Purcell Artillery had four guns with limbers and eight caissons.  The report indicates the battery had two four-horse wagons.

The report indicated the battery had 45 serviceable and 12 unserviceable horses.  I won’t second guess Lieutenant Dandridge here.  If he said the animals were unserviceable, that would indicate the battery could not rely upon them (SPCA commentary aside, if the horse was unserviceable it could not take the weight and it shouldn’t be in the team).  Taking the maximum load factors (generously using the 1,500 pound per horse figure) from contemporary manuals, the horses of Pegram’s Battery could draw a total of 67,500 pounds.

Line engracing of a caisson used in American C...
Caisson and Limber

Sure, 67,500 pounds sounds like a lot.  But how much “stuff” did the Purcell Artillery haul around?

  • Two 10-pdr Parrotts with limbers at 3,190 lbs. = 6,380 lbs.
  • Four 10-pdr Parrott caissons at 3,493 lbs. = 13,972 lbs.
  • Two 12-pdr Napoleons with limbers at 3,865 lbs. = 7,730 lbs.
  • Four 12-pdr Napoleon caisson at 3,811 lbs = 15,244 lbs.
  • Two four horse wagons estimated at 3,600 lbs = 7,200 lbs.

That totaled 50,526 pounds.  So shouldn’t Pegram’s battery have a “reserve” of horsepower there?  Not so fast.  How are the gun crews getting to the battle?  Riding horses or riding on the ammo boxes?  Let’s go back to Gibbon again:

A horse carrying a rider, loses his power of drawing in proportion to the increase of gait.  This diminution, which is about ½ when the horse is at a walk, becomes ⅔ when he trots.  Thus a team of 5 horses with a single driver seated on the carriage, will draw more than 6 horses, two of which are mounted with drivers.

In artillery carriages, half the horses carrying drivers, a team of six horses, moving at a trot, actually experiences a loss in traction of 3 x ⅔, or two horses.

So, where would you put that artillery crew?  Manuals of the day figured the average soldier weighed 180 pounds when equipped (today?  heh!).  So 111 officers and men present in Pegram’s Battery at that time would translate to another 19,980 pounds.  The total  “weight” of the battery was then 70,506 pounds.  Yes, tipping the scales against the horses.

The practice of the time was to place some of the crew on the boxes while others road the spare horses.  That would allow for some rotation of mounts and allow some rest cycles.  But to haul four guns, eight caissons, and two wagons, the Purcell Artillery needed 80 horses.  Not enough to properly outfit the teams, much less to have spares for rotation.  Indeed, if we count “seats” on caissons and limbers, there’s a shortfall of space there too.  So many of those artillerists would be walking.

Line engraving of a battery wagaon and portabl...
Battery Wagon and Forge

What’s the pace of a “foot” battery?  I’m not sure the manuals of the day provided a number, but certainly slower than a mounted battery.  Given the shortfall in horsepower and the slower pace, could Pegram’s Battery move from winter quarters to a threatened point?  Probably.  In a timely manner?  Now the answer requires qualifiers.

There’s no doubt that had Jackson of called upon Major-General A.P. Hill, and in turn Hill called upon the men of the Purcell Artillery, to move that winter, the men would have responded with all possible effort.  But how far would and could the battery push their horseflesh?

150 years ago: Were Jackson’s Batteries ready?

In the two previous posts, I’ve focused on the quantity of guns in General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Corps as reported in the February 1863 inspection.  The the shortfall was, if slowly, being rectified that winter. The report from Lieutenant Edmond P. Dandridge also assessed the status of battery equipment and personnel.  Since a battery is just not guns on the field, but rather equipment, animals, and men combined as a weapons system, we should consider those other components.

Dandridge’s report had some rigidity in format, but was not entirely consistent.  There are a few subjective assessments along the way – the dreaded “good” or “tolerable” marks in some cases not backed with hard numbers.  No doubt Dandridge used standards set forth in ordnance regulations (Confederate regulations derived from old Army regulations of course).  So we can read into his assessments in some areas.  Allow me to offer some “interpretation” to Dandridge’s report in the form of a status chart for each battery.  Nothing fancy, just the old “green, amber, red” bubbles derived from Dandridge’s words.  The tables below offer the “rating” based on the assessments or raw numbers provided by Dandridge.  Readers should refer to Dandridge’s original report for the base figures.

But let’s set some yardsticks here.  Brigadier-General William N. Pendleton’s plan figured four-gun batteries as a standard.  Of course four-gun Napoleon batteries needed more men and horses than a similar 6-pdr batteries (on which rifled gun battery allocations were made).  But the Confederate batteries were often mixed.  So for simplicity allow me to work from the smaller number.  Four-gun 6-pdr batteries required 104 men and 80 horses.  The battery needed between two and four wagons.  That said, here are the yardsticks:

  • Guns: Four guns = Green; three guns = Amber; Less = Red.
  • Ammunition: Based on Dandridge’s remarks.
  • Harnesses: Based on Dandridge’s remarks.
  • Horses: Over 70 good horses = Green; 60 to 70 = Amber; Less = Red
  • Condition of Horses: Dandridge’s remarks, also considering forage.
  • Wagons: Three or Four = Green; Two = Amber; Less = Red.
  • Troops present: Adding present and detached, 90 or more = Green; 80 to 90 = Amber; Less = Red.
  • Troops absent: Less than 20 = Green; Between 20 and 50 = Amber; More = Red.  (I put sick and absent without leave in one column here)

I’ve broken these down by divisions, for ease of reading.  I’ve also added an overall assessment.  Logic for that is a throwback to MY old army days – one Red turns the overall assessment Red; more than a third Amber makes the entire column Red.  Some might call that a harsh rule, but consider what those ratings really mean.

So let’s turn to Major-General Isaac Tremble’s Division:


The report does not detail the personnel strength of Carpenter’s Battery.  Caskie’s Battery, in my estimate, brought the overall ratings down.  And that mostly explained by the recent turn in of guns to be melted into Napoleons.  The other major problem, across the division and which was a trend across the entire corps, was the number and condition of horses.

Next, Major-General A.P. Hill’s Division.  On paper, the division had seven batteries:


Two of those batteries, Latham’s and Johnson’s, were marked for transfer with the reorganization of the artillery.  This was a point of contention, no doubt, as the division was short of guns overall.  Quantity of horses was less than required.  One battery was under-manned, while another reported an alarming number of troops absent without leave.

Now to Major-General Jubal Early’s Division.  Here also, two batteries, those of Dement’s and Thompson’s, were slated for transfers:


Early might have seen the reorganization as unfortunate, as Dement’s was among the fittest in the corps.  Although the horses of this division were generally in good shape, overall the batteries lacked sufficient number of animals.

Brigadier-General Robert Rodes took over what had been Major-General D.H. Hill’s division:


Hardaway’s Battery was also eyed for transfer as part of the reorganization.  That considered, this battalion of artillery appears healthy at the time of the inspection, with a few exceptions.  Carter’s Battery reported an alarming 71 deserters.  In terms of animals, the batteries in Rode’s Division was good overall. In addition to horses, the report tallied a substantial number of mules supporting the batteries (which I did not include in the numbers for this table).

Lastly, there was the Corps Reserve battalion:


Under Pendleton’s reorganization plan, the reserves would split into two battalions and receive additional batteries from the divisional artillery.  As things stood in February 1863, the Second Corps reserve was for all practical purposes immobile for want of horses.  Although desertion and sick absences were low, overall the batteries were undermanned.

I would place the overall status of Jackson’s batteries in context.  Some of these units were on campaign from the spring of 1862 right through December.  How many major battles in that span?  Too many.  The attrition left the “long arm” worn down.  As a whole, I wouldn’t rate them capable of field operations due to the limited mobility.  Such reduced the corps’ combat power.  That in mind, Burnside’s “Mud March” was not so much a fools errand.

As I said earlier, Dandridge’s report offers a great snapshot in time portraying the health of a portion of the Army of Northern Virginia.  How I wish similar detailed reports existed for all of the formations, both Confederate and Federal.  However, where the report fails, as most “inspections” do, is with the human factor.  How well trained were these batteries?  How well lead?  Those are the points we must assess somewhat retrospectively, considering the performance of units and individuals in the campaigns and battles that followed.

(Data for the tables derived from Dandridge’s report, OR, Serial I, Volume 25, Part II, Serial 40, pages 634-8.)

150 years ago: Tredegar supplying field guns to the Confederacy

Yesterday I left off mentioning a shortfall of guns in Jackson’s Second Corps. The batteries of the corps had 95 of 116 guns required (according to General Pendleton). And of that total, roughly a third were obsolete 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzers. My pal Robert Moore was quick to inquire about the pace of re-equipping that winter. I think one of the receipts filed with J.R. Anderson & Company’s Citizens File offers a glimpse at that.

Page 644

This receipt covers deliveries from Tredegar to the Richmond depot. Yes, you’d have to zoom in close to read all the entries. So let me list the highlights:

  • February 5 – two 10-pdr Parrott rifles
  • February 5 – two 12-pdr Napoleon guns
  • February 9 – two 12-pdr Napoleon guns
  • February 14 – two 12-pdr Napoleon guns
  • February 19 – two 12-pdr Napoleon guns
  • February 23 – two 20-pdr Parrott rifles
  • February 25 – two 12-pdr Napoleon guns
  • February 27 – one 12-pdr Napoleon gun
  • February 28 – one 12-pdr Napoleon gun
  • February 28 – rifling one 3-inch rifle

That later entry appeared to be a modification on an existing weapon -switching from saw-tooth rifling to the flat lands and grooves used for Parrott guns. So sixteen field pieces, plus one recycled rifle. A gun delivered about every other day (actually just a little more than that, but let’s not split hairs).

As mentioned, these guns went from the foundry to the Richmond depot. The bottom of the receipt includes particulars worth consideration.

Page 644a

Tredegar received credit for $25,722.50 in ordnance, equipment, and services on this sheet (and of course this is only part of the company’s business for the month). The officer acknowledging delivery is Lieutenant Colonel Smith Stansbury. Now Stansbury was not detailed directly to the Army of Northern Virginia. But he was often involved as ordnance and equipment shuffled from the depot to the army defending Richmond. While I cannot say for certain that all those guns shown on the receipt went to the Army of Northern Virginia, there’s enough circumstantial evidence to say many of them did.

So let us assume all these guns were earmarked for the Army of Northern Virginia. Perhaps even further narrow down the focus just to the Second Corps so we can play with numbers. Jackson needed 21 guns just to get the numbers up. Then 28 more guns to replace the obsolete types. Furthermore, the gunners would probably want to replace a few of the “Richmond” 3-inch rifles with better, more dependable types. Figure then Jackson’s corps needed 55 to 65 guns new guns. Given Tredegar’s delivery rate from February, Jackson’s Second Corps needed five or six months to receive the desired quantity and types of guns.

And that is just one corps in *that* army. Consider how many other Confederate batteries, across the critical theaters of war, needed Parrotts, Ordnance rifles, and Napoleons.

For the next post in this thread, I’ll look at the other particulars of Dandridge’s report.