Unfilled and overdue requisitions: Artillery of the Department of the Gulf

When Major General Nathaniel P. Banks took over the Department of the Gulf at the end of 1862, his chief mission mirrored, if not directly competed with, that of General Ulysses S. Grant further upstream on the Mississippi River.   Like Grant’s operations to the north, any progress made by Banks required a significant maneuver element to close on Confederate river defenses.  And at that time in military history, maneuver elements required mounted field artillery.  In January 1863, Captain Richard Arnold, Banks’ Chief of Artillery provided an assessment of the artillery in the department.  (Arnold’s report being one of several submitted as Banks was getting to know General Benjamin Butler’s former command.)

Arnold tallied ten mounted batteries and two sections:

  • Company F, 1st US Artillery (with one section of Company A, 1st US Artillery), under Captain Richard C. Duryea, with six 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.
  • Company G, 5th US Artillery, under Lieutenant Jacob B. Rawles, with six 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • 2nd Vermont Battery, under Captain Pythagoras E. Holcomb, with two 6-pdr Sawyer guns, two 12-pdr howitzers, and two 3-inch rifles.
  • 18th New York Artillery, under Captain Albert Mack, with six 20-pdr Parrott rifles.
  • Company L, 1st US Artillery, under Captain Henry W. Closson, with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Company C, 2nd US Artillery, under Lieutenant John I. Rodgers, with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Massachusetts Battery, under Captain Ormand F. Nims, with six 6-pdr guns.
  • Company A, 1st US Artillery, under Captain Edmund C. Bainbridge, with two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.
  • 1st Maine Battery under Captain E. W. Thompson, with four 6-pdr rifled guns and three 12-pdr howitzers.
  • 6th Massachusetts Battery, under Captain William W. Carruth, with four 6-pdr Sawyer guns and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • A section comprising of men from the 21st Indiana Infantry Regiment using three 6-pdr guns captured in the Battle of Baton Rouge.
  • A section from the 4th Massachusetts battery with two 12-pdr rifled guns.

The mix of artillery stands in contrast with that used at the same time by the Army of the Potomac, but is similar to that of Army of the Cumberland in some regards.  Arnold’s report indicates these batteries were deployed in southern Louisiana, mostly around New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The use of Sawyer rifles is noteworthy.  Three of these cast steel rifles were delivered to the Army for experiments in December 1861.  After the start of hostilities, more were produced for state orders.  Likely the six mentioned in Arnold’s report were some of the later.

In addition, the department included four more batteries deployed for garrison duty:

  • Company K, 2nd US Artillery, under Captain Harvey A. Allen, at Fort Pickens.
  • Company H, 2nd US Artillery, under Captain Frank Larned, at Fort Barrancas.
  • 4th Massachusetts Battery, under Captain George G. Trull, at Fort Pike.
  • 1st Vermont Battery, under Captain George W. Duncan, with two 6-pdr rifled guns, two 6-pdr guns, and two howitzers, at Camp Parapet (defenses of New Orleans).

Of those four, only the 1st Vermont might be mounted for the upcoming campaign.  Arnold noted that three batteries were in route to Louisiana – the 21st, 25th, and 26th New York Batteries.  If properly supplied, the department might field fifteen mounted batteries, with a total of 90 guns.

Arnold suggested an arrangement of three batteries per division.  He felt the best mix for each divisional assignment was a battery of Napoleon guns, a battery of rifled guns, and a mixed battery of rifles and light smoothbores.  “This, in my opinion, will give the best proportion and most efficient combination for both combined and separate operations,” explained Arnold.  Unlike operations in other theaters where the Corps was the army commander’s unit of maneuver, in the swamps of Louisiana, operational focus fell to the divisional level.

But the main concern facing Arnold was the need for equipment to properly outfit the batteries.  “Many of the requisitions sent to the ordnance department have not been filled, owing to the non-arrival of the stores now overdue.”  Arnold had out a call for inventories.  His intent was to press the Chief of Ordnance to fill the shortfalls.

Another problem Arnold mentioned, which would become an issue later in the spring, was the lack of siege weapons.  “I would add in reference to siege operations that there are no guns whatever [in New Orleans] suitable for the purpose.  They can probably be obtained at some of the forts along the coast, but the procuring and transporting them to this place and the organization of a siege train will require some weeks at least.”

Organizational returns indicate at least some of Arnold’s request was fulfilled.  The 1st Vermont was indeed mounted.  Three of the department’s divisions, those of Brigadier Generals Thomas Sherman, William Emory, and Cuvier Grover, had three batteries of artillery (though not with the mix of guns preferred by Arnold).  Major General Christopher Augur’s division included five batteries – including the 12th Massachusetts Battery which arrived in February and the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery. The three New York batteries mentioned in Arnold’s report were not mounted for the field.  The 25th New York Battery had lost all its horses when its transport wrecked off Key West.

The “Hoosier” heavy artillery was formerly the 21st Indiana Infantry, mentioned earlier with three field pieces.  The 1st Indiana Heavy would soon transition to garrison artillery, but some elements would serve in the siege lines at Port Hudson.

So in summary, Arnold asked for fifteen mounted batteries but only got thirteen.

(Captain Arnold’s reports appear in OR, Series I, Volume 15, Serial 21, page 649-651.)

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