150 Years Ago: Reorganizing the “Long Arm of Lee”

Shortly into January 1863, Brigadier General William N. Pendleton, Chief of Artillery for the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), assigned two officers to inspection duties. Major G.W. Nelson inspected First Corps and the General Reserve artillery. Lieutenant Edmond P. Dandridge looked to the Second Corps artillery. By early February, Pendleton had enough information from the inspectors and his own observations to propose reorganization of the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia.

General William N. Pendleton

Pendleton forwarded those recommendations to General Robert E. Lee on February 11, 1863. From the preface of the correspondence, the artillery chief and the commanding general obviously tread on the subject more than once before:

You some time since expressed to me the judgment that the custom of attaching batteries to brigades, and of grouping them in divisions, was not promotive of greatest efficiency in this arm. My own mind had reached the same conclusion long since, and the most judicious artillery officers I have been able to consult concur in the conviction. Colonel [Stapleton] Crutchfield and Lieutenant-Colonel [E. Porter] Alexander, whose views I have sought, are entirely agreed with me as to the advisableness of the main features of the plan now submitted, and, I believe, as to almost all its details.

The objections to the brigade batteries and division groups now existing are obvious. Burdened as are brigade and division commanders, they can scarcely extend to batteries thus assigned that minute supervision which they require, and the supply officers, whose chief care lies with considerable bodies of infantry, cannot devote to one or more batteries the time and attention they imperatively need. This is most injuriously experienced in times of pressure. The existing arrangement moreover affords insufficient scope for field officers of artillery. Batteries, besides, permanently attached in this way, can scarcely be assigned elsewhere, whatever the emergency, without producing some difficulty, almost as if a vested right was violated. But, most injuriously of all, this system hinders unity and concentration in battle….

The same observation was, of course, being made on the other side of the Rappahannock, and along Stones River, and at several other places by other artillery chiefs. Indeed, General William Barry called for such when the Army of the Potomac was organized in the summer of 1861. The artillery of the ANV had fought through 1862 with artillery assigned to divisions. But these were typically not organized or directed as battalions, but rather deployed as individual batteries. Furthermore, the assignments of batteries to divisions was disproportional through the army.

Pendleton proposed each division would have an assigned battalion of artillery, with four batteries. Each battalion would have, of course, a commander who also served as that divisions’ chief of artillery. The battalions would also have assigned medical, ordnance, and quartermaster officers. This reorganization also allowed for several field-grade officer promotions.

Pendleton retained the arrangement of two reserve battalions for each corps. And at the army level, two battalions in a General Reserve.

In order to make the battalion assignments equitable, two batteries from Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson’s Second Corps had to move to the First Corps – Thompson’s Louisiana Guard Artillery and Latham’s (North Carolina) Branch Artillery. Thus reorganized, First Corps would have 112 guns while Second Corps retained 116 guns. With the thirty-six guns of the General Reserve, the army fielded 264 guns, not counting the horse artillery.

To command these new battalion formations and fill new posts, Pendleton kept in mind a somewhat sensitive criteria:

The proportion between the number of field officers of artillery, thus proposed, belonging to Virginia and those from other States is very nearly coincident with that between the number of batteries from Virginia and those from other States. Of the whole number of batteries, thirty-five are from Virginia and twenty-four from other States. This would give of the 28 field officers proposed, about 17 from Virginia and 11 from other States. Of those actually recommended, 18 are from Virginia and 10 from other States.

Only in the ANV, I guess….

In terms of armament, Pendleton noted that steps were already taken to improve the situation.

Nearly all the bronze short-range guns of the Second Corps were several weeks ago sent to Richmond to be recast into Napoleons. None have been sent from the First Corps, nor from the General Reserve, because Colonel Gorgas advised against it, on the ground that the Department had as much metal as it could cast for a number of weeks.

His goal was a balanced mix of rifles and Napoleon guns.

Four battery battalions might be armed with good rifles and Napoleons in nearly equal proportions, two batteries to have rifles altogether, and two Napoleons altogether. Larger battalions to have perhaps a corresponding proportion, or more Napoleons. Batteries in reserve to have heaviest metal.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Brigadier General Henry Hunt and Captain Richard Arnold made similar recommendations for their respective commands. And General Barry was saying the very same in September 1862.

Before closing the recommendations, Pendleton considered the mobility of the artillery. In the fall, he had sent 400 horses south for better forage. While leaving the artillery short of horseflesh, it put the animals closer to forage. Coupled with efforts of the Quartermaster’s Department, he hoped the unserviceable animals with the batteries, “may be replaced by others comparatively fresh and strong.”

Lee accepted most of these recommendations, turning out General Orders No. 20 on February 15. However there were detail changes with respect to battery transfers and promotions. Jackson, for one, didn’t agree with the transfers and had his own ideas about promotions.

Regardless of the details, the trend of centralized and consolidated artillery organization was present in both blue and gray camps in the winter of 1863.

(Pendleton’s report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 25, part II, Serial 40, pages 614-619.)

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