150 years ago: Lee’s Long Arm “in the best possible condition… without an hour’s delay”

I’m having a bit of trouble here.  The Civil War 150th timelines have reached high tide.  I have trouble keeping up on several fronts!  One thread I’ve pulled on since the winter is the health of the artillery batteries in the Army of Northern Virginia.  I’ve looked at the shortage of guns and how that was (partly) resolved.  Now let me turn to the mobility – that is the horses.  In the middle of the winter of 1863, Jackson’s artillery rated, due to shortage of horses, severely diminished mobility – all but stationary in my opinion.  By the time of Chancellorsville, the batteries had upgraded some of the artillery, but shortages of horses continued to hinder the mobility of the batteries.  And the hard won victory further reduced the horsepower pulling the guns.

With General Robert E. Lee planning an offensive campaign, he called upon his Chief of Artillery, Brigadier-General William N. Pendleton, to bring the “long arm” to a state of readiness. On May 19, 1863, Pendleton related those intentions to the respective corps artillery commanders in the army:

The commanding general has just expressed to me his views. He wishes the artillery gotten in the best possible condition for service without an hour’s delay, and ready to move at very short notice. You will have notified all the battalion commanders of your corps, and exercise the most careful supervision you can over them all. The need of good grazing requires the battalions to be somewhat scattered, but let not this prevent you keeping them all constantly within call and under regular inspection, so that you will know always the strength, &c., of each battery. Be able to report with precision every particular, and have at command the whole force when required. I understand several Napoleons will be received from Richmond in a day or two. Please send me by Thursday a detailed report of every battalion, giving its batteries, the guns, transportation, men, horses, ordnance train, and entire equipment of each, and let me know where your own headquarters will be.

Earlier in the month, Pendleton dispatched, “2 men from each battalion to buy horses, amply supplied with money, with directions to offer as inducement the sale of condemned horses….”  Supervising the requisition of horses was Lieutenant-Colonel James Corley, Chief quartermaster.

The acquisition effort bore fruit within just over a week.  On May 20, Corley reported issuing 273 horses to the Second Corps batteries and 123 to the First Corps.  However he added, “Surely the artillery of the First and Second Corps cannot be in want of horses.  I am confident that if a careful inspection is made it will be found that, taking into consideration the guns actually on hand, and not those expected, that each battery will be found to be well supplied and have a few extra horses.”

The arrival of these purchased horses coincided with the recuperation of animals used in the Chancellorsville fighting.  The Jones-Imboden Raid brought in over one-thousand horses at around the same time, though most of those were earmarked for the cavalry.  Through the later part of the spring, the “Long Arm of Lee” improved in readiness and condition with new artillery pieces and fresh horses.  Very shortly, the hour would come for those batteries to form into the line of march.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 25, Part II, Serial 40, pages 793, 809, and 812-3.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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