“These facts need no comment” : Henry Hunt and three suggestions to improve the artillery

On February 21, 1864, Brigadier-General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac, forwarded a letter to the army’s chief of staff, Major-General Andrew A. Humphreys.  The letter contained three suggestions (or maybe three and a half suggestions) to improve the artillery arm serving the army.  As stated in his lead, Hunt felt the need to address these points given speculation the army would undergo some reorganization before the next campaign season:

General: In view of a probable reorganization of this army, I have the honor to submit the following suggestions as to the artillery:

First. That an officer of suitable rank to command it, with a proper allowance of field officers, should be furnished to the artillery of each corps.

Second. That a suitable force be attached to the artillery to furnish the guards, escorts, working parties, details, &c., the whole to be under the command of the chief of artillery of the corps.

Third. That the ammunition column, at least of the artillery, be always under the command of an officer responsible to the chief of artillery for its condition and safety and for the supply of ammunition. I would further urge that the artillery ammunition be transported in caissons, if they can be obtained, and would suggest the propriety of placing the infantry ammunition in the same column and of using caissons also for that.

I wish to examine these each in detail, as this has been a quiet thread of sorts in my sesquicentennial-themed postings.  For example, the first point is an evolution of guidance provided by Brigadier-General William Barry in the summer of 1861.  At that time, Barry organized the artillery to assign four batteries to each division of the army – one regular army battery and three volunteer batteries.   Under that arrangement, the commander of the regular battery would also serve as the division’s chief of artillery.

But by the summer of 1863, batteries were no longer grouped at the division level, but rather at the corps in a single artillery brigade.  Yet the staffing among the artillerists had not matched that evolution.  In some cases, as with Colonel Charles Wainwright, a field grade officer was in the position to perform the role of corps artillery chief.  But as we have seen from his diary entries, even then he was short of staff officers. Not even enough to support a court-martial.

Hunt, however, was concerned most of operational problems this caused:

In regard to the first proposition, the orders now in force depriving the field artillery of field officers have been the cause of much trouble, difficulty, and injury to the public service. The artillery brigades of the corps have been commanded mostly by captains, who have been removed from their appropriate commands and duties, to the injury of their batteries, to exercise commands and functions far above their rank.

His argument continued explaining arrangements in other armies, compared to that in the Federal army at that time:

In every army with the organization of whose artillery I am acquainted there is a field officer to every two batteries (constituting a division), and other superior officers for every two or more divisions. In the British service, for instance, a brigade consists of 1 colonel commandant (a major-general), 2 colonels, 4 lieutenant-colonels, and 8 batteries, with the proper staff, exclusive of the battery officers. Our own tactics require a colonel or lieutenant-colonel and two majors for four batteries serving together, with an adjutant and two assistant adjutants…

He then pointed to the ill effects of the existing arrangements:

The policy of depriving us of field and partially of company officers has injured the efficiency and doubled the labor of artillery commanders. The artillery in battle covers a great deal of ground, and requires more supervision than infantry. The batteries are often necessarily, from the formation of the ground, separated by wide intervals, and yet they must work in harmony for a given object. Without officers to supervise and direct them this is almost impracticable. After a battle the batteries must be refitted, supplied with ammunition, repairs effected, and placed in condition for service on the march by dawn of the next day. This sometimes involves almost a reorganization. It cannot be well done without officers.

Now from the high ground, Hunt laid down his best argument (in my opinion):

I called attention specially to the subject in my reports of the battles of Chancellorsville and of Gettysburg. In the first battle, for the artillery of the army (412 guns, 980 artillery carriages. 9,543 men, 8,544 horses, besides their large ammunition trains, and these distributed throughout the army), I had but five field officers, and these, for the want of disposable battery officers, had miserably inefficient staffs. In the Gettysburg campaign, with sixty-seven batteries (372 guns, 320 of which were on the field, with over 8,000 men and 7,000 horses, and the necessary material pertaining to them), I had in the whole army but one general officer (commanding the artillery reserve) and four field officers. Of the seven corps present the artillery of three corps was commanded by captains, and that of one corps by a young lieutenant. Both brigades of horse artillery were commanded by captains. These facts need no comment, yet those only who were charged with the management of such a force with so little aid can fully appreciate the evils and difficulties to which they led. (emphasis added.)

This is not some citation of a dry manual written back in peacetime.  This is the raw experience of a seasoned chief of artillery speaking.  There was a need for artillery brigade commanders with appropriate rank and staffs.  What Hunt did not state, or at least not with clarity, is if the artillery brigade commander should remain saddled with the additional duty of corps chief of artillery.  As he does not state so directly, my assumption is he preferred to retain that arrangement.

In the section alluding to the Gettysburg campaign, Hunt mentioned a lieutenant who commanded a corps artillery.  That of course was First Lieutenant Edward Muhlenberg of the Twelfth Corps.  Keep that name in mind.  He’ll turn up again in the examination of the rest of Hunt’s suggestions.  I’ll resume with Part 2 of this set, looking at Hunt’s second point.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 581-2.)