6th New York Heavy Artillery: Foot artillery in the Army of the Potomac

A point of order on myself, if you will.   Earlier today I brought up Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s request for foot artillery to support operations of the field artillery in the Army of the Potomac. In context, Hunt was requesting regiments of the heavy artillery forces to be used as a foot artillery formation (without guns that is).  I neglected to add that Hunt already had one such regiment at his disposal – the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

During the Gettysburg campaign, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, under Colonel John Howard Kitching, was part of the third brigade of Major-General William French’s division based at Harper’s Ferry.  That division was of course, a bone of contention between a couple of generals though eventually transferred into the Army of the Potomac.  The 6th participated in the pursuit-retreat phase of the campaign, at one point guarding Crampton’s Pass on South Mountain.

John Howard Kitching

With reorganizations in the late summer of 1863, the 6th New York received assignment to the artillery.  Throughout the fall and into the winter, organization tables and returns listed the regiment as an ammunition guard, attached to the army’s artillery.  The 6th camped with the Artillery Reserve during the winter of 1864.

Again, we see Hunt was speaking from a point of experience when suggesting the transfer of heavy artillery regiments.  Indeed, he had part of the system in place.

UPDATE:  Bud Hall passed along this view of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery’s winter campsite:

Such neat rows in the camp.  Compares well to the camp at Harper’s Ferry, seen above.  The location where this photo was taken lies within the Civil War Trust’s property on the Brandy Station battlefield.

“The duties must be performed and men are required to perform them”: Hunt requests foot artillery regiments

Again, let me turn to the three suggestions made by Brigadier-General Henry Hunt on February 21, 1864:

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.

Yesterday’s post focused on the supporting argument provided by Hunt for the first suggestion.  Supporting the second suggestion, Hunt wrote:

Second. The force asked for as guards, &c., can best be furnished by assigning to this army two or three additional regiments of foot artillery, from which the details for all purposes can be made by the chief of artillery, and this arm be relieved from its present dependence on the infantry. The duties must be performed and men are required to perform them. It is now done by drawing from time to time regiments from infantry brigades and the assignment of men from regiments to serve as drivers and cannoneers in the batteries, to the injury of both branches of the service and a continual struggle and ill feeling between them.

A bit of explanation is in order here.  Hunt properly considered the batteries within the Army of the Potomac as either “mounted” or “horse” batteries.  Mounted artillery batteries had sufficient horses to draw the guns with the personnel riding.  Horse artillery had additional horses to allow the battery to maneuver faster (though not necessarily just for service with the cavalry, mind you).  But “foot” artillery was that which contained only horses to move the guns.  The “heavy” regiments of artillery then serving garrison duties in fortifications were a form of foot artillery in this regard.

I could see Hunt’s audience – Major-General Andrew A. Humphreys and ultimately Major-General George Meade – focusing on the passage explaining the current state of affairs.  Both men had served as commanders at the brigade and division level.  And they must have been familiar with the practice and the “ill feeling” mentioned.  But as Hunt noted, these tasks had to be done by someone.  A detail of artillerists to support artillerists made perfect sense.

And as pointed out with the third suggestion, the assignment of foot artillery also resolved another issue of importance:

Third. The assignment of these regiments of foot artillery will allow provision to be made for the third proposition, and if suitable regiments are designated will do much to correct the evils for which the first proposition provides.

Or, not to put words in Hunt’s mouth, a few regiments of foot artillery would allow the Army of the Potomac’s artillery the ease to operate more efficiently.  The arm could then provide its own guards, work details, teamsters, replacements, and such.  The arm could better manage ammunition trains.  And of course the foot artillery provided a pool of field grade officers:

Many of our best officers of field artillery have left that arm to accept the promotion in foot artillery and elsewhere that they could not obtain their own branch of the service. If the regiments of such officers or regiments that could be raised by them (Lieutenant-Colonel Best, inspector-general, Twelfth Army Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan, inspector-general, Second Army Corps, and Lieutenant-Colonel Platt, judge-advocate of this army, for example) were assigned to duty in the field, they would furnish them good chiefs of artillery and the necessary details, &c.

Yesterday I mentioned First Lieutenant Edward Muhlenberg, who’d been the Chief of Artillery of the Twelfth Corps at Gettysburg.  Mentioned here is Lieutenant-Colonel Clermont Best, who’d been the previous officer at that posting.  Best, as mentioned by Hunt, left the artillery to serve as the corps inspector-general.  One senses a touch of umbrage boiling under this passage.

In the last paragraph, for the first time in the letter Hunt brought up something which he did not tie into the foot artillery – handling of ammunition:

In relation to the use of caissons for ammunition, I inclose copy of a letter  addressed by me to Brigadier-General [Rufus] Ingalls, dated September 30, 1863. Each caisson for infantry ammunition will carry in its three chests as much ammunition as 6 horses can haul, and I think that 27,000 rounds can easily be packed in the chests. These caissons can be driven, guarded, and served by companies of foot artillery, and can be driven upon the field and regiments and brigades supplied whilst under fire. The want of such an organization is to be read in the reports of troops leaving the field for want of ammunition. By law chiefs of artillery of divisions and corps are ex-officio chiefs of ordnance for the troops to which they are attached, and the supply of ammunition on the field could be properly required of them if the means of performing the duty were supplied them.

Indeed, we looked at Hunt’s letter to Ingalls back this September.  This simply made too much sense not to lobby for implementation a second time to a higher level set of ears.  As I said earlier, this was perhaps the “third and a half” proposal, not being directly pressed.

In time Hunt’s request for foot artillery was granted.  The foot artillery assigned was, of course, some of the heavy artillery regiments then assigned to garrison duty far from the front.  And as mentioned in Hunt’s lead, the assignment of those regiments was done in conjunction with a broader reorganization of the army.  So I will turn to that reorganization as it applied to the artillery batteries and brigade, along with the integration of the foot artillery, in the appropriate time within the sesquicentennial schedule.

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