“My artillery officers are not sailors”: Gillmore requests gunnery training for his steamers

As my blogging pal XBradTC likes to point out on occasion, the U.S. Army owns and operates a number of watercraft.  These are mostly for intra-theater logistic support.  The LCU 2000 class is an example of such:

These are, as sharp observers will notice, very similar to the Navy’s landing craft in layout to include the bow ramp.  And bringing me back to the Civil War topic, the Army christened many of these vessels after Civil War battles:  Aldie, Brandy Station, Bristoe Station, Broad Run, Cedar Run, Chickahominy, and others. In fact, I think that is USAV Broad Run closest to the camera in the view above.

The Army’s use of boats and ships for these roles is nothing new and dates for all practicality to the Revolution.  During World War II, the Army operated thousands of vessels.  But few of those were armed with anything more than anti-aircraft weapons.  However, during the Civil War the Army operated what was for all considerations “gunboats.”  These operated along inland waterways, patrolling and transporting.  Those familiar with the Mississippi River campaigns will recall the numerous steamboats and rams operated by the Army in support of operations there.  Likewise along the Atlantic Coast, the Army operated a small fleet of vessels to support operations.

The history of these boats in the Department of the South was varied, in some cases very interesting, but generally obscure.  The steamer Darlington was originally employed by the Confederates. After capture by the USS Pawnee in March 1862, the Navy used the Darlington for a few months then passed the ship to the Army.

Well known is the steamer Planter, which Robert Smalls piloted in his famous escape from Charleston in 1862. The Navy used that vessel for a few months before passing it to the Army.  And the Army used Planter actively right to the end of the war.

In an earlier post I covered the loss of the steamer Washington in South Carolina waters.  Other vessels, such as the steamer Island City, I’ve never found illustrations and scant few details about their history.  But these names show up occasionally in the reports and correspondence from the Department of the South. (And some day I will compile a list of such and post for review.)

So why do I bring this up on the first full day of spring?  Well 150 years ago today, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent an interesting request to his naval counterpart, Commodore Stephen C. Rowan, acting in place of Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren (who was on leave at that time, due to the death of his son).  Gillmore asked for a naval officer to help train his steamer crews on the operation of guns on these vessels:

Sir: I have now in use in this department five armed steam transports, their service being chiefly picket duty; they are also used for transportation or convoys along those of our inland routes of communication where there is danger of meeting the enemy, also for scouting. These operations are not deemed important enough to call for the co-operation of your branch of the service. I have experienced, as you well know must be the case, the inconvenience of  having no officer possessing sufficient experience to properly outfit and command such vessels. My steam-boat masters are citizens and know nothing of artillery. My artillery officers are not sailors and are not acquainted with naval gunnery.

It would be of advantage to this army if I could avail myself of the services of one of the young officers of your squadron for the duty above indicated. I take the liberty of suggesting Acting Ensign William C. Hanford, now executive officer of the U.S. brig Perry, on the Fernandina Station, as a most suitable officer for this duty, from his large experience in similar service to that above designated in our Western rivers under Admiral Porter. If you will order him to report to me for temporary duty I will esteem it a favor.

The Army and Navy did share some cannon types, notably the Parrotts.  And often guns were used interchangeably between the services.  But form did follow designed function, with naval guns often carrying external fixtures, such as breeching loops, to support handling.  When mounted afloat, guns required naval carriages for better operation on the ship’s deck.  Likewise, ammunition storage and handling were different on board a ship, compared to a fortification.  And perhaps more importantly for the actual use of the weapon, aiming a gun from a moving ship against a fixed target required an adjustment in gunnery practice.

So indeed, artillery officers are not sailors.  So training was in order.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 24-5.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on ““My artillery officers are not sailors”: Gillmore requests gunnery training for his steamers

  1. Craig, I will save for you a hat that the crew of LCU 2005 Brandy Station sent me a few years ago. Beautiful ship, it is, and you can can pull up a nice picture of this hard working warhorse on Google. And quite appropriately, Bob O’Neill boasts a cap from LCU Aldie..

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