Wainwright’s Diary, March 24, 1864, Part II: Proposed reorganization of the Volunteer Artillery

In the post earlier today, I looked at the first half of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s diary entry for March 24, 1864.  The second half focused on a specific topic – the organization of the artillery in the broad sense.  Wainwright’s concern was the somewhat cumbersome arrangement of  volunteer batteries brought into service:

Many officers of the regular artillery have long been trying to get a reorganization of their arm of the service, doing away with the regiments and making a corps of it, the same as the engineers and ordnance. McClellan and Hunt drew up a plan soon after Antietam, which was then approved by Stanton and Halleck, but nothing more has been heard of it since. Their plan contemplated uniting the artillery and ordnance in one corps, also the pontoniers. I believe I gave an idea of it some time ago. This last winter Barry, Tidball, and others in Washington drew up a proposition, which has now been reported in the Senate by Wilson. It merely does away with the regiments; but does not increase the number of batteries or of field officers; still it is a step in the right direction. Anxious to help on so good a cause, as also to secure more field officers of artillery for this army, I have written a letter to Senator Morgan asking a like organization for the Volunteer Artillery. This I mean to take up with Hunt tomorrow and get him to give me a good letter backing my application. As it was neither brigade nor regimental business I have not entered a copy of my letter anywhere; and as the rough draft in pencil will not keep, shall transcribe it here.

Keep in mind the Civil War was at that time the largest mobilization of manpower in American history.  A lot of assumptions about how the nation should mobilize for war were set upon experience during smaller wars.  Writing in 1864, Wainwright and others spoke from experience not evident a generation before.

I would point out the Army had already tried consolidating the artillery and ordnance corps in the period between 1821 and 1832 – with mixed results at best. There’s a lot I could say about that period, but will properly relegate it to another day.

Wainwright letter read:

Hon. E.D. Morgan, U.S. Senate. Sir: Seeing by the newspapers that a bill has been introduced in the Senate reorganizing the artillery of the regular army, I take liberty of addressing you on the subject of the organization of the same arm in the volunteer service. I am induced to take this liberty from the fact that our State has furnished a very much larger number of light batteries to the army than any other; and from the great interest you always professed while Governor of New York, in the welfare of the regiment which I now have the honour to command, that raised by the lamented Colonel G.D. Bailey.

The bill I refer to provides for the abolishing of the regimental organization of the artillery, and forming it into one corps, with a certain number of field officers, the battery being taken as the unit of organization. I believe that all our best light artillery officers agree that such a change is expedient. My own experience constantly reminds me of the absurdity of a regimental organization of light batteries, which must necessarily be so widely scattered that the commanding officer of the regiment can have no control over them whatever; while the very fact of their belonging to his regiment makes him to a certain extent responsible for their condition…. My object is to recommend that the proposed organization be adopted for the volunteer light batteries as well as for the regular artillery.

The act of Congress prescribing the organization of volunteer light artillery simply states that it shall in all respects agree with the organization of the Fifth United States Artillery, the only regiment of light artillery, organized as such in the regular army. At this time there are from the states east of Ohio three regimental organizations of light artillery; one from Rhode Island of eight batteries; one from New York of twelve batteries, and one from Pennsylvania of eight batteries; while from the same states there must be in all about a hundred light batteries in service; thus, only providing thirteen field officers for this large command.

Both General Barry and General Hunt while commanding the artillery of this army have frequently complained in their reports of the great want of field officers. Were the light batteries of each state organized into a corps, and provided with field officers in the proportion proposed in the bill referred to above, this want would be provided for. The officers of light batteries also have a claim demanding some such change. No class of officers in our volunteer service stand as high as those of our light batteries. I say without hesitation that they are very far superior as a class in all respects to the officers of the same rank in either the infantry or cavalry. Yet for them there is not at this time any chance for promotion above a simple captaincy, except in the few regiments spoken of. I can point to several cases of captains of light batteries who, from this want of field officers, have for a year past exercised all the authority and borne all the responsibilities of a brigadier-general.

Individually I have nothing to gain by the proposed change, for I already hold the highest rank known in our artillery organization….

I have taken the liberty of submitting the above to Brigadier-General Hunt, Chief of Artillery of this Army; whose opinion on the subject is of more practical value probably than that of any other officer in the service. I beg to submit herewith a copy of his reply fully endorsing the proposed change.

Please understand the nuances here.  Wainwright, and for good measure the regular officers too, proposed a cadre of artillery field-grade officers assigned to an “artillery corps.”  Those officers would be assigned to positions as needed in the field armies.  Batteries would then be assigned as needed to the field armies, without the constraints of a regimental system.  Further note Wainwright was addressing directly the system for field batteries.  He does not mention heavy or garrison artillery.

Morgan ought to take hold of this matter, but I do not know that he will, for he may not see anything to be made out of it. Hunt’s letter, when I get it, I mean to keep; I am sure of his approval, for we have talked the matter over thoroughly.

Hunt provided his endorsement to Wainwright’s letter a couple days later.  I’ll turn to his arguments in favor of this system in the next post on this thread.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 336-8.)


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