Read any general history of the Civil War, and you are sure to find at least one passage explaining the Federal dominance with the artillery arm. The line something like, “The Confederates had good artillerists, but lacked the modern Napoleons and rifles to match with the Federals.” But I don’t like generalizations. How about some figures to back that up?
A report posted 150 years ago this April provides a good point of reference for a comparison. The abstract from that report details the artillery supporting Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia:
As indicated in the notes below the table, the returns included six battalions. The last of those, Major John C. Haskell’s, was properly part of First Corps. So for purposes of this post, I’ll exclude their numbers from any tally.
The total for five battalions is sixty-six guns – thirty-three Napoleons, sixteen 3-inch rifles, fourteen 10-pdr Parrotts, two 20-pdr Parrotts, and one 24-pdr howitzer – arranged in twenty batteries. Recall that not all Confederate 3-inch rifles were Ordnance Rifles. These may have included various cast iron weapons of that caliber along with captured Ordnance Rifles. These batteries supported Lieutenant-General A.P. Hill’s Corps of three divisions, numbering 24,721 present (as of April 10, 1864).
The artillery personnel totals on this table (again deducting Haskell’s battalion) were 55 officers and 1745 men present for duty. However on the April 10 Army returns, the artillery of the Third Corps had 105 officers and 2,167 men present for duty (and if I deduct Haskell’s numbers in the first table above from the April 10 numbers, we see 1776 as the number of men present… so… pick a number!). The artillery in Third Corps had 796 serviceable horses. Factoring the sixty-six guns in those five battalions, that translates to just under one officer and 26 men per gun… or 33 artillerists if we go with the April 10 figures. The ratio of horses was twelve per gun. That’s twelve horses supporting each gun as an average, including horsepower for gun, limber, caissons, battery wagons, forges, and other rolling stock.
Now let us consider our familiar subject, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s artillery brigade supporting the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac:
- Stewart’s battery (B, Fourth U.S. Artillery), six light 12-pounders
- Winslow’s battery (D, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
- Mink’s battery (H, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
- Martin’s battery (C, Massachusetts Artillery), six light 12-pounders
- Rittenhouse’s battery (D, Fifth U.S. Artillery), six 10-pounder Parrotts
- Phillips’ battery (E, Massachusetts Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
- Reynolds’ batteries (E and L, First New York Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
- Cooper’s battery (B, First Pennsylvania Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
Total of 48 guns in eight batteries -twenty-four Napoleons, six 10-pdr Parrotts, and eighteen 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Returns posted on April 30, 1864 indicated the Fifth Corps numbered 24,124 infantry officers and men present and equipped for duty, in four divisions.
Wainwright’s brigade included 45 officers and 1525 men. The army returns don’t include horses, but Wainwright did remark, on April 28, “My train now comprises 103 army waggons and eleven ambulances, and 781 horses and mules; the grand total of carriages of all sorts is 225….” Wainwright’s numbers appear to count battery wagons, forges, and possibly some caissons, but not the guns and limbers. There’s too much “apples to oranges” in the figures for a good comparison of horsepower. So I’ll stick to just the manpower. Just under one officer per gun, average. And rounding to 32 men per gun.
The statistics show, then, the Confederate corps in this comparison actually had a higher ratio of artillery to infantry. Both sides had about the same number of artillerists per gun. Though I suspect, though cannot prove by numbers, the Federal artillery benefited from more horsepower per gun also (and likely more wagons and other rolling stock). Both sides used an even mix of Napoleons and rifled guns. One might give the Confederates a single advantage with a pair of 20-pdr guns, simply on caliber. But I would dismiss any clean advantage there (and throw out the 24-pdr howitzer for practical comparisons).
The real story of the guns, however, is the uniformity of the Federal batteries. The Confederate batteries were understrength “what we can get” formations. Wainwright could call upon six gun batteries, each with uniform sets of equipment. On the Confederate side, Colonel Ruben L. Walker had to juggle 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-gun batteries with mixed equipment. In short, the Federal organization lent itself better to combat operations.
Just snapshots of the artillery supporting two corps, one from each side, entering a critical point in the war. I’m certainly not saying these numbers are representative, looking across the whole of the respective armies and theaters. But I am saying we cannot assess the artillery with broad brushes.