“It is a cross between the gun and mortar without the advantages of either”: Hunt’s dislike of howitzers (again)

On April 23, 1864, Brigadier-General Henry Hunt passed additional instructions on to Colonel Henry L. Abbot, who was tapped to form and lead a siege train held in reserve for the Army of the Potomac.  Abbot’s task was not necessarily daunting, but required attention to detail to meet specific requirements.  Should a siege train be required at the front (and we know it would be), then that formation had to arrive with exactly the weapons, munitions, and supports needed for the task.

In his letter, Hunt reiterated his request for batteries B and M, of Abbot’s First Connecticut Heavy Artillery, to form part of the siege train.  Recall those two batteries had been part of the Army of the Potomac’s Reserve Artillery up until that spring.  And they were armed with 4.5-inch siege rifles which Hunt liked (at least at that time).  In addition, Hunt agreed that Abbot’s siege train would best be formed by forming a brigade, adding the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, under Colonel Elisha Kellogg.  This suggestion was not, however, carried out.  The 2nd Connecticut would become one of the “heavies” employed as infantry during the overland campaign.

Hunt also discussed the armament intended for the siege train.  Specifically he mentioned “ten 10-inch, twenty 8-inch, and twenty Coehorn mortars” as part of the train.   But Hunt went on to explain the exclusion of one particular type of artillery:

I excluded the 8-inch howitzer (siege). It is a cross between the gun and mortar without the advantages of either; besides, I think the cases would be rare in which the siege guns or 12-pounder field guns could not be made to do the work of these 8-inch howitzers. Still, I have no objection, and it would be well if you have the transportation to take in addition half a dozen or ten of these howitzers, and if on consideration you desire it, and there is not sufficient transportation for both, take half a dozen of these howitzers as substitutes for as many of the 8-inch mortars.

The howitzers in question were either the 8-inch Model 1841:

Castillo 2 Aug 11 936

Or the 8-inch Model 1861:

College Park 239

It was possible, by mounting the guns backwards on the siege carriage, to fire these howitzers as mortars.  But clearly Hunt shunned these weapons even with that flexibility.  And please note, Hunt had observed these weapons’ performance during the 1862 campaign around Richmond.

But Hunt did allow Abbot the option of incorporating these howitzers into the siege train.  Closing his instructions, Hunt put the emphasis on putting the siege train in order:

I think it will be of importance to concentrate great power in such operations as may be before us, and it will pay well in case a depot is formed anywhere near the scene of action to send as much material as the limit of instructions will permit. It would be better to err on the side of too much than too little of the material, and especially of the number of pieces of whatever sort.

Hunt wanted more firepower, not less. Bring all you can carry!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 950-1.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

One thought on ““It is a cross between the gun and mortar without the advantages of either”: Hunt’s dislike of howitzers (again)

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