“The veteran condition of your troops would justify a material reduction in the number of guns.”: Barry starting the Atlanta Campaign

Recall back in the winter of 1864 our diarist Colonel Charles S. Wainwright lamented the re-assignment of Brigadier-General William F. Barry to the west.  Barry figures importantly for anyone looking at the Federal artillery arm. Having organized the Army of the Potomac’s artillery early in the war, he then served in Washington as the inspector of artillery with responsibilities to include managing the artillery depot.  In the winter of 1864, Major-General William T. Sherman needed a senior, experienced artillery chief, and Barry was the best choice.

To some degree, Barry was once again building – or perhaps rebuilding would be an apt word – an artillery arm to support a field army.  As such, there’s ample room to compare Barry’s actions in 1861 to those in 1864.   Let’s start out with the state of affairs Barry inherited when arriving in Chattanooga:

On the 20th of March, 1864, the date of my appointment as chief of artillery of your army, the field artillery of the four separate armies, which at that time composed your command, consisted of 16,250 men (effective), 530 guns, 4,300 horses, and 987 mules. The proportion of artillery to the aggregate infantry and cavalry force was about three guns to 1,000 men. The guns were of varied patterns, twelve different calibers being at that time in actual use. The severity of the campaigns of the previous autumn and winter had also reduced the number of draft animals much below what was necessary.

So 530 guns, of twelve different calibers, averaging out to around three guns per thousand men.  Recall that in 1861, Barry suggested a ratio of three guns per thousand men.  And that by mid-war, the Army of the Potomac actually fielded a much higher ratio – around five per thousand.  Also in 1861, Barry was content with a mix of 6-pdr field guns, 12-pdr howitzers, 12-pdr Napoleons, and rifled guns to support the infantry corps (and he accepted several larger calibers for the reserve and siege trains).  But after the 1862 campaigns, Barry urged the replacement of the light smoothbores with the Napoleons.

One might expect Barry to be content with the number of guns, but press for uniformity of calibers.  Not so.  Barry did not simply apply the 1861 formula without considering the full situation – particularly the troops supported by the artillery:

Believing that the character of the country and of your proposed operations, as well as the veteran condition of your troops, would justify a material reduction in the number of guns, and convinced that efficiency and facility of service and supply demanded a reduction of the number of calibers, I submitted both questions to your consideration. You approved of my recommendation that the proportion of artillery to the other two arms should not exceed two guns per 1,000 men, and that the number of calibers should be reduced to four. Immediate measures were taken to carry out these views. Horses and mules in sufficient numbers were provided and distributed; the proportion of artillery was reduced to rather less than two guns per 1,000 men, and all the odd or unnecessary calibers were eliminated by being either turned into arsenals or placed in the depots or other fortified posts in our rear, where they were used as guns of position.

Here’s a fine case of an artillerist being true to his word. In the Instruction for Field Artillery, which Barry co-authored, the ratio was explained as such:

The proportion of field artillery to other arms varies generally between the limits of 1 and 4 pieces to 1,000 men, according to the force of the army, the character of the troops of which it is composed, the force and character of the enemy, the nature of the country which is to be the theater of the war, and the character and object of the war. Similar considerations must regulate the selection of the kinds of ordnance, and the proportions of the different kinds.

Considering terrain and in particular the veteran nature of the troops, Barry opted for a ratio less than that adopted in 1861.  And far less than that used in 1863.  A reduction of battery strength from six guns to four guns provided a means to keep organizational flexibility – assigning the same number of batteries to each corps or division, while reducing the overall number of guns.  But the important reduction came by casting off so many odd calibers.

Barry retained an artillery reserve for each army (recall Sherman’s force consisted of three named armies – Cumberland, Tennessee, and Ohio).  But that reserve remained in the rear at readiness for a call to the front when the need arose (and it did at points later in the campaign).

When Sherman’s force stepped off on the Atlanta Campaign, on May 5, 1864, Barry could report the overall strength in guns to be 254:


However, Barry never quite reduced the variety of the guns down to the desired levels.  In a table providing the amount of ammunition expended during the Atlanta Campaign, he recorded continued use of 12-pdr and 24-pdr howitzers.  The addition of 4.5-inch siege rifles came towards the end of the campaign during the siege of the city.


That total should bring a whistle or sigh – 145,323 rounds from May 5 to September 2, 1864.

The story of the artillery in the Atlanta Campaign, I feel, is somewhat under-appreciated.  The arm did sterling service and was a valuable asset throughout.  As time permits, I hope to bring that story out here on the blog at the appropriate sesquicentennial moments this summer!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 38, Part I, pages 119-123; Instructions for Field Artillery: Prepared by a Board of Officers, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippingcott & Co., 1861, page 4.)


One thought on ““The veteran condition of your troops would justify a material reduction in the number of guns.”: Barry starting the Atlanta Campaign

  1. This is great material. I’ve been ranting for years about the lack of modern (or even out-dated) studies of Yankee artillery in the western theater. The Atlanta Campaign is only one example. Easy for me to say, but you should consider putting something together for publication on this subject. The “variety of calibers” problem was one that prevailed throughout most of the war in Tennessee/Mississippi/Kentucky/Georgia for the Federals (and obviously in triplicate for their opponents). I wasn’t aware of the extent of that variety by this late date, however. As of mid-1862 or so, the A of the P was equipped mostly with Napoleons, 3 in rifles, and 10 lb Parrotts (with the very occasional battery of 20 lb Parrotts, 12 lb howitzers, and 4.5 in rifles). Much easier on the supply and tactical sides. I suspect that someone like Barry viewed 12 different calibers as a logistical nightmare. And, of course, the reduction of standard battery size to 4 was mirrored in the A of the P in 1864.

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