When formed, or more accurately, reformed, in April 1864, the siege train for the Army of the Potomac was intended as a resource to call upon as the army neared Richmond. When the initial assaults on Petersburg failed to gain their objective, it was time to call upon the siege train. So was that “train” on time?
Colonel Henry L. Abbot, commanding the train, was more than qualified, with a record as a skilled artillerist and engineer. The regiment constituting the manpower of the siege train, the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, numbered over 1,500 present. And as Abbot related to Brigadier-General Henry Hunt before the start of the Overland Campaign, the Connecticut men had their cannons and considerable ordnance loaded on boats prior by the first days of May.
An over-strength regiment under a capable commander is something hard to leave on the shelf. So with campaigns in motion all around Virginia, Abbot and his “heavy” were soon ordered to the front – but supporting the Army of the James instead of the Army of the Potomac. On May 13, 1864, Abbot arrived at Bermuda Hundred and reported in with 1,700 men and 100 horses. But guns? No. Abbot was told to leave the boats in Washington, D.C. as there were already weapons on hand at Fort Monroe and elsewhere with the Army of the James. So the siege train Abbot worked to organize was left behind as his men were employed with other weapons.
There was some small intrigue for a week or so, as several senior officers vied to pull the 1st Connecticut under their formation. Interesting, but a bit off the focus of this post. So I’ll simply say that came to an end on May 17 when Abbot was placed in overall command of the siege train for the Army of the James.
By May 20, he reported having four 30-pdr Parrotts, eight 20-pdr Parrotts, two 8-inch siege howitzers, two 32-pdr howitzers, and one 24-pdr howitzer in the lines. A powerful line, but that’s not what Hunt requested… or what Major-General George Meade directed… or what Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant expected. On this evening (June 18) in 1864, the whereabouts of the siege train became a serious question. At 10 p.m., Meade related the status to Grant:
I am informed by General Hunt that the siege train which was ordered before leaving the Rapidan, although afloat at Washington, has not been brought to the James. I think it proper to advise you of this fact, as in case you contemplated using them it would take some time to procure them.
Grant, who certainly was contemplating using that siege train, soon inquired to Major-General Benjamin Butler, with the Army of the James:
Before starting in this campaign I directed a siege train to be put afloat subject to my orders. I understood that it came to Fort Monroe some time since, and was under the impression that it came up here. Do you know anything about it? Colonel Abbot was in command.
And that prompted a quick inquiry down from Butler’s staff to Abbot:
Can you tell me where your siege train is that you left at Washington? General Grant wants to know. Answer immediately.
Abbot, was, at the time, in charge of not only the Army of the James’ siege train, but also the engineering work of a substantial part of the line. His response was short, and to the point:
My train is afloat at Washington Arsenal in charge of Capt. S.P. Hatfield, 1st Conn. Art’y. Gen. Hunt knows all details of its composition.
Worth noting, is that very evening Abbot sent a message over to his friend Hunt – in a rather familiar tone – discussing his dispositions. In that message, Abbot suggested, somewhat knowingly in regard to the siege train still on the water back at Washington:
If the train is ordered forward it would be desirable to telegraph at once to General Delafield to supply a lot more rope mantlets as soon as possible. If you can do this it will save time.
And of course, later that evening, the orders came from Grant to Major-General Henry Halleck back in Washington – send the siege trains. And shortly after, a flurry of messages about mantlets (which I’ll queue up for a follow on post). In a matter of days the siege train would arrive for use at Petersburg, expedited south.
But in the mean time, Hunt had a need for some heavy guns. Where would he get them? On loan from Abbot. Still, the Army of the Potomac would start the Petersburg siege with borrowed equipment.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 40, Part II, Serial 81, pages 158,198, .)