Fortification… Thursday: “Every point of the parapet should be guarded”

With Christmas falling on Friday, I’ll move the regular cycle of posting up a day… you get Fortification Thursday.

Let us close out the “lesson” on simple “intrenchments”, or basic field fortifications, by looking at the last passages from Mahan’s chapter on the subject:

The defense of enclosed works demands that every point of the parapet should be guarded, at the moment of assault, either by cannon or musketry. The troops may be drawn up for the defense either in one, two, or three ranks; and there should, moreover, be a reserve proportioned to the importance attached to the work.  The free interior space, denominated by the terre-parade plein, should be sufficiently great to lodge the troops, with the cannon and its accessories, and will therefore depend on the nature of the defense….

This paragraph takes us back to Mahan’s principles for the defense.  However, in the earlier lessons, Mahan had not discussed the interior structures at length.  Here he cites a feature by name – the terre-parade plein – and gives a requirement for that feature.  Goes to reason that important places, which would require large reserves, would thus need a large interior parade.

Mahan then began to provide some practical application of this advice:

Each man will occupy one yard, linear measure, along the interior crest, and each cannon from five to six yards.  The space requisite to lodge each man is one and a half square yards; and about sixty square yards should be allowed for each gun.

Think of that “frontage” as applied to Mahan’s rule of thumb about fort dimensions. So a thirty yard flank would need 30 men … or five or six cannon… or a combination of those.  Multiply that allocation against the similar sized opposite flank, then add in the manpower needed on the faces and curtain.  Very quickly we have need of a full strength company plus a battery of artillery (at least) to defend a single side of a bastion fort.  So project that math further… four sides, plus a need for reserve.  You see how we ring up the requirement for a full strength regiment plus three or four batteries of artillery.

Well… on the other side of the coin, at least there would be plenty of hands around to do the digging.

Mahan continued with details of the arrangements, and immediately brought up another interior structure for discussion:

Besides this space an allowance must be made for the traverses, which are mounds of earth thrown up in the work to cover an outlet, to screen the troops from a reverse, or an enfilading fire, &c.; and for powder magazines, when they are not placed in the traverses.  The area occupied by a traverse will depend on its dimensions, and cannot be fixed beforehand; that allowed for a magazine for three or four cannon may be estimated at fifteen or twenty square yards.

The traverse will be the focus of another post in time.  But for the moment, consider that Mahan basically instructed us to “bolt on” the traverse after building the fort.  Though he indicated a rough size for planning.

But wait… he said fifteen to twenty square yards for 3 to 4 guns.  Earlier he indicated we needed to factor in sixty square yards for the individual guns.  So for a four gun battery, we’d need 260 square yards.  A six gun battery (say holding back two guns for reserve), would need 380 to 400 square yards. And our math determining how many muskets and cannon were needed for a standard-size, by-the-book Mahan-approved fort was pointing to four of those batteries.  Better figure on at least 1500 square yards just to have space for the artillery… between a quarter and a third of an acre.  And that is just the artillery.  So if you have a fort that really needs to be defended properly, better plan on having a lot of space to dress out that fort.

Hold on… recall we have a preference for 250 yard exterior faces…. or a 62,500 yards square box in which to put the fort (including those areas that would lay outside the structures, mind you!).  Sounds like one would have ample space.  But when you subtract the area that lay outside the faces, flanks, and curtains; factor in the space that the works themselves will take up; and then figure on a regiment of infantry plus all those guns… well one has to work hard to avoid running out of space!  The engineer’s work was not simply drawing polygons on paper.

The last paragraph in this chapter provides the “soundbyte” for the philosophy of the defense:

As a field fort must rely entirely on its own strength, it should be constructed with such care that the enemy will be forced to abandon an attempt to storm it, and be obliged to resort to the method of regular approaches used in the attack of permanent works.  To effect this, all the ground around the fort, within the range of cannon, should offer no shelter to the enemy from its fire; the ditches should be flanked throughout; and the relief be so great as to preclude any attempt at scaling the work.

You see, if employed successfully by the defender, the fort would buy time for the defender.  That time would allow the defender to adjust to meet the attacker, or at least exact a toll upon him.

Apply this to one of the many episodes from the Civil War.  I think immediately of Morris Island.  After the Federals failed to carry Battery Wagner with a direct assault, they were “obliged” to lay a “regular approach” across a narrow beach in order to gain the Confederate works.  And that bought the Confederates a significant amount of time – in which they re-positioned forces (heavy cannon) out of Fort Sumter and to other locations in the harbor.  The Confederates could not stop the capture of Morris Island, but they could – and did – exact a toll for that prize.  Such was a “by the book” utilization of a field fortification… even if the fort itself were to fall.

(Citation from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 16-7.)

For the holidays, lets each rehabilitate some Civil War general… I call Schimmelfennig!

This being the season of giving, I ask what have we given back to the Civil War field of study?  We all “take” from our studies – reading primary and secondary sources, walking the battlefields, and receiving knowledge all around.   But what do we give back in return?  How this season we “clean up” some corner of Civil War study that need be straightened or otherwise put in order?

Consider… Throughout the Sesquicentennial discussions we heard about some major figures from the Civil War being “rehabilitated” by historians.  Most notable is George B. McClellan.  We even heard mention of Joe Hooker.  Though I still lean towards strict twelve step process for Little Mac… someone skipped a few steps with McClellan in my opinion.  This is not a new notion for historians.  During the Centennial, US Grant was “rehabilitated” to some degree, mostly by that magical prose from Bruce Catton.  William T. Sherman was moved but a few shades to the good side of Lucifer himself.  Though we really should recognize the work of British admirers decades earlier, who sort of threw a mirror in our American faces.  However of late Grant is being “un-rehabilitated” back to a mere mortal.

What I have in mind is straight forward and altruistic – pick a figure due “historical rehabilitation.”  Name any figure from the Civil War – general, politician, or other.  Pick a poor figure.  Someone you think has not gotten a fair shake through the historians’ collective pens. Then offer up a few paragraphs explaining why this figure is worth a second look.  Think about it… are there any persons who are completely nonredeemable?  Totally incompetent? Without any merit?  Well… maybe there are some.  But I’d submit that to be a small number within the larger sample set.  Besides, even H. Judson Kilpatrick, Alfred Pleasonton, and Franz Sigel had good days to speak of!

I’ll make the first offering.  This is my target for rehabilitation:

Alexander Schimmelfennig.  Like most, my introduction to Schimmelfennig was the butt end of many jokes about “hiding with the hogs” at Gettysburg.  Schimmelfennig’s stay at the Henry Garlach house has come to epitomize the failings and faults of the Eleventh Corps in the battle.

Over the years, I’ve learned not to add an extra n, making his name an active present tense verb, to Schimmelfennig. Though you might find more than a few cases where I’ve slipped and not corrected.  Furthermore, I’ve come to recognize my characterization of Schimmelfennig’s actions were but one of many collective misunderstandings (being kind… maybe collective ignorance?) about the actions at Gettysburg.  Indeed, our myopic view of that battle has caused no short list of misconceptions.  Schimmelfennig is one of many receiving short treatment, and outright insult, due to the intellectual white elephant, named Gettysburg, stuck to history’s charge.

Let us first be fair about Schimmelfennig at Gettysburg.  Certainly his July 1, 1863 on the field is not fodder for any great story about military prowess and proficiency.  Though it was not an example of bumbling incompetence.  Why was he in the Garlach back yard to start with?  Well it was because, unlike many of his peers and superiors, he was not emulating General Gates’ flight from Camden in search of “high ground” south of town.

And in the two years that followed that stay in the shed, Schimmelfennig demonstrated he was indeed a very capable field commander… in the oft overlooked Department of the South.  I’ve chronicled those activities during the Sesquicentennial… and will mention a few key points here.   Schimmelfennig first went to the department as part of Brigadier-General George Gordon’s 1st Division, Eleventh Corps, sent as reinforcements in late July 1863. The Brigadier-General led a successful demonstration in February 1864 on John’s Island; assumed responsibility for the front against Charleston through the spring and early summer 1864, directing several bombardments of Fort Sumter, and mounting demonstrations to aid the main operations elsewhere;  And played an important role in Foster’s July 1864 “demonstration” that nearly broke through to Charleston.   After returning from leave (recovering from malaria), Schimmelfennig was in command of the forces that captured Charleston on February 18, 1865.

Schimmelfennig readily adapted to situations and was innovative.  He successfully used of Hales rockets in an assault role and urged the troops to use rudimentary camouflage to disguise their activities.  To the many USCT regiments in his command, he offered fair and complementary leadership, advocating for pay equality.  The naval officers working with him, particularly Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, considered Schimmelfennig the better of the Army generals to work with at Charleston.

And we should remember, as if a name like Schimmelfennig would allow us to forget, that the general was not American-born.  Thus he faced much of the institutional bias within the Federal officer corps.  Schimmelfennig, a Prussian, was a veteran of the revolutions and wars of 1848.  Pulling on our historian sensibilities, Schimmelfennig was a bit of a military historian himself, providing context to the conflicts between Russia and Turkey in the years leading up to the Crimean War.

Oh, and I should add, Schimmelfennig “pioneered” the use of petrochemicals to ward off mosquitoes…. Um… by smearing kerosene over his exposed skin while on duty at Folly and Morris Islands.  Not exactly DEET, but you know.  Fine… he was a bit far short of a renaissance man.

At any rate, you get my point – Schimmelfennig’s service is done a dis-service by overly emphasizing those three days in July 1863… or even after weighing in his (and the Eleventh Corps) performance at Chancellorsville months before.  Maybe he was not among Grant’s Generals depicted in Balling’s painting, but Schimmelfennig served with distinction during the war.  He is at least deserving of more consideration than “a brigade commander at Gettysburg.”

That’s my proposed target for rehabilitation.  What’s yours?  And why?

Summary Statement: December 31, 1862 – Minnesota’s and Maryland’s batteries

For this installment on the Summary Statements, we’ll double up.  Minnesota and Maryland fit together, right?  Well they were stacked up in the summary this way.

0051_Snip_Dec62_MN_MD_1

Minnesota provided three light batteries to the war effort.These were numbered batteries, and not considered part of a state regiment of artillery (there was a heavy artillery regiment, but does not factor in this reporting period).  But only two of those were in service at the reporting time in December 1862.  Of those two batteries, we have some question marks regarding their returns:

  • 1st Battery:  Shown at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lieutenant William Z. Clayton’s battery boasted two 12-pdr field howitzers and two 6-pdr (3.67-inch) bronze rifles.  However, the battery was not at Vicksburg (nor would be for some months into the future).  Clayton’s battery was part of the Left Wing, Thirteenth Corps.  The battery was on the Northern Mississippi Campaign that season and moved from Corinth to Memphis before catching a boat ride down river to Lake Providence, Louisiana.  Given the received date of February 27 (1863), I suppose “opposite Vicksburg” might be the location given for the report.
  • 2nd Battery: Listed at Chattanooga, Tennessee with four 6-pdr field guns and two 12-pdr field howitzers.  Again we see a problem with location!  The Army of the Cumberland, which Captain William Hotchkiss’s 2nd Minnesota Battery was part of, might have wanted to be in Chattanooga.  But we know instead they were rather busy at Stones River at the end of December 1862.  So we look at the date of receipt – April 15, 1864, a time when the battery was indeed around Chattanooga.  This battery supported First Division, Right Wing, Fourteenth Corps at Stones River.  The battery fired 500 rounds in the battle, lost 13 horses, and reported 11 casualties in the battle.

Now let us turn to the Maryland batteries.  There were three in service at the reporting time, two of which provided returns:

  • Battery A:  No report.  This battery was in First Division, Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac and camped opposite Fredericksburg at the close of 1862.  The battery was armed with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.
  • Battery B: At White Oak Church, Virginia with four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. The battery was with 2nd Division, Sixth Corps.
  • Baltimore Independent Battery: At Baltimore with one 6-pdr field gun and six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. This battery was on duty in western Maryland (Maryland Heights, in particular) at the time.

Hopefully all question marks are settled for those five batteries (from two states) in consideration here.

For smoothbore ammuniton:

0053_Snip_Dec62_MN_MD_1

  • 1st Minnesota: 12-pdr field howitzer – 92 shell, 104 case, and 130 canister.
  • 2nd Minnesota: 6-pdr field gun – 266 shot, 288 case, and 71 canister.  12-pdr field howitzer – 160 case and 25 canister.
  • Baltimore Battery: 6-pdr field gun – 150 case and 150 canister.

I like it.  A “clean” data set with little to remark about!

Moving to the rifled projectiles, first the Hotchkiss types:

0053_Snip_Dec62_MN_MD_2

Of those reporting (and remember one of the Maryland batteries was lacking here):

  • 1st Minnesota:  Watch the calibers here…. for the 12-pdr Wiard (3.67-inch bore) – 74 Hotchkiss shot, 96 shell, and 12 bullet shell (case).  Recall this caliber matched to the converted 6-pdr rifles, which differed in bore size from true James rifles.  Just an interesting note for artillery students here – Hotchkiss projectiles, designed for Wiard rifles, used in 6-pdr bronze rifles.  Got it?
  • Battery B, Maryland:  150 shell and 370 bullet shell (case) Hotckiss for 3-inch rifles.
  • Baltimore Battery: 150 canister and 736 bullet shell (case) for 3-inch rifles.

None of the reporting batteries indicated quantities of Dyer, Parrott, or James on hand.  Moving over to the Schenkl columns:

0054_Snip_Dec62_MN_MD_1

Only the Maryland batteries:

  • Battery B, Maryland:  179 Schenkl 3-inch shells.
  • Baltimore Battery:  584 Schenkl 3-inch shells.

And on the far right we see 1st Minnesota had 126 of Tatham’s 3.67-inch canister for those rifled 6-pdrs.

As for small arms:

0054_Snip_Dec62_MN_MD_2

  • 1st Minnesota: 11 Navy revolvers and 13 cavalry sabers.
  • 2nd Minnesota: 8 Navy revolvers and 25 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery B, Maryland: 14 Army revolvers and 113 cavalry sabers.
  • Baltimore Battery: 20 Army revolvers and 30 horse artillery sabers.

Lots of edged weapons there with Battery B.

Other than the issues with the Minnesota batteries reported location, and the interesting use of projectiles for those rifled 6-pdrs, no surprises and few question marks with these batteries.