Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – Alabama

At the end of the third quarter summaries, I made mention of several USCT artillery units that had either just formed or were forming in the second half of 1863. One of those was the 1st Alabama Siege Artillery (African Descent), formed at LaGrange, LaFayette, and Memphis, Tennessee starting in June 1863. As each new battery formed, they were assigned to the garrison of Corinth, in the Sixteenth Corps. The regiment appears, by battery, in the fourth quarter’s summaries under the Alabama heading:

0309_1_Snip_AL

Four batteries in existence at the end of the reporting period, but only two returns:

  • Battery A: No return. Captain Lionel F. Booth commanded. This battery was, as mentioned, posted to Corinth.
  • Battery B: A return posted in January 1864 has this battery at Corinth with two 20-pdr Parrott rifles and two 8-inch siege howitzers. Captain John H. Baker commanded.
  • Battery C: No return. Also serving at Corinth. Captain William T. Smith commanded.
  • Battery D: Another January 1864 return confirms this battery at Corinth but with two 6-pdr field guns and two tallies under the 12-pdr Whitworth column. We will analyze this entry below, so hold your horses. Captain Delos Carson commanded.

First order of business, as the 1st Alabama Siege Artillery continued to fill out, Booth was promoted to Major in January, commanding what was a battalion. At around that same time, Federal high command decided the garrison at Corinth was no longer needed. Concurrent with the start of Sherman’s Meridian Campaign, Corinth was abandoned. Some of the troops were used in Sherman’s campaign. But the 1st Alabama was sent to Memphis, then later, in March, upriver to Fort Pillow. Around that time, the regiment was re-designated the 6th US Colored Heavy Artillery. That being a duplicate the re-designated 2nd Mississippi Heavy Artillery (AD), the regiment was then given the designation of 7th US Colored Heavy Artillery. But before that new designation could be officially applied, Confederate Major-General Nathan B. Forrest attacked Fort Pillow. The 6th Heavy, formerly the 1st Alabama Siege, though technically supposed to be the 7th Heavy, bore the brunt of what became a massacre. Much later, in 1865, the regiment was again re-designated as the 11th US Colored Troops infantry. So four designations in three years. And such has caused confusion at times among historians, despite the regiment’s connection with a well known, infamous battle. But in December 1863, that was all in the future… and these are part of the story we’ll pick up in the next quarter’s summary.

What we do need to focus on here is some of the line entries. Battery B’s big Parrotts and siege howitzers make sense. I would offer that Batteries A and C likely were assigned garrison infantry duties and possibly manned artillery assigned to specific forts (for accounting purposes). But it’s Battery D’s entry on the Whitworth line that I know gives readers pause. Let’s look at this close:

0309_1A_Snip_AL

I read this as a “2” with the super-script of “E.R.” And I translate that to mean “English Rifle.” To me, the entire column, header and all, is suspect. Yes, it reads clearly, “12-pdr Whitworth, 3.5-inch bore.” But that’s sort of a self-contradictory designation. There were 12-pdr Whitworths. But that term generally referred to 2.75-inch caliber weapons. Those being hexagonal bores, one might go with the widest measure of the barrel. Still that is not 3.5-inches. To my knowledge, there were no Whitworths used in the American Civil War that could be cited with a 3.5-inch bore (leaving aside any possible weapons not imported, etc.). On the other hand, there were many cannon with 3.5-inch bores imported from England that didn’t have the Whitworth name. Blakelys are most often mentioned, but such might apply to some weapons actually using that inventor’s patents, while others clearly did not and are deserving of more precise names. In this case, I submit the “Whitworth” column was a dodge by the Ordnance Department. They had a set of 2.75-inch Whitworths on hand. But they also had a lot of other miscellaneous English rifles. Instead of breaking those out across this header, the Whitworth column was the slot for any of those English weapons, regardless of origin (or perhaps even of caliber).

Though there are scant leads outside this summary, I think these are English-made rifles of 3.5-inch caliber, based on the ammunition reports that follow. Were these imported by the Federals and then handed off to the 1st Alabama? Possibly. However, I think it more likely these are captured weapons turned against the Confederates… fittingly manned by former slaves. A “bottom rail on top” scenario.

We find more super-script annotations throughout the 1st Alabama’s summary, as we turn to the smoothbore ammunition:

0311_1_Snip_AL
  • Battery B: Reporting 295 shells under the 32-pdr field howitzer column. But that’s not right. See below.
  • Battery D: 165 shot and 179 case for 6-pdr field guns. But also 24 shells under the column for 12-pdr field howitzers. Another “not right” and see below.

First off, let’s look close at the Battery B entry:

0311_1B_Snip_AL

A bit fuzzy, but you can just make out “8-inch” or something along that line. As there were no columns dedicated for the 8-inch howitzer ammunition, the clerks must have stuck this entry here with the annotation.

For Battery D, it’s also an appropriated column, but a different twist:

0311_1A_Snip_AL

That super-script looks like “6-pdr” to me. So if this is right, Battery D had 24 shells of 6-pdr caliber. Non-standard. But within the bounds of reason.

This appropriation of columns continues on the next page:

0311_2_Snip_AL
  • Battery B: 40 case and 40 canister for 8-inch howitzers, but placed under the 32-pdr howitzer columns.
  • Battery D: 123 canister for 6-pdr field guns.

The 8-inch annotation is a bit clearer on this page:

0311_2A_Snip_AL

To the right, we see Hotchkiss rounds reported:

  • Battery D: 36 shot for 3.5-inch “Rebel Trophy”.

That gives us some conformation as to the caliber of those “English Rifles.” And perhaps this “trophy” label indicates for use in captured cannon. But I think we’ve learned these column labels can be less than exact. Though this label is repeated for the rest of the Hotchkiss columns:

0312_1_Snip_AL
  • Battery D: 137 shell and 108 canister of Hotchkiss-type for 3.5-inch “Rebel Trophy”.

The Parrott columns are, refreshingly, require no explainations:

0312_2_Snip_AL
  • Battery B: 36 shot, 380 shell, 57 case, and 155 canister for 20-pdr Parrotts.

We may skip the Schenkl and miscellaneous projectile sections, as none are reported. That brings us to the small arms reported on hand:

0313_2_Snip_AL
  • Battery B: 84 Enfield .577-caliber muskets.
  • Battery D: 35 Springfield .58-caliber muskets, 62 Enfield .577-caliber muskets, and one foot artillery sword.

The cartridges reported:

0314_2_Snip_AL
  • Battery B: 350 20-pdr Parrott gun cartridge bags; 53 8-inch siege howitzer cartridge bags (the column is for 12-siege guns… or 8-inch howitzers); and, finally, 6,000 rifled musket cartridges in the .577/.58-caliber range.
  • Battery D: 9,300 rifled musket cartridges, .577- and .58-calibers.

Lastly, the fuses and primers (no loose powder):

0315_1_Snip_AL
  • Battery B: 650 wood fuses, 486 friction primers, and 60 portfires.

I think, given the cannon assigned, we can say the 1st Alabama Siege Artillery was indeed prepared for siege operations. But through the end of December theirs was the somewhat thankless task of simply guarding the railroad depot at Corinth, while the fighting had shifted to places like Chattanooga. But fate would plat the 1st Alabama at the fore of the war later in 1864. While many of those heavy cannon were not at Fort Pillow, most assuredly, those muskets were there. So again we see “numbers” that we can relate to actual events on the battlefield.

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