“Sound of the Guns” on the Road: Upcoming Speaking Events

A trio of upcoming speaking events for “To the Sound of the Guns” as we hit the road for the 2019 season.

First, on February 21, I am speaking at “History and Hops”, at Dragon Hops Brewing. More details to follow. This will be a talk about Charleston and Fort Sumter. So, mark the date, bring a friend and enjoy a beer.

On April 27, the Andrew Carnegie Free Library hosts a Civil War Symposium. The focus is on how Civil War history is related to the public. And my part will focus on the experience of blogging. I’ll post additional details in a bit. Harry Smeltzer, one of the other speakers, has posted the event brochure. Also featured at the venue is the Thomas Espy Room, GAR Post 153, which is among the best preserved GAR collections in the country. So some good talks and exhibits. If you are in the Pittsburgh area, give it a look.

And for those further south, I’ll be speaking to the newly formed Fort Sumter Civil War Round Table on June 10. Likewise, I’ll post more details as we get closer to the date. But in the mean time, let me make a pitch for this group. My good friend Jim Morgan is among those getting this roundtable started. They meet at The Citadel’s Daniel Library Museum Reading Room. Their first speaker, on February 5, is Gordon Rhea. They follow that in March with Frank Johnson, from the Hunley Museum. Then in April, they have Ed Bearss. Not bad for the first three meetings of a new roundtable! If you are in the Charleston area, I encourage you to check them out. Harry also has a flyer up with the details.

I hope to announce a few other events for 2019 here in a few weeks, as those are confirmed. So please keep checking back. And I’ll post full details on these events as the dates near. For now, put these on your calendars!


Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – Arkansas

We start the fourth quarter of 1863’s summaries not with the US Regulars, which has been the pattern in the past quarters, but with the volunteers from Arkansas. Unionist volunteers that is. Apparently the clerks at the Ordnance Department adopted a pure alphabetical arrangement… sort of that is. Below Arkansas are listings for USCT under the heading for Alabama. Give them a break, as Sesame Street was still over 100 years away.

At any rate, there is one line for Arkansas in this quarter:

  • 1st Light Battery: At Fayetteville, Arkansas with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Captain Denton D. Stark remained in command of this battery, then supporting Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison’s Arkansas Unionists garrisoning Fayetteville. In the previous quarter, we noted this battery was dispatched by section from Springfield to Fayetteville. Elements of the battery participated in the pursuit of Confederate General Joe Shelby’s raid in October. Stark led a section that saw action at Cross Timbers, Missouri, on October 15. But December found all the sections in Fayetteville.

In the previous quarter, we noted the presence of a section of mountain howitzers with Harrison’s 1st Arkansas Cavalry. These troops were also at Fayetteville. And I believe the cavalry retained use of the mountain howitzers at that time of the war. But there is no return here.

For later reference, the 1st Arkansas Light Battery (African Descent) would organize in June 1864. Then later that battery became Battery H, 2nd US Colored Light Artillery. We shall reserve a spot for them in future summaries.

Turning to the 1st Arkansas Battery’s report, we look at the ammunition and other ordnance on hand. No smoothbore ammunition needed, so we skip past Page 3’s first leaf. Then we turn to the Hotchkiss projectiles listed on the right side of Page 3:

  • 1st Light Battery: 463 Hotchkiss time fuse shells for 3-inch rifles.

On to page 4’s left side and more Hotchkiss:

  • 1st Light Battery: 1194 Hotchkiss percussion fuse shell, 942 Hotchkiss case shot, and 237 Hotchkiss canister for 3-inch rifles.

Yes, that’s a lot of rounds! We can skip the Parrott, Schenkl, and miscellaneous columns. That brings us to the small arms:

  • 1st Light Battery: 20 Enfield muskets, 28 Colt .44 revolvers, and nineteen horse artillery sabers.

And for the muskets, the battery reported a sizable number of cartridges:

  • 1st Light Battery: 1000 ball, .54 inch caliber. I’m not the small arms expert, but Enfields were .577. So either the Arkansas were making due with the wrong ammunition, or this is a transcription error.

No such issues in regard to the revolver ammunition on the next page:

  • 1st Light Battery: 1,800 cartridges for army caliber (.44-inch).

But to the right of that we have an entry with a question regarding the miscellaneous articles:

  • 1st Light Battery: 50 yards of slow match.

During the Civil War, slow match was a common issue item. In fact, a regulation ammunition chest would hold 1.5 to 2 yards of slow match (in addition to friction primers and 3 to 4 portfires). And, yes, technology had progressed, by the start of the Civil War, so that artillerists didn’t have to stand around with a linstock to ignite the powder. “Didn’t have to” is the operative phrase here. There’s a lot of uses for slow match aside from firing the cannon. But in this case, was there any better option?

The 1st Arkansas does not report any friction primers. Fifty yards would have given the gunners eight yards, plus some left over, per gun. The battery reported a total of 2,836 rounds on hand. That translates, with fifty rounds per chest, into 57 ammunition chests (rounding up for a partial). If we factor 1.5 yards of slow match per chest, we should have 85 yards. But only fifty yards are reported. Still not enough per regulation. But perhaps sufficient until the shipment of friction primers arrived from Missouri?

My point isn’t that “authentic” Arkansas light battery reenactors should be lighting off their cannon with slow match. Rather that we should not insist all the batteries in the war had equal supplies. In this case, we might conclude the Arkansas failed to count the friction primers on hand… or that they were using slow match in lieu of friction primers. Either way, it adds to the other facts that define the historical situation – bad record keeping, or poor logistical support. Both were in play in Arkansas at the end of 1863.

Twentieth Annual Civil War Seminar at Longwood University

Twenty years and still going strong!

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and Longwood University host their annual Civil War on Saturday, February 9 this year. This program has a reputation for delivering quality speakers. And is open to the public… as in free.

Location is the Jarman Auditorium, on the Longwood University campus. Parking is available on Wheeler Lot, at corner of High Street and Griffin Boulevard.

This year’s speakers and schedule:

  • 8:30 AM – Doors Open. Introduction by Dr. David Coles.
  • 9:00 AM – John Quarstein, “The Ship that Saved the Nation: The Monitor’s Recovery and Conservation”
  • 10:15 AM – Jake Wynn, “Discovering Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office”
  • 11:30 AM – Edwin C. Bearss, “Recovering the USS Cairo from the Yazoo.”
  • 12:30 PM – Lunch break.
  • 1:45 PM – Caroline Janney, “We Were Not Surrendered: Paroling Lee’s Army After Appomattox.”
  • 2:45 PM – Brandon Bies, “Unprecedented Discovery at Manassas National Battlefield Park: Field Hospital Burials Unearthed”

We might conclude from the titles, this year’s theme is “things lost and found.”

I plan on attending, as this is my usual “break out from the winter encampment” event. Hope to see you there. But if not I do plan on tweeting some of the highlights.

Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – Introduction

The next round of summary statements to discuss come from the fourth quarter of 1863. As with each of these sets, I think we must consider the context of the reporting period as it gives more meaning to the raw numbers. Such was very evident over the previous quarters, with the second quarter of 1863 allowing us to review batteries in action… or just out of action, or about to go into action… at places like Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Likewise, the third quarter of that year was a snapshot in time reflecting the action at Chickamauga, with losses directly reflected in the numbers, or lack of reports. And beyond that battle, we see a response to that Federal defeat, in form of so many batteries converging on Chattanooga. And that sets us up for the fourth quarter, with battles around Chattanooga.

But looking further afield, we have the reporting period, from October through December; the “as of” date – December 31, 1863; and also the time in which the report was completed, which was most often into the early months of 1864. Frequent readers will recall the story of the Army of the Potomac, as well as the other Federal armies, as they wintered that year. Reequipping, reinforcing, and reorganizing. Yes, there were some important operations conducted during that penultimate winter of the war – the Meridian Campaign, Red River Campaign, Olustee, and Morton’s Ford to name a few – but for the most prat that winter is a story of the three “Rs” of winter encampments. And that set up the great campaigns which followed into 1864. Such context brings importance to the numbers in the summary sheets.

Numbers? Yes, numbers arrayed across the lines allocated for each battery (or section) and under the column headings. And those column headings changed at the start of the fourth quarter. I have not found any documentation as to why the Ordnance Department changed their paperwork. I can only say there was a change to the format. I can speculate that there were some shifts with the underlying purpose of the quarterly returns. Pre-war the summaries were a type roll-up based on the battery returns. And those returns were in place to provide data for assessments of equipment (particularly cannon) durability. By the end of 1863, some of that was overtaken by events. The Army now had more of everything and durability was less a requirement.

That said, let’s look through these headers and discuss the columns. Ten pages in total for each summary entry line – left and right leaves. And those were divided into logical “Classes” or sections for the clerks. We start with Class I, the ordnance itself:

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You may have to click on the image to see this full size. But even without zooming in, we see “Class I” is greatly expanded in scope. No longer just field pieces, but siege guns and mortars included:

  • Field Guns and Howitzers, Smothbores, Bronze:
    • 6-pdr gun, Models 1840-41, 3.67-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr gun, light, Model 1857, 4.62-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr gun, heavy, Model 1840, 4.62-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr mountain howitzer, 4.62-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr field howitzer, 4.62-inch bore.
    • 24-pdr field howitzer, 5.82-inch bore.
    • 32-pdr field howitzer, 6.4-inch bore.
  • Field Guns, Rifle Guns, Iron:
    • 3-inch wrought iron, Model 1861 (Ordnance Rifle).
    • 10-pdr Parrott, Model 1861, 2.9-inch bore.
    • 10-pdr Parrott, Model 1863, 3-inch bore. (This is after the mandated change in caliber.)
    • 20-pdr Parrott, Model 1861-62, 3.67-inch bore.
  • Field Guns, Rifle Guns, Steel:
    • 3-inch gun (Pattern unspecified).
    • 6-pdr “Wiard” gun, 2.6-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr “Wiard” gun, 3.67-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr “Whitworth” 3.5-inch bore. (Which seems to hold place for any cannon of English manufacture in this caliber.)
  • Field Guns, Rifle Guns, Bronze:
    • 6-pdr gun, Model 1840-41, 3.67-inch bore. (i.e. Rifled 6-pdr.)
    • 6-pdr “James”, 3.80-inch bore.
    • 12-pdr “James” or heavy 12-pdr, 4.62-inch bore.
  • Siege Guns, Smoothbore, Cast Iron:
    • 12-pdr siege gun, Model 1839-40, 4.62-inch bore.
    • 18-pdr siege gun, Model 1839-40, 5.3-inch bore.
    • 24-pdr siege gun, Model 1819-39, 5.82-inch bore.
    • 8-inch siege howitzer, Model 1841-61.
  • Siege guns, Rifled, Cast Iron:
    • 4.5-inch siege gun, Model 1861.
    • 12-pdr siege gun, Model 1839-40, 4.62-inch bore.
    • 18-pdr siege gun, Model 1839-40, 5.3-inch bore.
    • 24-pdr siege gun, Model 1819-39, 5.82-inch bore.
  • Mortars, Cast Iron:
    • 24-pdr Coehorn, bronze, 5.82-inch bore.
    • 8-inch siege, Model 1841-61.
    • 10-inch siege, Model 1841-61.

Before we get too excited here, the summaries did not include “installation” property. So we won’t see a weapons that were assigned to a particular fort. Only those assigned directly to a battery. That’s also why we don’t see the seacoast weapons listed here.

The right side leaf of the first page covers Class II (Artillery Carriages) and begins Class III (Artillery Implements and Equipment):

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Note the field carriages are categorized by size, and listed as “with limber, complete.” Caissons, forges and wagons round out the field carriage sub-category. Following that, to the right, are siege carriages and mortar beds. The Class III listings start with breech sights, then move to baskets and buckets. Alphabetized for easy reference.

The left leaf of page two continues the Class III listings, with fuse implements, gunners’ implements, harnesses, lanterns, lanyards, muzzle sights, and pendulum hausses:

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The right side of page two has more of these Class III items. Pointing boards, portfire cases and shears, powder funnels and measures, priming wires, prolonges, quions (for mortars and siege guns), rammers and staves, sponge covers, sponges and rammers, sponges and staves,…

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Page 3 has the last of the Class III items – more sponges and staves, tangent sights, tarps, and a few other items listed alphabetically:

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But immediately to the right of that we have Class IV (projectiles, unprepared) and Class V (prepared projectiles):

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While we likely won’t discuss all those Class III implements in any detail, we shall list the projectiles, unprepared and prepared, when looking at the battery-level summaries. This portion of the header was all for smoothbore rounds ranging from the 6-pdr through to the 32-pdr field howitzer, and including the siege guns. The prepared rounds were all strapped and fixed.

Continuing to the right side of page 3, the smoothbore prepared projectiles included more spherical case, canister, and stands of grape (though only for the siege guns, mind you!):

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But the remainder of these columns, from about mid-way across, are for rifled projectiles – Dyers (in 3-inch caliber) and Hotchkiss. For the latter, we see shot and time fuse shell in calibers from 2.6-inch (Wiard) to 4.5-inch (for the big siege guns). Note separate columns for 2.9-inch and 3-inch Parrotts.

Class V (projectiles) continues to the next page:

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The Hotchkiss columns continue with percussion fuse shells, case shot (or bullet shell), and canister. Then to the right are James patent projectiles – shot, shell, and canister. I believe the clerks chose to combine the Tatham’s canister into the James columns here. To my chagrin, we have a lone column held over on this side of the page for 10-pdr, 2.9-inch Parrott shot. Which means I’ll have to either join a header here… or have some extra text when describing entries. As the rest of the Parrott rounds are separated by the center of the page:

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The Parrot types range through shot, shell, case, and canister in calibers including 10-pdrs (both 2.9-inch and 3-inch separately), 20-pdr, and 30-pdr Parrotts; then also including 24-pdr rifled siege guns.

To the right of the Parrotts are Schenkl columns. Shot and shell listed with calibers for 10-pdr Parrott, 3-inch rifles, 3.67-inch Wiard (or 6-pdr rifled), 3.80-inch James, 4.5-inch siege rifles, 12-pdr rifled siege guns, and even the 18-pdr rifled siege guns.

Page 5 begins with the Schenkl case shot listings:

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But after those seven columns is a long list of “miscellaneous patents.” Oh goodie! But instead of grouping by inventor or source, these are arranged by type – shot, shell, case, and canister. Those carried by column are Absterdam, Boekel, McIntyre, and Stafford & Ward. And there are columns for “enemy’s patent” indicating possession (if not proof of actual use) of Confederate ordnance.

Lastly, over on the far right of this page, are two columns for “War rockets, Hales’s” in both 2-inch and 3-inch sizes.

The other side of page five turns to Class VI – Small Arms:

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No more of the generic “carbine” or “musket” columns. Instead, the clerks had to tally Ballard’s, Burnside’s, Maynard’s, Sharps’, and Spencer’s carbines. Likewise, Enfield, Sharps, Spencer, and Springfield muskets. Pistols are carried by caliber and manufacturer… well at least Colt and Remington. The list of all possible pistol manufacturers deserves its own blog.

To the right of the edged weapons is Class VII – Accouterments, Appendages, etc. This page has artillery and cavalry accouterments. Page six will continue with infantry accouterments that happened to be used by the artillerymen:

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The rest of the left side of page six handles appendages, for both rifles and pistols, and then equipment for the horses.

On the right side of page six is something we will be interested in tracking – Class VIII – Ammunition for small arms and powder for both small arms and artillery:

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These columns cover cartridge bags for various caliber cannon and the cartridges for small arms, which continue onto page seven:

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Continuing with Class VIII are listings for fuses, bagged powder, and miscellaneous items. The latter includes fireballs for the mortars, matches, friction primers, percussion caps, portfires, and torches.

Class IX on the right of that header is for artillery machines, meaning block, chocks, and gun gins.

The remainder of these headers cover more and more of the minutia that were needed by a battery (field or siege, as the case may be) in service. I won’t bore you with more of those listings. But I have posted the headers for reference:

  • Page 7, right half: Class X – parts of any articles related to carriages and artillery harnesses.
  • Page 8, left half: Class X continued, parts of artillery harnesses, draught harnesses, ladle heads, rammer heads, and sponge heads.
  • Page 8, right half: More Class X, sponge heads and sponges. Then the start of the section on general materials including cloth, rope, and thread.
  • Page 9, left half: General materials – ironmongery and leather. Heating materials (including candles). Laboratory supplies. Paints and oils.
  • Page 9, right half: Veterinary instruments and horse medicines.
  • Page 10, right half: Tools and utensils, “A” through “H”.
  • Page 10, left half: Tools and utensils, “K” through “W”.

As you can see, the change to the summary form requires some retooling of my templates to show the entries. But the basic system is still in play – snips for each grouping within the state entries, covering the guns, projectiles, and small arms. But I believe we can add in the cartridges and powder without much additional effort.

Look for the start of the December 1863 summaries next week. And keep in mind the timing here – right on the anniversary of when many of these returns were submitted to Washington.

Mahan on Artillery Tactics, Part 2: The “Place” of Artillery

Let us continue focused on this discussion of Dennis H. Mahan’s thoughts of artillery tactics, in the pre-Civil War context. In the previous post, we noted some of the context to the label of “tactics” in the Civil War-era manuals. But the key point was what Mahan called the duties of artillery – “… to support and cover the other arms; keep the enemy from approaching too near; hold him in check when he advances; and prevent him from debouching at particular points. ”

I offer a 21st Century sound-byte worthy summary of this as – to deny the enemy commander a course of action. And correspondingly, that would grant the friendly commander a different set of options. That’s my interpretation. So feel free to disagree, and drop a comment. To me, Mahan’s duties boil down to the use of artillery in a way that prevents the enemy from using particular pieces of terrain (in defense), opting to attack by way of a particular approach (in offense), or at least keeping the enemy at greater than musket range. Perhaps another way of putting it – forcing the enemy commander to adopt something other than the simple, apparent plan of action. (And with a complex plan adopted… the enemy commander leaves himself open to all sorts of criticism from later day historians who shall question his ability!)

Mahan continues on, later in his opening chapter, to describe the place of artillery on the battlefield, in his estimation. Initially he described the metaphorical place on the battlefield:

The artillery, which had for a long period, and even still, preserves the character of eminent respectability, has of late years begun to infuse a dash of the dare-devil spirit of the cavalier into its ranks. If it has not yet taken to charging literally, it has, on some recent occasions in our service, shown a well-considered recklessness of obstacles and dangers, fully borne out by justly deserved success.

Some will read this passage and begin shouting about the artillery charge and such. Not even close! Rather what Mahan is suggesting is that artillerymen of his time (the 1840s) were inclined to more aggressive placement on the battlefield, not simply running up within musket range to trade blows with the infantry. So what was that aggressive placement?

Well to start with, Mahan points out that artillery conformed to classifications – heavy and light (with divisions for foot and horse artillery) – each of which had places tailored to their strengths and weaknesses. Heavy artillery, which he categorized as 12-pdr caliber and above, was reserved for batteries of position and “is seldom shifted during the action” Light artillery, being 6-pdr gun and 24-pdr howitzers (!), included foot artillery and horse artillery. Foot artillery being those batteries with the standard allocation of horses, and which the crews marched alongside (usually). Horse artillery, of course, received sufficient animals to allow the crews to ride, and were thus more quickly moved on the field. Both were to “follow the movements of the other arms.”

However, as we well know, those classifications were soon blurred by technological advances – notably “light” 12-pdr guns and rifled artillery. And such brings to mind the “chicken or the egg” debate as to the technological advances driving tactical innovations, or vice-versa. I think Mahan argued “both”:

Improvements both in the materiel and the tactics of artillery have been very marked within late years. Formerly, considered only in the light of an auxiliary on the battle-field, artillery now aspires, and with indisputable claims, to the rank of a principal arm. Its decisive effects, at the late battles on the Rio-Grande, are supported by testimony too emphatic to be overlooked.

Worth noting, in this passage, Mahan left a footnote, not to Captain Samuel Ringgold as one might guess, but rather to Joel R. Poinsett. He gave the former, and late, Secretary of War credit for reforming the US Army and ensuring the the force was ready for the test of combat… and we have discussed his artillery reforms on occasion.

Mahan continued on, lauding the artillerists of his day:

From the studies required of him, the artillerist is well trained to maintained the characteristics of his arm; courage of the highest order, in which the physical is always under the control of the moral element, producing, as necessary result, unbounded devotion to the task assigned; a presence of mind that nothing can disturb; and that coolness which no danger, however appalling, can impair.

Ladies and gentlemen! I give you Marvel’s new super hero! Artilleryman! If nothing else, a description that we should all aspire to.

Turning back to serious matters, we have that question about “place” … not in the metaphorical sense… but as in WHERE to put the cannons. And Mahan got around to that:

The tactical applications of artillery on the field depend on the caliber. To the heavy are assigned the duties of occupying positions for strengthening the weak points of the field of battle; for securing the retreat of the army; for defending all objects whose possession might be of importance to the enemy, as villages, defiles, &c.; and for overturning all passive obstacles that cover the enemy, or arrest the progress of the other arms.

Although the distinction of “heavy” artillery would drop just over a decade after Mahan wrote this passage, the guidance remained valid. More to the point, we see examples of how the artillery might be placed to, as I put it, take away options from the enemy. In particular turning weak points into strong ones, retaining possession of key terrain, and countering passive obstacles.

As for the light artillery:

The light pieces, served by foot-artillery, follow the movements of the infantry; covering the flanks of its position, preparing the way for its onset, and arresting that of the enemy. It is of this that the principal part of the artillery in reserve is composed.

Employed directly to support the infantry, artillery prevented the enemy from arresting (not stopping… words have meaning) the friendly advance. Likewise on defense, the artillery arrested the enemy advance. In both cases, that translates to taking away options open to the enemy commander. Perhaps others will expand that role to MAKING options for the friendly commander… which would also be a good way to put it.

The horse-artillery is held in hand for decisive moments. When launched forth, its arrival and execution should be unexpected and instantaneous. Ready to repair all disasters and partial reverses, it, at one moment, temporarily replaces a battery of foot, and at the next is on another point of the field, to force back an enemy’s column. In preparing the attacks of cavalry, this arm is often indispensable and always invaluable; brought with rapidity in front of a line, or opposite to squares of infantry, within the range of canister, its well-directed fire, in a few discharges, opens a gap, or so shakes the entire mass, that the cavalier finds but a feeble obstacle, where, without this aid, he would in vain have exhausted all his powers.

Three “places” for horse artillery offered as examples: rushed to replace a pressed battery of foot; dispatched to break an enemy assault; or used to prepare the situation for a cavalry charge. In that latter role, the artillery moved forward within canister range… that’s C-A-N-I-S-T-E-R… not grape-shot. And that is considered between 200 and 400 yards. Musket range, before the wide adoption of rifles and mine-balls, was still considered at 100 yards. Arguably, even after technology allowed for more range, the infantry tactics still governed engagements with the musket at 100 yards.

Note that not once does Mahan suggest the artillery should, themselves, charge forward. None of these alleged artillery charges. It simply was not part of the doctrine which he described here. Artillery was not supposed to BE the attacker. Artillery was supposed to make the way easier for the attacker.

Another take-away from this passage is the alignment of the horse artillery. As Henry Hunt would argue during the war, the horse artillery was not simply assigned to support the cavalry. Rather the horse artillery should be a general reserve, used where the situation warrants. If that be supporting the cavalry in its mission, then so be it. But the horse artillery also had a role outside of that. And often that was far more important than simply aiding the defense of distant picket posts.

If nothing else, these passages, across but three pages in the manual, refute many preconceptions about how artillery was to be employed. The guns were not to be wasted simply standing in an augmentation of the infantry line, belching canister. Such would simply be employing the guns with their casualty-creation ability in mind. Instead the artillery was there to influence the battlefield situation, with focus on the cannon’s ability to exert control over a greater distance than capable with the other arms. In such way, we see the value of the artillery – its value as a combat force multiplier – in exponential terms.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, An Elementary Treatise on Advanced-guard, Out-post, and Detachment Service of Troops, and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in Presence of an Enemy, New York: John Wiley, 1861, pages 45-7.)

Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable 2019 Schedule

Here’s the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable schedule of speakers for the 2019 season, just posted:

Speakers and Topics Scheduled for 2019

  • March 12, 2019—Scott Mingus, Jr. : General JEB Stuart in York County during the Gettysburg Campaign
  • April 9, 2019—Eric Wittenberg : The Battle of Aiken and cavalry operations during the South Carolina campaign
  • May 14, 2019—Chris Army : Mapping Gettysburg – How we know what we know!
  • June 11, 2019—Bob O’Neil : Cavalry Logistics during the Gettysburg Campaign
  • July 9, 2019—Jon F. Willen : The Practice of Medicine during the Civil War
  • August 13, 2019—Eric Mink : The Battle of Alrich Farm (May 15, 1864)
  • September 10, 2019—Michael Schaffer – Experiences of Corporal T. W. Colley, 1st Virginia Cavalry
  • October 8, 2019—Richard Quest : “I Held Lincoln”, A Union Sailor’s Journey Home
  • November 12, 2019—James Rosenbrock : Artillery at Antietam
  • December 10, 2019—TBD : Members Meeting

Note: Meetings are not held in January and February.

Hot off the presses with a “hot” list of speakers!

At the Loudoun Roundtable, we extend a standing open invitation to any and all students and enthusiasts of the Civil War. Feel free to stop in and check us out. If you like us, then join up! Our dues are but $25 a year… so extended over a year less than the proverbial daily cup of coffee.

Unless otherwise noted, we hold meetings at Balch Library,
208 West Market Street, Leesburg, Virginia, on the second Tuesday of each month (except for January and February). We traditionally hold one summer tour, and I’ll post those details when we have them. Also look for additional event announcements posted on the Roundtable Facebook Page.

Artillery on the Battlefield: Tactics according to Mahan

Looking back at last year, one highlight of, as the disciples of social media say, the “content offering” from this blog was the Artillery tour of First Manassas, held jointly with Harry Smeltzer of Bull Runnings fame. The objective was to analyze the artillery employment at First Manassas with an eye to what we call, in the modern terminology, the tactical doctrine. Not to say things like “I could have done it better” or even “this is where he/they screwed up.” But rather specifically to ask if the employment was “by doctrine” – as in what a commander was expected to do – or was there some innovation going on, either intentional or unintentional. The preface to that “on the field” discussion was a series of quotes from pre-war writings, mostly in manuals that the officers of the time would be exposed, about the use of artillery on the battlefield.

First off, when discussing Civil War tactics, we have to pause and recognize things called “tactics” then were not necessarily what we call tactics today. As such our discussion has to incorporate some translation. For instance, a book titled “Field Artillery Tactics” from 1861 tends to be more so a manual detailing drill of artillery (from the artilleryman up to the battery level). That sort of thing is important, as the complex choreography involved with moving and servicing a gun must be part of the context. But when addressing the question posed above, in relation to the placement and employment of the artillery, we are left wanting descriptions about how a commander should use the artillerymen and their wonderful cannon.

For modern times… pretty much anything since the dawn of the 20th century, I could point you to a series of Army manuals that take us through the entire spectrum – technical manuals, drill manuals, and tactics manuals, all labeled as such. More to the point, I could reference manuals for tactics at the squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment/brigade, and division level… or for artillery, by gun, section, battery, and battalion. But for the Civil War, we lack such granular detail. I don’t take that so much as a knock on the discipline of military science as practiced at that time, but more so a shortcoming due to a lot of presumptions. The foremost of those presumptions was that a young officer would receive all the tactical training needed at his first duty station. More so, an officer would be “indoctrinated” to the nuances of handling a cannon, a section, or a battery under fire; and further along become aware of the manner in which those guns should be employed. That’s a peacetime luxury, of course. Rapidly expanding armies and the pace of the war outstripped such an indoctrination system.

Still, there should be, and was, a starting point for those discussions. And I submit if we are going to point to one manual that was the American starting point, that was Dennis Hart Mahan’s An Elementary Treatise on Advanced-Guard, Out-Post and Detached Service of Troops, and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in Presence of an Enemy, with a Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Tactics, &c., &c., Intended as a supplement to the System of Tactics Adopted for the Military Service of the United States, and Especially for the Use of the Officers of Militia and Volunteers. (Yes, I like to introduce that title when playing charades.) Or as many simply refer to – Mahan’s Outpost.

Right off the bat, we see from the full title that Mahan intended his manual to further the discussion based on the established system of drill, called tactics. And considering the original publication date, in 1847, this “system” was that defined by General Winfield Scott. Those were, arguably, tested by fire and deemed sound. But those focused, as alluded to above, on how to move infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Not much in that system as to the “why” one would want to select a particular movement over another… in other words, what we today perceive as tactics. The problem was that officers in the lower echelons were often never exposed to the theories and practices beyond drill. And in the American experience, where grand armies had rarely taken to the field, it was those same junior officers often entrusted with vital operations.

Mahan hit upon that gap in the preface to his treatise:

The suggestion of this little compilation originated in a professional intercourse, some months back, with a few intelligent officers of the Volunteer Corps of the city of New York.

The want of a work of this kind has long been felt among our officers of Militia generally, as the English military literature is quite barren in systematic works on most branches of the military art, especially so on the one known among the military writers of the Continent as La Petite Guerre, or the manner of conducting the operations of small independent bodies of troops….

Wouldn’t you have wanted to be a fly on the wall during that discussion in New York?

Mahan opened his manual with a chapter covering the historical evolution of military science. Then started chapter two with the definition of “tactics”:

Tactics may be defined to be the art of drawing up, and moving troops systematically. It admits of a classification into two divisions. 1. Minor or elementary tactics; under which head may be placed all that refers to the drill, and other preparatory instruction of troops, to give them expertness in the use of their weapons, and facility of movement. 2. Grand tactics; or the art of combining, disposing, and handling troops on the field of battle.

This explains, somewhat, that translation I mentioned above. What we’d call “drill” today, Mahan considered minor or elementary tactics. And it is those “grand tactics” which we want to consider here. Most specifically, how did the artillery factor into those grand tactics. What, according to Mahan, was the artillery supposed to do on the battlefield? Well we turn to page 39:

The artillery is placed third in rank among the arms. Its duties are to support and cover the other arms; keep the enemy from approaching too near; hold him in check when he advances; and prevent him from debouching at particular points.

There, in one lengthy sentence, is the role of artillery on the Mahanian battlefield. Mahan’s vision of this is not just some passage in a book. This was part of the curriculum taught to his students, and his student’s students. Indeed, the majority of Civil War generals had benefit of Mahan’s teaching, either directly or indirectly. So this is an important passage when considering how artillery was used or mis-used on a Civil War battlefield.

Looking at this deeper, consider the nuances here. In the Mahanian context, the infantry and cavalry have the first and second rank, respectively. Their roles are tied to objectives, be that a piece of territory or imposition of a situation. But we mostly think of them as seizing and holding terrain. We might add to that the cavalry’s capacity for gathering information (actively or passively, as in scouting or picketing, respectively). But in the grand sense, the infantry could do the same, but as in all things just slower than the cavalry.

But artillery’s role was not tied to those higher order objectives. Rather to support the infantry and cavalry in attaining those objectives. But how is that done? By effecting enemy actions and activities – keep that enemy at a distance; stop or at least weaken an enemy attack; and deny the enemy use of good terrain. I like to put it this way – and this is my translation of Mahan for our modern ears: The role of artillery is to deny the enemy commander a course of action.

Deny a course of action? Yes. Roll that around for a bit. Try this exercise for any artillery position you’ve considered on a Civil War battlefield – From that point, what influence did they have on the battle? In every case, that will devolve down to the artillery either preventing or not preventing an enemy from executing a course of action. Maybe that course of action was to move up a particular route to attack. Maybe that course of action was to form a defensive line. Or maybe the artillery simply prevented, just by being there, the enemy from selecting a road other path for use in battlefield movement. But either way, the success of the artillery at that position was measured in the impact it had on the enemy commanders’ actions, specifically the courses of action available. Or if you prefer, the enemy commander’s options.

I would submit that if that be a positive influence (for the “home” side of that artillery) then the guns were well placed, and Mahan would have been happy. Were that be a negative influence on the battle, particularly where the guns became the “objective” instead of being the support for the other arms, then Mahan would have contended his lessons went unheeded.