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.)

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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.

Don’t mix your Hotchkiss and Schenkl shells!

I always like to hear General Henry J. Hunt’s opinion about any artillery subject.  That’s because Hunt was more often than not offering blunt advice based on field experience.  On November 3, 1863, Hunt offered, by way of his Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain John N. Craig, advice and directions concerning ammunition handling and selection to Lieutenant-Colonel J. Albert Monroe, Second Corps Chief of Artillery:

Colonel: In reply to your note of this date, I am instructed by the chief of artillery to state:

1. There is no prescribed mode of packing the ammunition of 3-inch guns, as chests of different batteries are often issued marked, and not uniformly. When marked the ammunition should be packed accordingly. There is no objection to your prescribing the mode of packing, but when a mode has been adopted, and systematically followed, it would not be good policy during field operations to change it, unless there is a manifest fault in the packing, which produces injury.

2. For rifled guns, 25 shells, 20 shrapnel to 5 canister is a proper proportion, the shell to be increased to 30 at the expense of the shrapnel, if the commander of the battery desires it, There is too much shrapnel used. Fifty rounds is the load to each chest.

Here again, if I may, another knock on canister… at least with the Ordnance Rifles. The proportion of canister to shells and shrapnel (case) demonstrates the preferences of those directing the guns.

3. As both the Hotchkiss and Schenkl ammunition are provided, commanders of batteries can use either system, but in no case must two projectiles of the same kind be used in a battery. That is, no battery must have both Hotchkiss and Schenkl shell or both Hutchkiss and Schenkl shrapnel. They may have Hotchkiss shell and Schenkl shrapnel, or vice versa, but he recommends strongly that, unless they have a marked preference for special projectiles, all should be of one system, either Hotchkiss or Schenkl. He believes Schenkl to be best and safest in every respect.

4. The object of the latitude given to battery commanders is to make them responsible for the efficiency of their batteries. Ammunition to which men and officers are most accustomed is the best to supply them. There is an evil, however, in using two kinds of the same description in the same battery or in the same army corps, or even in the same army, but with two systems which have such strong supporters as the Schenkl and Hotchkiss, it can hardly be avoided without a worse evil.

We tend to overlook that Civil War artillerists not only selected different types of projectiles, but from projectiles with different designs and functional characteristics.  The projectiles designed by Andrew Hotchkiss and John Schenkl offered advantages and disadvantages.  Not mentioned were the projectiles from Robert P. Parrott for his guns, or those by Charles James which had fallen into disfavor.  Standardized issue offered consistency.  Hunt’s preference for the Schenkl is duly noted here.

5. There has been no authority of a general character given to depart from the book of tactics in the packing of light 12-pounder ammunition. Permission will, however, be given to increase the number of canister at the expense of shrapnel. The full number of solid shot, 12, and of shell, 4, must be carried. The shrapnel may be reduced to 8, and added either to the canister or shell or both. The use of solid shot is too much neglected. It is the most efficient of our projectiles. He would not object if the allowance were increased to 16 rounds. It was intended that a part of the spherical case should be used as solid shot. The proportion laid down in the tactics is, he believes, the best. If any change should be made it should be to increase the number of solid shot. On no account will a less number be allowed than that prescribed, and the chief of artillery desires that you would impress on battery commanders the importance and superior value of solid-shot fire in almost all cases.

The fifth paragraph, much like Hunt’s earlier comments about canister, seems to challenge “conventional wisdom” often offered up by those interpreting artillery use in the Civil War.  Increased allowance of solid shot?  Against a reduction of case shot, and certainly not in deference to canister?  Clearly Hunt did not feel his 12-pdr Napoleon guns should just set there firing canister at close range targets. All too often, those 12-pdrs needed solid shot during artillery duals.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 49, pages 413-4.)

Tactical Exercise: Analysis of yesterday’s “game”

First off, yesterday’s exercise went over better than I expected.  Thanks to everyone who commented and voted.  I’ll have to do more of such exercises.

Now what about the placement of those guns?

ArtyPositions1
Our Map

Of the responses, about a third preferred to put cannons on the flanks (positions 4 and 7).  Of the reset, the second most favored was alined, but within, the main infantry line (positions 5 and 6).  But massed to the front (position 2) and “Other” received their share of votes.

That “other” was perhaps a flaw in the exercise.  I didn’t build any way to provide a description of what “other” was supposed to be.  From the comments on the post, many folks were looking to mix and match approaches and positions. Part of that is due to the incomplete description I provided.  Not enough information on the enemy, the nature of the friendly force, or even the overall situation.  Just a stack of playing pieces on the chess board.

That leads to the real solution to the exercise – no “right” answer exists.  Rather there are preferences, alternatives and options.  So what would what were a good battery commander’s preferences 150 years ago?  Well billiard table flat chessboards aside, I would offer John Gibbon’s answer:

Batteries are usually placed at least 60 yards in front of the intervals between regiments and brigades, and upon their flanks, so as not to offer two marks for the fire of the enemy, or subject the troops placed in rear to a fire directed against the artillery….

I would translate Gibbon’s preferences to be positions 1, 3, 4 or 7.  But to be sure, Gibbon was not merely positioning guns where the supporting infantry were safe from enemy counter-battery fire.  The other part his selection was to “clear” the guns to allow the best possible field of fire.  He recognized that long before the infantry begins to engage, the artillery must bring fire upon the advancing enemy.  “The greatest cannonading takes place at from 800 to 900 yards.”  So placing the guns out in front of, or to the side of, the infantry line would clear the batteries for that long range fire.  It is line of sight the battery commander needs.  And in this unnaturally flat terrain offered in the scenario, we didn’t have to account for terrain.

Personally, I’m not much into armchair generalship. I wasn’t there 150 years ago, so how can I contend to have a better vantage over those who were.  However, what I get out of contemplating gun placement, in hypothetical exercises like this, is a template to lay across time and space.  It becomes a tool to help interpret the actions on the battlefield.  What was done and why was it done?  What were the factors driving decisions?  What turned those decisions into success … or failure?

Oh, but for a artillery version of Gray’s Cavalry Tactics!

Tactical Exercise: Where would you put your guns?

Let’s talk tactics today.

Say you are a battery commander. You have six guns. For simplicity, six 12-pdr Napoleons.

Your assignment is to support a brigade of infantry. The brigade has four regiments. The brigade commander arranges these regiments with three on line and one in reserve.

The ground is the standard billiard table flat terrain as seen in all military tactics manuals.

Now things being what they are in the army, you don’t get to pick your position. But rather as the battery commander, you can “suggest” to the infantry commander where to place the guns. So what is your preference?

ArtyPositions1
The Map

The “bad guys” are up at the top of the map. The blue rectangles are the positions of the infantry regiments. The red octagons are possible positions for the guns.

Do you….

  • Split the guns into sections to the front at positions 1 and 3?
  • Mass the battery at position 2?
  • Split sections and align with the infantry at positions 5 and 6?
  • Post sections to the flanks at positions 4 and 7?
  • Mass all the guns at position 8?
  • Hold a section in reserve at position 9?
  • Or is there another plan?

Feel free to drop a comment… or here’s a poll:

What factors do you consider when selecting a position? Is your decision based on the doctrine of the time? Or is it based on “experience” handed down from those who worked the guns 150 years ago?

Does your selection change if you are the brigade commander?

Call it a Monday morning open thread. But I’ve got an agenda here, segueing nicely into some discussions about tactics.

150 Years Ago: They were using sling carts

When we think of moving artillery, discussion often turns to limbers and horses.  And that is fine if our conversation focuses on field artillery.  Bigger guns pose a problem, as they approach the upper limits of what a reasonable team of horses might pull. Yet sooner or later operational demands required movement of those bigger siege, garrison, and seacoast guns.  So how were they moved?

Answer:  on devices like these:

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1336
Sling Carts in one of Fort Pulaski’s Casemates

These are sling carts.  Two different types in fact.

The sling cart’s origins date back to the earliest days of artillery.  Examples of the heavy gun transporters appear in John Muller’s Treatise on Artillery, published in colonial times.

Sling Cart from Muller’s Treatise

The concept was simply raise the cannon below a chassis with over-sized wheels.  In the case of Muller’s sling cart, a rope over the axle fixed the gun between and below the wheels.   In 1809, Louis de Tousard‘s American Artillerist’s Companion described the sling cart:

A sling cart, properly speaking, is nothing but a limber, with wheels 7 feet 5.49 inches high, which has a tongue 13 or 16 feet long.  It may be considered as a lever of the first kind; so much more advantageous, as the hand of the power applied is longer, and the end which raises the weight shorter.  Its fulcrum, which is formed by the united points of the wheels tangent on the earth, may be conceived to be at the lower point of a prop placed under the middle or center of gravity of the axletree; the end which is to raise the weight above the bolster being very near, and the end of the pole, to which the power is applied, very far.  The height of its wheels will procure the greatest facility for drawing the weight, provided the pole be made of such length as to make with the supposed prop, or radius of the wheels, an angle nearly ninety degrees.

In other words, the pole of the sling cart function to aid lifting the gun.

By 1861, the Instruction for Heavy Artillery outlined the use of two different types of sling carts – a large (or siege) sling cart and a hand sling cart.  The heavier version, when joined to a siege limber, was horse-drawn.  The hand sling cart, as the name would imply, was designed for manhandling.  In a pinch, artillery crews might impress a standard siege limber a basic sling cart.   The hand cart was smaller than the cart described by Tousard fifty years earlier, while the large version exceeded:

Line diagrams provided indicate the large sling cart used a capstan to hoist the gun and chains to hold the weapon in place.  The frame, axle, and wheels were wood.  The manual does not state the payload of the large sling cart, but provides instructions for moving 10-inch columbiads (15,000 pounds) and seacoast mortars (11,000 pounds for pre-war models).

The hand cart appears almost bare in comparison but featured wrought iron wheels, axle, and fittings.  It’s payload was only 4,000 pounds, but could handle 32-pdr guns (7,000 pounds) if needed over short distances.

Both types of carts remained in the inventory with the muzzle-loading guns up to the 20th century.  In the 1884 Manual of Heavy Artillery, John C. Tidball listed both types, retaining the dimensions, but rated the large cart at 20,000 pounds.  He even provided a nice illustration of a Rodman gun between the wheels.

Tidball’s sling cart shows a lifting jack in two of the views.

Several photos capture the use of sling carts around Richmond at the end of the war.   But these were “super” sling carts, with 10 foot tall wheels, captured from the Confederates, and constructed to handle the largest Tredegar guns.  The views show the captured carts hauling former Confederate guns to collection points.

Confederate Two Axle Sling Cart hauling a Brooke Rifle

But well before those 1865 days, the sling carts figured prominently in several siege campaigns.  An illustration from Harper’s Weekly brings us back to Fort Pulaski.

The illustration shows a sling cart, attached to a siege limber, being pulled by what appears to be a regiment of men!   Yes, 150 years ago Federal troops manhandled 36 heavy artillery pieces around Tybee Island in preparation to reduce Fort Pulaski.

The operation highlighted both the usefulness and disadvantages of sling carts.  Although able to aid the artillerymen when getting the heavy guns into position, the carts were not designed for long distance hauling.  And of course that was not the intent.  Other means of transportation would get the heavy guns close to the intended place of employment.  Foreshadowing later transportation methods, Tidball’s 1884 manual even included a “railway truck.”

Today at Fort Pulaski, you can see examples of both types of regulation sling carts.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1345
Hand Sling Cart at Fort Pulaski

Rather simple haulers, these implements provided some limited maneuverability to the big guns.  One-hundred and fifty years ago, men in blue and gray were using these at places like Tybee Island, Yorktown, and New Madrid.

Rifle Muskets vs. Artillery: A Pre-Civil War Assessment

From John Gibbon’s Artillerist’s Manual:

Since the recent improvements in projectiles and long-range rifles, it has been customary to underrate the importance of the artillery arm on a field of battle, and the assertion is frequently heard, that the use of the rifle will supersede entirely the use of field-pieces in war, since it has a greater range and more accuracy than the field-pieces now in use.  This, I am convinced, is a mistaken view.  It is true that long-range rifles are destined, in the hands of skilful marksmen, to play a very important part in battle, by picking off the cannoneers of the artillery from points beyond the range of this last, provided they can once get their sights properly arranged for that distance; but they have first to get their range.  To do this, as very few men are at all accurate in estimating distances, trials have to be made; and the bullet makes so little dust in striking , and what it does make is scarcely visible at 1,000 yards, that it affords the marksmen but little opportunity to correct his aim.  In the mean time the gunner is getting his range, which he is enabled to coorect from the striking of the ball, which can be seen as far as it goes, and when he once gets it, and that not accurately and precisely, as the rifleman must, but approximately, he is enabled to let loose among his opponents a charge from thirty to eighty musket-bullets at one time, or send a solid shot through them with sufficent force to disable, perhaps kill, half a dozen, and disorganize as many more by its moral effect.

When the rifleman gets his sight adjusted to the proper range, it is an easy matter for the artilleryman to increase or decrease his distance, rendering new adjustments of the sight necessary, and all this in the heat and confusion of a combat.

These facts, to say nothing of the great physical, as well as moral effect of a rapid and well-directed fire of half a dozen guns upon a body of infantry, seem to demonstrate that the importance of artillery upon the field of battle is increased rather than diminished, and should urge to improvement in its range and efficiency rather than to its abandonment and underrating.  (Pages 144-145)

Gibbon assembled the manual prior to the outbreak of the Civil War for use instructing of cadets at West Point.   And Gibbon was the man to produce just such a manual, as he was an artillery instructor at the academy.  He compiled the work over a period of time, and it is not clear when exactly he wrote the section above.  But the first edition of the book was printed in 1860.

I’ve cited the passage from the second edition, dated 1863.  Gibbon noted, in the preface to that edition, making changes and modifications based on wartime service.  But the passage cited above did not change between the 1860 printing and the 1863 edition.  Not to say Gibbon felt no need to change the passage, but simply to point out that he had the opportunity to make changes and didn’t.

Clearly Gibbon would agree with some of the recent interpretations of the tactical Civil War battlefield.  He was already downplaying the impact of the rifle musket on the battlefield before there was a battlefield!

Significantly, Gibbon mentions nothing of the “artillery charges” as a counter to the infantry marksmen.  Our traditional interpretation holds that artillerists of Gibbon’s generation wanted to use artillery “just like Napoleon” but found the rifle musket prevented such.  Yet, in 1859, Gibbon seems to have figured that out already – before the shooting started – and countered with the use of fused projectiles.

Just something to chew on.