Logistics – A Horse Soldier Perspective

First off, thanks to all who responded to the series of posts last week using the setting of Gettysburg to discuss some of the staff-related activities on the battlefield. Much of that readers have seen or heard before. I just felt compelled to collect those observations into one package. If nothing else, to break the monotony of ordnance summaries. I enjoyed writing those. And from the feedback, at least some of you enjoyed reading.

By far the most feedback came on the pair of posts centered on logistics. My focus was narrowly on the question of providing ammunition to the cannon. For a complete treatment, I would need additional posts considering other facets and other requirements to keep the batteries in the field and operating. Not the least of which would be a discussion of the horses used in the battery (not just the horses hauling ammunition resupply, as the second post covered). Without horses, the field artillery would be degraded to simply “artillery of position”… of little value in an open battle.

And at the same time, we should not limit the discussion to just artillery. The infantry and cavalry likewise had their own set of logistical considerations. Some considerations, of course, were the same as the artillery. But in each of those cases, the equations had to stem from the mission of the respective branch. Thus, while we can keep those “three questions” I mention, the details of the answers change considerably.

My good friend Bob O’Neill tackled this discussion from the perspective of the cavalry in a set of posts earlier this year, which I highly recommend. The posts discuss cavalry operations in the Second Manassas Campaign. But the observations might apply to any campaign of the Civil War. In part 1, he comes to a very valid observation about how we should assess the value of cavalry:

Cavalry critics, or skeptics, tend to measure the cavalry’s contribution to a battle or campaign by casualties sustained. By doing so, they ignore two of the tasks assigned to the mounted arm, intelligence gathering and the security of the army. Even in the age of airpower, satellites and drones, soldiers conduct patrols to seize prisoners, gather intelligence and develop enemy positions by patrolling the area between the armies, most especially the roads and other avenues of approach.

So where I say the “combat value” of artillery may be measured in the time a battery can maintain fires, Bob offers a different measure for the cavalry – The time that a cavalry force can maintain a presence doing those assigned security and intelligence tasks. And I would submit that is indeed a good foundation to base any discussion of cavalry unit effectiveness. The troopers can each sport fancy new carbines, a brace of pistols, and a shiny saber. But if the trooper has no horse on which to be mobile, then gathering intelligence and preventing the enemy from doing the same becomes very difficult.

Thus when we discuss cavalry and logistics, perhaps our discussion shifts to the number of hours, or days, that a company can remain mobile to perform its mission. That, I submit, is the answer to one of those logistical questions – What is the value for the gaining unit with the issue of that resource (supply)?

In part 2, Bob walks us through the factors which converged to create a logistical disaster for the Federals. It is lengthy, but well worth your time. Masterful analysis! I don’t want to post a spoiler here in regard to Bob’s conclusions. But I do want to highlight some parts of the logistical equation. First is the requirement of feed for the horses:

Determining the exact number of serviceable horses and mules in Pope’s army on a given day is impossible, but on August 17 and 27, Montgomery Meigs estimated the number at 25,000 animals. On August 8 he had counted another 25,000 horses and mules with the Army of the Potomac. The army prescribed 26 pounds of feed (14 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of grain) per day per horse and 23 pounds per mule. Using an average of 24.5 pounds per day per animal, Meigs needed to provide 306 tons of food per day to each of the two armies just for the animals. 

Bob went on to add to that that weight of the soldier’s rations, concluding that Pope’s Army needed “375 tons of food per day for the men and animals, in addition to ammunition, clothing and all of the other supply items an army needed.” For emphasis – 375 tons of food per day!

But we can’t just leave that sitting at the depot. Bob then reasoned out the next logistical question – What resources are expended in order to get the needed resource (supply) across the gap from source to issue? And he does so in terms of train cars needed:

Using an average capacity of 14.5 tons per car, the army needed 26 rail cars or a minimum of two trains per day, just to feed the men and animals of Pope’s army.

If I may impose upon Bob’s fine work, let me apply the reasoning given for the Gettysburg example and number of ammunition chests for artillery. You can see here, without getting too deep into the complexities, that one could step into Montgomery Meigs’ shoes for a bit and calculate just how many days of cavalry operations can be sustained by one railcar. Or perhaps how many pounds of coal are needed to keep the whole army in the field. Fascinating stuff!

Now what we need is one of those infantry types to spell out the same for their branch!

Upcoming event: Big Gun Expedition to Bull Run

I have a couple of events, or should I say appearances, to announce. The first of these, as Harry Smeltzer posted last week, is an artillery-focused tour of First Bull Run. Here’s Harry’s pitch:

If big guns are your bag, you won’t want to miss a day at Manassas National Battlefield Park retracing the steps of the Union and Confederate artillerists during the First Battle of Bull Run with widely regarded expert Craig Swain and your humble host, me. Same game plan – no fees, everything is on your own (food, lodging, transportation). We’ll meet up at 9 AM on October 20, 2018 and head out onto the field. Dress appropriately – tour is rain or shine.

Expect to discuss all aspects of artillery: gun manufacture and capabilities, tactics of the day, and the action. We’ll also discuss some of the personalities involved.

This will be the FIRST artillery tour of First Bull Run since Henry Hunt led a staff ride over the field in March of 1864….

NO… I’m making that up.

But I would say the artillerymen have been given less attention than deserved for their actions at First Bull Run.  Much attention is focused on the employment of batteries on Henry House Hill which proved a crucial turn in the battle.  And much has been heaped – wrongly in my opinion – over the notion of “flying batteries” or “artillery charges.”   Though little has been mentioned of the other ten Federal in the campaign… or the more than a dozen Confederate batteries on the field.

When Harry first proposed this tour subject, he promised  a “no holds barred” concept.  Mostly, we’ll consider the nuances of drill and tactics as employed in this “early war” setting.  But be prepared for discussions of the “metallurgical art of cannon making” along with some “practice of battery command” topics.  I promise not to break out the trigonometry tables, however, as we won’t actually be shooting off anything!

If you are interested, Harry has setup a Facebook event page.  Please let us know if you plan to attend, so we can best factor logistics.

Bull Runnings Research Assignment: Why Were Ricketts and Griffin on Henry Hill?

The other day, Harry Smeltzer and I were bantering back and forth about the Civil War.  And if you know Harry, then you know he’s a “one battle” guy, sorta…. that being First Manassas or First Bull Run, depending on how you button your shirt.  Well that spawned a question to ponder.

The question in mind is exactly what were Captains James Ricketts and Charles Griffin supposed to do with their batteries upon reaching Henry Hill?  As Harry says:

This move has often been criticized over the years, sometimes even described as a turning point of the battle. But, why exactly did McDowell send his artillery there? What was he thinking? How did he want to uses them, as flying artillery, in place of infantry, as what?

Indeed, we often read about how bad the deployment was.  And furthermore how when the Confederates overran the guns, the Federal line just collapsed.  But let us back that up just a bit.  What was McDowell sending those batteries forward to accoplish?  What was their mission?

Mission…  In the modern context, Field Artillery’s mission on the battlefield, as defined in FM3-09.22 is:

The mission of the Field Artillery is to provide responsive lethal and nonlethal fires and to integrate and synchronize the effects of fires to achieve the supported commander’s intent.

I’m not going to say this applied blindly, totally to the Civil War.  But I submit in the sense there are natural rules and practices (what I like to call the “Water flows down hill” rules of military science).  And with that, field artillery’s mission is relatively constant through the ages.  I need to queue up XBradTC here for a proper “military science” comparison of the mission and roles – comparing that of the Civil War to modern employments.

But that is “mission” in the sense of “why does the army have all these cannons in the first place?”  At the tactical level, the derivative of that over-arching mission is an instruction as to what the guns should accomplish with their projectiles.  For instance:  “Drive off the enemy’s guns”; “Drive off the enemy’s infantry”; “Prevent the enemy from attacking the hill”; or “Support the attack of our infantry.”  In short, the commander normally details where he wants the battery commander to stick that shot, shell, and canister.

What we are looking at with regard to Henry Hill is what exactly did McDowell charge Griffin and Ricketts to accomplish with their guns?  Was it simply to occupy the hill?  If so, was that a “mission” that fell within that broader mission sense, cited above?   Or was it in fact an infantry mission, just assigned to the artillery?  Or, was there a traditional artillery mission in mind?

And keep in mind that “employing them as Flying Artillery” is not a mission.  That’s a tactic.  And it is a dubious tactic to apply to the Civil War?  Why do I say that?  Well go back to the manuals of the day…. The Instructions for Field Artillery (1861 edition), John Gibbon’s Artillerist’s Manual, or even across the “pond” to the Royal Army’s Major F.A. Griffinths’ Artillerist’s Manual, for example… none of them mention “flying artillery,” as a tactic, much less define it.

Allow me to over-simplify something that properly requires a full set of posts – The notion of a flying artillery tactic was derived from Napoleonic forms of employment, adapted to American situations… then determined to be simply another way of saying the same thing that already had a name!   You see, the notion of flying artillery was just the use of mounted artillery as mounted artillery was supposed to be used.  The label was simply a way of conveying the jargon of artillery tactics to those smaller minded folks in the infantry.

And even if we allow for “flying artillery” to be a tactic which McDowell might have had on his mind, that is still just a “tactic.”  So if allowing for such usage, it would have been the “how” and not the “what” that we seek here. So let us not get wrapped around this label of flying artillery.

Stick to the target – what was the target – the mission – given to Ricketts and Griffin?  If you have a mind to that question… click over to Harry’s place and drop a comment.