April 2, 1865: “As near as I can judge I expended about 1,000 rounds of ammunition” bombarding Petersburg’s lines

Victory at Five Forks on April 1, 1865 allowed Federal forces to sever the last major supply line – the South Side Railroad – into Petersburg from the west. With that, Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant put in motion his plan to shatter the Petersburg defenses.  Shortly after receiving news from Five Forks, Grant ordered a general bombardment of the Confederate lines.  This preparatory artillery fire started the last massed bombardment of the war (saving, perhaps how you want to measure things, the siege operations at Fort Blakely in Alabama).  And it was certainly one of the war’s largest.

For the final week of the Siege of Petersburg, Major-General Henry Hunt reported the Army of the Potomac had 202 cannon in the field batteries and 188 in the siege artillery.  These ranged from 100-pdr Parrott Rifles down to 24-pdr Coehorn mortars. And that figure does not include the artillery supporting the Army of the James or the Cavalry Corps, which was operating detached.  These weapons were spread out along the lines from Richmond, through Bermuda Hundred, all the way around Petersburg.  A mass of firepower and a tool to pry open the lock at the doors of the Confederate capital.

Grant’s orders were to commence a general bombardment along all the lines at 10 p.m. on April 1.  This was the spectacle observed by Colonel Charles Wainwright that night from Five Forks.  The artillerist maintained that bombardment until around 1 a.m. on the 2nd.  That was only the introductory verses to the main chorus to start later that morning.  At 4 a.m. the Federal batteries resumed firing to cover an infantry assault.  From that point on, the bombardment was general along all the lines.

Brigadier-General Henry Abbot, commanding the siege train, recorded:

My artillery was hotly engaged in the battles resulting in the capture of Petersburg, and in the demonstrations made to prevent General Mahone from leaving the Bermuda Hundred line, firing 5,560 rounds during April 1 and 2.

In perspective, this firing was more than on any three days during the Second Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter in the fall of 1863.  It was more than during two weeks of firing during the height of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter in July 1864.  And keep in mind that Abbot had a number of large caliber weapons in action – Parrotts and mortars in particular – as were used against Fort Sumter. But Abbot had a whole lot more field-caliber weapons in his batteries.

Brigadier-General John C. Tidball, commanding the Ninth Corps Artillery, noted:

At 4 a.m., the hour appointed for the assault upon the enemy’s works in front of Fort Sedgwick, the artillery upon the whole line promptly opened and was immediately replied to in the most vigorous manner by the enemy, and it is probable that never since the invention of gunpowder has such a cannonade taken place.

Tidball went on to say, “Fourteen thousand two hundred and fifty-one rounds is the amount of artillery ammunition expended during the engagement.” Think about that in terms of the logistical arrangements required just to get those projectiles and powder to City Point… and Tidball’s numbers are just for the Ninth Corps, and not covering that of the other three corps in the Army of the Potomac, or any of the Army of the James.  (Though I would point out that Wainwright’s Fifth Corps guns were silent on April 2.  They had fired their last shots in anger, and of the war, on March 31 at White Oak Road.)

In his report, Tidball highlighted the actions of the Seventh Maine Light Artillery, under Captain Adelbert B. Twitchell.  With four 12-pdr Napoleons, Twitchell’s gunners manned Fort Sedgwick.


Twitchell’s battery contributed to the firing started during the night of April 1 by firing one round per gun every five minutes from 11 p.m. until midnight.  The battery resumed firing at the time appointed for the larger April 2 bombardment:

At 4 a.m., April 2, at the signal from Fort Avery, all my guns opened, firing rapidly for fifteen minutes. Ceased firing for a time as the infantry was gathering for the charge in our front. The rebel line was carried just before the break of the day.  The enemy threw shell and canister quite rapidly for a few moments, but gave too high elevations, as nearly all the missiles passed over our works.

Twitchell then sent some of his artillerymen forward to work cannons captured in the Confederate lines. The men, along with detachments from all along the Federal lines, serviced six Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.  But Twitchell’s work from Fort Sedgwick was not over that day:

From Fort Sedgwick we observed two or three charges by the rebels during the day, and my guns sent shell and case-shot into their ranks with effect. About 8 a.m. I ordered that one 3-inch Parrot gun of Battery D, Pennsylvania Artillery, be taken from Battery 21 and placed on the left flank of my guns in Sedgwick, which, in connection with the left gun of my battery, could cover the left flank of Curtin’s brigade, Potter’s division.

These guns were well served and did good service during the day in checking the rebels, constantly threatening the left flank.  My men worked without intermission during the entire day of April 2 in serving their guns and in receiving and sending ammunition to the line occupied by our troops….

As near as I can judge I expended about 1,000 rounds of ammunition during the night of April 1 and the day of April 2….

Though Twichell’s tally of rounds fired likely included some of those sent forward to the captured guns, a thousand rounds is a large quantity by any measure.  And those were fired over two periods, accounting for somewhere between 18 and 20 hours total.

We often rush past the last assaults on the Petersburg line in haste as we read through in our rush to Appomattox.  But it must be remembered that the Confederates gave up the lines at Petersburg only after displaying the same stubbornness seen on so many battlefields earlier in the war.  To overcome the Confederate lines, the Federals used artillery on a scale seldom seen up to that time in the history of warfare.  If it was not, as Tidball seemed to think, the greatest cannonade ever, then it was high up on the list.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 46, Part I, Serial 95, pages 659-661, 663, 1072-3, and 1076-7.)


Wainwright’s Diary, April 21, 1864: “We have two more warning notes of a start”

Another diary entry for Colonel Charles S. Wainwright.  Another report on the weather:

April 21, Thursday. Since Monday morning we have had fine, bright sunshine.  The peach trees are in blossom, and the leaves of the earlier forest trees bursting out from the buds.  Still the snow lies white along the ridge of the Blue Mountains, and the nights continue to be cold….

I would point out the weather for April 18 through 21, 2014 has featured “fine, bright sunshine.”

My monthly returned of yesterday shew an aggregate present of 1,611… for the troops around here.  We have two more warning notes of a start, viz: the shipment of the most sick today, and the regulation of supplies to be taken at the start and the means of carrying them.  Three days full rations in havrsacks, three small in knapsacks, and ten in waggons, or sixteen days supply in all.  Ten days forage is to be taken.  How absurd such orders are!  What are the animals to do the last six days? Or are they to live on nothing? From the start they are cut off from their hay fourteen pounds, and the allowance of grain reduced two pounds, so that they may be said to be placed on half allowance.  When will our commanders give up this penny-wise-and-pound-foolish plan? If their proposed operations require sixteen days’ food for the men, they should require the same amount for the animals….

The orders Wainwright referred to were derived from reccomendations by Brigadier-General Rufus Ingalls.  In a lengthy letter to Major-General George Meade on April 13, Ingalls governed the number of wagons needed by the Army of the Potomac based on the issue of rations, ammunition, and of course forage for the horses.  Ingalls adjusted his figures, slightly, from that used as a basis for General Orders No. 100, issued on November 5, 1863.  The point of contention, from Wainwright’s perspective, was Ingalls’ estimate of ten days forge for the animals.  From the perspective of those handling the guns, the arithmetic appears some of the “two-and-two-are-five” manner.  But Ingalls’ plan relied heavily on the depot train to provide forage on the march, particularly for the cavalry.  In some ways, Ingalls was an early adopter of the “just in time” logistics practice.

Some will point out that “just in time” really means “almost late.”

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, page 342.)

Comparing and contrasting corps artillery: ANV and AOP

Read any general history of the Civil War, and you are sure to find at least one passage explaining the Federal dominance with the artillery arm.  The line something like, “The Confederates had good artillerists, but lacked the modern Napoleons and rifles to match with the Federals.”  But I don’t like generalizations.  How about some figures to back that up?

A report posted 150 years ago this April provides a good point of reference for a comparison.  The abstract from that report details the artillery supporting Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia:


As indicated in the notes below the table, the returns included six battalions.  The last of those, Major John C. Haskell’s, was properly part of First Corps. So for purposes of this post, I’ll exclude their numbers from any tally.

The total for five battalions is sixty-six guns – thirty-three Napoleons, sixteen 3-inch rifles, fourteen 10-pdr Parrotts, two 20-pdr Parrotts, and one 24-pdr howitzer – arranged in twenty batteries.  Recall that not all Confederate 3-inch rifles were Ordnance Rifles.  These may have included various cast iron weapons of that caliber along with captured Ordnance Rifles.  These batteries supported Lieutenant-General A.P. Hill’s Corps of three divisions, numbering 24,721 present (as of April 10, 1864).

The artillery personnel totals on this table (again deducting Haskell’s battalion) were 55 officers and 1745 men present for duty.  However on the April 10 Army returns, the artillery of the Third Corps had 105 officers and 2,167 men present for duty (and if I deduct Haskell’s numbers in the first table above from the April 10 numbers, we see 1776 as the number of men present… so… pick a number!).  The artillery in Third Corps had 796 serviceable horses.  Factoring the sixty-six guns in those five battalions, that translates to just under one officer and 26 men per gun… or 33 artillerists if we go with the April 10 figures.  The ratio of horses was twelve per gun.  That’s twelve horses supporting each gun as an average, including horsepower for gun, limber, caissons, battery wagons, forges, and other rolling stock.

Now let us consider our familiar subject, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s artillery brigade supporting the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac:

  • Stewart’s battery (B, Fourth U.S. Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Winslow’s battery (D, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Mink’s battery (H, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Martin’s battery (C, Massachusetts Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Rittenhouse’s battery (D, Fifth U.S. Artillery), six 10-pounder Parrotts
  • Phillips’ battery (E, Massachusetts Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Reynolds’ batteries (E and L, First New York Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Cooper’s battery (B, First Pennsylvania Artillery), six 3-inch rifles

Total of 48 guns in eight batteries  -twenty-four Napoleons, six 10-pdr Parrotts, and eighteen 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Returns posted on April 30, 1864 indicated the Fifth Corps numbered 24,124 infantry officers and men present and equipped for duty, in four divisions.

Wainwright’s brigade included 45 officers and 1525 men.  The army returns don’t include horses, but Wainwright did remark, on April 28, “My train now comprises 103 army waggons and eleven ambulances, and 781 horses and mules; the grand total of carriages of all sorts is 225….”  Wainwright’s numbers appear to count battery wagons, forges, and possibly some caissons, but not the guns and limbers. There’s too much “apples to oranges” in the figures for a good comparison of horsepower.  So I’ll stick to just the manpower.  Just under one officer per gun, average.  And rounding to 32 men per gun.

The statistics show, then, the Confederate corps in this comparison actually had a higher ratio of artillery to infantry.  Both sides had about the same number of artillerists per gun.  Though I suspect, though cannot prove by numbers, the Federal artillery benefited from more horsepower per gun also (and likely more wagons and other rolling stock).  Both sides used an even mix of Napoleons and rifled guns.  One might give the Confederates a single advantage with a pair of 20-pdr guns, simply on caliber.  But I would dismiss any clean advantage there (and throw out the 24-pdr howitzer for practical comparisons).

The real story of the guns, however, is the uniformity of the Federal batteries.  The Confederate batteries were understrength “what we can get” formations.  Wainwright could call upon six gun batteries, each with uniform sets of equipment.  On the Confederate side, Colonel Ruben L. Walker had to juggle 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-gun batteries with mixed equipment.  In short, the Federal organization lent itself better to combat operations.

Just snapshots of the artillery supporting two corps, one from each side, entering a critical point in the war.  I’m certainly not saying these numbers are representative, looking across the whole of the respective armies and theaters.  But I am saying we cannot assess the artillery with broad brushes.

“The following will be the organization of the artillery of this army”: Artillery consolidation in the AoP, Spring 1864

With my focus on Colonel Charles Wainwright’s diary, I’ve mentioned the consolidation’s effects on the First Corps Artillery, which would become part of the Fifth Corps with the consolidation.  Brigadier-General Henry Hunt took advantage of the consolidation to produce a compact, yet flexible, artillery formation within the Army of the Potomac.  He submitted the details of this organization on March 29, 1864:

Artillery Brigade, Second Corps, Colonel John C. Tidball, Fourth New York Artillery, commanding:

  • Hazard’s battery (B, First Rhode Island Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Ames battery (G, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Gilliss’ batteries (C and I, Fifth U S Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Roder’s battery (K, Fourth U.S. Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Arnold’s battery (A, First Rhode Island Artillery) six 3-inch rifles
  • Sleeper’s battery (Tenth Massachusetts), six 3-inch rifles
  • Ricketts’ battery (F, First Pennsylvania Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • McKnight’s battery (Twelfth New York), six 3-inch rifles

Total, eight batteries, with twenty-four Napoleons and twenty-four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles (forty-eight guns).

Artillery Brigade, Fifth Corps, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, First New York Artillery, commanding:

  • Stewart’s battery (B, Fourth U.S. Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Winslow’s battery (D, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Mink’s battery (H, First New York Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Martin’s battery (C, Massachusetts Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Rittenhouse’s battery (D, Fifth U.S. Artillery), six 10-pounder Parrotts
  • Phillips’ battery (E, Massachusetts Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Reynolds’ batteries (E and L, First New York Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Cooper’s battery (B, First Pennsylvania Artillery), six 3-inch rifles

Total, eight batteries, with twenty-four Napoleons, six 10-pdr Parrotts, and eighteen 3-inch Ordnance Rifles (forty-eight guns).

Artillery Brigade, Sixth Corps, Colonel Charles H. Tompkins, First Rhode Island Artillery, commanding:

  • McKnight’s battery (M, Fifth U.S. Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • McCartney’s battery (A, Massachusetts Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Bucklyn’s battery (E, First Rhode Island Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Harn’s battery (Third New York Independent), six light 12-pounders
  • Robinson’s battery (Fourth Maine), six 3-inch rifles
  • Waterman’s battery (C, First Rhode Island Artillery), six 10-pounder Parrotts
  • Adams’ battery (G, First Rhode Island), six 3-inch rifles
  • Cowan’s battery (First New York Independent), six 3-inch rifles

Total, eight batteries, with twenty-four 12-pdr Napoleons, six 10-pdr Parrotts, and eighteen 3-inch Ordnance Rifles (forty-eight guns).

Artillery Reserve, Col. Henry S. Burton, Fifth U. S. Artillery, commanding:

  • Brooker’s battery (B, First Connecticut Artillery), four 4.5-inch siege guns
  • Pratt’s battery (M, First Connecticut Artillery), four 4.5-inch siege guns
  • Taft’s battery (Fifth New York Independent Artillery), six 20-pounder Parrotts
  • Sheldon’s battery (B, First New York Artillery), four 10-pounder Parrotts
  • Hexamer’s battery (A, First New Jersey Artillery), four 3-inch rifles
  • Ewing’s battery (H, First Ohio Artillery), four 3-inch rifles
  • Burton’s battery (Eleventh Independent New York), four 3-inch rifles
  • Edgell’s battery (First New Hampshire Artillery), four 3-inch rifles
  • Barnes’ battery (C, First New York Artillery), four 3-inch rifles
  • Stevens’ battery (Fifth Maine Artillery), four light 12-pounders
  • Clark’s battery (B, First New Jersey Artillery), six light 12-pounders
  • Bigelow’s battery (Ninth Massachusetts), four light 12-pounders
  • Dow’s battery (Sixth Maine), six light 12-pounders
  • Hart’s battery (Fifteenth Independent New York), four light 12-pounders
  • Eakin’s battery (H, First U.S. Artillery), four light 12-pounders
  • Fitzhugh’s battery (C, Fourth United States), four light 12-pounders
  • Barstow’s batteries (F and K, Third United States), four light 12-pounders

Total, seventeen batteries, with eight 4.5-inch rifles, six 20-pdr Parrotts, four 10-pdr Parrotts, twenty 3-inch Ordnance rifles and thirty-six Napoleons (seventy-four guns).

Horse Artillery, First Brigade, Capt. James M. Robertson, Second Artillery, commanding:

  • Williston’s battery (D, Second U.S. Artillery), four light 12-pounders
  • Fuger’s battery (A, Fourth U.S. Artillery, four light 12-pounders
  • Heaton’s batteries (B and L, Second U. S. Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Field’s battery (E, Fourth U.S. Artillery), four 3-inch rifles
  • Martin’s battery (Sixth New York Independent), six 3-inch rifles
  • Pennington’s battery (M, Second U.S. Artillery), six 3-inch rifles.

Total, six batteries, with eight Napoleons and twenty-two 3-inch Ordnance rifles (thirty guns).

Horse Artillery, Second Brigade, Capt. Alanson M. Randol, First Artillery, commanding:

  • Von Michalowski’s battery (I, First U.S. Artillery), four light 12-pounders
  • Dennison’s battery (G, Second U.S. Artillery), four light 12-pounders
  • Porter’s battery (E, First U.S. Artillery), four 3-inch rifles
  • Egan’s battery (K, First U.S. Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Clarke’s battery (A, Second U.S. Artillery), six 3-inch rifles
  • Ransom’s battery (C, Third U.S. Artillery), six 3-inch rifles.

Total, six batteries, with eight Napoleons and twenty-two 3-inch Ordnance rifles (thirty guns).

In addition, the artillery organization included the 4th, 6th, and 15th New York Heavy Artillery, classified “foot artillery” by Hunt.   Later, the 4th New York Heavy sent a battalion to support each of the corps artillery brigades.  The 6th and the 15th initially remained with the Reserve Artillery.

Several changes occurred between Hunt’s consolidation at the end of March and the start of the Overland Campaign.  Second Corps’ lost the 12th New York Light Artillery Battery (Captain George McKnight) to the Artillery Reserve, while gaining the 6th Maine (Captain Edwin Dow) and the 1st New Hampshire Light (Captain Frederick Edgell) Batteries.  The Artillery Reserve gained Battery E, 5th US Artillery (Lieutenant John Brinkle), transferred from the Department of the Sesquehanna.  The Artillery Reserve lost three regular artillery batteries which were combined with Horse Artillery batteries within their regimental affiliations to consolidate personnel and equipment.   And lastly, both the Connecticut batteries with the 4.5-inch siege rifles left the Army to form part of the siege train.

All told, the Artillery of the Army of the Potomac numbered 278 guns at the end of March.  A month later, the number was 274 guns. Far less than the 320 guns Hunt had at Gettysburg.  However, the spring 1864 numbers did not include the Ninth Corps, which served as a separate formation on paper for part of the Overland Campaign.  The addition of those fourteen batteries pushed the numbers up to around 350 guns.  But, Hunt would not, initially at least, exercise control over those additional guns.

(Hunt’s consolidation order appears in OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 760-1.)


“I have read your letter… and heartily approve it.”: Hunt’s response to Wainwright

Recall Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s letter, transcribed in his diary entry for March 24, 1864, in regard to the organization of the volunteer artillery.  Wainwright requested an endorsement by Brigadier-General Henry Hunt, Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac.  And on March 26, he received that:

Artillery Headquarters, Army of the Potomac,
March 26, 1864.
Col. C. S. Wainwright:
I have read your letter on the subject of the consolidation of the artillery of New York into a corps and heartily approve it.

The regimental organization, except as a subdivision of a corps for administration or instruction, is, for field artillery, simply absurd, and results in the greatest injury and injustice to the arm and very much injures its efficiency.

The battery is the unit of organization; it corresponds to the battalion of infantry and squadron of cavalry, two, three, or more of which constitute a regiment for administration; but for purposes of combat a brigade, say six or eight batteries, constitute a brigade of artillery, a command fully as important and extended and much more complicated than a brigade of infantry, and requiring from the ground it covers and its distribution a large staff.

Hunt continued with a comparison to the system used by the British.

Colonel Turner, of the British artillery, commanding the field artillery in Canada, spent the day and night with me yesterday. He informs me that the organization of a brigade of artillery in the British army is as follows: One colonel commandant (major-general), 2 regimental colonels, 4 lieutenant-colonels (regimental), 8 batteries, 6 guns each.

Every two batteries are commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, there being no regimental major. The whole of the artillery, consisting of many brigades, constitute the Royal Regiment of Artillery; that is a single corps for administration and promotion.

I have stated this as an illustration of how artillery is organized in other services. In our service the batteries of the same regiment do not and cannot serve together, but their officers have the advantage of regimental promotion, and the field officers take interest in the batteries.

Next, Hunt took up the issue of the many “independent” batteries formed in New York and other states.  For reference, consider the unit list at the New York Civil War Regiments page, showing all the state’s artillery formations.  Wainwright’s 1st New York Artillery Regiment is the first listed.  After that is a mix (ordered by designation) of other regiments, battalions, and independent batteries.  The nature of the later lead to certain staffing issues:

The independent batteries have no field officers; there is no promotion opened to them; no one of any rank takes special interest in them; they are transferred from division to division, from army corps to army corps; there is no central office to take cognizance of them, to record their services, to attend to their wants, to protect their interests. Their officers, condemned to inferior positions without the hope of rising, except on condition of leaving the artillery, see officers of the regiments, their inferiors in length of service and in rank, promoted over their heads and placed in command of them.
This degrades the position, degrades the arm itself, mars the harmony of the service, and I am free to say has very much impaired the efficiency of the artillery. Leaving aside other things, look at our two last battles. At Chancellorsville, with over 400 guns in the army, I had but 5 field officers. At Gettysburg, with over 320 guns, I had but 4 field officers. Nor is this all; the absence of all stimulant to officers in the artillery has driven out of service, either into civil life or into other arms, a very large proportion of our best captains and lieutenants.

Here again, Hunt turns to the examples from field experience.  Hunt and Wainwright were of like mind:

If your proposition can be adopted it might be made to cure all these evils. Field officers should be given to the corps in the same proportion to the number of batteries as are now given in the regiments. Rigid rules should be prescribed for the appointment of lieutenants and for promotion to all the grades, so as to secure it to those whose character, fitness, and service best entitle them to it. Under the present system this is impossible. With the organization you propose it might be made easy.

I trust your letter will produce good effect.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Henry J. Hunt,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Artillery.

I don’t wish to play spoiler here, but this proposal (as with similar efforts for the regular army batteries) was for naught.  The army could not under take such a reorganization and consolidation effort just before stepping off on what everyone hoped would be the last round of campaigns in the war.  The next time a war prompted the call up of state volunteers, in the Spanish-American War, New York provided but three batteries.  And by World War I, a division-centric organization relegated the old constructs to history.

A good idea… just a decade too late I think.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 742-3.)

Wainwright’s Diary, February 16, 1864: The Colonel on leave

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright secured a leave of absence early in February 1864.  As related in his February 4 diary entry, Wainwright requested and received twenty days in which to address recruiting duties at home in New York.  With that request granted, Wainwright made his way north:

New York, February 16, Tuesday.  Left camp on the fifth and reached here the next day, to find all well.  Last week I went up Albany for a couple of days to attend the annual meeting of our State Agricultural Society, where I met many old friends and had a good time…. From there I went home to The Meadows, where I stopped until yesterday, driving down to thank Mr. [William] Kelley for all his kindness.

Kelley was a Democratic politician and had helped Wainwright earlier in the year with a matter concerning a worker at The Meadows.  Wainwright had last been home in September, and at that time devoted much space to discussing affairs on his farm.  Here in February, he appears less concerned of those matters.

Of primary importance that February were the matters involving recruiting:

At Albany I saw Governor Seymour, hoping to get part of some 800 unassigned recruits which are at his disposal. But he would only give them to me on conditions of my taking a certain number of civilians with them as officers, which I would not do.  These men had been raised  for new companies, but those raising them not having procured enough to be accepted, the men were surplus.  Some of those who raised them, the Governor felt, ought to have commissions with the men.

Interesting that, even concerned about manpower, Wainwright was unwilling to accept fresh recruits with strings attached.

There are several new regiments of heavy artillery raising, as also two extra companies for those infantry regiments which have been turned into heavy artillery.  There is a great rush of the recruits to get into these regiments, as they are promised to have nothing but garrison duty to do.  Some of the new ones I learn are 2,000 strong…. The Governor was very polite to me.

Of course, at that time nobody knew the changes afoot to relieve those “heavies” from that garrison duty.

Wainwright continued on to relate how the recruiting system worked, and mentioned some of the ills:

Under the present system of getting recruits none of the men can appear on the returns as enlisted by my party.  In each Congressional district there is a provost-marshal appointed from Washington, as also the examining surgeon.  With them rests entirely the receiving and mustering of the men.  The recruits are picked up by agents or brokers, who receive $10 to $20 for each man they bring up.  These agents are of course men of that kind who are best at such work; great gab and small conscience.  Should an officer try to enlist men they would all be down upon him as interfering with their business.  All my party can do is to try and secure for the regiment the men who are enlisted by these agents.  Mr. Pudney at Poughkeepsie is one of these brokers; and , so far as I could learn, an honest one; he is no doubt indebted in some way to Mr. Kelley for past favors and so only too glad to do as he requests now.  Davis spends his time in Mr. Pudney’s office, and tells me he has found him perfectly fair, and quite gentlemanly.

Wainwright continued on to discuss the provost-marshal in his district, of which he expressed less flattering remarks:

Provost-marshals are most of them politicians.  Platt of the Poughkeepsie Eagle holds the position in our district, and according to Mr. Pudney’s account is proving himself a great rascal.  He has accepted scores of men as volunteers whom he rejected on the draft three months ago as over-age or physically exempt; many of whom, Pudney says, will not be able to stand a week’s service.  Then he retains his recruits at Poughkeepsie as long as he can before sending them to the depots, as he gets so much for their rations and quarters, which of course he makes as poor as possible. He has a large empty warehouse where they are crowded together in a condition little better than the “Libby.” Pudney told me that he went there the other day to see one of his recruits who was sick; he found him laying on a little straw on the floor, in a crowded room, for there was no provision to separate the sick from the others. When he returned home he found his arms covered with lice from the sick man’s body! – and this man was a very respectable, well-to-do man before he enlisted.  Such treatment will cause the loss of a great many men by sickness and death; still more by desertion. Nor can one blame a decent man who is driven to deserting from being shut up in such close companionship with the lowest dregs of society….

With the war entering a fourth year, the recruitment system, and even the conscription system, still suffered from inefficiencies, corruption, and graft.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 319-20.)



January 10, 1864: “When rogues fall out, honest men have their due”

For January 10, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright began his diary entry discussing his administrative duties of the day:

Having got my brigade work pretty well done up, I am now busy on regimental affairs. All the returns for November are in, and the sergeant-major at work consolidating them.  Those for December are too so far received that I am able to come pretty near the state of the regiment at the close of the year.  The aggregate for November was 1,139.  For December it will be some few more, a turning point from which I hope to have it go on constantly increasing.

The regiment mentioned was of course the 1st New York Light Artillery Regiment.  The batteries of that regiment were mostly with the Army of the Potomac, but not all:

  • Battery A – Department of the Susquehanna.
  • Battery B, C, D, E, G, H, K, and L – Army of the Potomac
  • Battery F – Camp Barry, Washington, D.C.
  • Battery I and M- Department (Army) of the Cumberland

As Wainwright wrote that day, “The regiment is widely separated, and will never act together as a regiment, but so long as it maintains its organization, I want to do all I can to keep up regimental pride.”  Wainwright continued to say he promoted re-enlistments within the batteries that winter.

Beyond the administrative tasks, Wainwright related some of the rumors circulating within the Army of the Potomac that January:

There has been no news stirring for some time now.  In want of it the army is full of camp rumours.  One of these is of importance, and coming down from Washington may very likely have some foundation. It is to the effect that the First and Third Corps are to be broken up, and consolidated with the Second, Fifth, and Sixth.  It would be a good move in my opinion, as a corps d’armée of 15,000 men is simply absurd, causing a vast increase in the amount of writing to be done, and the time necessary to get orders to their destination.  Were all the companies reasonably full, and the army not stronger numerically than at present, two-thirds of the writing could be dispensed with, two-thirds of the clerks returned to the ranks, and one-half of the officers dispensed with.

Companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades start as full or “reasonably full” in terms of manpower.  Attrition reduces those numbers, disproportionately on the men shouldering weapons.  Yet, so long as the formation of the unit remains, there is a need for the clerks, quartermasters, adjutants, and such.  And likewise there is a need to handle instructions through the chain of command – even where a battalion is diminished to the size of a company.  Yet, the military mind abhors consolidation as it breaks up unit cohesion (and the “regimental pride” Wainwright mentioned earlier in the day).  In some ways, this brings us to the “big battalions” of Napoleonic rule.  The higher the ratio of infantrymen with muskets to support personnel without long arms, the more efficiently organized for combat.  Or at least that’s how it worked in 1864.  We might argue about contemporary service.

If any consolidation does take place, this corps and the Third are the ones most likely to be broken up, for the commander of neither of them is popular at the War Department; and if there is any difference in the excellence of the different corps in this army, I think these two are the poorest.

This assessment of the leadership of the First Corps is a remarkable measure of the attrition suffered from the 1863 campaign season.  Likewise it was a damning measure of the leadership that remained.

And the gossip continued:

There are other rumours to the effect that General [Daniel] Sickles has sworn to oust Halleck, and Governor [Andrew] Curtin has done the same as regards Secretary Stanton.  Much ill feeling and some high words have doubtless passed between the parties; but such a think is most too good to be true, for “when rogues fall out, honest men have their due,” and these are not the days for anything so good as that.  If these men have done any such searing, the Secretary and Commander-in-Chief have two strong opponents who are not likely to stick at trifles in order to carry out their designs.

Those rumors aside, Wainwright returned to the administrative chores.

We are now required to make a daily report of men re-enlisting, by states; also of officers going and returning on leave; and a field return on the 4th, 14th, and 24th of the month, in addition to the regular trimonthly. General [George] Meade is evidently anxious on account of so many men having left on furlough. Letters from home say that the streets are full of uniforms.

Some of those furloughs were a function of re-enlistment bonuses afforded the men.  Well deserved furloughs, I think you would agree.  But to some degree this was a risk taken by the command.  Mitigated, you might say, by frequent and thorough headcounts.

Rumors and roll-calls… facets to the Army of the Potomac’s winter spent in Culpeper County.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 314-5.)