Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – New York Independent Batteries (Part 1)

All told, thirty-six formations from New York received the designation “Independent Battery, Light Artillery” during the war.  Some of these were simply re-designation of existing batteries, to better align record keeping with practice (such as Battery L, 2nd New York Heavy discussed last week, which became the 34th Independent Battery).  Others were completely new batteries formed outside the regimental system.  Of those, some were short lived or never completely formed.  Still, these independent batteries were a rather substantial number of lines to account for in the quarterly summaries.  For the first quarter, 1863, there were thirty-two enumerated:

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Let us look at these in batches, for better focus:

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Starting with the first dozen:

  • 1st Independent Battery: At Belle Plain, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Captain Andrew Cowan commanded the battery assigned to Second Division, Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac.
  • 2nd Independent Battery:  No return. At the start of the winter, Captain Louis Schirmer commanded this battery, assigned First Division, Eleventh Corps.  When Schirmer was promoted to command the corps’ artillery reserve later in the spring, Captain Hermann Jahn took command of the battery.
  • 3rd Independent Battery: At Potomac Creek, Virginia with six 10-pdr Parrotts (an increase from the last quarter). The battery served in Second Division, Sixth Corps, under Lieutenant William A. Harn.
  • 4th Independent Battery: No return.  Assigned to Second Division, Third Corps. We are familiar with the 4th, thanks to their stand at the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, and know they had six 10-pdr Parrotts.  Through the winter, the battery saw several officers depart for other commands and Lieutenant George F. Barstow, 3rd US Artillery, took command late in the winter.  “The men were despondent,” Captain James E. Smith later recounted, “and became lax in their duties, not without some excuse.”  For this, and other reasons, Smith returned to command his old battery in May.
  • 5th Independent Battery: At Falmouth, Virginia with four 20-pdr Parrotts.   This was Captain Elijah D. Taft’s battery in the Army of the Potomac’s Artillery Reserve.
  • 6th Independent Battery: No location listed, but with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. At the start of the winter, the 6th was under Captain W. M. Bramhall and part of the Artillery Reserve.  By spring, Lieutenant Joseph W. Martin assumed command with the battery transferred to the Horse Artillery (First Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac).
  • 7th Independent Battery: At Norfolk, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Captain Peter C. Regan’s battery supported the Seventh Corps.
  • 8th Independent Battery: At Yorktown, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Part of the Fourth Corps, on the Peninsula, Captain Butler Fitch commanded this battery.
  • 9th Independent Battery: Fort Reno, District of Colulmbia, with only infantry stores.  Captain Emil Schubert, of the 4th US Artillery, was commander of this battery, assigned to the Twenty-Second Corps.  As indicated, the battery was not equipped as light artillery.
  • 10th Independent Battery: At Falmouth with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Lieutenant Samuel Lewis replaced Captain John T. Bruen during the winter.  The battery remained with Third Division, Third Corps until later in the spring.
  • 11th Independent Battery: Also at Falmouth but with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Battery also assigned to Third Division, Third Corps. Lieutenant John E. Burton replaced Captain Albert Von Puttkammer in command.
  • 12th Independent Battery: At Camp Barry, Artillery Camp of Instruction, District of Columbia and reporting four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Captain George F. McKnight replaced Captain William H. Ellis.

A few changes in command and only one significant transfer through the winter.  And not many changes in the number and type of cannon.  Notice all these batteries served in the Eastern Theater.  More specifically, in Virginia and the defenses of Washington.

Only one battery reported smoothbores on hand:

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But we have two lines?

  • 5th Battery:  56 canister for 6-pdr field guns.
  • 10th Battery:  288 shot, 96 shell, 288 case, and 96 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.

Why would Taft’s Battery have canister for 6-pdr smoothbores?  Perhaps for use in their 20-pdr Parrotts.  The bore size was the same.  Notably, the battery didn’t report these in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, 10th Battery seemed short of ammunition for it’s Napoleons. No change from the previous quarter’s report.  Such leads me to believe someone made “quick work” of their duties.

Hotchkiss projectiles were favored for the 3-inch Ordnance Rifles in the Army of the Potomac, and accordingly, we see a lot of those reported on hand:

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Six batteries with entries:

  • 1st Battery: 129 canister, 211 percussion shell, 370 fuse shell, and 570 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 6th Battery: 59 canister, 285 percussion shell, 44 fuse shell, and 323 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 7th Battery: 114 canister, 47 percussion shell, 259 fuse shell, and 715 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 8th Battery: 175 canister and 45 percussion shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 11th Battery: 151 canister, 258 fuse shell, and 775 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 12th Battery: 137 canister, 73 percussion shell, 40 fuse shell, and 120 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

Not to fret about the 8th Battery, as they were not short on ammunition.  Turning to the next page:

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We see the 8th had Dyer’s patent projectiles:

  • 8th Battery:  369 shell and 650 shrapnel for 3-inch rifles.

And there are two Parrott batteries (not counting Smith’s which didn’t submit a report):

  • 3rd Battery: 480 shell , 480 case, and 190 canister of Parrott for 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • 5th Battery: 45 Parrott Shell for 20-pdr Parrotts.

And the last page of rifled projectiles has a couple more entry lines for Schenkl:

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  • 1st Battery: 29 Schenkl shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 3rd Battery: 120 Schenkl shell for 10-pdr Parrotts.

Lastly, we turn to the small arms reported on hand:

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Seems like everyone had something:

  • 1st Battery: Twenty-eight Navy revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and fifteen horse artillery sabers.
  • 3rd Battery: Four Army revolvers and twelve cavalry sabers.
  • 5th Battery: Twenty-three Army revolvers and twenty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • 6th Battery: 155 Navy revolvers, twenty cavalry sabers, and two horse artillery sabers.
  • 7th Battery: Eighteen Navy revolvers and twenty-six cavalry sabers.
  • 8th Battery: Fourteen Navy revolvers and fourteen horse artillery sabers.
  • 10th Battery: Fifty-eight Navy revolvers and eleven horse artillery sabers.
  • 11th Battery: Twenty Army revolvers and twenty-two cavalry sabers.
  • 12th Battery: Twenty-eight Army revolvers and twenty-nine horse artillery sabers.

For the next installment, we’ll look at the second batch of New York’s independent batteries – 13th through 24th.

“The weakest feature in this line of works… is their liability to be surprised.”: Washington Defenses May 1864

On this day (May 17) in 1864, Brigadier-General Albion P. Howe, inspector of artillery (and former division commander in the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Corps), submitted a lengthy report examining the defenses of Washington, D.C.  The Secretary of War assigned this task to Howe in late April.  No doubt the justification for this inspection came from Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant’s orders to pull troops out of the Washington defenses for service in the field.

In proper military order, Howe put his bottom line up front:

After a careful examination of the line of works I am of the opinion that they are ample in their engineering and artillery strength for the purpose for which they were intended–the defense of Washington.

But the devil was in the details.  Howe considered the defenses separately for north and south sides of the Potomac.  And even within that split, he separated the sections of the line into groupings, or classes.

For the works south of the Potomac, Howe grouped these as such:

First, those which immediately cover approaches to the city, and are within artillery command of the city; second, those which cover approaches, and are beyond the range of artillery command; third, those which do not cover approaches to the city, and are beyond the range of artillery from the city.

In his assessment of the First Class, Howe offered an observation which might have applied to all the works:

With an artillery strength of men sufficient to develop the fire of the forts, and a proper support of infantry, I am of opinion that the works cannot be carried by an assault.

But he added, in the next paragraph:

The weakest feature in this line of works, and it obtains more or less throughout the whole line of the defenses, is their liability to be surprised. The garrisons of the works, with the exception of small guards, are quartered outside the works. No infantry force has been kept between and near the line of the works. The outpost guards have been very weak. The character of the topography of the country for miles outside of the works, with the numerous roads, all favor and invite a sudden and covered dash upon the works.

So as formidable as the defenses were, Howe worried there was insufficient manpower to maintain and defend the line.  An unmanned fort can only embarrass the enemy’s line of march, if I may.

Looking north of the Potomac, Howe rated the works as such:

The works on the north side of the Potomac are a continuous line of forts from Fort Sumner, on the river above the city, to Fort Greble, on the river below the city. The forts in this line are in artillery support of each other, and connected throughout by earthern epaulements. …. The most important position of this line is that part included between Forts Sumner and Slocum, as it covers the approaches to the city on the river line of roads. The most important works in this portion of the line are Forts Stevens, Reno, Sumner, and Slocum. The portion of the line between Fort Slocum and the Eastern Branch is less liable to be assailed, and that portion of the line east of the Eastern Branch the least liable to attack of any part of the whole defenses….

Four forts in the works deserve special attention here.  Forts Stevens, Reno, Summer, and Slocum.   (And note that Fort Reno included a secondary work known as Battery Reno.)  I chose the map above for this reason.  Notice the notations related to “Battle of July 11th and 12th” north of Washington.  Yes, there’s something we will observe a 150th for in a few months.   Howe’s detailed evaluation of those four forts read:

Fort Sumner, Col. Daniel Chaplin commanding.–Garrison, six companies First Maine Heavy Artillery–1 colonel, 30 commissioned officers, I ordnance-sergeant, 868 men. Armament, six 6-pounder field guns, four 12-pounder field guns, eight 30-pounder barbette, three 8-inch siege howitzers, two Coehorn mortars, one 10-inch mortar, six 4½-inch rifled, two 100-pounder Parrotts. Magazines, two; only one of which is dry and in good condition. Ammunition, not a full supply; serviceable. Implements, full set and serviceable. Drill in artillery, fair. Drill in infantry, fair. Discipline, fair. Garrison is sufficient….

Fort Reno, Col. Lewis O. Morris commanding.–Garrison, four companies Seventh New York Heavy Artillery–21 commissioned officers, 1 ordnance-sergeant, 602 men. Armament, nine 24-pounder barbette, one 24-pounder F. D. howitzer, two 8-inch siege howitzers, two Coehorn mortars, two 10-inch mortars, four 30-pounder Parrotts, one 100-pounder Parrott. Magazines, two; dry and serviceable. Ammunition, full supply and serviceable. Implements, complete and serviceable. Drill in artillery, indifferent; wants improving much. Drill in infantry, very indifferent; wants more energy and attention in the commanding officers. Discipline, too loose for efficiency. Garrison is ample strength.

[Battery] Reno, Capt. S. E. Jones commanding.–Garrison, one company Seventh New York Heavy Artillery–5 commissioned officers, 1 ordnance-sergeant, 149 men. Armament, seven 20-pounder Parrotts. Magazines, one; dry and in good order. Ammunition, full supply and serviceable. Implements, complete and serviceable. Drill in artillery, indifferent; wants improving. Drill in infantry, very indifferent; but little attention seems to have been given to it. Discipline, deficient. Garrison is of sufficient strength….

Fort Stevens, Lieut. Col. R. C. Benton commanding.–Garrison, two companies Eleventh Vermont Volunteers (First Vermont Heavy Artillery), one company New Hampshire Heavy Artillery (unattached)–1 lieutenant-colonel, 14 commissioned officers, 1 ordnance-sergeant, 423 men. Armament, four 24-pounder barbette, six 24-pounder siege, two 8-inch siege howitzers, one Coehorn mortar, one 10-inch mortar, five 30-pounder Parrotts. Magazines, two; dry and in good order. Ammunition, full supply and in good order. Implements, complete and in good order. Drill in artillery, fair. Drill in infantry, fair. Discipline, fair. Garrison of sufficient strength….

Fort Slocum, Lieut. Col. R. C. Benton commanding.–Garrison, two companies First Vermont Artillery–l lieutenant-colonel, 10 commissioned officers, 1 ordnance-sergeant, 280 men. Armament, six 10-pounder Parrotts, three 24-pounder barbette, three 24-pounder siege, four 24-pounder F. D. howitzers, two Coehorn mortars, one 10-inch mortar, seven 4½-inch (rifled). Magazines, three; dry and in good condition. Ammunition, full supply and in good order. Implements, complete and in good order. Drill in artillery, fair. Drill in infantry, fair. Discipline, fair. Garrison not of sufficient strength….

In May 1864, the Washington defenses bristled with guns, ranging from the heavy Parrotts, and along the river even some large Rodman guns, all the way down to field pieces and coehorn mortars.  But, no matter how strong those positions might look…

… the works needed men to make them a proper “fort.”  The 1st Maine, 7th New York, and 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery Regiments, then manning those critical forts listed above, were soon to depart for Virginia among several other “heavies” to reinforce the Army of the Potomac.  A gamble, perhaps not so risky in the spring of 1864, that these troops might be spared from the defenses of Washington.

(Howe’s report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 36, Part II, Serial 68, pages 883-897.)