Summary Statement, 3rd Quarter, 1863 – Howitzers for New Mexico!

Aside from compiling information for future projects, one of the motivations for working through the summary statements is to present stories that call out from the entry lines.  A great example of that is a small section from the third quarter, 1863 under the heading of “New Mexico.”:

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The entry line indicates:

  • Company K, 1st New Mexico Cavalry, Artillery Stores: At Fort Canby, New Mexico (Territory), with two 12-pdr mountain howitzers.  The return was received in Washington on December 29, 1863.

While just a couple of little howitzers, there is a lot here to unpack.  And I had to call upon my old Army buddy Don Caughey for an assist (bookmark that site… while Don is not a prolific blog writer, he more than makes up in quality).

When we think of the Civil War in New Mexico, mention is made of Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign.  And then of Glorieta Pass – “The Gettysburg of the West” – and that time YOU answered a trivia question correctly (“I’ll take Trans-Mississippi for $500”).  One might dismiss the theater as a backwater after mid-1862, right?  Well not so fast….

While true the Federals and Confederates did very little sparing after that 1862 campaign, encounters with Native Americans kept both sides busy for the remainder of the war, and beyond.  The Federals in New Mexico Territory continued to play out pre-war confrontations with the Apache and Navaho. These operations and engagements might properly be classified as part of the Apache Wars or the Navaho Wars rather than those of the Civil War.  However, I suggest, as these activities occurred during the Civil War, involving leaders, troops, and resources otherwise associated with the Civil War, that we must at least concede these operations are best studied in the context of the larger war.

The troops employed were a mix of US Regulars along with volunteers from California and New Mexico.  Of that latter group, the 1st New Mexico Cavalry featured a rather well known regimental commander:

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Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson had already established his place in American history well before the Civil War started.  The frontiersman had done much to scout out and further open up the American west.  At the outbreak of the war, Carson left his position as an Indian Agent and volunteered in the US Army.  He was soon given command of the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, leading that regiment in the Battle of Valverde in late February 1862.  With the conclusion of the 1862 campaign, and many enlistments running out, Federal authorities reorganized the New Mexico volunteers.  On May 13, 1862 the 1st New Mexico Cavalry was formed out of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th New Mexico Infantry, under Colonel Carson.  The regiment served at several frontier outposts, operating against the Apache and Navajo, and only rarely the Confederates.

The following year, authorities in the Territory decided the time had come to conduct a hard campaign against the Navajo, citing increasing murders and robberies.  And on June 15, 1863, under General Orders No. 15 from the Department of New Mexico, commanded by Brigadier-General James Henry Carleton, Carson was to lead a column against the Navajo.

Allow me to pass over much of the campaign’s details (and interesting campaign which is, in my opinion, lacking a definitive, focused study, at least not that I’ve found) and look to these howitzers.  In the details of that order, “Colonel Carson will require, and receive, two mountain howitzers on prairie carriages, with an adequate supply of ammunition, &c., to be used in defense of his depot at Pueblo, Colorado.”  As the campaign unfolded, Carson would need those howitzers at his advanced base of Fort Canby.

Fort Canby was established in late July, was 28 miles west of Fort Defiance (which had been abandoned in 1861, but reestablished during Carson’s operations in 1863).  The site is near the present day Ganado, Arizona (recall… Arizona wasn’t a territory until later).  With support from Fort Canby, Carson began a winter-long campaign to round up Navajo.  Most were taken to Fort Defiance and then sent on a march across what is today New Mexico to Fort Sumner.  An 18-day, 300-mile journey under terrible conditions.

Circling back to the howitzers, initially the two weapons were assigned to the regimental ordnance sergeant, Moses Barnwell.  When Barnwell went on to other duties, serving as post Sergeant-Major and other senior positions, he did not retain control of the cannon past September of 1863.  It’s not clear who was placed in charge of the howitzers at that time. I suspect the cannon were detailed to different sergeants as the need arose.

But the record is clear that the 1st New Mexico Cavalry retained those howitzers for quite a while.  Abstract returns from later in 1863 and 1864 indicate two howitzers remained at Fort Canby.  The howitzers were used in the field during operations against the Navajo in January and February 1864.  And in November 1864, when Carson lead a column into the Texas Panhandle, he had two howitzers with him.  The howitzers played an important role in the First Battle of Adobe Walls, helping to repel a force of Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache.  That said, if we ever do find the original return from the 1st New Mexico Cavalry and can trace the exact registry numbers to surviving pieces, I’d submit those are some bronze cannon with a story or two worth relating.

As for ammunition allocated to those mountain howitzers:

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  • Company K, 1st New Mexico Cavalry: 72 shell and 88 case for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

Remarkably, for service on the frontier, there was no canister reported.

The remainder of the ammunition columns are empty, as one would expect.  And the small arms were likely reported on a separate summary for cavalry and/or infantry arms.

While just a pair of howitzers, the line on the Ordinance Department summary statement alludes to events occurring in the far southwest of America in 1863.  And some of those events would rival and surpass the “hard hand of war” being experienced in the eastern half of the country.  All the more reason I wish we could identify one or both of these howitzers among the surviving cannon today – as there are many stories to tell around them.

 

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“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.)