Yes, indeed! Colorado, a territory at the time, mustered an artillery battery during the Civil War. Though, like a mountain stream, the story of that battery was not a straight line from start to finish. For the second quarter, we noted a single entry line for a Colorado battery, reporting from Camp Weld, Colorado Territory. And for the 3rd Quarter we find two entry lines (and the territory given a proper header):
One battery, but separate lines for each section:
- 1st Colorado Battery: With infantry stores at Camp Weld, Colorado Territories.
- Section of 1st Colorado Battery: At Camp [Fort] Garland, Colorado Territories.
Let’s go back to this battery’s inception. Operations into the fall of 1861 bore out the need for more troops to thwart any Confederate incursions and maintain order. However, with pressing needs everywhere on the map, the Territory of Colorado looked to build such a force with resources on hand. As the 2nd Colorado Infantry formed, one of its companies, under Captain William D. McLain, was detailed for artillery duty. I’m not exactly sure as to why this decision was made. At least one secondary source mentions bronze cannon purchased by McLain, and thus the company may have been one of the many “sponsored” units frequently seen early in the war. At least initially, the battery was still considered a company within the 2nd Colorado Infantry.
But it was not officially sanctioned by the War Department in far away Washington, D.C. That lead to the battery being disbanded, briefly, before being officially re-mustered in December 1862 with three year enlistments. The battery appears on some records as McLain’s Independent Battery, but still being recruited and formed. Aside from McLain, Lieutenants George S. Esyre and Horace W. Baldwin were ranking officers in the battery.
In February 1863, the battery appears, as the 1st Colorado Battery, on organizational listings for the Department of the Missouri, in the District of Colorado, at Fort Lyon, under McLain. In June, the battery was still at Fort Lyon, but under Lieutenant Baldwin. It appears McLain and Esyre were recruiting more men to complete the battery.
By July 31, a section under Baldwin was at Camp Weld. Such implies the battery had cannon, and at least enough men trained to man two guns. Though on the same organizational listing, McLain appears under the heading of “Recruiting parties within the District.”
Right around that time, McLain and his battery came under a great deal of scrutiny. In the first place, nobody at the War Department recognized the battery as being formally mustered. Furthermore, there was no indicated requirement, and thus no authorization, for a battery in the District of Colorado. Thus, in the bureaucratic minds that determine such things, the battery was not supposed to be in the service. So they directed it “un-mustered” or at least not brought onto the rolls.
Major-General John Schofield, in the Department of the Missouri, sensing McLain was working without sanction, or at worst hindering the war effort, sent out an order for the captain’s arrest on July 29. Schofield called specific attention to proper reporting procedures, adding, “Unless officers comply with regulations and orders in making returns they are to be arrested and tried for disobedience of orders.” At that time, McLain was on duty in Denver at a General Court Martial… not his own, per-say, but as an officer of the court.
With the War Department considering the battery a non-entity and Schofield looking to lock up the commander, the Colorado Battery’s service seemed at an end. Orders were for the battery to disband. McLain and some of his officers received dishonorable discharges. The Rocky Mountain News, out of Denver, ran this short piece on October 14 about the fate of the battery:
As is often the case with our news, this has only half the story and was actually a few weeks behind. At the same time McLain was discharged and the battery thrown out, the War Department issued Special Orders No. 431, dated September 26. Paragraph 29 specified:
Captain McLain’s Company, 2d Colorado Volunteer Infantry, is, under the special circumstances of the case, hereby recognized as an Independent Battery of Colorado Volunteer Artillery, and is hereby permanently detached from the Infantry organization. The officers of the Company having been dishonorably discharged the service of the United States, the Governor of the Territory is hereby authorized to make new appointments for the Battery.
We can easily read between the lines in regard to the “special circumstances” as clearly the District of Colorado had need of some artillery. But it is the last line which left open the path to redemption for McLain and his officers. In effect, this order disbanded the battery but directed it be reorganized. And the authority for that reorganization was left to the Territorial Governor, John Evans. And Evans would turn right back to McLain, Esyre, and Baldwin to lead the battery.
However, paperwork had to be filed and all had to be done at the pace allowed by bureaucracy. Not until January 12, 1864, was McLain officially restored, the wording being “the disability regarding this officers is removed and is hereby mustered in by virtue of commission issued by his Excellency [Samuel Hitt] Elbert, Acting Governor of Colorado Territory.” The order was post-dated to December 19, 1863. (Elbert was the Territorial Secretary at that time, acting as Governor when Evans was away on business. Western history buffs will point out that Evans was later appointed territorial governor in the Grant administration, 1873-4. But I’m wandering afield here.)
At any rate, this long narrative helps us establish a few administrative “facts” about the battery. Technically, it was “un-mustered” and being “re-mustered” at the end of September 1863. However, it did exist, with sections at Camp Weld and Fort Garland. And give the officers credit, as they did submit their returns (perhaps wary of the wrath of Schofield). The Ordnance Department received Camp Weld’s report on January 26, 1864. And that of Fort Garland’s section on November 16, 1863. Not bad for reports from the frontier!
Although no cannon were indicated on the return, some ammunition was:
- Fort Garland Section: 17 shell and 25 case for 12-pdr howitzers.
I’ll leave the determination of field or mountain howitzers open for discussion. For the following quarter, the battery would report four 12-pdr mountain howitzers on hand. There’s little doubt those were the same weapons McLain formed the battery with the previous year – be those owned by the territory or donated by subscription (which is perhaps why those howitzers were not reported in September 1863… as the tubes would then not be US government property and thus “off the books”).
- Fort Garland Section: Twelve Navy revolvers, twenty-eight cavalry sabers, and two horse artillery sabers.
As you can see, the story of this battery offers a lot of twists and turns. And there will be more to discuss in the next quarter, with temporary officers assigned to the sections. Furthermore, Lieutenant Baldwin had a little “adventure” of his own along with another brush with military authorities over the regulations! But we’ll cover those points when the next quarter’s summary is due.
In the mean time, I’ll leave you to ponder this battery which was almost the casualty of a bureaucratic defeat. This same battery would play a role – an active one – in the defeat of Price at Westport in October 1864. Rather fortunate that the “special circumstances” were recognized and this battery was left to fight another day!