A Concise Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg

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Jun 11, 2020
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This short book by the late Gettysburg historian and ranger Gregory Coco is an excellent guide for anyone interested in the artillery at Gettysburg. “To be deployed effectively, artillery batteries had to be concentrated in dominating clusters on key terrain features, so as to mass their overwhelming weight of fire against a particular or isolated target. And secondly, by arranging guns in heavy enfilading crossfires, a more destructive result could be effected than simply by direct, frontal fire. At the same time, this maneuver relieved the gunners from the fear of being overrun by enemy troops. The problems of difficult terrain aside, when substantial numbers of cannon were assembled in such a manner, they could sway the course and outcome of a battle significantly. Therefore, if one army could establish its ‘grand battery’ at the right location before the enemy arrived, it could, in theory, dismount their guns faster than they could come on line and return fire. Also, massed artillery might shatter infantry columns before they could attack. By forcing the opposing troops to seek cover, they were eliminated from assembling their own artillery, or using their infantry effectively.” [p. 11]

Artillery batteries were a notable target for infantry attacks, with sharpshooters especially doing all they could to shoot down as many gunners as possible from longer range. “Time and time again, casualty figures have proven that even after batteries had engaged riflemen for long periods of time, there were relatively few deaths and injuries accumulated in these units. In the end, enough men usually remained upright to handle the pieces, since, on an average, most battery captains kept between 17 and 25 men trained per gun. Hence a command consisting of 100 to 125 members, ight lose five men to long-range cannonading or counter-battery fire, and five more to musketry, but would still retain from seven to 15 individuals for each piece. So the genuine threat to a battery in battle was not ‘sharpshooter,’ but regular foot soldiers advancing to within 30 and 100 yards, a fairly rare occasion, especially if the artillerymen were supported by nearby friendly troops.” [pp. 11-12]

Coco discusses artillery organization, beginning with the Army of the Potomac. “While at Frederick, MD, on June 28, 1863, with Gen. George G. Meade the newly appointed head of the Army of the Potomac, Gen. Hunt resumed full control of the artillery of that army. In this campaign there were 67 batteries (between 358 and 372 guns), with over 7,900 men and 8,400 horses, and the usual complement of material and ammunition trains. During the Battle of Gettysburg nearly 370 guns were distributed among 65 batteries; about 212 guns with the infantry, 50 with the cavalry, and 108 consigned to the artillery reserve. Two batteries of 4.5-inch rifles (B & M, 1st CT) had been left at Westminster, MD. The 212 or so guns assigned to the infantry were distributed, approximately, in brigades of five six-gun batteries to each of the seven infantry corps. These brigades were commanded by two colonels, one major, three captains, and one lieutenant. The 50 guns assigned to the cavalry were in two brigades of five and four-gun batteries overseen by captains. The 108 guns of the artillery reserve were in five brigades (four, four-gun batteries and one of five) commanded by one lieutenant colonel and four captains. Gen. Robert O. Tyler led the reserve.” [pp. 15-16]

After a more in-depth discussion of the artillery in the various corps and the reserve of the AotP, Coco turns his attention to the Army of Northern Virginia. “At the beginning of the year 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia was not satisfied that the existing policy of attaching batteries to brigades and grouping them in divisions was promoting the best results in that arm of the service. His chief of artillery, Gen. William N. Pendleton, was directed to formulate a plan for a better organization of the artillery. The objections to brigade batteries and division groups were obvious; it was impossible for brigade and division commanders to find time, burdened by the duties of their large infantry units, to devote proper supervision of the batteries assigned to the; nor did the arrangement afford any wider scope of authority for the field officers of the artillery. In consultation with Colonels Stapleton Crutchfield and Edward P. Alexander, Gen. Pendleton drew up a design for the reorganization which then was forwarded to Gen. Lee. This proposal, with some modifications, was accepted and made effective under Special Order No. 106, April 16, 1863. The batteries were arranged into battalions, each battalion to consist of four, four-gun batteries with two field officers to every sixteen guns. It was recommended that batteries should be rendered homogeneous in armament as soon as practicable by the interchange of cannon tubes with other units. This rendered the army fifty-nine batteries, thirty-five from Virginia, and twenty-four from the other states. Twenty-eight field officers were authorized, care being taken to observe the same proportion of field officers to batteries between Virginia and the other Southern states. Of the twenty-eight field officers accepted, eighteen were Virginians.” [p. 42]

He adds, “Twenty-six batteries (112 guns) were assigned under the reorganization to Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps, making six battalions with twelve field officers. Twenty-seven batteries containing 116 guns, in six battalions, with twelve field officers were allotted to Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s Second Corps. Two battalions of three batteries each, (36 guns) constituted a general reserve with four officers of field rank. Of the above six battalions for the two corps, two battalions were withheld as a corps reserve. The ranking field officer in each corps was designated as the artillery chief for his corps.” [p. 43]

With Jackson’s death after the battle of Chancellorsville, Lee decided to reorganize his army, moving from two to three corps. “This change induced a readjustment of Lee’s artillery arm. Five battalions were assigned to each corps. Three of the battalions were employed as corps artillery, while two battalions were still slotted as a corps reserve. Under this refinement, the general reserve was broken up and its batteries distributed. General Pendleton was retained as chief of artillery. The fine hand of Col. Alexander is observed in this final updated recast, and served as a model for the armies of Europe after the Civil War.” [p. 43]

That brings us to the battle of Gettysburg. “The artillery of Longstreet’s Corps consisted of five battalions under Col. Henry C. Cabell, Maj. James Dearing, Maj. Mathias W. Henry, Col. Edward P. Alexander, and Maj. Benjamin F. Eshleman. Altogether Longstreet had twenty-one batteries and eighty-four guns, with Col. James B. Walton as head of the reserve and chief artillery officer of the corps. General Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps artillery comprised the battalions of Col. Hilary P. Jones, Maj. Joseph W. Latimer, Lt. Col. Thomas H. Carter, Capt. Willis J. Dance and Lt. Col. William Nelson. This provided a combination of twenty-one batteries and eighty-four guns, with Col. J. Thompson Brown as head of the reserve and chief artillery officer of the corps. General Ambrose P. Hill’s Third Corps artillery was made up of the battalions of Maj. John Lane, Lt. Col. John J. Garnett, Maj. William T. Poague, Maj. David G. McIntosh and Maj. William J. Pegram. This configuration allotted a total of twenty batteries and eighty guns. The head of the reserve and the corps chief of artillery was Col. R. Lindsay Walker. The six batteries assigned to Gen. James E. B. Stuart’s cavalry division were led by Maj. Robert F. Beckham, who succeeded Stuart’s lamented friend, Maj. John Pelham, killed at Kelly’s Ford, VA, March 16, 1863.” [p. 43]

Coco then delves deeper into the artillery in each corps, then goes into the ANV’s use of artillery during the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge and on the retreat back to Virginia. The book has an appendix listing the artillery orders of battle for both armies with their armaments, strengths, and casualties during the battle. Another appendix is a table of the type and quantity of guns each army had. A third appendix is a deep dive into the types of guns and the ammunition they used. These are followed by a glossary. One thing that would have been nice to add would have been an explanation of how a gun crew fired its weapon and what each man on the crew was responsible for doing. As it is, though, the book is excellent. I can highly recommend it for students of the war.

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