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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. My perspective comes from a 28-year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Horse Artillery at Antietam

Horse Artillery Officers during the Peninsular Campaign
This summer I have spent some time at the National Archives looking at the monthly battery returns for the regular batteries of the United States Army that fought at Antietam.  To the left is a photo taken by James Gibson on the Virginia peninsula that captures almost all of these officers.  As titled in the Library of Congress, this is a photograph from the main eastern theater of war, the Peninsular Campaign, May-August 1862. Standing, left to right: Lt. Edmund Pendleton (G/3US), Lt. Alex C. M. Pennington (A/2US), Capt. Henry Benson M/2US mortally wounded at Malvern Hill), Lt Henry Meinell (C/3US), Lt. James E. Wilson (could not identify. Possibly John Wilson of G/2US), Capt. John C. Tidball (A/2US), Lt. William N. Dennison (A/2US). Seated, left to right: Capt. Horatio Gibson (C/3US), Lt. Peter C. Hains (M/2US), Lt. Col. William Hays ( L/2US Commander Artillery Reserve), Capt. James M. Robertson (B/2US), Lt. J. W. Barlow (M/2US not at Antietam). Seated on the ground, left to right: Lt. Robert H. Chapin (M/2US), Lt. Robert Clarke (A/2US), Lt. A.C. Vincent (L/2US).  If you go to the original photo, you will see that Gibson is name twice.  The actual officer in the back row standing, fourth from the left is Lt Henry Meinell of Gibson's battery.

Below is a summary of the information that I pulled from Record Group 391 concerning these units. 

Btry A, 2nd U.S. Artillery l-r Lt Clark, Capt Tidball, Lt Dennison, Lt. Pennington
Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery
Perhaps the best organized and equipped of the Horse Artillery batteries, Captain John Tidball’s battery came to Antietam with his entire complement of commissioned officers.  Each battery was authorized one captain, two first lieutenants, and one second lieutenant.  Normally one or more officer was on some kind of detached duty.  In fact Union generals James Ricketts and John Gibbon continued to hold slots as captains in their regular army batteries during much of the Civil War.  This accounts for the large number of batteries commanded by lieutenants.  This was not the case however for Battery A.  Present for duty were Captain Tidball (USMA 1848), First Lieutenants Alexander C.M. Pennington (USMA 1860), and W. Neil Dennison (son of Ohio governor William Dennison), and Second Lieutenant Robert Clarke.  There were 86 enlisted men assigned to the battery but only between 68-70 enlisted men were present for duty. Those not present were typically sick, on special duty, in arrest or confinement, or absent without leave. The battery had between 189-197 serviceable horses.  The range of numbers is the difference between the September return (the lower number) and the August return (the higher number).  Providing the firepower were six Model 1857 light gun-howitzers (Napoleon).  Though well organized, Tidball was probably stretching to man all six guns, caissons, and other battery equipment with just 70 gunners. 

Battery B&L, 2nd U.S. Artillery
This consolidated battery included the men, guns, and horses from Battery B and men from Battery L.  This is an example of a battery where many of the officers saw duty elsewhere.  Commanding the consolidated battery was Captain James M. Robertson of Battery B.  Robinson was not a West Pointer and had moved up through the enlisted ranks.  Battery B’s other three officers were on detached duty at unspecified destinations or sick.  Representing Battery L in the officer ranks was Second Lieutenant Albert O. Vincent.  Battery L’s commander William Hays (USMA 1840) was on detached duty commanding the Artillery Reserve.  First Lieutenant Thomas Gray was on detached duty at Ft McHenry serving as the 2nd Artillery regimental adjutant.  Second Lieutenant Charles Warner (USMA 1862), fresh from West Point had not reported.  He apparently had been temporarily attached to the regiment’s Battery D instead and served there (in Slocum’s division) during the Antietam campaign.  Battery B brought 23 enlisted men to the battle of the 34 assigned.  There were between 150 and 168 artillery horses with the battery and four Napoleon guns.  Battery L contributed 33-35 enlisted men present for duty of 41 authorized.  With only 58 men to man four guns and all the additional caissons and other equipment, Robertson’s battery was extremely under strength. 

Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery
Battery M with nearly 100 men and six guns was the largest battery in terms of manpower in the Horse Artillery.  It had just two of its commissioned officers.  First Lieutenant Peter Hains (USMA 1861) was in command. 

Hains was just beginning an army career that would stretch through World War One.  Though his commission at the time of Antietam was with the Topographical Engineers, he fought with his old 2nd Artillery comrades.  Following a distinguished wartime career, Hains served in various engineer assignments in the postwar period.  Commissioned a brigadier general U.S.V. during the Spanish American War, Hain’s division played a prominent role in the capture of Puerto Rico.   Afterward, he was involved in the construction of the Panama Canal.  He retired in 1904 but upon declaration of war with Germany, he volunteered his services. At the age of 77, Hains was placed on active duty Sept. 18, 1917, and assigned as Engineer of the Norfolk Harbor and River District, in charge of the defensive works at Hampton Roads, Va. He left active service for the final time on Sept. 2, 1919, nearly 57 years after the Battle of Antietam and died on November 7, 1921 at the age of 81.  I believe that Hains was the only officer in the Civil War to serve on active duty during World War One.

With Hains was Second Lieutenant R. Hunter Chapin.  The battery lost its commander Captain Henry Benson as a result of wounds suffered at Malvern Hill.  Benson died on board the transport shipping his battery back from the Virginia peninsula on August 11.  Battery M had between 90-100 enlisted men present for duty of 134 assigned.  There were 180 horses on the August return but only 72 on the September return.  This attests to the hard service seen by the horses, an often overlooked aspect of artillery service.  Finally Battery M had six 3-inch ordnance rifles. 

Btry C, 3rd U.S. Artillery l-r Lt Meinell, Capt Gibson, Lt Pendleton, Lt Fuller
Battery C&G, 3rd U.S. Artillery
The only 3rd Artillery unit present with the Horse Artillery was consolidated Battery C&G.  Captain Horatio Gibson (USMA 1847) commanded this battery.  With him was, First Lieutenant Henry C. Meinell from his own battery; First Lieutenant Edward Pendleton from Battery G and Second Lieutenant Francis D.L. Russell attached since August 13th from the 4th U.S. Artillery.  Gibson’s other Battery C officers were on detached duty.  First Lieutenant William D. Fuller had been serving as the ordnance officer of the Artillery Reserve since April.  Also detached was First Lieutenant James Kelly who temporarily commanded Battery M, 3rd Artillery.  This unit had been consolidated with Battery L under Captain John Edwards and fought with Jacob Cox’s Kanawha division at Antietam.  Battery G’s official commander was Captain Alexander Piper (USMA 1851).  Piper served under John Pope as Chief of Artillery of the Army of Virginia during the Second Manassas campaign.  He was in Washington DC as Assistant Inspector of Artillery at the time of the Maryland Campaign. Battery L’s other officers were on detached service.  First Lieutenant George F.B. Dandy was assigned as a quartermaster officer, and Second Lieutenant James S. Discow was on undisclosed detached service.  Battery C had 76 enlisted men present out of 77 assigned.  It also had 191 horses at the start of the campaign but this number shrank to 170 by the end of September. Battery C contributed six 3-inch ordnance rifles.  There were 25 enlisted men from Battery G of 31 authorized.

The table below details the contributions of the Horse Artillery in the actions around the Middle Bridge. Numbers used are those of the August returns and may have been slightly lower at the time of the battle.

Officers Present
Enlisted Present
A-2nd U.S.
6 Napoleons
B&L 2nd U.S. Artillery
4 Napoleons
M 2nd U.S. Artillery
6 Ordnance Rifles
C&G 3rd U.S. Artillery
6 Ordnance Rifles


 9 officers

329 enlisted men
736 horses

22 guns

These soldiers of the Horse Artillery would definitely say that their fight was important.  They would quickly refute the fiction often ascribed by those who are truly not familiar with this battle, (yet who continue to attempt to interpret it anyway), that the Middle Bridge area of the battlefield was a quiet backwater. Just because there was not a fearsome butchers bill for this part of the field does not mean that important and significant action did not occur there. 

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