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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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Little Things…

It turns out that artillery companies leave a lot of stuff on the battlefield after an engagement.[i]  For most units, commanders report soldiers killed and wounded.  In artillery companies they also report their losses of horses.  This is logical as artillery horses are the prime movers for an artillery battery.  But the artillery even goes beyond that.  We get a good idea of the kinds of equipment necessary to keep the artillery running from the reports of two Federal artillery commanders at Antietam.

Captain William Montrose Graham
William Graham had been a soldier for seven years.  Unlike most ante-bellum regular army officers, he was not a West Point graduate.  There is some evidence that he applied to the Academy but for reasons unknown to me never got the appointment.  He certainly had an impeccable pedigree.  Both his father and uncle were graduates of the West Point Class of 1817.  His father James a noted explorer and surveyor was a Major in the Topographical Engineers when his son received his appointment as a lieutenant in the First Artillery in 1855.  His uncle William a hero of the Mexican War fell while leading his regiment at Molino Del Rey.  Graham followed the typical career path of a young officer in the pre-war army with duty at isolated posts in Florida and Texas.  William Graham must have been a very capable artillery officer.  In October 1861 when William French[ii], then captain of Light Company “K” was promoted to major, 27 year old William Graham was appointed to this coveted command and promoted to captain. Light Company K was one of the eight “light” artillery companies in the regular military establishment.  Selection for promotion to command a light company was not based on seniority, but on merit. [iii] It says a lot for William Graham that he got the appointment

On September 17th, 1862, Graham’s company was attached to the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac.  Around noon “K” was sent forward to support Israel Richardson’s Second Corps’ division advancing on the Sunken Road.  In the severe fighting there, Graham lost four soldiers killed and five wounded.  Seventeen horses were killed, and six wounded severely. So hot was the fire that General Richardson was mortally wounded by a shell fragment while standing in the battery. 

Graham’s full report is in Henry Hunt’s papers at the Library of Congress.  It contains information on the materiel losses of the battery that is not included in the report in OR 19:1.  Graham writes [in the full report] that “My loss in materiel was 192 rounds of ammunition expended, 2 trail hand spikes (1 broken), 5 wheel traces broken, 1 prolonge, 1 breech sight, 3 whips (drivers) two sabers and belts, 4 sets lead harnesses (single), 5 halters and straps, 5 nose bags, 2 pair spurs and straps.”

James “Jock” Stewart also followed an unlikely career path to command of a light artillery company.  At the start of the Civil War, Stewart, a ten-year army veteran was First Sergeant of Light Company B, 4th U.S. Artillery.  During his tenure, the immigrant from Leith Scotland saw hard frontier service in Texas and Utah.  “B” was another one of the “Elite 8.”[iv] John Gibbon who commanded the battery called Stewart “the best 1st Sergeant I ever saw in the service.”[v]  Elevation of an enlisted man to commissioned rank in the regular army was extremely rare before the Civil War.[vi]  Things had certainly changed by October 1861.  The establishment of the new Fifth U.S. Artillery Regiment created many new officer vacancies.  Additionally, the departure of many officers through resignation, or promotion to higher ranking volunteer and staff positions added many more openings. Due in some measure to Gibbon’s efforts, Stewart was appointed a second lieutenant in Gibbon’s battery in November 1861.  About that time, Gibbon accepted a volunteer commission to command a brigade of western soldiers. He was perhaps instrumental in keeping his old battery attached to his new command in what eventually became known first as the Black Hat Brigade, and later as the Iron Brigade of the West.  The brigade was part of Abner Doubleday’s division of Joseph Hooker’s First Corps during the Maryland Campaign.   It supported the infantry attack down the Hagerstown Pike in the early stages of the battle.  Joseph Campbell a 24-year-old graduate of the West Point Class of June 1861 who succeeded Gibbon was seriously wounded at the height of the Confederate counterattack at the Cornfield.   At 36 years of age, Stewart, the old man of the company and last remaining officer assumed command.   He not only led the company for the remainder of the battle but for virtually the rest of the war.[vii]  Light Company “B” suffered some of the highest casualties of any artillery unit in the Civil War. In addition to Captain Campbell who never returned to active command, “B” lost nine soldiers killed, and 30 wounded. 

A partial list of equipment
As a former first sergeant, Stewart was used to keeping detailed records.   Unlike William Graham who reported his losses on his official report, Stewart listed them in his monthly return for September 1862.   After detailing the movements of the battery for the month and the losses of men and horses, Stewart continues:  “All axle strips of battery more or less broken occasioned by rapid firing and the uneven nature of the ground not having cannoneers sufficient to run the guns to more favorable positions.  One limber disabled by cannon shot; 24 horses killed and 12 wounded; Required for use in the battery: 46 horses and 12 water buckets, 2 tar buckets, 1 sponge bucket, 60 blankets 50 curry combs, 50 horse brushes, 3 spare poles, 1 spare wheel and 6 to be exchanged; 6 picks and [illegible] 6 shovels, caisson, 4 hand spikes, trail, 4 sets lead harnesses, artillery, 2 near & 2 off; 15 wheel traces, 24 whips, 6 saddler's awls, and handlers, [illegible] lbs. square and flat iron, 25 head stalls and 4 bridles.”

The force of war knocks loose and breaks a lot of equipment. While the equipment listed above does not seem that important, these implements together contribute to the combat readiness of the company.  Some of these “little things” are needed for the care of the horses.  [The image from 1864 Field Artillery Tactics book lists some of this equipment.]  The rest are for servicing guns and ammunition.  An artillery company could not function without these seemingly little things.  In addition to all the other duties that company officers and NCOs performed after a battle, there was the lengthy painstaking inventory of lost, damaged and destroyed equipment. The Quartermaster Department demanded a thorough accounting of all equipment, big and little, before they would replace anything.  Graham and Stewart who were very good at their jobs give us an interesting perspective on this aspect of an artillery company. 

[i] Throughout this article, I refer to artillery units as companies.  For the First through Fourth Artillery at this time of the war, company was the term most frequently used.  The term battery at this time meant the horses and guns that are added to “mount” a foot artillery company.  However in the new Fifth U.S. Artillery, the units are referred to as batteries in their organizational orders.  As the war progressed the term battery became more frequently used even in the old legacy artillery companies.
[ii] This is the same William French who under his volunteer commission as a brigadier general commanded a Second Corps division in the Sunken Road at Antietam.
[iii] General Order Number 12, March 1, 1849: Vacancies occurring in Companies of Artillery designated by the President to be organized and equipped as Light Artillery, will be filled by selection.  If the vacancy happens to be in the grade of Captain, it will be filled by order of the Secretary of War, on the recommendation of the Colonel, who will name the Captain best qualified for the service.”
[iv] In 1860, the eight light artilleries in the regular army were Light Companies I and K of the First Artillery, A and M of the Second Artillery, C and E of the Third Artillery, and B and G of the Fourth Artillery.  In these eight companies, selection for command was based on merit and not seniority.  Selection for command in all other the other 40 (foot) artillery companies was based on seniority.
[v] Personal Recollections of the Civil War by John Gibbon. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1928 page 13
[vi] In December 1860 only eight of 219 serving artillery officers (under 4%) were former non-commissioned officers.  Two years later 29 officers were former sergeants.
[vii] Stewart remained in command of Light Company B until December 1864 when he was promoted to First Lieutenant and transferred to Company A.  He replaced Alonzo Cushing in that company who was killed at Gettysburg.