About Me

My photo
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, March 16, 2018

In Perfect Order

Lieutenant Charles Hazlett
After the Battle of Antietam, Henry Hunt the new Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac directed that an inspection be conducted of every artillery battery in the army.  Hunt’s papers in the Library of Congress contain detailed records of that first inspection.[1]   Included are reports from some 33 artillery batteries from every army corps but the Sixth.[2]

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wainwright himself newly appointed to the same post in the First Corps conducted inspections for that command and reported his findings on October 6th.  Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing at the time on Sumner’s staff as the topographical engineer inspected Second and Twelfth Corps artillery units.  He submitted his report on October 8th.  Lieutenant Samuel Benjamin who commanded a 20-pound Parrott battery in the Ninth Corps completed reports for is corps on October 23rd. Finally Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Webb, inspector general of the Fifth Corps reviewed the artillery batteries of Porter’s corps and submitted his report the next day.  Webb’s reports are the most comprehensive of the group.    

These officers evaluated the condition of the guns, limbers and caissons. Did the company possess the basic load of 250 rounds per gun and was it properly and safely packed?  Inspectors carefully checked the health and care of artillery horses.  Was there a proper supply of forage and hay?  Were harnesses properly cared for?  Were there enough artillery implements and tools for the guns? Were there enough tents?  Did the brigade and/or division quartermasters and commissary officers attend to the needs of the company?

They looked at the condition and cleanliness of the men.  Were they all equipped and effective for combat? How was their military bearing?  Was new clothing available?  Did they have their knapsacks?  Were officers and men receiving daily recitations of Army Regulations and tactics? How many times a day did the officers and sergeants conduct calls, drill and guard mount?

Did the commander accurately account for all company property?  Were his company books and returns accurate and complete?  Was his camp laid out correctly and properly policed?  Where was the nearest hospital tent?  Finally was the commander effectively in charge?  The inspector ended each inspection with a sentence to the effect that the battery was or was not “efficient.” 

Though the report narrative for each category is very brief, sometimes just one or two words, the reports are surprisingly comprehensive.  They draw a fascinating picture of the condition of the Union artillery immediately following the Battle of Antietam.

Generally the guns and accouterments were very well maintained and most batteries had their basic load of 250 rounds per gun.  One exception was Monroe’s Rhode Island Battery which was about 70 rounds short for each gun though the battery had stashed a larger than authorized amount of canister.  It was no wonder considering what Monroe had been through in the past 60 days.   His battery was nearly overrun at Second Manassas and there had been some dicey moments at Antietam too.

The biggest problem was the number and condition of the horses.  Many of the batteries did not have enough horses.  The army was in the process of condemning unfit horses.  They were in short supply and “smallish.”  In the Ninth Corps, the horses were coming down with what Lieutenant Benjamin called greasy heel. This was a bacterial disease caused by insufficient diet, exposure to dampness, and rough riding conditions.[3]  Benjamin reported that many batteries in his corps were short of horseshoes.  Overall, there were many reports that the supply of hay was inadequate. 

Many batteries were in need of clothing for the men. In the weeks after the battle McClellan and the Union quartermaster general Montgomery Meigs were engaged in a barrage of telegrams on the logistics situation.  Meigs maintained that adequate stocks had been shipped to the army.  McClellan and his quartermaster Rufus Ingalls disagreed.  Whatever the case, new clothing was not reaching some of the artillery batteries. 

The regular batteries were generally rated the most military in bearing and drill.  Several of them only had one officer on hand.  Charles Hazlett was the only officer in Battery D, Fifth Artillery. James Stewart in Battery B, Fourth Artillery was another case in point. Wainwright pointedly noted also that Battery B was comprised almost entirely of volunteers.  Of the 140 enlisted men, 123 or 93% were of volunteers.  Ransom’s regular battery lost all of their books (company records) at Second Bull Run.  In the Second Corps, Evan Thomas’ Battery A, Fourth Artillery had moved out of Washington so quickly at the beginning of the Maryland Campaign that they left their knapsacks containing all their personal clothing on barge at Georgetown.  The men had essentially been in the same clothes for six weeks. 

A good volunteer battery was Matthew’s Battery F, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery. This fine outfit stood firm in the Cornfield along with Ransom and Stewart and was instrumental in halting the Confederate attacks there.  Wainwright found discipline excellent, a rating hard to earn from that very finicky officer. 

Then there was Company L, First Ohio Light Artillery.  This was a new battery that arrived after Antietam to add an artillery complement to Humphrey’s Third Division of the Fifth Corps.  It had not seen a lot of action.  It was with Shield’s division in the Department of the Rappahannock and for most of the summer and fall had been in the Washington defenses.  Its commander was Lieutenant Frederick Dorries.  Lieutenant Colonel Webb found the battery “decidedly unmilitary on parade…the command was overall inefficient, officers were not well acquainted with their duties…the Orderly Sergeant does not wear chevrons and lives with commissioned officers; he does not know duties, property is not accounted for, no training offered, files not complete, This battery is in miserable condition owing to the inefficiency of the officers.” It was left to be seen whether this battery would be ready for action before the next campaign.

While Dorries’ battery had a lot of work to do to meet Henry Hunt’s standards, there was one battery that stood out.  This battery was organized by Charles Griffin, an artillery instructor at United States Military Academy at the start of the war and was comprised of West Point artillery soldiers, and such graduates of the Class of 1861 as Henry Kingsbury, Adelbert Ames and Charles Hazlett.  From this pedigree, it became known as the West Point Battery. Battery D, Fifth U.S. Artillery made its first appearance at First Bull Run under Griffin where it lost its guns in the climactic struggle on Henry Hill.  When Griffin took command of an infantry brigade in Morell’s division, his gunners found a place as the regular army battery assigned to that command. The battery did well under Henry Kingsbury at Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill.  Kingsbury would credit the battery’s success to “Hazlett’s unwearied exertions of preparation.”[4]   While Ames and Kingsbury eventually accepted volunteer commissions to command the 20th Maine and 11th Connecticut Infantry respectively, Hazlett remained with the artillery.   The young Ohioan led his gunners at Second Manassas firing over 1,000 rounds of ammunition and barely escaping capture while supporting Gouveneur Warren’s Fifth New York Infantry as it was nearly destroyed by rampaging Confederates.[5]  At Antietam the battery was part of Henry Hunt’s line of guns of position and remained east of the creek during the battle.  Hazlett and his men were deeply saddened to learn the news of the death of Kingsbury who fell leading his regiment at the Burnside Bridge. On September 19th and 20th the Battery D participated in the artillery duel during Battle of Shepherdstown where the men were overjoyed to learn that Griffin’s infantry recaptured one of their lost Bull Run guns.

Webb a graduate of West Point in 1855 was a Second Artillery officer before the war and aide to former Chief of Artillery William Barry.  He was thoroughly qualified to inspect the artillery batteries of the Fifth Corps.  As he began the inspection of Hazlett’s battery, he noted several times in his report that the lieutenant was the only officer present.[6]  Despite this he found the battery’s six 10-pound Parrots in good condition, the ammunition in perfect order, horses and caissons in very good condition, the men well supplied with clothing and the command overall very efficient and orderly. Company records were all in hand and well kept and the camp was “in admirable police; the neatest in the artillery of the corps.”  The only problems were not in the battery itself but with the Quartermaster Department in that the wants of the battery are not normally anticipated. Overall Webb pronounced the battery is in admirable condition but pointedly indicated that it needed five officers.

Hazlett’s “unwearied exertions of preparation” continued to maintain the West Point Battery as one of the finest in the Army of the Potomac.

In nine months Alexander Webb would lead the Philadelphia Brigade to immortality at the Copse of Trees at Gettysburg on July 3rd 1863.  He would live another 48 years, honored and respected for his key role in the Union victory at that important battle.  Charles Hazlett would not fare so well. The day before Pickett’s charge, a rebel sharpshooter killed Hazlett on Little Round Top.  While leaning close to catch the dying words of his friend and fellow artilleryman Stephen Weed, Hazlett was struck by a bullet in the forehead and died instantly.  He was 24 years old.

The findings of Hunt’s artillery inspectors should not always be completely regarded as a bad reflection on the battery commanders.  Like their Confederate counterparts, the artillerymen of the Army of the Potomac had been marching and fighting continuously since the end of May.  The Second, Fifth and Sixth Corps had seen hard fighting on the Peninsula.  The First, and Twelfth were veterans of the tough fights at Cedar Mountain and at earlier battles with Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Army in the spring.  The First, Fifth, Ninth and Twelfth fought hard at Second Manassas.  The continuous marching, and fighting stretched the logistic network to its limit.  Men, horses and equipment were worn out.  Hunt’s series of inspections gave him and his officers a snapshot on the overall condition of the command and a place to start from in the rebuilding of the artillery corps of the Army of the Potomac.

[1] Henry Hunt Papers, Library of Congress Box 7 Folder 6 (October – December 1862)
[2] 1st Corps 10 batteries, 5th Corps 9 batteries, 9th Corps 7 batteries, 2nd & 12th Corps 7 batteries
[3] Collea, Joseph The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War: A History Jefferson NC: Jefferson McFarland and Company 2010, page 92
[4] OR 11:2 page 286 Report of Lieut. Henry W. Kingsbury, Battery D, Fifth U.S. Artillery, of the battles of Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill
[5] OR 12:2 page 468 Reports of Lieut. Charles E. Hazlett, Battery D, Fifth U.S. Artillery, of the battles of Groveton and Bull Run
[6] Of the other officers, Captain Griffin was commanding the brigade in Morell’s division, Lieutenants Harrison and Bolles were sick, Lieutenant Reed was on recruiting duty and Lieutenant Hascall was on detached service with the Quartermaster Department. Source:  October 1862 Monthly Return