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"The Artillery of Gettysburg" Topic

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1,274 hits since 22 Jan 2013
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Trajanus22 Jan 2013 5:30 a.m. PST

Following on from reading his "Maps of Antietam " I've just finished Gottfried's "The Artillery of Gettysburg".

This describes the movements and actions of both sides' artillery batteries at the battle and focuses on the part played by them in its result.

As such it is appears well researched and footnoted and gives a different perspective to a battle I thought I knew backwards.

Artillery doesn't always get a specific mention in battle histories other than that there were a lot of them in a certain place and they killed a lot of people in connection with a certain sequence of events. How they came to be there and what they actually did often gets lost in narrative.

Using the batteries as the focal point changes all that and can lead to a better understanding of events.

The book itself is well written, with a lot of contemporary material and insight to the organisation of both armies.

There are one or two style points that grind, the need to give every battery commander by his full rank and name each time he pops up and particularly the use of the term "dropped trail" for ‘deployed' on pretty much every occasion, drove me a little crazy by the end of the book.

However, it was very good at throwing up a number of points for my consideration, some I knew and some I didn't, or didn't appreciate and now view in a different way.

I've listed a few here, in no particular order.

1. The Confederate command organisation was not as efficient as the Union and Lee should have sacked Pendleton as his Chief of Artillery before the battle, never mind after it!

2. Henry Hunt (Union Chief of Artillery) was a major factor in winning the battle as were his Brigade Commanders.

3. The Confederates suffered greatly from a lack of decent Artillery positions and the Union made the most of their better ones. A lot of Confederate guns went unused as a result of this and a lack of central coordination to find alternatives.

4. Confederate ammunition was deeply unreliable and the reserves totally mismanaged.

5. Union artillery probably saved the Army on 2nd July as the 3rd Corps collapsed.

6. Horse losses were dreadful – 881 recorded on the Union side alone.

7. While overall losses in personnel were around 10% for both sides, some batteries lost 25% of their effectives.

8. Counter battery fire was intense and the courage displayed by both sides, outstanding.

9. Odd things happened – A number of guns were hit plumb on the end of their muzzles from 1,000 yards away and if you shove Ordnance Rifle rounds down a 10 Pounder Parrot, by mistake, you can lose half a battery buy the time you figure it out!

Well worth the reading!

cwbuff Inactive Member22 Jan 2013 7:09 a.m. PST

Darn! Another book to add to my library. Thanks for the review.

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 7:20 a.m. PST

" if you shove Ordnance Rifle rounds down a 10 Pounder Parrot, by mistake, you can lose half a battery buy the time you figure it out!"

Isn't that why, in JR2, if you roll a 2 while firing your battery jams? Neat little rule.

Trajanus22 Jan 2013 7:23 a.m. PST

Considering there was only 0.1 inch difference I'm surprised it didn't happen all the time – particularly if you were being shelled while loading!

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 7:49 a.m. PST

One of the things that I liked about Henry Hunt was his order to disarm federal artillery crews in the AoP. He issued this order within days of his assuming command of the artillery.

Hunt's reasoning was that the primary weapon of the artillery was the battery guns, and not small arms. In may situations prior to this time, artillery men had ceased manning their guns and drawn their sidearms to defend themselves, and thus lost their guns to the enemy.

By disarming the gunners, he forced them to stay with their batteries, and also forced federal brigade and division commanders to provide infantry support to the battery to secure the position.

Hunt allowed each battery a handful of rifles, carbines or musketoons for the use of sentries and foraging, but the only sidearms he permitted were those of the officers, and the chiefs of piece, and these primarily for shooting wounded horses.

vtsaogames22 Jan 2013 11:51 a.m. PST

"Union artillery probably saved the Army on 2nd July as the 3rd Corps collapsed."

I always thought so. Union artillery frequently fought on unsupported after their infantry took off.

Thanks for the heads up on the book.

Sparker Inactive Member22 Jan 2013 2:37 p.m. PST

Very interesting and a great heads up, thanks!

Regarding point No.4, could I ask you to elucidate please? The reason I ask is that my club is staging a Gettysburg mega game for the 200th using Black Powder rules, and I have a hunch this issue of dud Confederate shells should be reflected…Do we know what proportion of munitions were dud?

vtsaogames22 Jan 2013 4:11 p.m. PST

I have not seen a proportion given, but the issue of poor fuses in rounds manufactured in the Confederacy has been mentioned in various places. I would give a negative modifier to Confederate shells, but not round shot or canister.

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 4:20 p.m. PST

Lee ordered Pendleton to ensure that under no circumstance were their batteries to fire over the heads of their own infantry. This was because of the poor quality of the fuzes produced by the CS Ordnance Laboratories. It wasn't the ammunition that was the problem. It was the time fuzes.

There had been sufficient examples of shells bursting short that it was considered too hazardous to fire them over the heads of their own troops.

Keep in mind that only under the most serious of conditions would ANY battery fire with friendly infantry within 100 yards of it's muzzles. This was because of the danger to them by shrapnel from the wooden sabots, mounting sheet metal straps and scr3ws/nails used to fasten them to the round. Those parts would separate inside the barrel as the round was traveling down it, and continue following the round for up to 100 yards.

Thus, supporting infantry was always placed to the flank or in rear of a battery. Infantry could and did pass through a battery's area with no delay, but the battery would cease fire until the unit(s) were well-clear before engaging the enemy.

Charlie 1222 Jan 2013 5:04 p.m. PST

Thanks for the review. Definitely going on the 'to buy' list.

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 6:23 p.m. PST

Wasn't a Union soldier on one of the walls below Cemetery Hill, on the east side I think, killed by a piece of sabot on the 2nd?

Trajanus23 Jan 2013 3:35 a.m. PST

Regarding defective shells.

One thing to remember is that artillery tactics had changed since Napoleonic times and Ball – Solid Shot wasn't used that much.

The change in infantry formations and the lack of dense columns meant it wasn't really that effective anymore, unless you could get an oblique shot or direct enfilade.

It was still good for counter battery fire where it could smash guns and equipment and kill horses but shell and case shot made up the majority of rounds fired. So fuses were very important as both shell and case shot relied on them.

The other thing to consider is that rifled guns didn't even carry ball in their load out.

The Union used the Belgian, ‘Boremann' fuse which caused the problems for the Confederacy as they had great difficulty copying its design. Col E.Porter Alexander estimated that 20% of these failed to work in service. Eventually these were changed but so much ammunition had been produced that the stocks were still being used up at Gettysburg. The South had so many production difficulties they just could not afford to bin them.

Of course getting hit with unexploded shell or case shot didn't improve your looks any but as the idea was that these rounds were supposed to airburst, if they didn't go off they were inclined to just pass over your head.

This was part of the problem during the pre Pickett's Charge bombardment. The Confederate gunners were overshooting any way but the unexploded shells just kept on going! On the other hand, short rounds did act like solid shot.

One thing the book mentions that's worth knowing is the use of shells and I assume more effectively case shot, as replacement canister.

There were only a handful of real canister rounds in the ammo chests so if the gun/battery had run out, you could set the fuse (assuming it worked) to one second (or near as) and in theory it would explode on, or just after, leaving the gun giving a similar effect.

This was known as "rotten shot". I'm not sure if that's a comment on its performance but I guess shell would not have been a great substitute, although case shot with all the balls inside would have been better.

Finally, the other supply problem the Confederate artillery suffered from was the number of "mixed" batteries they had where either the gun types were different and/or they had a mix of smoothbore and rifled guns.

47 out of 68 Batteries at Gettysburg were "mixed".

Sparker Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 2:21 p.m. PST

Thanks for all this interesting information, its very timely and useful to me…Tkindred, may I please ask for a reference for your point about Lee ordering ANV batteries not to 'overhead' fire? (My NVA commanders are apt to be sceptical about any rules amends that will make things even harder for them!)

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2013 2:50 p.m. PST

Like traveling from Hanoi to Pennsylvania? :)

Trajanus23 Jan 2013 3:52 p.m. PST


I can't speak for General Lee but Henry Hunt gave written instructions against the use of overhead fire to his artillery commanders well before Gettysburg.

It was to be used only in exceptional circumstances and then only with solid shot or shell.

Not too sure how well this was kept to. There's a nice quote in the book regarding a Union infantry commander storming into a battery position, pistol in hand, threatening to shoot the next man attempting to pull a lanyard!

Truth to tell, it was frowned on by both sides.

Sparker Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 4:01 p.m. PST

Thanks Trajanus, didn't know that – with Black Powder we have been merrily firing away over our own troops, from heights, with just a -1 modifier….

Like traveling from Hanoi to Pennsylvania? :)

Ooops! Very good….

Actually, some similarities I reckon – tough underresourced army exhausting itself by taking the offensive to a larger better equipped foe….Maybe its a good job for the Union that Walter Cronkite and TV news wasn't around in the 1860's!

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2013 6:31 p.m. PST

I can't dig out the reference just now, as the majority of my ACW books are in the storage unit while renovations are underway.

HOWEVER, it may be found in both "The Wartime Papers of RE Lee" and "Pfanz' "2nd Day at Gettysburg".


vtsaogames23 Jan 2013 7:32 p.m. PST

Or, allow overhead fire with a decent chance of disordering the units fired over…

WARSTEPHEN Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 7:39 p.m. PST

In one JR3 game at a Historicon several years ago a Reb battery fired over his troops. When time for Officer casulites came that officer was killed. J. Hill said' I guess his men Fragged him.'

forwardmarchstudios23 Jan 2013 10:01 p.m. PST

800 horses dead isn't that bad. I mean, I just read that at Borodino 40,000 (!!!) horses died.

Trajanus24 Jan 2013 4:41 a.m. PST

Well it was nearer 900 than 800 and that was just in the Union Artillery but I take your point.

On the other hand looking at the size and involvement of cavalry in the Napoleonic period compared to the Civil War you begin to wonder how many horses were left in Europe at the end of it all!

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP24 Jan 2013 5:51 a.m. PST

If you can find a copy of "Following the Greek Cross" by Thomas W Hyde, he writes about his being ordered to take the 7th Maine on a solo assault against the orchards at Piper's farm. It was bad enough, Hyde wrote that the general who gave the orders was drunk, but he ordered up a battery which unlimbered in rear of the 7th Maine, and it's first shot took out 8 men of the right hand company.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP24 Jan 2013 8:06 a.m. PST

It's always good to go to the participants. Here is E. P. Alexander, late Chief of Artillery of Longstreet's Corps, describing the strengths and weaknesses of the CSA artillery arm in 1866.


Trajanus24 Jan 2013 11:00 a.m. PST

"Of the most valuable kind of rifle ammunition, shrapnel, the Confederates made none, on account of the scarcity of lead."


Well that is news! One lot of fuses less to worry about I guess!

donlowry25 Jan 2013 10:58 a.m. PST

There's a nice quote in the book regarding a Union infantry commander storming into a battery position, pistol in hand, threatening to shoot the next man attempting to pull a lanyard!

I don't know if it's the incident you read about, but something similar happened at Gettyburg, early morning 3 July, when the 12th Corps was clearing the Rebels off of Culp's Hill.

Trajanus25 Jan 2013 1:48 p.m. PST


Well remembered! The would be assassin was Col James Selfridge, 46th Pennsylvania. In fact on rereading the indecent, Col Selfridge obviously believed in going straight to the top.

It wasn't the gunners he threatened to shoot it was the battery commander!

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