Monday, August 21, 2017

The Civil War Artillerist

As another Lame Cherry exclusive in matter anti matter.

There are few things which I do not like about war. Less now in the modern age, as machines have replaced horses, because the killing of horses and mules in war, grieved me, as numbers enjoyed the sound of battle, but had no idea until a shell had their guts hanging out that war was a sad thing.

In that, one of my favorite parts of war are artillery. In my childlike mind, I wonder at the fantastic shots the artillerists could make and how accurate a muzzle loaded blackpowder cannon or howitzer could be.
The 3 inch gun of the Civil War was a device where at the range of up to a mile, a good Yankee gunner could knock the end out of a flour barrel. To hit a stop sign at one mile with a 3 inch ball consistently has always impressed me.

In the Civil War the basic fodder were the variations of the 3 inch cannon, the various howitzers in poundage, the Napoleon cannon and the Parrot guns. A parrot gun was simply an iron barrel with a second band placed on the breach for strength while it was hot and would shrink crimp onto the barrel. It was invented by West Point graduate name Parrott, and a very accurate gun, but they began to burst in the war as overcharging was a problem in battle, so the Parrot started to be replaced by the 3 inch guns.

These guns shot balls or cylinders. The cylinders were metal tubes which one can imagine how devil awful they had to be, in a blunt object skipping along a line of Soldiers ripping them in parts or smashing holes into horses.

Then there was canister shot, which was a light metal skinned ball which burst shrapnel. This was a 400 yard weapon.

There was also the shrapnel canister which had a hole in it, would ignite when the cannon was fired, and then explode over a battle field as the first cluster type bomb. It was literally shooting Soldiers from above.

Lastly and rarely used was grape shot, which was a shell plate with metal balls between. The canister replaced these.

In understand the different loads available, we return to General James Longstreet who recorded two remarkable shots by artillerists in the Civil War which he was in the theater of and witnessed.

The first was at Sharpesburg and is a remarkable story, as Longstreet's line was doing most of the fighting, and General DH Hill had held that bloody line all day in horrific fighting. In this case, General had joined his men in taking up a weapon to fill the line and keep fighting.

On the afternoon, General Robert E. Lee appeared on the front line, and was reviewing the situation. Lee, Longstreet and Hill moved up the rise to the battle front, General Hill was unable to walk as he was completely worn out, so deferred to ride his horse to the line.

The amusing part in this was General Longstreet, always aware of things, told Hill to ride a bit off from Lee and himself, as he was sure that horse was going to be a target of some Yankee gunner.
The trio no sooner had reached the top when Longstreet noted a white puff of smoke from a Union cannon, and remarked about that being Hill's shot, and within moment's Hill's horse went down, with both the front legs cut off.

It is a horrific story, but the details are remarkable in Major Alfred Woodhull noted this shot, was from Captain Weed in "Weed's Battery". The Captain was a remarkable shot and proved it in hitting a horse at a mile.
The remarkable part is all of the Yankees saw the horse, and noted "footmen were near". None of them knew though that this was the three most remarkable military leaders of the Confederacy.

A horse was a remarkable shot, but the entire battery would have opened up if they knew that Longstreet, Lee and Hill were in that concentrated location.

A little after one o'clock this and other parts of the line, 
except at the Burnside Bridge, settled down to defensive. 
Burnside was still hard at work in search of a practical 
line of advance, Toombs standing manfully against him. 

During the lull, after the rencounter of Walker's, 
Hill's, and Hood's divisions against Mansfield's last fight. 
General Lee and myself, riding together under the crest 
of General D. H. Hill's part of the line, were joined by 
the latter. We were presently called to the crest to ob- 
serve movements going on in the Union lines. The two 
former dismounted and walked to the crest ; General Hill, 
a little out of strength and thinking a single horseman 
not likely to draw the enemy's fire, rode. As we reached 
the crest I asked him to ride a little apart, as he would 
likely draw fire upon the group. While viewing the field 
a jiuff of white smoke was seen to burst from a cannon's 
mouth about a mile oflP. I remarked, " There is a shot for 
General Hill," and, looking towards him, saw his horse 
drop on his knees. Both forelegs were cut off just below 
the knees. The dropping forward of the poor animal so 
elevated his croup that it was not an easy matter for one 
not an expert horseman to dismount d la militaire. To 
add to the dilemma, there was a rubber coat with other 
wraps strapped to the cantle of the saddle. Failing in 
his attempt to dismount, I suggested that he throw his 
leg forward over the pommel. This gave him easy and 
graceful dismount. This was the third horse shot under 
him during the day, and the shot was one of the best 
I ever witnessed.

The second shot was from a Confederate gunner at Yorktown, and again being horrific, is amusing in the details of the Darwin candidate Yankee who offered it.

An topographical officer of the Union army appeared before the Confederate lines to map their works. He set up his table, and sat down in open sight of the Confederates.
In those situations among western peoples, you can count on some one to always to take a pot shot at an idiot as it is the sport of war.

A non commissioned officer by the name of Corporal Holtz Burton of the Second Richmond Howitzers, took it upon himself to sight in his gun and fire. It was quiet on the front and when the cannon erupted, everyone turned to look, follow the ball in flight, and it lit as pretty in the hands of the topographical engineer as if sent by Angels.

The shot killed the Darwin candidate.

An equally good one was made by a 
Confederate at Yorktown. An officer of the Topograph- 
ical Engineers walked into the open, in front of our lines, 
fixed his plane table and seated himself to make a map 
of the Confederate works. A non-commissioned officer, 
without orders, adjusted his gun, carefully aimed it, and 
fired. At the report of the gun all eyes were turned to 
see the occasion of it, and then to observe the object, 
when the shell was seen to explode as if in the hands of 
the officer. It had been dropped squarely upon the draw- 
ing-table, and Lieutenant Wagner was mortally wounded.* 
Of the first shot, Major Alfred A. Woodhull, under date 
of June 8, 1886, wrote, — 

^^On the 17tli of September, 1862, I was standing in Weed's 
battery, whose position is correctly given in the map, when a 
man on, I think, a gray horse, appeared about a mile in front 
of us, and footmen were recognized near. Captain Weed, who 
was a remarkable artillerist, himself sighted and fired the 
gun at the horse, which was struck.'^ 

* Of this shot, Captain A. B. More, of Richmond, Virginia, 
wrote, under date of June 16, 1886, — 

The Howitzers have always been proud of that shot, and, 
thinking it would interest you, I write to say that it was 
fired by Corporal Holzburton, of the Second Company, 
Richmond Howitzers, from a ten-pound Parrott." 

It is why I have always appreciated the artillerist, in they can wreck such awful and horrific destruction if given time and position. They can take what seems a broadside of a barn weapon and turn it into a bullseye sniping weapon, simply from being familiar with it. They know those big guns cold, hot, damp, dry, and make incredible hits.

Much of that artistry is lost in the age of missiles and rockets, but in reality more people have been killed by artillery than by missiles and rockets. I do not like expensive nor complicated weapons, as they bankrupt a nation and always break. There is something secure in a tube of steel, an appropriate charge of powder and a projectile which will accomplish the job with the same or superior results on the field of combat.

Never lose sight that there were not any assault rifles in the Civil War and heaps of Americans died. These were single shot, front loading muskets, and they were single shot front loading cannon, and they were as deadly in the right hands as anything modern.

This is another Lame Cherry exclusive in matter anti matter, in the interesting history of the Civil War.

Nuff  Said