Confederate Artillery Organization 1861-1865

confederate-artillery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yes, indeed, another of my articles dealing with Civil War artillery. Geeks, wonks, and buffs rejoice.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

At the beginning of the war the Confederacy hastily formed an artillery service. As in the Union army the basic unit was the battery, and these batteries were initially assigned to infantry brigades. As such, the Confederate organization had the same problems as their Union counterparts. Infantry commanders with little or no understanding in the use and deployment of their artillery frequently interfered with their artillerymen. Since the Confederates had very little field artillery to begin the war and most was concentrated in the east, Confederate tactical and organizational developments began with the Army of Northern Virginia and were later introduced to other commands.

The artillery was assigned to brigades, but Confederate divisions did have an artillery chief, however, these officers had “difficulty supervising the batteries. The brigade commanders resented the artillery chief’s intervention, and the entire system created divided authority and responsibility.” [1] Like the Army of the Potomac, the Confederates formed an artillery reserve under Brigadier General William Pendleton a graduate of West Point where he graduated a year behind Robert E. Lee and classmate of Joseph Johnston. Pendleton organized and commanded a battery at First Manassas. Joseph Johnston recognized his administrative ability, thus a personal relationship as well as “circumstance and a certain aptitude for organization give him an advancement to the post chief of artillery.” [2] When Lee took command of the army outside of Richmond Pendleton found himself busy. “With Lee’s encouragement…Pendleton, culled the unattached artillery around Richmond, with a view of transferring guns to field batteries.” [3] Lee retained Pendleton as artillery chief after the Seven Days even though his “performance in the campaign had revealed his serious shortcoming as an artillery commander,” [4] as well as in the organization of the Army’s artillery.

In June 1862 Lee had Pendleton revise the regulations governing the artillery. These regulations “centralized all batteries under a chief of artillery for each division.” [5] This was a step forward but effectiveness was undercut by the brigade commanders who had operational control once they were attached. Likewise, while the organization gave great flexibility to the artillery, the “parochialism of the division itself now became the problem. There was no mechanism to mass guns from more than one division except by drawing on the reserve.” [6]

Pendleton’s lack of ability was demonstrated at both Antietam and Chancellorsville and as artillery chief he was slow to introduce organizational changes to improve the effectiveness of the artillery. Lee treated Pendleton with deference and although he recognized Pendleton “could not compare with Alexander or a handful of other officers in the artillery in ability and execution. Lee understood that and slowly pushed Pendleton into roles of decreasing importance and responsibility.” [7] After the Seven Days, Porter Alexander wrote: “Our artillery, too, was even in worse need of reorganization. A battery was attached, or supposed to be, to every brigade of infantry. Besides these, a few batteries were held in reserve under old General Pendleton. Naturally our guns & ammunition were far inferior to the enemy’s, & this scattering of the commands made it impossible ever to mass our guns in effective numbers. For artillery fire loses effect if scattered.” [8]

WNPendelton

Brigadier General William Pendleton, CSA

One are that the Confederates advanced more rapidly than the Union was in the appointment of field grade officers in the artillery. The first Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, successfully urged the Confederate Provisional Congress to authorize the appointment of “officers of artillery above the rank of captain, without reference to the number of batteries under the actual command of the officers so appointed, not to exceed in number, however, one brigadier general for every eighty guns, and one major for every sixteen guns.” Additional officers of the rank of captain and first lieutenant (not to exceed eighty) were authorized in April 1862.” [9] This gave the Confederates a good sized corps of field grade artillery officers from which they would need to eventually staff artillery battalions in 1863. Among these officers were Porter Alexander, Thomas Rosser, Stapleton Crutchfield, and John Pelham.

alexander

Brigadier General Edward Porter Alexander 

During the winter of 1862-1863 Pendleton belatedly complained to Lee about the organizational weaknesses and limitations of the artillery arm of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. That process had begun during the summer of 1862 and Pendleton “delegated reorganization to Alexander and Col. Stapleton Crutchfield, Jackson’s chief.” [10] Alexander and Crutchfield developed “the first modern battalion system in artillery organization.” [11] Pendleton, Crutchfield, and Alexander “recommended consolidating every four batteries into a battalion, with one battery assigned to each division.” [12] The commander of the artillery battalion supporting each division became the chief of the divisional artillery. Each corps had its own senior artillery staff officer, usually a Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel, however as Alexander noted, at first the chief “was little more than the title given to the ranking battalion commander. But in battle he occupied himself principally with his own battalion.” [13] In addition to the battalions attached to each division, “each corps had two battalions, which it could employ in conjunctions with divisions for heavy, concentrated fire.” [14]

Lee approved the changes on February 16th 1863, in time for the coming spring and summer campaigns, and “completed the reorganization during the winter when he assigned a field grade officer to each battalion and reduced the artillery reserve to six batteries.” [15]

After Chancellorsville all of the batteries that had been Lee’s artillery reserve were reassigned to the various corps. Pendleton’s duties were now restricted to advising Lee on artillery matters while remaining Lee’s spiritual adviser, and unofficial enforcer of morality in the Army of Northern Virginia. While this was a great step forward to give Lee’s Corps commanders control of their artillery gave took, the reorganization took away any flexibility that Lee might need to send artillery where it was needed in the Gettysburg campaign of 1863, and Pendleton, although having no command authority interfered with the Confederate artillery preparations for Pickett’s Charge by redeploying artillery batteries that Alexander had designated for the mission and removing the artillery train to the rear without Alexander’s knowledge, thus ensuring that Alexander could not resupply his caissons or guns during that fateful attack.

The Confederate artillery organization remained the same throughout the remainder of the war, its battalion structure was very similar to the later Union organization of the artillery brigades which were assigned to divisions, despite the difference in nomenclature. The pioneering work in organizing artillery battalions and brigades that were for practical purposes assigned to the same division would be the basis of modern artillery organization and would be adopted by the European armies of Britain, France, Austria, and Prussia in the years following the war.

Notes

[1] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.59

[2] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.35

[3] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.131

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.64

[5] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.131

[6] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.132

[7] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse 2008 p.340

[8] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.104

[9] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.61

[10] Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander, Crown Publishers, New York 1994 p.135

[11] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.132

[12] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse 2008 p.249

[13] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.168

[14] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander p.249

[15] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.132

 

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