Artillery of the Confederate States
At first, all the ordnance and ordnance supplies of the United States in the Southern arsenals and armories were claimed by the States in which they were found. An Ordnance Department was organized. Colonel Josiah Gorgas, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in the class of 1841, was appointed chief of ordnance about the end of February, 1861. The department immediately sent out purchasing-officers. Of these, Commander Raphael Semmes (afterward Admiral Semmes) was sent to New York, where, for a few weeks, he was able to buy ordnance stores in considerable quantity and ship them to the South; and Colonel Caleb Huse was soon afterward sent to London to act as general purchasing-agent in England and on the European continent.
The Northern administration not only failed to take steps at the outset of the war to protect the great navy-yard at Norfolk, but it also surrendered that at Pensacola. The former could have been retained had the incoming administration acted more promptly. With the loss of these two great establishments to the Union went some thousands of cannon which aided immensely to arm the Southern batteries. This was one more source from which the Confederacy secured her guns. All of the big guns in the coastwise forts were old-time Columbiads placed there in 1856.
At the beginning of the Civil War the Confederate States had very few improved small arms, no powder-mills of any importance, very few modern cannon, and only the small arsenals that had been captured from the Federal Government. These were at Charleston, Augusta, Mount Vernon (Alabama), Baton Rouge, and Apalachicola. The machinery that was taken from Harper's Ferry Armory after its abandonment by the Federals was removed to Richmond, Virginia, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, where it was set up and operated. There were some State armories containing a few small arms and a few old pieces of heavy ordnance. There was scarcely any gunpowder except about sixty thousand pounds of old cannon-powder at Norfolk. There was almost an entire lack of other ordnance stores
The arms on hand at the beginning of the war came forward chiefly in the organizations of the men who first volunteered. These were equipped, as far as possible, by the States from which the regiments came. In response to a call for private arms, many thousand shotguns and old sporting-rifles were turned in, and served, to some extent, to satisfy the impatience of men eager to take the field until better provision could be made for them, or they provided for themselves on some of the battlefields in the early part of the war.
The first of the permanent works undertaken was a first-class powder-mill, the erection and equipment of which were placed in charge of Colonel George W. Rains, of North Carolina, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in the class of 1842. The mill was placed at Augusta, Georgia, and its construction was commenced in September, 1861. The plant was ready to begin making powder in April, 1862, and continued in successful operation until the end of the war, furnishing all the gunpowder needed, and of the finest quality. From the Richmond Arsenal there were issued between July 1, 1861, and January 1, 1865, 341 Columbiads and siege-guns, 1306 field-pieces of all descriptions, and 921,441 rounds of artillery ammunition of all classes.
The French 12-pounder bronze field-guns were made by Le Place Frères in Paris. They weighed 1,200 pounds and fired a projectile weighing 25 pounds with a charge of 2 pounds of powder. The Southern output was large, of the bronze 12 pounders known as Napoleons. During 1863 and 1864, no less than 110 of these were manufactured at the Augusta arsenal under the direction of General George W. Rains of the Confederate ordnance service. The old cast-iron Columbiad were strengthened at the Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond, by the addition of iron bands, after the manner of the Brooke heavy artillery invented by John M. Brooke, formerly of the United States navy, the designer of the ironclad Virginia–better known as the Merrimac. The light Brooke rifle was a 3-inch gun. Its length was about seventy inches, the diameter of the barrel at the muzzle was eleven inches, and the piece weighed nearly 900 pounds. The weight of the projectile was ten pounds with a powder charge of one pound. The maximum effective range of these guns was 3,500 yards, and the time of flight fifteen seconds, with an elevation of fifteen degrees.
The Confederate artillery was never equal in number or weight to that of the Union armies. In the West ancient 12-pounder howitzers were mounted on rough wooden carriages. When the Confederate armies captured a gun they almost invariably whirled it around, detailed artillerymen to man it, and set it promptly to work, but by this time the Union armies were so well equipped that captured guns might be parked. Many pieces had changed hands several times, and had barked defiance at both armies. The equipment of the Confederate batteries was seldom uniform. Among four guns there might be found three different calibers, requiring different ammunition.
The batteries' efficiency was still further impaired during the fight by the inability of the chief of artillery to select positions for his guns, which were often placed so far apart that he was unable to assemble them for concentrated fire. This was due to the custom of apportioning the field-artillery to infantry divisions, and placing them under orders of the brigadier-general, who could not give them proper attention. The plan was not changed until the early part of 1863. In the face of all these difficulties the Confederate artillery made a glorious record.
Confederate forces fielded an improvised rail-mounted artillery piece in 1862 during the American Civil War. The gun was a 32-pound naval rifle mounted on a flat railway wagon. Union forces subsequently built two guns similar in design to the Confederate model. Apparently the credit for the conception of the idea for the construction of such a battery should be given to Gen. Robert E. Lee. On 05 June 1862 Lee wrote to Col. J. Gorgas, Chief of the Confederate Ordnance Department, and asked "Is there a poedbility of constructing an iron-plated battery, mounting a heavy gun on trucks, the whole covered with iron, to move along the York River Railroad? Please see what can be done. See the Navy Department and officers. If a proper one can be got up at once, it will be of immense advantage to us." By 24 June 1862 The railroad iron-plated battery designed by Lieut. John M. Brooke, C. S. Navy, had been completed. The gun, a rifled and banded 32-pounder of 57 cwt., was mounted and equipped by lieut. R. D. Minor, G. S. Navy, and with 200 rounds of ammunition.
Gen. Joseph L. Brent of the Confederate Army, later wrote: "it was my fortune to witness perhaps the first fire that was ever delivered in actual combat from an armored railway wagon. ... in June, 1862, Lee made his flank movement against McClellan, one of the Seven Days' Battles was delivered on the line of the Richmond and York River Railway, at a point called Savage Station..... owing to the fact that the sides and rear of the battery were open and exposed to the fire of the skirmishers, and to the further fact that the field of fire of the gun was limited by its embrasures, the battery could not advance; and as the skirmish fire approached, it withdrew. If guns had been mounted ''en barbette'' and the gunners and machinery protected by only bullet-proof armor, and if there had been half a dozen such batteries, they could have easily broken the Federal line of battle and have cut off their reserves, large numbers of which were stationed on the left of the track."
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