Armament of the Army of the Potomac During the Chancellorsville Campaign


110th pennsylvania

From Eric Mink:

The winter of 1862-1863 saw the United States’ Army of the Potomac restructure, refit, reform and emerge from its winter camps a stronger, confident and more effective fighting force. Army commander Joseph Hooker instituted numerous reforms that raised morale and also worked to improve the army’s efficiency of command and control. He abolished the grand divisions, an unwieldy and unnecessary additional level of command instituted by his predecessor Ambrose Burnside. Hooker brought all of the cavalry brigades together into their own mounted corps under a single officer, not scattered among the various infantry corps as had been the army’s tradition. The 9th Army Corps left the army for another theater of the war, but the loss of that command was replaced with the addition of the 11th and 12th Army Corps’ following the army’s defeat at Fredericksburg. Another area where the Army of the Potomac improved during the winter months was its armament. Between the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Chancellorsville Campaign, the army made nominal gains in better, more dependable and accurate weapons.

Commencing with the fourth quarter of 1862, ending December 31, the United States Army’s Ordnance Department compiled quarterly returns for all ordnance and ordnance stores on hand, as submitted by companies, regiments and batteries. These summary statements provide a good look at the armament of the armies in the field and the weaponry carried by their regiments and batteries. The fourth quarter 1862 returns for the Army of the Potomac show that infantry regiments were pretty well armed with the majority of the long arms carried classified as 1st Class weapons, dominated by the Springfield Rifled Muskets, model 1855, 1861, National Armory and contract and the British Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifled Musket. In the artillery, the most common gun with the army’s batteries was the Model 1857, Light 12-pounder Gun-Howitzer, nicknamed the “Napoleon,” while the New Model 1859 Sharps Carbine was found in the hands of most of the army’s horsemen. In the first three months of 1863, a slight improvement is evident in the weapons carried by the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac.

The months following the Battle of Fredericksburg allowed for regiments to replace losses in both men and equipment. A look at the returns suggests that some regiments also improved the quality of their weapons. For instance, the 24th New Jersey Infantry reported on its fourth quarter 1862 return that all of its companies carried the 2nd class imported “Belgian or Vincennes Rifles, sabre bayonet. Calibre .69 to .71,” but on the returns for the 1st quarter of 1863 the regiment had upgraded to the 1st Class British Enfields. Overall in the army, the 1st quarter of 1863 saw an improvement from 74% to 78% of all infantry weapons being classified as 1st Class. The returns also show the continued reliance on imported weapons, as they constituted 44% of the long arms in the army, an increase of 6% from the previous quarterly returns. In the artillery, the 3-inch wrought iron field rifle, commonly referred to as the “Ordnance Rifle,” emerged as the most common gun found among the army’s batteries. The Sharp’s carbine still dominated the cavalry’s armament.

Click to here to retrieve the document.

The attached statistics come from: Record Group 156: Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance – “Summary Statements of Quarterly Returns of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores on Hand in Regular and Volunteer Army Organizations, 1862-1867, 1870-1876.” (Microcopy 1281, Rolls 1, 2 and 4). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Eric J. Mink

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Armament of the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg


2nd US Artillery

From Eric Mink:

The following post and attached transcript originally appeared in 2008 on the website for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. After numerous updates and upgrades to that site, this information got lost and eventually bumped. By posting it here on the park’s blog, it will hopefully remain available and accessible.

In the spring of 1861, volunteers rushed to join companies and regiments forming throughout the north. Equipping the thousands of men who responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call was no easy task. There were only two Federal arsenals at that time: one in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the other in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. On April 18, Virginia troops seized Harpers Ferry and removed the surviving weapons and machinery kept there. That left only the Springfield Arsenal to produce weapons for the growing forces of the United States.

The inventory of weapons on hand in the United States Ordnance Department revealed 437,000 muskets and rifles, 4,000 carbines, and 27,000 pistols. Of that number, only 40,000 of the muskets and rifles were of recent manufacture, the vast majority being older models and styles. This was an adequate supply should the conflict be a short one, but as the war dragged into the fall of 1861, and more men flocked to the army, it quickly became apparent that the demand far outreached the supply.

Federal authorities turned to both contractors and foreign sources to meet the demand. Firms such as Colt Patent Firearms Company and U.S. Providence Tool Company received government contracts to produce the most modern style of gun available, the Model 1861 Springfield Rifled Musket. Government buyers also traveled to Europe, where they competed not only with individual states but with Confederate purchasing agents, who also hoped to secure available arms. These foreign weapons were a mixed bag, with rusty, antiquated long arms often arriving in U.S. ports, as well as accurate more modern models. Imported in high numbers, and coveted by many who received them, were the British Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifled Musket and the 1854 Austrian Lorenz Rifled Musket.

For the cavalry, breech-loading technology offered a distinct advantage. Horsemen could load quickly and while on the move without fumbling with the cumbersome muzzleloaders. The most popular of these weapons was the New Model 1859 Sharps Carbine, manufactured by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Large numbers of these carbines were purchased and it became the standard weapon for the Union cavalry during the war. Other breechloaders, such as the Merrill Carbine, Gallagher Percussion Carbine, and the Burnside Percussion Carbine supplemented the need for arms to supply mounted forces of the army.

Union foundries worked overtime to supply the armies with cannons for the artillery batteries. The Model 1857, Light 12-pounder Gun-Howitzer, nicknamed the “Napoleon,” was the most prevalent and popular type of gun during the first years of the war. It was light enough to be moved quickly around the battlefield and versatile enough to fire different types of ammunition. Later inventions surpassed the Napoleon, being lighter and having greater ranges. The Model 1861 3-inch wrought iron field rifle, commonly referred to as the “Ordnance Rifle,” was a dependable gun and a prized among artillerists. The Parrott Gun, first designed in 1860, also saw extensive service with the field batteries. It came in various sizes, but the most prevalent found on the battlefield were the 10 and 20-pounder models. With its reinforcing band around the breech of the gun, the Parrott was able to throw a shell 1,900 yards, surpassing both the Napoleon and the Ordnance Rifle.

Despite Northern production and imports, it wasn’t until 1863 that the government was capable of supplying first class weapons to outfit nearly the entire army. By the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, however, the Army of the Potomac still displayed a wide variety of issued ordnance. Some consistency existed within companies, but within regiments weapons of various makes and calibers were commonplace. For example, the 46th New York Infantry reported that within its ten companies it had eight different types of long arms of at least four different calibers. This surely made supplying ammunition difficult.

The attached document contains a breakdown by regiment of the type and number of weapons carried by companies, regiments, and batteries in the hands of the Army of the Potomac around the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg. This information is based on returns submitted to the Ordnance Department for the final quarter of 1862, ending December 31, 1862. The returns show that for the infantry regiments, the most common weapons carried were the Springfield Rifled Muskets, model 1855, 1861, National Armory and contract. Imported weapons made up 39% of the infantry’s armament, while only 11% of the guns were of the older smoothbore variety. Among cavalrymen, the Sharps rifled carbine was the most prevalent, while among artillerymen the Napoleon proved most common.

Click here to retrieve the document.

The attached statistics come from: Record Group 156: Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance – “Summary Statements of Quarterly Returns of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores on Hand in Regular and Volunteer Army Organizations, 1862-1867, 1870-1876.” (Microcopy 1281, Rolls 1, 2 and 4). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Eric J. Mink

Variable pricing for the dead


From Hennessy:

The Union winter encampment in Stafford in early 1863 teemed with life, but produced death on a daily, rhythmic basis. And death attracted entrepreneurs, intent on serving and capitalizing upon the desires of both the living and the dead. At least two embalmers worked within the Army of the Potomac that winter. They provided a full range of “vertically integrated” services (as we would say today), from caskets to the “disinfection” of long-buried bodies prior to shipment, to embalming of the recently dead. While it’s easy to scoff or flinch at such services, the embalmers filled a demand newly possible: sending the dead home to families for proper burials in their hometowns.

embalming shack Fredericksburg LOC

The improvised embalming shed of Doctor William J. Bunnell, “near Fredericksburg,” though precisely where is not known (certainly in Stafford County).  Note the canvas intended apparently intended to turn a porch into a work space. The note on the back of this stereo card images says, “Here the bodies of the dead that were to be sent North to their friends were embalmed. More than a hundred bodies were sometimes brought here in one day. During the first battle of Fredericksburg…several hundred bodies were here at one time to be embalmed.” The latter claim seems highly exaggerated, as a small percentage of the dead from Fredericksburg were recovered, and a still smaller percentage of those were transported home for burial.

I recently came across a letter written by a member of the 35th New York infantry on March 10, 1863 that touched on the subject.

Each train carries away from here one or more dead bodies. Any of these have been disinterred from localities where they were placed after the great fight; and after being put through what is called the “disinfecting process,” they are transportable. Many of those who die from day to day are embalmed soon after death, and are thus rendered suitable for examination and burial at home, perhaps a thousand miles away. Dr. Burr, one of the chief embalmers for the army, is a very pleasant gentleman, and always takes pleasure in explaining his process. The force pipe, in his process, is introduced to the heart of the subject, and a powerful pump injects the preserving fluid through all the arteries. In cold weather there is no trouble in beautifully preserving the subject, but in warm season the failures are about one in ten. His price for privates is $50, including coffin, and for officers $100.*

Burr embalming

Dr. Richard Burr, the embalmer mentioned in the New Yorker’s letter, demonstrating his method of embalming by injecting chemicals through the heart. In 1864, Burr was accused of embalming a soldier without permission, then refusing to release the body until the family paid the required fee.

Embalming involved the use of toxic chemicals that would prompt evacuations and the activation of HAZMAT units today.  I’m not sure what the process of “disinfection” of long-buried bodies entailed (perhaps some of you do), but I suspect it’s a wash of the same chemicals used for embalming. Additional thoughts are welcome.

*The letter appeared in the March 17, 1869 issue of the [Watertown] Northern New York Journal.

Remembrance Walk–Reflections in the National Cemetery (final words)


From Hennessy:  On this, the day after the anniversary of the the burials on the Bloody Plain at Fredericksburg, we give you the last of six stops on the Remembrance Walk.  If you wish to read the entire series, you can start here.  I presented these words on one of the lower terraces, not far from the entrance to the cemetery.

* * * * * * *

We have walked from the Bloody Plain to this place, this hill, unattainable to Union soldiers in December 1862, but later the resting place of hundreds of them.

The brutality and harshness of what took place on the bloody plain is vividly demonstrated here:  Of the nearly 1,000 bodies of Union soldiers recovered from the Bloody Plain after the war and reburied here, only TWO could be identified and re-interred in a marked grave.  Only two.  At Fredericksburg, the soldier’s nightmare of being buried and unknown on a plot of land far away was far too often a reality.

Fredericksburg National Cemetery.2238This National Cemetery, with its tidy rows, terraces, and beautiful landscape, is the nation’s attempt to remedy the horror and chaos of the battlefield and instead to accord dignity to those who fell.  It’s a reflection of a nation’s effort to soothe its battered, even disbelieving soul in the aftermath of a carnage few would have imagined years before.

The orderliness of the place allows us to contemplate those who fell as people, not casualties.

Of all our public spaces, none is more personal than a cemetery. In 1892, the sister of Major William C. Morgan, killed at North Anna, traveled from Maine to visit her brother’s grave here (grave #3615, on the right, seven rows beyond the Humphreys Monument).  She wrote to her sister that night.

 ….  my heart beat so I could hardly speak at the thought that I was so near the spot where the remains of my darling brother was buried…  …..   I wish my dear sister, that you could see it,   it is one of the most beautiful spots I ever saw,   at the head of the grave there is a beautiful Japonica tree which shades it,   I was pretty well overcome, and the tears dropped fast  I felt and know that he was beside me,  I knelt down on the grave and sobbed.

Because of the distances involved and the expense of travelling in the decades after the Civil War, most families could not visit–and indeed most graves here have likely never been visited by family, or indeed anyone.  That fact adds significance to your presence today. You are doing what so many mothers and wives and sisters and sons and daughters could not do. You have come here to remember.  The soldiers buried here asked nothing more than to be remembered.

Fredericksburg National Cemetery entrance.3084But this place is more than simply the collection of individual stories; it is more than the sum total of our personal musings over the tragic fates of fathers, sons, husbands, and families (every one of them was a tragedy).

This place is a testimony to the immensity of this war of ours. And it inevitably begs the question, why?  Why were these men willing to give their lives to seize or defend a ridge top or river crossing?  For what cause did they pay this immense cost—to suffer in what was unquestionably America’s most costly human tragedy?

I have spent most of my life reading the letters and diaries of these men and men like them.  I cannot escape the conclusion: the soldiers of this war had a deep understanding of the evolving nature and purpose of the war.  They understood well why they fought. And most of them committed to the effort with their whole being.  As evidence: Charles Engle of the 137th New York.

In June 1863 Charles Engle received a letter from his wife Charlotte.  Continue reading

Remembrance Walk, Stop 5: Civilians and War


From Hennessy:  [For stops 1-4, click here, here, here, and here.]

As we walked the Sunken Road last weekend, we stopped in front of the Innis house–a home that bears as many visible scars from battle as any house in America.  Becca Jameson shared the following.

* * * * * * * *

Here, in front of this battle-ravaged house, scarred inside and out, and near a house once famous, now gone, we remember….

….the civilians, their town, their world, and how war changed them all.

Home is our great refuge—a place of safety, of comfort.

Capricious, unpredictable war threatens both.

Refugees return to their shattered home.1253

A family in their shattered Fredericksburg home.

No town in American suffered longer or more variously than did Fredericksburg.  For two years, the town or surrounding landscape were successively occupied, bombarded, looted, marched through, and fought upon.

Few buildings were spared in the bombardment of December 11, 1862—155 years ago tomorrow and the battle that followed.  Some, like the Innis house, still bear the scars.

Many civilians fled, but perhaps 800 or so remained behind, huddled in basements, watching with a mixture of fear and curiosity.  Most of those who fled would stay away for years.  Even in the spring of 1865, fewer than half the white population of Fredericksburg was in their homes.

We know certainly that two civilians died during the bombardment on December 11. We know too that during the chaos of that day one baby was born, in a grocer’s house on Prince Edward Street. He would ever-after be known as “Shell-Baby.”

fighting-in-fredericksburg streets harpers weekly

Street fighting on Caroline Street

The bombardment and street fighting ushered the Union army into the town—eventually 30,000 men in the streets. They quickly found their way into empty houses and homes, and a quest for food and warmth soon turned to evil frolic, as Union soldiers looted.  Soldiers turned households inside out like old socks, filling streets and sidewalks with everything from pianos and featherbeds to dresses and children’s toys.

The victimized residents soon became famous as the “Fredericksburg sufferers.”  Outrage at the fate of Fredericksburg’s residents prompted probably the biggest relief effort in the nation’s history up to that time.  From across the South and from within Lee’s army came donations as recompense—eventually as much as $250,000 (the equivalent of about $4.5 million today).

* * * * * * *

Dramatic though the bombardment and looting were, they caused damage that could be repaired, losses that could be recovered.

By far the most dramatic effect of the Civil War on this community came in human form: the end of slavery.

closeup-from-slaves-come-in-image

A slave family within Union lines, likely in Stafford County

Fully half the population of the Fredericksburg region endured slavery.  Continue reading

Remembrance Walk, Stop 4: the Bloody Plain–fear and courage


From Hennessy:  [For earlier stops on the walk, see here, here, and here.]

We continue to present the words from the Fredericksburg Remembrance Walk on Sunday, December 10.  The walk included six stops, where visitors had the chance to place a flower and staff presented some thoughts on the site.  Frank O’Reilly delivered these words in front of the stone wall, on the Bloody Plain–on a part of the field not reached by Union troops on December 13, 1862.

* * * * * * *

Fredericksburg as seen from Marye's Heights.1499

Marye’s Heights in the foreground, the Bloody Plain beyond. This image was taken from what is now the National Cemetery.

Here, on the edge of the Bloody Plain that witnessed the advance of more than 20,000 Union soldiers, we remember both fear and courage, deeply intermingled.

The soldiers of the Union army who entered what was then a vast open plain west of Fredericksburg had a good idea of what confronted them. And they disliked their chances.  But still they came.

A soldier wrote on December 12:

Tomorrow we anticipate a dreadful engagement; of the result we are not too hopeful, for we are aware of the almost impregnability of the enemy’s position, his great force and desperate condition.  We have confidence in Burnside, faith in the justice of our cause, and believe, with the slightest shadow of doubt, that victory will crown our arms.  With this hope we will rest.

Just before the advance, a Union soldier approached his company commander in town.

“I can’t go, Captain.”

 “Why not?  Are you sick?”

 “No.  But I can’t go.  I have a family at home, and I must support them.  If I go over there I will be killed.”

 And, wrote a witness, the strong man commenced to cry….

This was a landscape whose horror would lodge in the American consciousness.  500 yards of open field, broken only the remnant fences of the town’s fairgrounds and a single house, owned by wheelwright Allen Stratton.  This would be the defining landscape of Fredericksburg.

The thousands of soldiers who dared to enter the bloody plain struggled with the great dilemma that confronts every soldier—the competing forces of fear and duty. Narratives of the Civil War—be they modern studies or eyewitness accounts—invariably discuss courage at length and fear very little. Not at Fredericksburg.

union-troops-after-fredericksburg

Union troops after the Battle of Fredericksburg

Fear was omnipresent among Union soldiers on this field, and they freely admitted it.  Continue reading

Remembrance Walk, Part 3–The original stone wall and its defenders


Confederates in the Sunken Road.1234From Hennessy:  Here is stop 3 on Saturday’s Remembrance Walk, at the original stone wall.  Greg Mertz delivered this text.  For parts 1 and 2 click here and here.

Here we remember….the Sunken Road, the stone wall, and the men who defended it.  Before you is the only surviving section of the original stone wall that bordered the Sunken Road.

No physical feature on any battlefield of the war had a greater impact on the magnitude of victory than this one. While more than 1,000 Southern men fell killed or wounded in this road (let’s not forget that that number by itself is horrific and unimaginable), more than seven times that many Union soldiers fell in the uncluttered fields in front of the stone wall.

Sunken Road--original wall--cropped

The original stone wall, with the Innis House in the background

For thousands of young men from Georgia and the Carolinas, this wall was salvation.  For some, like Richard Kirkland, the wall offered only temporary reprieve—he would die at Chickamauga in September 1863.  But for hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, this wall helped ensure a journey home at war’s end, rather than an unmarked or forgotten grave far from family and community.

Fredericksburg was a battle of panoramas—broad, sweeping vistas that, in the moment, stirred the spirits of any Confederate watching it.

“How beautifully they came on!” remembered one Confederate.  “Their bright bayonets glistening in the sunlight made the line look like a huge serpent of blue and steel.”

But those panoramas quickly narrowed to the faces of men struggling for life.

This wall gave the Confederates an advantage that translated into death and suffering for their enemies in front.  A Georgian remembered:

Killing ground cropped

The Killing Ground, by Mark Churms.  The Innis house and stone wall are at the bottom.

“We waited until they got within about 200 yards of us & rose to our feet & poured volley after volley into their ranks which told a most deadening effect.  They soon began to waver & at last broke from the rear, but the shouts of our brave soldiers had scarcely died away when we saw coming another column more powerful and seemingly more determined than the first (if possible) …..I have been in many engagements before but I never saw in my life such a slaughter.”  [William Montgomery, Phillips Legion of Georgia] Continue reading