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 how 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.

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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