Armament of the Army of the Potomac and the 9th Army Corps at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House


114th Penn Brandy Station4

From Eric Mink:

The Union Army that crossed the Rapidan River in early May 1864 was a much different force than the army that made the same crossing a year earlier. Ulysses S. Grant’s force consisted of the Army of the Potomac, three army corps under George Meade, and an attached fourth corps under Ambrose Burnside. Gone were the 11th and 12th Army Corps, sent west the previous fall, and the 1st and 3rd Army Corps, abolished a couple months prior to the opening of the spring campaign. Another difference between the Army of the Potomac that fought at Chancellorsville and the Union force that opened the Overland Campaign was the improvements made in weapons they carried.

Commencing with the fourth quarter of 1862, 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. Based upon the companies that reported in the first quarter of 1863, the Army of the Potomac that fought at Chancellorsville was well-armed with 78% of its infantry weapons types that were considered first class, while second class weapons comprised 12% and the remaining 10% fell in the lower third class. A year later, the force that Grant wielded in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County had improved armament with first class weapons constituting 88% of the long arms among infantry companies and the third class weapons represented a mere 4% among the foot soldiers. This change was apparent in the continued decrease in use of the smooth-bored muskets. A third of those muskets remaining among Grant’s men were in the hands of the Pennsylvania Reserves, whose term of service was up a month into the campaign. Grant’s force also appears to have been much less reliant on imported weapons than Joseph Hooker’s army the previous year. Only a quarter of the guns carried by Grant’s men came from outside the United States, while imported muskets and rifled muskets had made up 44% of the weapons reported under Hookers command. The Springfield Rifled Musket, model 1855, 1861, 1863 remained the prominent type in early 1864 with 63% of the Union soldiers at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House equipped with that trusty gun, and the imported British Enfield Rifled Musket came in a distant second 21%.

Assessing the weaponry assigned to the cavalry regiments is a bit more difficult. Unfortunately, the ordnance returns for many of the cavalry regiments and companies were not compiled or are missing. The compiled returns are arranged by service arm and then alphabetically by state and then finally numerically by regiment or battery. For the 1st quarter of 1863, the compiled returns for cavalry regiments only exist for regiments from Arkansas through Indiana, as well as the Regular Army. That excludes 80% of the cavalry regiments with the Army of the Potomac and the 9th Army Corps. Among the artillery, 294 guns were reported with the 3-inch gun, nicknamed the “Ordnance Rifle,” as the most prevalent type and the Model 1857, Light 12-pounder Gun-Howitzer, nicknamed the “Napoleon,” coming in a close second. Minus the missing information on the cavalry, the returns reveal a marked improvement in weaponry over the previous spring and a reduction in reliance upon foreign imports.

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, 3 and 6). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Eric J. Mink

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