Cannoneers in Gray
The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee
By Larry J. Daniel
The University of Alabama Press Copyright © 2005 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Birth of the Western Long Arm
During the spring and summer of 1861, Tennessee governor Isham H. Harris pieced together the provisional army of Tennessee. Under the Army Bill of May 6, the state called for fifty-five thousand volunteers, with twenty-five thousand of them to be armed and the remainder to be held in reserve. A vital, yet unheralded, dimension of this army was the Tennessee Artillery Corps. Formed in May 1861, the corps came to fruition slowly. Technically thirteen companies of militia artillery could be called on, but this was merely a paper force. The only unit actually organized and drilling was a Memphis German outfit called the Steuben Artillery, and it had only one old iron 6-pounder. On May 9, General Gideon Pillow, commanding the provisional army, reported that he had five thousand men under arms but not a single battery of field artillery.
The most serious weakness of the corps would not be recruits but ordnance. The Nashville Armory possessed only four field guns. By mid-June, none of the companies that had been organized had received a single cannon. Several field artillery companies were assigned to man heavy artillery, and some received old flintlocks and drilled as infantry. At least one company gave up waiting and converted to infantry.
Left largely to fare for itself, the state government turned to its citizens for help. T. M. Brennan & Company of Nashville, owned by thirty-four-year-old Irish-born and pro-Union (at least before the war) Thomas Brennan, furnished three six-gun batteries, complete with carriages and caissons, under state contract. Ellis & Moore of Nashville and Thomas, Webster & Company of Chattanooga each supplied a six-gun battery. Quinby & Robinson, a Memphis foundry, contracted for thirty pieces, as well as an order for shot and shell.
Local communities took interest in their new war industry. "We saw yesterday at the foundry of Mr. T. M. Brennan, in this city, a battery of cannon at his establishment," a Nashville correspondent reported in July. "The cannon were manufactured of iron from the works of Messrs. Woods, Yeatman & Co. and Hillman Brothers. ... These cannon weigh about ten pounds more than brass guns of the same caliber. Mr. Brennan is making arrangements to turn out a complete battery each week, the casting, woodwork, and everything pertaining being done at his establishment." The next month, in Memphis, a reporter boasted of work at Quinby & Robinson. "We looked into Quinby & Robinson's shop yesterday and found eight beautiful brass cannon ready for the carriage, and twelve more in various states of forwardness. There were also three or four iron cannon on hand, one of them being of the peculiar kind known as the Parrott gun."
As the state artillery companies became slowly equipped, they went to camps of instruction for drill. Typical was Captain Arthur M. Rutledge's battery (A, First Tennessee Artillery) from Nashville, which numbered 110 men. It was issued two 12-pounder howitzers and four 6-pounders, all iron pieces cast at the Brennan foundry. In May the officers and noncommissioned officers all posed for a photograph in Watkins Park. Some wore gray uniforms, some solid dark coats and pants and others a combination, but all had the red pant stripe denoting artillery. On August 7 a gunner wrote: "We have been here [Knoxville] two weeks — have a pleasant camp, good water and excellent drill ground. The horses are fast becoming accustomed to the firing of the cannon, and the gunners have done some target shooting which would have been creditable to more experienced marksmen."
Thirty-eight-year-old Captain Smith P. Bankhead, a former attorney, graduate of a Virginia military school, and son of a regular army general, organized a battery in Memphis. Like so many other light artillery units, it had to serve initially as heavy artillery while awaiting fieldpieces. In the summer, the company returned to Memphis, where it received six bronze guns cast by Quinby & Robinson. That foundry also supplied Captain Marshall T. Polk's Tennessee Battery, comprised primarily of Hardamen County men.
Some success was achieved in obtaining experienced field officers for the state artillery corps, with Colonel Joseph P. McCown, Lieutenant Colonel Melton A. Haynes, and Major Alexander P. Stewart all being West Point graduates with service in the U.S. artillery. Of the twenty-two captains who eventually received state appointments, nine had college degrees, including three from West Point and three from the Virginia Military Institute. Among these were Captains Arthur M. Rutledge and William H. "Red" Jackson (West Point '37 and '54 respectively), thirty-year-old Captain Marshall T. Polk (University of North Carolina '56), and Captain Hugh L. W. McClung (Virginia Military Institute '58), twenty-one years of age. Three others were veterans of the U.S. Navy and had heavy-artillery experience. Lieutenant William W. Carnes, a twenty-year-old who departed the U.S. Naval Academy one year before graduation, was promoted to captain and given command of William Jackson's battery. Thomas K. Porter, formerly a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, returned to Tennessee in time to receive command of a field battery organized in June in response to Governor Harris's second call for volunteers. Unfortunately, the state corps was soon raked with transfers to other branches. McCown and Stewart became brigadier generals in the infantry, and Jackson became a colonel in the cavalry. Indeed, only one (Smith P. Bankhead) of the initial twenty-five appointed officers in the state artillery would serve as field artillery officers in the Confederate Army of Tennessee (see table 1).
Additional companies organized in the fall of 1861. John Wesley Eldridge's battery established a recruiting office in Savannah, Tennessee, and signed up men from the four surrounding counties. On September 8 a Nashville newspaper noted that "only a few hundred more men are required to fill the Corps of Artillery of Tennessee. These are wanted mostly to be placed in the Camp of Light Artillery Instruction, near Nashville." Already the state had rushed into print Lieutenant Colonel Haynes's edition of The Confederate Artillerist: Instructions in Artillery, Horse and Foot to aid in training. By October 1, Harris's state army included thirty-eight infantry regiments, seven cavalry battalions, and sixteen artillery companies, but many of the last were still unarmed or manning heavy artillery. Indeed, the "heavies" were in competition with the field batteries for recruits. In comparison to the Virginia state army, which had forty-five batteries organized by June 1861, twenty-four of which were already in the field, Harris's efforts seemed eclipsed. Nonetheless, this modest nucleus of artillery served as the foundation of the Army of Tennessee's long arm.
Eventually the Tennessee state army was incorporated into the Confederate army. Additional batteries arrived from other states, but recruitment in the artillery proved initially slow. There simply had not been an artillery tradition established in the west. In February 1862 an officer from Bankhead's battery arrived in Memphis to sign up fifty men "for immediate active service" to fill vacancies, the company being "otherwise well equipped with horse, guns, etc." Despite frequent appeals, the response proved negligible.
A number of crack militia batteries existed in the South when the war began, including at least ten in Virginia. The most renowned militia artillery unit in the west was the famed Louisiana Washington Artillery of New Orleans (recruited to a battalion of four companies), but it was quickly whisked off to Virginia. The artillery corps of the Army of Northern Virginia thus had a small but efficient base of militia units upon which to build. If most of the men who formed these companies lacked battlefield experience, they at least enjoyed superiority in training, esprit de corps, and continuity of organizational existence. In comparison, the Army of Tennessee had only three militia batteries.
Before leaving for Virginia, the Washington Artillery left behind twenty men to form the nucleus of a fifth company. Leading the battery would be Captain W. Irving Hodgson, twenty-seven years old and a former auctioneer, and First Lieutenant Cuthbert H. Slocomb, a thirty-year-old hardware dealer. Hodgson, whose business association with Major J. B. Walton, the commander of the battalion, clearly landed him the position, possessed some personal skills that served in the recruitment of men; he was also a good organizer. Related to the last, he sent representatives to the state capital, the New Orleans city council, and prominent merchants to lobby for funds. By the fall of 1861, the company boasted six guns, with carriages and caissons complete. At this stage the Fifth Company remained a state militia battery and served as a reserve for the parent battalion in Virginia. When a call went out in the spring of 1862, the unit promptly responded. The 155man complement attended services at the First Presbyterian Church on May 6. The next day, the men boarded a train amid the cheers of hundreds of spectators, and they were soon on their way to join the Confederate concentration at Corinth, Mississippi.
The Washington Artillery of Augusta, Georgia, organized in 1854, also joined the army at Corinth. The men drilled and paraded monthly in their dark blue uniforms. The blue jackets were later swapped for gray ones and the company transferred to General Braxton Bragg at Pensacola, Florida. He foolishly attempted to convert the company to infantry, but relented when the men requested a transfer to Virginia. Like their counterparts from New Orleans, the Augustans were soon boarding railroad cars for Corinth. The other company was the Jackson Artillery of Macon, Georgia, established in January 1860. It would link up with the Army of Tennessee in 1863 as Massenburg's battery.
Due to the lack of a militia base, the foundation of the western artillery became the volunteer company. Most of the men were young. In Captain Charles Semple's Alabama Battery, nearly 60 percent of the unit was less than twenty-five years of age. Nineteen-year-olds accounted for a fourth, with a sprinkling of seventeen-year-olds, though the average was twenty-two. In another company, Stanford's Mississippi, 77 percent of the men reported under age twenty-five, with 35 percent of the privates being eighteen-and nineteen-year-olds.
The batteries varied according to the men and their backgrounds. In August 1861, the Pointe Coupee Artillery, under Captain Richard A. Stewart, arrived in Memphis aboard the steamer Prince of Wales. The hundred men comprised planters, sons of planters, lawyers, doctors, and so on, with a cumulative wealth in excess of $15 million. Popular perception to the contrary, and despite a newspaper ad for "select young men," the men of the Fifth Company Washington Artillery were largely middle- and working-class people, including forty-seven clerks, ten merchants, eleven students, three river pilots, eight artisans, and thirty-one laborers. There was a sprinkling of professionals — two doctors, five lawyers, and three planters. A social gulf existed in positions, with the officers being the prominent and the educated, and the drivers, with their task being considered menial, comprising immigrants and laborers. Jackson's Tennessee Battery embraced a group of Memphis Germans, the Orleans Guard Artillery was heavily infused with French, and Watson's Louisiana Battery comprised mostly Irishmen.
Wealthy Louisiana plantation owner and notorious gambler Gustavus C. Watson paid for the organizational expenses of a New Orleans battery that bore his name. The men displayed a "W" on their caps, although Watson himself signed on as a private. The company comprised men from some of the finest Creole families in the city. The unit, 190 strong, departed New Orleans on August 15, the men thinking that they were headed for the Virginia front. They instead went to Memphis and subsequently to Columbus, Kentucky.
Jackson's Tennessee Battery comprised a hodgepodge collection of men. A group of sixteen Memphis Germans had come from the old Steuben Artillery of that city. Unfortunately, they hailed from different sections of the motherland and constantly wrangled with each other. Other members came from St. Louis and Arkansas, and one came from southern Illinois. There were several other foreigners and a couple of infantry transfers who reportedly "preferred artillery." Captain Jackson later learned that they had been dismissed from their regiments as troublesome alcoholics. They would continue their former habits.
Most of the batteries hailed from cities: Bankhead's Tennessee and the Pillow Flying Artillery from Memphis, McClung's Tennessee from Knoxville, Rutledge's Tennessee and the Harding Light Artillery from Nashville, the Fifth Company Washington Artillery and Orleans Guard Artillery from New Orleans, and from Mobile the artillery companies of Charles P. Gage, D. D. Waters, and William H. Ketchum. Occupations reflected their city background. The Augusta Washington Artillery counted among its ranks blacksmiths, molders, machinists, carpenters, tailors, bookmakers, printers, and butchers.
A sense of curiosity drew some to the long arm. When a gun crew recruited in Pontotac, Mississippi, in the summer of 1861, they found that their bronze fieldpiece served as a drawing card. Eager young men flocked around it like children around a toy. A recruit observed that "the idea of possessing such fine guns enthused the men much. They had seen infantry and cavalry, but never an artilleryman."
The Jefferson (Mississippi) Flying Artillery initially went into camp six miles from Fayette, Mississippi. "We had a jolly good time for two weeks with plenty of visitors and an occasional dance," remembered member Thomas B. Hammett. A canvas was stretched and used as a target, and the men attempted several shots with their single howitzer. "Captain [William] Harper called me, then lately from the Kentucky Military College," Hammett continued. "I responded and accidentally my shot took the target down. To this I attribute the captain's making me a battery sergeant, then the youngest member of the company."
Once formally accepted into Confederate service, the batteries moved to their assigned designations. Captain Charles Swett's Warren (Mississippi) Light Artillery, whose wealthy father had the company equipped at his son's request, was ordered to Kentucky. Lacking guns and caissons, the men marched through the streets of Vicksburg as infantry. As the troops boarded a river steamer for the journey north, a large crowd of relatives and well-wishers saw them off. A similar scene occurred at Grenada, Mississippi, on November 7 as Stanford's battery boarded railroad cars for Columbus, Kentucky. "At 3 o'clock the long whistle sounded the signal to start. The parting embrace and fervent kiss were given — tears stood in the eyes of many, and the waving handkerchiefs commenced as the train moved slowly off," described John E. Magee, a twenty-three-year-old private. The journey from Nashville to Knoxville proved quite enjoyable for the men of Rutledge's battery. "Old men and old women, young men and blooming maidens, greeted us at every depot, and all along the road, throwing bouquets with inspiring mottos attached, luscious apples in rows on sticks and strings and many other delicacies, into the cars as we passed," noted a private.
The men soon reported to their assigned camps and began the routine of drill. "The weather is scorching hot. Two or three of Captain Bankhead's Artillery dropped on the drill ground from excessive heat & our men were not far behind them," Private Joseph Garey of Hudson's Mississippi Battery noted in his diary on August 3. That same month, a cannoneer in Swett's battery related: "Drilled often and became accustomed to the various maneuvers in the artillery drill." Stanford's battery initially possessed only one gun and sixty-five horses and thus drilled as infantry while awaiting the balance of their ordnance.
A recruit in the Fifth Company Washington Artillery noted that a gun crew comprised eight men in addition to a corporal and a sergeant. He described their duties thus:
"No. 1" rammed and sponged out the gun when foul, the sponge staff having a rammer at one end and sponge at the other. "No. 2" loaded, or put the charge in, standing at the left of the muzzle. "No. 3" stood behind "No. 2" at the reinforce of the piece with his thumb (a little pad on it) on the touch [vent] hole while the loading was going on. "No. 4" stood behind No. 1 and opposite No. 3, put in the friction primer and pulled the lanyard. "No. 5" was at the trail and moved it from right to left as the corporal, who always sighted the gun, directed. He had a hand spike for this purpose. "Nos. 6, 7, and 8" carried the ammunition from the limber chest to the gun, and when the limber chest was out, from the caisson. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Cannoneers in Gray by Larry J. Daniel. Copyright © 2005 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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