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Henry Hunt on Pickett's Charge...

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  • Henry Hunt on Pickett's Charge...

    ...and comments on source material...

    From Battles and Leaders, Volume III, pages 374-375:

    ‘I now rode along the ridge to inspect the batteries. The infantry was lying down on its reverse slope, near the crest, in open ranks, waiting events. As I passed along, a bolt from a rifle-gun struck the ground just in front of a man of the front rank, penetrated the surface and passed under him, throwing him ‘over and over.’ He fell behind the rear rank, apparently dead, and a ridge of earth where he had been lying reminded me of the backwoods practice of ‘barking’ squirrels. Our fire was deliberate, but on inspecting the chests I found that the ammunition was running low, and hastened to General Meade to advise its immediate cessation and preparation for the assault that would certainly follow. The headquarters building, immediately behind the ridge, had been abandoned, and many of the horses of the staff lay dead. Being told that the general had gone to the cemetery, I proceeded thither. He was not there, and on telling General Howard my object, he concurred in its propriety, and I rode back along the ridge, ordering the fire to cease. This was followed by a cessation of that of the enemy, under the mistaken impression that he had silenced our guns, and almost immediately his infantry came out of the woods and formed for the assault. On my way to the Taneytown road to meet the fresh batteries which I had ordered up, I met Major Bingham, of Hancock’s staff, who informed me that General Meade’s aides were seeking me with orders to ‘cease firing’; so I had only anticipated his wishes. The batteries were found and brought up, and Fitzhugh’s, Weir’s, and Patterson’s were put in near the clump of trees. Brown’s and Arnold’s batteries had been so crippled that they were now withdrawn, and Brown’s was replaced by Cowan’s. Meantime the enemy advanced, and McGilvery opened a destructive oblique fire, reinforced by that of Rittenhouse’s six rifle-guns from Round Top, which were served with remarkable accuracy, enfilading Pickett’s lines. The Confederate approach was magnificent, and excited our admiration; but the story of that charge is so well known that I need not dwell upon it further than as it concerns my own command. The steady fire from McGilvery and Rittenhouse, on their right, caused Pickett’s men to ‘drift’ in the opposite direction, so that the weight of the assault fell upon the positions of Hazard’s batteries. I had counted on an artillery crossfire that would stop it before it reached our lines, but, except for a few shots here and there, Hazard’s batteries were silent until the enemy came within canister range. They had unfortunately exhausted their long range projectiles during the cannonade, under the orders of their corps commander, and it was too late to replace them. Had my instructions been followed here, as they were by McGilvery, I do not believe that Pickett’s division would have reached out line. We lost not only the fire of one-third of our guns, but the resulting cross-fire, which would have doubled its value. The prime fault was in the obscurity of our army regulations as to the artillery, and the absence of all regulations as to the proper relations of the different arms of service to one another. On this occasion it cost us much blood, many lives, and for a moment endangered the integrity of our line if not the success of the battle. Soon after Pickett’s repulse, Wilcox’s, Wright’s, and Perry’s brigades were moved forwared, but under the fire of the fresh batteries in Gibbon’s front, of McGilvery’s and Rittenhouse’s guns and the advance of two regiments of Stannard’s Vermont brigade, they soon fell back. The losses in the batteries of the Second Corps were very heavy. Of the five battery commanders and their successors on the field, Rorty, Cushing, and Woodruff were killed, and Milne was mortally and Sheldon severely wounded at their guns. So great was the destruction of men and horses, that Cushing’s and Woodruff’s United States, and Brown’s and Arnold’s Rhode Island batteries were consolidated to form two serviceable ones.’

    Units of those artillery officers mentioned in the text (taken from The Stand of the US Army at Gettysburg by Jeffrey Hall, 313-317:

    II Corps Artillery Chief: Captain John C. Hazard.
    Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery/14th New York Battery-Captain James M. Rorty.
    Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery-Captain William A. Arnold.
    Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery-Lieutenant T.F. Brown.
    Battery I, 1st US Artillery-Lieutenant George A. Woodruff.
    Battery A, 4th US Artillery-Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing.

    1st Volunteer Brigade of the Army Artillery Reserve:
    Lieutenant Colonel Freeman McGilvery-commanded four artillery batteries consisting of 22 field pieces (12 3-inch rifles and 10 12-pounder Napoleons).

    On Little Round Top:

    Battery D, 5th US Artillery-Lieutenant Benjamin F. Rittenhouse (he assumed command of the battery after his commander, Lieutenant Charles E. Hazlett was killed on 2 July on Little Round Top).

    General Henry Hunt was one of the best artillerymen and artillery officer that the United States has produced in its military history. His idea that Pickett's attack would have been stopped had the II Corps artillery batteries withheld their fire until the infantry attacked is undoubtedly a correct conclusion. That is based on the destruction of lethal artillery fire that hit Pickett's units as they crossed the open field.

    Source Material and Research:

    Having read over the years on various forums the disregard by some of secondary source material, I have found that idea to be mistaken. If there is no secondary material written, then no 'new' material will be available for research. And some secondary material that is produced is so well-done and well-researched as to be definitive. Two volumes come to mind in that category, although they are not the only ones. Robin Reilly's excellent The British at the Gates on the New Orleans campaign in the War of 1812 and John Gill's equally excellent study of the Confederation of the Rhine in the 1809 campaign, With Eagles to Glory, definitely fall into the category of 'definitive.' Ignoring secondary source material narrows research and the open denigration of secondary sources on the different history forums sells the readers short and can be classe in my opinion as disinformation.

    When I was working on my masters in Military History the first course taken was historiography, and that was both a meaningful and a necessary course. Both primary and secondary sources were found to be important in the study and writing of history and the instructor, both a student and author of military history, as well as being an instructor at one of the American senior service schools, imparted that valuable knowledge to all of the students. What should be done, when working with both primary and secondary source material, is a serious evaluation of sources. All primary source material is not reliable, such as Marbot's memoirs from the Napoleonic period, as old soldiers writing their memoirs might 'remember with advantages' as Shakespeare wrote in Henry V. Care should be taken with all source material, and making sweeping condemnations of source material, or where and who wrote them, is usually a gross error. Being a West Point graduate, for example, the West Point Atlas of American Wars is an excellent quick source reference with common sense material with excellent maps. Designed as a two-volume text, the source material used, even though the Atlas was published in 1959, runs to 170 volumes, both primary and secondary material. The Atlas for the Napoleonic period, A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars, is also excellent and is the best operational study of Napoleon's campaigns. It was republished in 1999 and updated, especially the Recommended Reading List.




    Last edited by Massena; 23 May 20, 08:33.
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
    Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
    To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

  • #2
    From Hunt's report,

    " At 10 a. m. I made an inspection of the whole line, ascertaining that all the batteries...were in good condition aiid well supplied with ammunition. As the enemy was evidently increasing his artillery force in front of our left, I gave instructions to the batteries and to the chiefs of artillery not to fire at small bodies, nor to allow their fire to be drawn without promise of adequate results; to watch the enemy closely, and when he opened to concentrate the fire of their guns on one battery at a time until it was silenced■; under all circumstances to fire deliberately, and to husband their ammunition as much as possible.

    "...About 2.30 p. m., finding our ammunition running low and that it was very unsafe to bring up loads of it, a number of caissons and limbers having been exploded, I directed that the fire should be gradually stopped, which was done, and the enemy soon slackened his fire also. I then sent orders for such batteries as were necessary to replace exhausted ones, and all that were disposable were sent me.

    "About 3 p. m., and soon after the enemy’s fire had ceased, he formed a column of attack in the edge of the woods in front of the Second Corps...The enemy advanced magnificently, unshaken by the shot and shell which tore through his ranks from his front and from our left. The batteries of the Second Corps on our right, having nearly exhausted their supply of ammunition, except canister, were compelled to withhold their fire until the enemy, who approached in three lines, came within its range. When our canister fire and musketry were opened upon them, it occasioned disorder, but still they advanced gallantly until they reached the stone wall behind which our troops lay.

    "... I then went to the left, to see that proper measures had been taken there for the same object. On my way, I saw that the enemy was forming a second column of attack to his right of the point where the first was formed, and in front of the position of the First Corps (Newton’s). I gave instructions to the artillery, under command of Major McGilvery, to be ready to meet the first movements of the enemy in front, and, returning to the position of the Second Corps, directed the batteries there, mostly belonging to the Artillery Reserve, to take the enemy in flank as he advanced. When the enemy moved, these orders were well executed, and before he reached our line he was brought to a stand...The attacks on the part of the enemy were not well managed. Their artillery fire was too much dispersed, and failed to produce the intended effect. It was, however, so severe and so well sustained that it put to the test, and fully proved, the discipline and excellence of our troops. The two assaults, had they been simultaneous, would have divided our artillery fire. As it was, each attack was met by a heavy front and flank fire of our artillery, the batteries which met the enemy directly in front in one assault taking him in flank in the other.

    "...The destruction of materiel was large. The enemy’s cannonade, in which he must have almost exhausted his ammunition, was well sustained, and cost us a great many horses and the explosion of an unusually large number of caissons and limbers. The whole slope behind our crest, although concealed from the enemy, was swept by his shot, and offered no protection to horses or carriages.

    "...The expenditure of ammunition in the three days amounted to 32,781 rounds, averaging over 100 rounds per gun. Many rounds were lost in the caissons and limbers by explosions and otherwise. The supply carried with the army being 270 rounds per gun, left sufficient to fill the ammunition chests and enable the army to fight another battle. There was for a short time during the battle a fear that the ammunition would give out. This fear was caused by the large and unreasonable demands made by corps commanders who had left their own trains or a portion of them behind, contrary to the orders of the commanding general. In this emergency, the train of the Artillery Reserve, as on so many other occasions, supplied all demands, and proved its great usefulness to the army."

    ---

    From Hancock's report,

    "The early morning passed in comparative quiet along our front...Trifling affairs occured at intervals between the enemy's skirmishers and our own, and the artillery of the corps was frequently and succesfully engaged with that of the enemy.

    "From 11 a. m. until 1 p. m. [after Hunt's order to fire smartly] there was an ominous stillness. About 1 o’clock, apparently by a given signal, the enemy opened upon our front with the heaviest artillery fire I have ever known... No irregularity of ground afforded much protection, and the plain in rear of the line of battle was soon swept of everything movable...The artillery of the corps, imperfectly supplied with ammunition, replied to the enemy most gallantly, maintaining the unequal contest in a manner that reflected the highest honor on this arm of the service. Brown’s battery (B, First Rhode Island), which had suffered severely on the 2d, and expended all of its canister on that day, retired before the cannonading ceased, not being effective for further service. The remaining batteries continued their fire until only canister remained to them, and then ceased."


    ---

    From Hazard's report,

    "The morning of July 3 was quiet until about 8 o’clock, when the enemy suddenly opened fire upon our position, exploding three limbers of Battery A, Fourth U. S. Artillery, but otherwise causing little loss. Little reply was made, save by Light Company I, First U. S. Artillery, which battery during the forenoon had eight separate engagements with the enemy.

    "At 1 p. m. the artillery of the enemy opened along the whole line and for an hour and a quarter we were subjected to a very warm artillery fire. The batteries did not at first reply, till the fire of the enemy becoming too terrible, they returned it till all their ammunition, excepting canister, had been expended; they then waited for the anticipated infantry attack of the enemy. Battery B, First New York Artillery, was entirely exhausted ; its ammunition expended; its horses and men killed and disabled; the commanding officer, Capt. J. M. Rorty, killed, and senior First Lieut. A. S. Sheldon severely wounded. The other batteries were in similar condition; still, they bided the attack. The rebel lines advanced slowly but surely ; half the valley had been passed over by them before the guns dared expend a round of the precious ammunition remaining on hand. The enemy steadily approached, and, when within deadly range, canister was thrown with terrible effect into their ranks. Battery A, First Rhode Island Light Artillery, had expended every round, and the lines of the enemy still advanced. Cushing was killed; Milne had fallen, mortally wounded; their battery was exhausted, their ammunition gone, and it was feared the guns would be lost if not withdrawn.

    "At this. trying moment the two batteries were taken away; but Woodruff still remained in the grove, and poured death and destruction into the rebel lines. They had gained the crest, and but few shots remained. All seemed lost, and the enemy, exultant, rushed on. But on reaching the crest they found our infantry, fresh and waiting on the opposite side. The tide turned; backward and downward rushed the rebel line, shattered and broken, and the victory was gained. Woodruff, who had gallantly commanded the battery through the action of July 2 and 3, fell, mortally wounded, at the very moment of victory.

    "...Batteries from the Artillery Reserve of the army immediately occupied the positions vacated by the exhausted batteries of the brigade, and immediate efforts were made to recuperate and restore them to serviceable condition. So great was the loss in officers, men, and horses, that it was found necessary to consolidate Light Company I, First U. S. Artillery, Battery A, Fourth U. S. Artillery, and Batteries A and B, First Rhode Island Light .Artillery, thus reducing the five batteries that entered the fight to three. The greatest praise is due to the gallantry and courage of the officers and men of the brigade, of whom one-third were either killed or wounded. The fire under which they fought on the afternoon of July 3 was most severe and terrible, as the inclosed list of killed, wounded, and missing* will sufficiently testify."

    ---

    In short, Hancock husbanded his fire after Hunt issued his order at 10:00am. Caissons and limbers, apparently along the line, were destroyed by enemy fire. Hancock wrote, "The artillery of our corps, imperfectly supplied with ammunition..."

    When the Confederate bombardment was underway, Hazard wrote that his brigade did not respond until "the fire of the enemy becoming too terrible..." and his command suffered the loss of 1/3 of its officer and men, in addition to suffering an inadequate ammount of ammunition.

    Hazard's brigade had to be replaced by Army Reserve batteries after the Confederate infantry were repulsed. It was with these batteries that Hunt succesfully employed crossfire techniques against a second Confederate formation.

    Hunt wrote, "There was for a short time during the battle a fear that the ammunition would give out. This fear was caused by the large and unreasonable demands made by corps commanders who had left their own trains or a portion of them behind, contrary to the orders of the commanding general. In this emergency, the train of the Artillery Reserve, as on so many other occasions, supplied all demands, and proved its great usefulness to the army."

    I don't know if Hancock left his train behind or in any unsuitable place. At best, if he had it on the reverse slope of Cemetery Ridge, that area was swept by enemy fire. Hunt was satisfied that his reserve trains "supplied all demands."

    So I see no foundation for his claim in Battles and Leaders that "Had my instructions been followed here, as they were by McGilvery, I do not believe that Pickett’s division would have reached out line. We lost not only the fire of one-third of our guns, but the resulting cross-fire, which would have doubled its value."

    Hancock wrote that his front was quiet by 11:00am, after he had engaged with artillery and after Hunt issued his order, which was at 10:00am according to his report. Hancock's batteries were ill supplied with ammunition. Caissons and limbers, at least generally, were destroyed in "unusually large number" (Hunt). Neither Hancock nor Hazard mentioned orders to fire promiscuously. Instead, Hazard only fired when the enemy fire became too hot.

    It seems that Hunt had an ideal strategy for stopping the Confederate advance. His crossfire certainly worked agains their second formation. But as for Hancock, he was short of ammunition to begin with, possibly lost more due to the destructions of caissons and limbers, and his batteries sustained heavy losses in men and officers.
    Last edited by American87; 23 May 20, 21:18.
    "It is a fine fox chase, my boys"

    "It is well that war is so terrible-we would grow too fond of it"

    Comment


    • #3
      I just went through the correspondence for July 3, and there were no orders from either Hunt, Hancock, or Hazard. None of Hazard's battery commanders submitted reports.

      So, as far as I can tell at the moment, Hunt issued no written orders on July 3. He must have have given the order verbally in person or through a courier.

      If Hancock overruled these orders, there is no record of it in the correspondence.

      Hazard mentioned no such order in his report, and his battery commanders submitted no reports.

      So it seems Hancock honored Hunt's 10:00am order by ceasing fire on his front by 11:00am.

      When bombared, Hazard held his fire until the enemy fire became too hot, then he responded.

      Whoever ordered Hazard's batteries to fire, whether he or Hancock, evidently made the judgement call to counter the enemy's fire.

      This may even have been in line with Hunt's 10:00am order, which, according to his report was,

      " I gave instructions to the batteries and to the chiefs of artillery not to fire at small bodies, nor to allow their fire to be drawn without promise of adequate results; to watch the enemy closely, and when he opened to concentrate the fire of their guns on one battery at a time until it was silenced■; under all circumstances to fire deliberately, and to husband their ammunition as much as possible."


      Hunt may have been at Hazard's position during the assault, so he may, in good faith, have observed the situation and disagreed with Hazar'ds opening fire.

      But it could equally be said that Hancock and/or Hazard, in good faith, believed that it was proper and in line with Hunt's orders to open fire.

      It seems to me there was a mutual misunderstanding between Hunt and the II Corps, and that the latter made the judgement call for counter-battery fire.

      Had Hazard held his fire for Confederate infantry, who could say how succesful it would have been? He was already low on ammunition, and his batteries were losing personnel. Would he have halted the advance? Did his counter-battery fire have any positive effects?

      Hazard may have halted the advance, or he still would have been overrun due to low ammunition and severe casualties.
      "It is a fine fox chase, my boys"

      "It is well that war is so terrible-we would grow too fond of it"

      Comment


      • #4
        Hunt also filed his report on September 27, 1863.

        I don't know how he recorded orders.

        So, not only does his order appear to have been verbal, but he may not even have attempted to recollect it, in writing, until September.
        "It is a fine fox chase, my boys"

        "It is well that war is so terrible-we would grow too fond of it"

        Comment


        • #5
          The bottom line on the controversy is that Hunt was correct and Hancock, who was not an artillerymen, was wrong. Hancock ordered LtCol McGilvery, who commanded an artillery brigade from the artillery reserve, to open fire in contradiction to Hunt's orders, and McGilvery bluntly refused. That was the correct action and Hancock had no authority over McGilvery.

          Unfortunately for the Union artillery, the corps artillery chiefs were junior officers. They didn't learn the lesson from the Grande Armee where corps artillery chiefs were general officers who could stand up to their corps commanders if necessary and to whom, in matters of artillery, the corps commanders more often than not, deferred.

          And I have no doubt that Hunt was correct in saying that if the batteries of II Corps had followed his direction, and not Hancock's, in conserving long range ammunition Pickett's charge would never have reached the II Corps position.
          We are not now that strength which in old days
          Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
          Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
          To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by American87 View Post
            Hunt also filed his report on September 27, 1863.

            I don't know how he recorded orders.

            So, not only does his order appear to have been verbal, but he may not even have attempted to recollect it, in writing, until September.
            Orders do not have to be in writing when issued. It appears that enough artillery officers recalled the orders for them to have been issued. And there is no logical reason not to take Hunt's word for what happened, LtCol McGilvery certainly followed them and stood up to Hancock because of those orders.
            We are not now that strength which in old days
            Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
            Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
            To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

            Comment

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