Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"The numbers of cannoneers is so small"

Lt. Edward Williston (courtesy of Norwich University)
Lt. Edward Williston commanded Battery D, 2nd United States Artillery at the Battle of Antietam. While at the National Archives, I found this revealing letter about the issues Williston's battery encountered on the Antietam battlefield due to a shortage of men in the battery. The letter is transcribed as it was written, typos and all.

Edward Williston to Robert [Garvin?], September 21, 1862, Entry 4434, Record Group 393, Part 2, National Archives.

Arming the Army of the Potomac on the March: A Case Study

     In September 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan not only faced the task of expelling Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army from Maryland but also of organizing and arming an army with which to do that. The Army of the Potomac was literally being built on its march towards an as yet unknown battle along Antietam Creek.
     Some corps and divisions fared better than others in the previous campaigns. The 1st Corps was in particularly rough shape as it trudged into Maryland. To resurrect it and restore its fighting spirit, McClellan appointed Joseph Hooker to command the corps. Of the troops under his command in September 1862, McClellan confided to his wife that the 1st Corps troops were "the only doubtful ones." They "are in bad condition as to discipline & everything else," he reported. "Hooker will however soon bring them out of the kinks, & will make them fight if anyone can."(1)
James B. Ricketts
     James B. Ricketts' 2nd Division especially needed a hand. In the recent Northern Virginia campaign, one member of the division speculated, "Our division probably done more marching than any other." The situation within the division was so bad that Ricketts' surgeons banded together and approached the commanding general with the ominous assessment that, in their opinion, "the division was physically unfit for duty."(2)
     The expediency of the dire situation forced by Lee's invasion into Maryland in September 1862 forced the Federals' hand. McClellan had to make use of what he could with what he had. The army's artillery arm was not in good shape. "Many had not been refitted since the August campaign; some had lost more or less guns; others were greatly deficient in men and horses, and a number wholly unserviceable from all these causes combined," wrote Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt, the man responsible for sorting out McClellan's artillery.(3) Certainly, one of those batteries Hunt dealt with was that belonging to Capt. James Thompson's Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.