Wednesday, February 20, 2019

McClellan's Guns of Position: Part 2

     In Part 1 of this series, I examined the makeup of the Army of the Potomac's "guns of position" during the Maryland Campaign before focusing on the core of that artillery grouping, the 20-lb. Parrott rifle. For Part 2, I will look at the effectiveness of these guns and their importance to the Federal army at Antietam.
     First, it is important to establish the fact that even though these guns remained on the east side of Antietam Creek for the entirety of the battle, they did not sit out the fighting. There is a tendency among people visiting the battlefield to think that Federal soldiers positioned east of the creek (with the exception being those around the Burnside Bridge) were merely spectators to the action on the other side of the creek. This is not true, especially in the case of the "guns of position." Even the Union infantry east of the creek fell victim to enemy artillery shells and did sustain minor casualties.
     With their extensive range and excellent fields of fire, McClellan's and Hunt's heavy guns played a large role in the battle and in McClellan's planning during the actions along Antietam Creek. According to the Table of Fire for 20-lb. Parrotts, they had a maximum reach of 4,400 yards or 2.5 miles. This distance could be reached by a shell fired at 15 degrees and would take the shell over 17 seconds from the time it was fired to reach its target.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

McClellan's Guns of Position: Part 1

     When George McClellan reached the eastern banks of the Antietam Creek on the afternoon of September 15, 1862, one of his first orders was issued in person to his Chief of Artillery, Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt. He told Hunt near sundown "to select places for our guns of position."(1) These guns had a large role to play in the upcoming fight and in McClellan's battle plan.
     A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being able to walk the ground where many of these guns were positioned on September 17 on a ridge owned at the time of the battle by the Ecker family. The wartime Ecker house still stands. This prominent ridge, what I will refer to as the Ecker Ridge, stands prominently along Antietam Creek's east bank and has a commanding view of much of the Antietam battlefield. It is easy to see why it was prized by McClellan and Hunt and why the guns posted there were so effective.
     Since it was such a rare treat to visit, I took plenty of pictures, trying to capture the Federal artillerists' views as best as I could. But before posting those, in what will be Part 4 of this series, I first wanted to take a closer look at these guns of position.
Most of the guns of position can be seen overlooking Antietam Creek on the Ecker Farm Ridge in this map of the Antietam Battlefield Board.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Close and Concentrated: 9th Corps Artillery Conquers the Burnside Bridge

     I had always thought of the fight for the Burnside Bridge as one of infantry. The 2nd and 20th Georgia stoutly defending the bridge and the charge of the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania dominate our interpretation of the action there. It was not until today while hiking the Burnside Bridge sector of the Antietam battlefield with my good friend and artillery guru Jim Rosebrock (check out his excellent blog here) that I realized how crucial of a role Ambrose Burnside's and Jacob Cox's artillery played in cracking the conundrum of how to get their men across Antietam Creek.
     The 9th Corps had 53 guns at Antietam, according to Curt Johnson's and Richard C. Anderson, Jr.'s book Artillery Hell. At various points of the fight for the Burnside Bridge, anywhere from 21 to 29 of those guns fired directly on the Confederate infantry defending the bridge or the nearby Confederate artillery that supported the infantry.
     As attack after attack against the bridge and its Confederate defenders failed, there is a marked effort on the part of Burnside, Cox, and 9th Corps artillery chief George Getty to use artillery to drive the enemy away from the banks of Antietam Creek. While the 9th Corps' position always allowed it to converge the fire of its artillery onto the Confederate defenders, as the day wore on, 9th Corps batteries began shrinking their ring of fire, ensnaring the Confederates and ultimately helping drive them away.