Before posting modern images of the viewpoint of McClellan's guns of position, it would be best to examine those guns' impact on the Battle of Antietam from the Army of the Potomac's perspective. Part 2 discussed the guns' fields of fire and range on the Antietam battlefield before sharing quotes from the Confederate perspective of the damaging fire George B. McClellan's guns of position provided. Let's now discuss the Federals' perspective of that same damaging fire.
Most, but not all, of McClellan's heavy guns constituted the Army of the Potomac's Artillery Reserve under the command of Lt. Col. William Hays. During the Maryland Campaign, that organization consisted of 27 commissioned officers and 716 enlisted men present for duty. Their armament comprised a total of 34 guns in seven batteries.(1)
|Lt. Col. William Hays commanded the Army|
of the Potomac's Artillery Reserve
The usefulness of the guns in McClellan's battle plan is evident from multiple sources. With their incredible field of view and fire, the guns of position could support most Federal infantry attacks on the west side of the creek. While some Confederate batteries did return fire against the heavy Union pieces, it never amounted to the Federal cannoneers abandoning their positions on the Ecker Ridge. Indeed, these guns were able to provide overhead support to the Army of the Potomac's infantry assaults beginning on September 16.
While often thought of as a quiet day along Antietam Creek, Taft's New York battery fired 179 rounds of ammunition across the Antietam on September 16, just 18 rounds less than what they fired on September 17, the day of the battle.(5) During one artillery duel on September 16, the guns of position became involved "and in an hour they changed the whole complexion of things in front. Two batteries of the enemy were speedily silenced, and a large number of men were seen to fall."(6) The guns supported Hooker's movement across the creek on the afternoon of September 16 and "rendered efficient service" in the fight for the Sunken Road "by pouring in upon their massed forces a constant stream of 20-pound shells."(7) When not directly supporting friendly infantry, the guns of position fired on enemy batteries "to draw their fire from our infantry."(8) Based on archaeological evidence in the North Woods and Mumma Orchard, it seems likely that the guns of position directed most of their fire supporting the Federal infantry north of Sharpsburg throughout the operations along Antietam Creek.(9) Additionally, a post-battle visitor to the Roulette house near the Sunken Road noted that "a 32-pound shell had lodged in the attic."(10) If the eyewitness is correct about the size of the shell, the only guns firing such a projectile was Capt. Charles Kusserow's New York battery.
|Taft's Battery position at Gettysburg marked by 20-lb.|
|This Frank Schell sketch in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper shows two 20-lb. Parrotts of Simmonds' Battery in action|
during the September 14, 1862 Battle of South Mountain
Overall, McClellan's guns of position are a crucial piece of the puzzle to understanding the Battle of Antietam. Their view of the battlefield allowed them to play an active role--from afar--in nearly every sector of the Antietam battlefield. The cover they provided for the Army of the Potomac's infantry no doubt influenced McClellan's battle plan and their subsequent lack of ammunition likewise impacted the commanding general's mindset on September 18.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this series, which will be a photo essay of some modern views from the Ecker Ridge and other locations utilized by the guns of position.
1. Artillery Reserve Consolidated Morning Reports, September 1862, Entry 876, Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands, RG 393, Part 2, NARA.
2. “Historical Sketch, by Capt. Elijah D. Taft,” New York at Gettysburg, vol. 3 (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902), 1296-1298.
3. Palfrey, The Antietam and Fredericksburg, 61.
4. OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 206.
5. "Remarks for the Month of September 1862," 5th Independent Battery, New York Artillery Morning Reports, Book Records of Volunteer Union Organizations, RG 94, NARA.
6. "Events Preceding the Battle," New York Times, September 22, 1862.
7. "Battle of Antietam Creek," New York Times, September 20, 1862.
8. OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 436.
9. Jeffrey Harbison, "'Double the Cannister and Give 'Em Hell,'" in Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War, ed. Clarence R. Geier and Stephen R. Potter (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000), 356-58.
10. Waterbury American (CT), October 10, 1862, "Connecticut-State of" Folder, Antietam National Battlefield.
11. "Remarks for the Month of September 1862," 5th Independent Battery, New York Artillery Morning Reports, Book Records of Volunteer Union Organizations, RG 94, NARA.
12. "Mixed Batteries and Mixed Ammunition," To the Sound of the Guns, https://markerhunter.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/mixed-batteries-ammunition/.
13. OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 436.
14. Ibid., 66.
15. Artillery Reserve Consolidated Morning Reports, September 1862, Entry 876, Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands, RG 393, Part 2, NARA.
16. OR, vol. 19, pt. 1, 437.