Rosy's Heavy Metal: Artillery of the Army of the Cumberland

 

The grim cast iron 10-lb Parrott rifle was the most common artillery piece employed by the Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Stones River. A total of 36 of these West Point Foundry-produced weapons served in various Federal batteries. 

Napoleon once said that “God fights on the side with the best artillery” and if there was one area where the Army of the Cumberland enjoyed a clear superiority over the Confederate Army of Tennessee, it was in the size, organization, and striking power of its artillery arm.

Colonel James Barnett served as the army’s chief of artillery and during the Stones River campaign would have under his nominal command 27 batteries totaling 139 guns; the batteries were commanded by 86 officers and served by 2,760 men. (Another dozen batteries were in the army but not at the battle.) Most of the batteries were attached to individual infantry brigades and under direct control of the brigade commander, but in Crittenden’s left wing, the artillery batteries assigned to Palmer’s and Van Cleve’s divisions had been organized under the command of the divisional chief of artillery. This was the initial step to embracing the concept of massing batteries that was becoming standard practice in the Army of the Potomac, offering improved command and control on the field while promising an increased concentration of firepower.

Colonel James Barnett of Ohio served as the Army of the Cumberland's chief of artillery; the appointment made sense in that Ohio provided seven batteries totaling 34 guns to the army, roughly a quarter of its complement. The artillery pieces of the army fired 20,307 projectiles during the Battle of Stones River; the eight guns of Batteries H and M of the 4th U.S. Light Artillery under Lieutenant Charles C. Parsons took the prize by firing 2,299 projectiles, more than 10% of the army's total. Eight other batteries fired more than a thousand rounds each. The artillery truly saved the day on December 31st and again on January 2nd when the concentrated fire of Union guns broke up Breckinridge's attack. 

Each battery of roughly 120 men was divided into three sections of two guns, each section under the command of a lieutenant with individual sergeants having command over a single piece. A team of six horses drew the cannon and a limber chest drawn carried the ammunition which was assigned to each gun with additional ammunition in the caissons usually kept safely behind the gun line. Batteries also had an artificer, blacksmith, and farrier who could perform repairs on the guns and wagons of the battery as well as care for the battery horses. A bugler stayed in close attendance to the captain and employed calls to give commands. A large crew of teamsters and wagoneers handled the horses. When employed in battle, the guns usually formed a gun line with roughly 15 yards of space in between the individual pieces. 

The individual gun crew consisted of 9 men including the sergeant commanding the piece. The task of firing a piece proved an intricate dance where each soldier had to perform a specific task in a specific order at a specific time, so heavy emphasis was placed on learning the drill. The crew members had the following names and functions:

Sergeant- in command of individual gun operation

Gunner- align and aim the piece

Number 1- sponge out the barrel then ram down the next round of ammunition

Number 2- worms out the barrel as needed and loads powder charge and round

Number 3- covers the vent hole and pierces powder bag with spike

Number 4- places friction primer and pulls lanyard to fire the piece

Number 5- carries the round from the limber to Number 2

Number 6- in charge of limber and prepares friction primers

Number 7- hands round from the limber to Number 5

The men drilled with their pieces daily when not on campaign, and some even took target practice. “The chief of artillery took us out to fire at a target,” a cannoneer of Battery A of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery noted. “Three of our guns fired 20 shots, solid and shell, four of which hit the target. The distance was about three-quarters of a mile and the size of the target was about 12 feet square. General [Alexander] McCook was present and seemed highly pleased with the result of the experiments. He said if we would do as well as that in an engagement, he would take care of the rest of the battle.” [1]

The gunners of Rosecrans’ army utilized a wide variety of artillery pieces to perform their function. The most common artillery piece in the army at 36 guns was the cast iron 10-pdr Parrott rifle, black in appearance with a distinctive thick reinforcing band of wrought iron around the breech. Produced by the West Point Foundry in New York, a 10-pdr Parrott rifle could fire a 9.5-pound shell more than a mile but problems with barrel bursts tended to make them unpopular with some gunners. The old cast bronze M1841 6-pdr smoothbore field gun, an obsolete veteran of the Mexican War with limited range, was also a common arm and 32 of these saw service at Stones River. 

The details of the muzzle of this 2.9-inch 10-pdr Parrott rifle indicate that it was cast number 241, produced in 1863 by W.P.F. indicating West Point Foundry. the number 898 refers to the weight of the tube. The muzzle swell indicates this to be a cannon produced in early 1863; a new variation was introduced that year which had a slighter larger 3" bore, 5 lands, and no muzzle swell. The 10-pdr Parrotts utilized at Stones River would have had a similar appearance to this piece now at the Gettysburg National Battlefield. (Photo by Phil Spaugy)

The cast bronze James rifles, manufactured by Ames Manufacturing Co. in Chicopee, Massachusetts and others including Miles Greenwood in Cincinnati, totaled 27 guns. The heavier 12-pdr M1841 short-barreled howitzer was also relatively common at 24 guns and despite its obsolescence was admirably suited for throwing hefty charges of canister at short range to break up infantry assaults. The remainder of the army’s batteries consisted of an oddball mix of 6- and 12-pdr Wiard rifles (two of each), ten of the new 12-pdr Napoleons, and six 3” Ordnance rifles. [2]

It was common practice for an individual battery to possess a mixture of different types of cannons, offering the battery commander more tactical flexibility. For example, the 5th Wisconsin Battery under Captain Oscar Pinney went into the campaign with six guns of three different types: two 10-pdr Parrott rifles, two 6-pdr M1841 smoothbores, and two 12-pdr M1841 howitzers. Each weapon offered differing capabilities; the Parrotts had a 1,900 yard-range making them best suited for firing shells or case shot while the howitzers which had a range of 1,000 yards or less were best suited for close-in work firing canister. However, a few batteries had moved to employing just one type of artillery piece; for example, the Coldwater Light Artillery (Battery A, 1st Michigan Light Artillery) went into battle with six 10-lb Parrott rifles. 

The squat form of the cast bronze 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzer filled many infantrymen with dread as it large tube fired hefty rounds of canister that contained 48 steel balls. Charging a battery firing such ammunition was considered by many as the supreme test of a soldier's courage.
(Photo courtesy of Phil Spaugy)

Most Federal batteries at Stones River were six-gun batteries, but the largest battery on the field was the Lieutenant Charles Parsons’ 8-gun combined Battery H and M of the 4th U.S. Light Artillery which was equipped with four 3” Ordnance rifles and four 12-pdr M1841 howitzers. The sight of a well-drilled battery galloping into action while under fire proved one of the most impressive events in many a Civil War soldiers’ combat experience, and the army’s cannoneers took much pride in their efficiency and ability to decisively turn the tide of battle with their “heavy metal.” 

The list below breaks out how each battery was armed during the Stones River campaign. Ordnance records can be conflicting and confusing; for instance, there are several types of James rifles in existence including old M1841 smoothbore field guns that were rifled, newly cast M1841-style guns with James rifling, as well as James rifles that resemble 3" Ordnance rifles except cast in bronze. John Fitch's Annals of the Army of the Cumberland along with Colonel James Barnett's after action report provided much of the detail below, but I also consulted battery histories, letters diaries, and newspaper accounts to flesh out the details.

As with all projects like this, I adhere to the concept that all of us is smarter than any one of us, so if you see something in error here, please let me know so the evidence can be examined and updates made. 


Army of the Cumberland Artillery at Stones River

 36      10-pdr Parrott rifles

32      6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns

27      6 -pdr James rifles

24      12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers

10      12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons

6        3” Rodmans/Ordnance rifles

2        6-pdr Wiard rifles

2        12-pdr Wiard rifles

139    Total guns

 

Builder's stamp on the trunnion of this 6-pdr Model 1841 James rifle indicates that it was cast at Miles Greenwood's Eagle Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1861. Greenwood's output typically was issued to batteries serving in the western theater and it is quite likely that some of the James rifles used at Stones River were produced by Greenwood's firm. Later in the war Greenwood was given a contract to cast the improved 12-pdr M1857 Napoleon and produced 52 pieces. (Photo courtesy of Phil Spaugy)

Right Wing Artillery

15 6-pdr James rifles

13 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns

10 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers

8 10-pdr Parrott rifles

6 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons

9 batteries totaling 52 guns

 

By Battery:

 

First Division- Davis

5th Wisconsin Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

2nd Minnesota Battery:  4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns and 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers (6 guns)

8th Wisconsin Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles (4 guns)

 

Barnett reports that this division had 16 guns: 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 8 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 4 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers

 

Second Division- Johnson

Battery A, 1st OVLA: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

Battery E, 1st OVLA:  1 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field gun, 5 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

5th Indiana Battery: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 2 6-pdr James rifles, 2 M1857 smoothbore Napoleons (6 guns)

 

Barnett reports this division had 18 guns: 9 6-pdr James rifles, 3 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, and 2 M1857 smoothbore Napoleons

 

Third Division- Sheridan

4th Indiana Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, and 2 6-pdr James rifled cannon (6 guns)

Battery G, 1st Missouri Light Artillery: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 4 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

Battery C, 1st Illinois Light Artillery: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 4 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons (6 guns)


Barnett reports that the division had 18 guns: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 4 12-pdr light field guns, 2 James rifles, 6 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, and 4 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers.

 

This unidentified young artilleryman sports the typically shell jacket with red piping worn by members of the army's artillery branch. Nearly 2,900 artillerymen fought with the army at Stones River and their impact on the battle's outcome far outweighed their numbers. 


Center Corps Artillery

4 6-pdr James rifles

3 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns

4 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers

12 10-pdr Parrott rifles

4 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons

2 6-pdr Wiard rifles

2 12-pdr Wiard rifles

6 batteries totaling 31 guns

By Battery:

First Division- Rousseau

Battery A, 1st Michigan Light Artillery: 6 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

Battery A, Kentucky Light Artillery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 6-pdr James rifles, 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

Battery H, 5th U.S. Light Artillery: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 4 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons (6 guns)

 

Barnett reports the division had 10 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 2 James rifles, 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, and 4 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons

 

Second Division- Negley

Battery M, 1st OVLA: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 1 James rifle, and 1 10-pdr Parrott rifle (4 guns)

Battery G, 1st OVLA: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 6-pdr Wiard rifles, 2 12-pdr Wiard rifles (6 guns)

Battery B, Kentucky Light Artillery: 1 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field gun, 1 10-pdr Parrott rifle, and 1 6-pdr James rifle (3 guns)


Barnett reports that the division had 13 guns: 2 6-pdr Wiard rifles, 2 12-pdr Wiard rifles, 4 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 James rifles, 1 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzer, and 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles

 

Detail of the James rifling in a 6-pdr M1841 produced by Greenwood. One major complaint against James rifles was that the rifling wore out quickly with heavy use. The James rifles were replaced in service in time by the superb Napoleons. (Photo courtesy of Phil Spaugy)

Left Wing Artillery

6 6-pdr James rifles

12 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns

10 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers

16 10-pdr Parrott rifles

4 3” Rodmans/Ordnance Rifles

9 batteries totaling 48 guns

 

By Battery:

First Division- Wood

8th Indiana Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 4 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

10th Indiana Battery: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

6th Ohio Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)


 

Second Division- Palmer

Battery B, 1st OVLA: 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (4 guns)

Battery F, 1st OVLA: 4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers (6 guns)

 

Third Division- Van Cleve

7th Indiana Battery: 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (4 guns)

Battery B, 26th Pennsylvania Light Artillery: 4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

3rd Wisconsin Battery: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

 

Barnett reported the Left Wing as having 4 3” Ordnance rifles, 10 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 6 James rifles, 12 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, and 16 10-pdr Parrott rifles

Pioneer Brigade

Chicago Board of Trade: 4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 6-pdr James Rifles (6 guns)

Cavalry

Battery D, 1st OVLA:  2 3” Rodman/Ordnance rifles (2 guns)

 

Guidon belonging to Battery G of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery. Under the command of Lieutenant Alexander Marshall, Battery G lost four of its six guns during the ferocious fighting in the Cedars on the morning of December 31, 1862. It was the only battery in the army equipped with Wiard rifles and lost three out of four of them on the field. 


Batteries Organized by State:

 

Illinois: 2 batteries totaling 12 guns

Battery C, 1st Illinois Light Artillery: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 4 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons (6 guns)

Chicago Board of Trade: 4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 6-pdr James Rifles (6 guns)

 

Indiana: 3 batteries totaling 16 guns

4th Indiana Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, and 2 6-pdr James rifled cannon,  (6 guns)

5th Indiana Battery: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 2 6-pdr James rifles, 2 M1857 smoothbore Napoleons (6 guns)

7th Indiana Battery: 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (4 guns)

 

Kentucky: 2 batteries totaling 9 guns

Battery A, Kentucky Light Artillery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 6-pdr James rifles, 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns).

Battery B, Kentucky Light Artillery: 1 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field gun, 1 10-pdr Parrott rifle, and 1 6-pdr James rifle (3 guns)

 

Michigan: 1 battery totaling 6 guns

Battery A, 1st Michigan Light Artillery: 6 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

 

Minnesota: 1 battery totaling 6 guns

2nd Minnesota Battery:  4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns and 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers (6 guns)

Missouri: 1 battery totaling 6 guns

Battery G, 1st Missouri Light Artillery: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 4 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

 

Ohio: 7 batteries totaling 34 guns

Battery A, 1st OVLA: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

Battery B, 1st OVLA: 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (4 guns)

Battery D, 1st OVLA:  2 3” Rodman/Ordnance rifles (2 guns)

Battery E, 1st OVLA:  1 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 5 6-pdr James rifles (6 guns)

Battery F, 1st OVLA: 4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers (6 guns)

Battery G, 1st OVLA: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 2 6-pdr Wiard rifles, 2 12-pdr Wiard rifles (6 guns)

Battery M, 1st OVLA: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 1 James rifle, and 1 10-pdr Parrott rifle (4 guns)

 

Pennsylvania: 1 battery totaling 6 guns

Battery B, 26th Pennsylvania Light Artillery: 4 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 6-pdr James rifles, (6 guns)

 

U.S. Regulars: 2 batteries totaling 14 guns

Batteries H and M, 4th U.S. Light Artillery: 4 3” Ordnance rifles, 4 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers (8 guns)

Battery H, 5th U.S. Light Artillery: 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles, 4 12-pdr M1857 smoothbore Napoleons (6 guns)

 

Wisconsin: 3 batteries totaling 16 guns

3rd Wisconsin Battery: 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers, 4 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

5th Wisconsin Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 12-pdr M1841 smoothbore howitzers 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles (6 guns)

8th Wisconsin Battery: 2 6-pdr M1841 smoothbore field guns, 2 10-pdr Parrott rifles (4 guns)



[1] Letter from unknown soldier of Battery A, 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery, Cleveland Morning Leader (Ohio), November 21, 1861, pg. 3

[2] Fitch, John. Annals of the Army of the Cumberland. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2003, pgs. 203-300. Fitch erroneously referred to the 3” Ordnance Rifles as Rodmans, some period literature uses these interchangeably.

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