Battlefields of the Civil War: A Guide for Travelers Volume II
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by Blair Howard
Description: Here is a practical guide to touring the battlefields of the Civil War. The action is described as it happened at each location. You will hear the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, travel with general Sherman on his march through Georgia, suffer the horrors of the Battles of Seven Days and fight in the trenches around Petersburgh. Other chapters tell the stories of Pickett's Mill, Fort Pulaski, Pea Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain and many more. Finally you will follow General Lee's desperate retreat to Appomattox and be there during the poignant moments of his retreat to general Grant on April 12, 1865.
eBook Publisher: Hunter Publishing, Inc./Hunter Publishing, 2003 US
eBookwise Release Date: November 2008
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [385 KB]
Reading time: 232-325 min.
The Road to War
From April, 1861 to April, 1865 there was a storm over the land. The nation became involved in a great civil war. In the early days it was a romantic war. Few thought it could last for more than a week or two. Men of both sides donned heroic uniforms, waved good-bye to their loved ones, and sallied forth laughing and boasting of the great deeds they would do. By April 1st, 1862, almost a year after the opening shots had been fired at Fort Sumter, the war had spread across almost the entire southern half of the divided nation. Major battles had been fought from Virginia to Florida, and as far west as Southern Missouri. And, although the battles of 1st Bull Run in Virginia, Wilson's Creek in Missouri, Gulf Islands in Florida, Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee, and Pea Ridge in Arkansas had been bloody enough, they had given little indication of the carnage that was to come. The concept of war on both sides was still a romantic one. Thoughts of great deeds and personal heroism were bolstered by the swashbuckling attitudes of the officers and by the stirring new tunes of glory. The Battle of Shiloh on April 6th and 7th, 1862 brought home to both nations all the horrors of war in an avalanche of death and destruction the like of which had never been seen before. Then came Stones River, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and some 5,000 lesser known altercations until, by the time the war ended, the nation had paid a price incomprehensible at its beginning. More than 620,000 young Americans had given their lives for one cause or the other. Scarcely a family on either side emerged from the conflict without having lost a relative or close friend. More Americans died fighting in the Civil War than in all the wars thereafter combined, including World War I, World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and The War in the Gulf. That's a staggering statistic.
In the beginning, ministers left the pulpit and became generals. Lawyers put away their books and took up the sword. Ordinary folk who once stood side by side in church on Sunday fought one against the other for causes they never quite understood--causes that could and would change the course of the nation forever. Pious, gentle men who once might have lived next door to one another engaged in such blood-letting as the world had never seen before
Before the outbreak of war in 1861, the North consisted of 23 states and seven territories with a combined population in excess of 20 million people. The economy was, for the most part, an industrial one. The North produced more food, and its manufacturing capacity was at least five times greater, than that of the South. Most of the nation's railroads were in the North, and most of the nation's money was on deposit in Northern banks. The North had some 4 million men eligible for military duty but it was not felt at the time that the South, should the situation deteriorate into war, would be a military threat. Unfortunately, almost no one bothered to take into account the South's vast superiority in military leadership.
The South numbered 11 states and a population of only 9 million, of whom more than 3 million were slaves. Theirs was an agrarian economy, but one with essentially only one crop--cotton.
When war broke out, the South had a little more than 1 million men eligible for military duty against the 4 million available in the North. The odds were almost evened, however, by the extraordinary number of Southern West Point graduates, almost all of whom defected to answer the Confederate call to arms. Many of the officers in the United States Navy did the same. They, too, returned to their homeland to form the nucleus of the Confederate Navy.
The events leading to the War Between the States are too many and too diverse to examine fully here, but a brief look at some of the major milestones will help to set the scene.
It has been said that slavery was the cause of the conflict between the states, and certainly it did play a very large part in the march toward the outbreak of war. After all, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in 1776 declared a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. But slavery was only a part of the problem, and by 1850 the interpretation of Jefferson's Declaration depended largely upon where the interested parties might reside. In the north it was literally interpreted to mean that all human beings were created equal; in the South it was generally agreed that slaves were not human beings and that the Declaration was intended to protect individual state's rights as much as it was to protect the individual, and that the harsh, discriminatory Protected Tariff Laws inflicted by the Federal government upon the southern slave-holding states in 1824 and 1828, laws that favored the interests of the Northern States, were reason enough to declare the Union dissolved. These were laws that caused the president of South Carolina College in Columbia to ask, "Is it worthwhile to continue this Union of States, where the North demands to be our masters and we are required to be their tributaries?"
So, in November, 1832 South Carolina nullified the Tariff Acts of 1824 and 1828 and declared itself prepared to secede from the Union if the government decided to use force.
By 1856 events were rapidly approaching the boiling point. The new slave state of Texas had been admitted to the Union in 1845. William Lloyd Garrison had been publishing The Liberator, a newspaper dedicated to the abolition of slavery, for 25 years and the North, once largely indifferent to the fate of slaves, had been well and truly converted to the cause of abolition. But the differences between the North and South went much deeper. The slave-owning aristocracy in the South not only enjoyed an economic advantage, they also felt a "class-superiority" over the predominantly blue-collar society in the North.
So, while slavery was by now a driving issue, the quarrel was in fact a political and constitutional one. The northern states tenaciously held on to the Federalist conceptions of Alexander Hamilton, while the South was firmly dedicated to Jefferson's ideas that sovereign state rights were inalienable.
The spark that caused the explosion came on October 16th, 1859. John Brown, a fanatical abolitionist, together with four of his sons and a group of five blacks and a dozen whites, attacked the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia. A force of United States Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee, a man who would soon become a legend in his own time, was sent to put down the insurrection. After a short fight and some loss of life, Brown, severely wounded, was captured, put on trial along with six of his confederates, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. He was hanged in Charlestown, in western Virginia, on December 20, 1859.
Then came the Presidential election of 1860. In February a southern senator by the name of Jefferson Davis demanded the repeal of the Personal Liberty Laws and that the North cease to interfere with the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. He demanded the Federal government protect the rights of the slave states. In the meantime, Abraham Lincoln was eloquently espousing the anti-slavery cause in the North while his Democratic opponent, Stephen Douglas, was talking of compromise. This caused a split in the Democratic party that made Lincoln's election to the presidency inevitable. The eleven cotton states in the south put forth their own candidate, the incumbent Vice President of the United States, John Cabel Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge stood as a Southern Rights candidate. Then the scene became even further complicated when Senator John Bell, also of Kentucky, decided to run as a Constitutional Unionist; he was, in fact, nothing more than an old-fashioned Whig.
In that fateful campaign of 1860 secession was never an issue, but it was widely felt that the South would secede if Lincoln won. Contrary to popular opinion today, it seems that slavery did become the dominating and all-embracing topic of that turbulent campaign. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans wanted to prohibit slavery in the emerging Territories and confine it within its existing limits. Stephen Douglas and most of the Democrats were for non-intervention in the Territories, Breckinridge and his supporters were demanding that slavery in the Territories should be protected by law, and John Bell buried his head in the sand hoping that by ignoring the issue it would soon be forgotten. On November 6th, 1860, Lincoln was elected president with only 40% of the popular vote. Douglas ran second while Breckinridge, who didn't gain a majority even in the South, ran third.
Finally, on December 20, 1860, the government of South Carolina passed an ordinance that proclaimed the dissolution of the Union between that state and other states united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America." One month later, on January 21, 1861, the senior Senator from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis, announced the separation of the State of Mississippi from the United States. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas quickly followed South Carolina and Mississippi into secession. On February 20th, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis took the oath as first President of the Confederate States of America. On April 13th, 1861, Confederate forces accepted the surrender of the Federal Garrison at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and two days later President Lincoln issued a proclamation that called into service 75,000 militia for a period of three months, thus effectively declaring war upon the fledgling Confederacy. And so it began.
Virginia, although unwilling to take a stand on the issue of slavery, had stood firm on the perceived constitutional principle that every state in the Union enjoyed the same inalienable sovereign rights. It wasn't until Lincoln's call to arms that she made her fateful choice and joined her southern sister states in secession, and in so doing decided the future conduct of one of the noblest Americans who ever lived.
Robert E. Lee was the son of "Light Horse" Harry Lee, colonel and hero of the American Revolution. His marriage to Mary Custis, a descendent of Mrs. George Washington, made him the master of Arlington, the great house, and now National Cemetery, that overlooks the national capital. He graduated from West Point in 1807, 2nd in his class of 46, and was General Winfield Scott's Chief of Engineers during the Mexican War. By the time Virginia decided to leave the Union, Lee already had served with distinction in the United States Army for more than 25 years. He was opposed to slavery and secession, but he had been taught from his earliest years that his first allegiance was to the state that was his home, Virginia.
In March 1861 Lee was summoned to Washington. On leaving for that fateful meeting he told a friend that, "If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes, then I will follow my native state with my sword, and if need be with my life." Lee spent more than three hours with General Winfield Scott, wrestling with his conscience and with the mighty problems now at hand. Then, on April 16th, he was, on Lincoln's authority, offered the post of Commander in Chief of the Union Armies. He declined the offer and a day later, on receiving the news that Virginia had seceded from the Union, he resigned his commission and, with great sadness, left his home at Arlington for good.
It should be said at this point that Lee, unlike his most favored lieutenant, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, never hated his Northern enemy. Indeed, he thought the decision to secede was a deplorable one, and many believe that even in the optimistic days of 1861 he foresaw its inevitable consequences.
* * * *
The Civil War Soldier & His Equipment
An army of the Civil War was organized into a series of fighting units. The smallest of these was "the company," comprised of some 60 to 100 men and commanded by a captain and two lieutenants. Each company was divided into four squads, each commanded by a sergeant.
Next in size was "the regiment." The regiment was the unit for which the soldier of the Civil War lived and died. It was how he identified himself and was the source of great pride. A regiment was commanded by a full colonel assisted by a lieutenant colonel and a major and was, theoretically, made up of 10 companies, each with three officers. Artillery and cavalry regiments were larger, composed of 12 companies.
The basic infantry unit was "the brigade." Brigades usually numbered anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 men and would be made up of four to eight regiments. But sometimes, as resources might dictate, a brigade might have as few as two regiments. A brigade, again theoretically, was commanded by a brigadier general. In fact, the smaller brigades were often commanded by the senior regimental colonel. A brigade was a large unit with a full compliment of staff officers: a quartermaster, ordinance and commissary officers, and several clerks, as well as the usual complement of line officers.
The next largest unit in the army of the Civil War was "the division." A division was made up of two or more brigades and, as circumstances allowed, would be commanded by a major general. In fact, many divisions were commanded by a brigadier general. With some 6,000 to 10,000 officers and men in the ranks, the division was a small army in itself.
Finally, there was the corps, the largest unit in the army, some 15,000 to 30,000 officers and men in two or more divisions, commanded by a major or lieutenant general.
The Federal armies were named for rivers: The Army of the Potomac, The Army of the Cumberland, The Army of the Tennessee. Confederate armies were named for states: The Army of Tennessee, The Army of Northern Virginia, and so on.
Federal units within the army were identified by number: XIV Corps, Second Division, 3rd Brigade, 38th Indiana, Army of the Cumberland. Confederate army units were identified by a mixture of names and numbers: Longstreet's Corps, Hood's Division, Anderson's Brigade, 7th Georgia, Army of Northern Virginia.
On both sides the army was comprised of three branches: the infantry, the artillery, and the cavalry, all with the support of a medley of non-combatant ancillaries, such as catering, clerical, and medical. The latter was still in a very primitive stage of development.
Federal general officers were identified on their shoulder straps as follows: a brigadier general wore one star, a major general two stars, a lieutenant general three stars, and full general four stars. Confederate generals were identified by a collar badge with three stars enclosed within a wreath of gold leaves and by the piping on the sleeve of their uniforms. They, too, rose in rank from brigadier general to full-general.
The general officer on both sides was, for the most part, a well-educated man, preferably a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, and always ready to lay down his life at a moment's notice. He had to be, especially at the brigade level, because the Civil War general did not have the advantages of field communications and command that modern-day commanders enjoy; they commanded from the front, leading their troops into battle at the head of the brigade or division. Mortality among brigade commanders was very high. Second only to color bearers, they were the targets for every sharp-shooter in the opposing army.
The first general to die in the Civil War was Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon at the Battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10th, 1861. Six generals were killed and 12 seriously wounded in a single day during the Battle of Antietam. At the Battle of Franklin on November 30th, 1864, five Confederate Generals, including Major General Patrick Cleburne, and one Union general were killed, five more were wounded, and Confederate Brigadier General George W. Gordon was captured. Robert E. Lee lost eight of his generals at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, and Major General George Pickett lost every one of his field commanders, either killed or seriously wounded, during his famous charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863.
It's no wonder, then, that the life expectancy of a brigadier general during the Civil War was only a few months at best. Many did manage to survive the war, however, and most of those that did went on to achieve greatness in that other war-like arena, politics.
The last Confederate general on official duty during the Civil War was Brigadier General Stand Watie, the Cherokee general, who surrendered his command of Creek, Seminole, Osage, and Cherokee Indians to Lieutenant Colonel Asa C. Matthews on June 23rd, 1865.
The brevet rank was an honor awarded to officers by the President, usually for gallant actions or meritorious service in combat or, more commonly, to allow them to serve in a staff position. Many Union officers held brevet commissions higher than their actual rank. The Civil War caused an escalation of the practice of awarding brevet commissions, both to regular and volunteer army officers. Army regulations stipulated that an officer functioned at his brevet rank when on special assignment of the President in commands composed of different corps and when in detachments or on courts-martial composed of different corps. In these circumstances the officers received pay at their brevet rank.
Although there was a provision for brevet commissions in the Confederate Army regulations it is doubtful if any were ever awarded. Certainly there is no documented evidence of such an award.
The brevet commissions caused great confusion among the Federal officer class. By the end of the war as many as 1,700 officers held brevet ranks of brigadier or major general. This caused problems of title and recognition. For a long time after the war, the army had real problems deciding the official title of an officer and what rank he was entitled to show on his uniform. For instance, although George Armstrong Custer was only a lieutenant colonel when he died on the Little Big Horn, he held brevet major general commissions in both the regular and volunteer armies.
The practice of awarding brevet commissions had all but been abandoned by the turn of the century and the last brevet commission was awarded to Tasker H. Bliss in 1918.
The majority of Civil War soldiers of both sides served in the infantry. These were the people who inflicted and suffered most of the casualties--the people who won or lost the battles.
The army of the Civil War was a great, unwieldy beast numbering anywhere from 30,000 men to 150,000 or more. The logistics of maneuvering such great numbers created problems of monumental proportions. Remember, battlefield telecommunication was still in its infancy, there were no trucks, and no air-transport, just a few sparse and primitive railway systems that often went where nobody wanted to go. The army of the Civil War moved primarily on foot, often covering great distances in a matter of only a few days. Stonewall Jackson was able to move his corps around the country so quickly it soon became known as "Stonewall's Foot Cavalry."
The Civil War soldier, although he became hardened and even used to the long marches, was never comfortable. In the summertime he endured long miles of choking dust. He ached with thirst, his throat was always sore, his nostrils became clogged and inflamed, his lips cracked and bled, and his mouth was always full of grit and dirt. The heavy woolen clothing he wore became wet with sweat and the dust worked its way inside so that it became an instrument of torture that turned his skin red and raw.
In the winter he trod the long miles of dirt road, often up to his ankles in thick mud or semi-frozen slush. Shoe leather turned into so much soggy paper and his uniform hung like a wet rag from his body. At night he was often forced to sleep in the rain or snow with only the dripping trees and a sodden blanket for cover.
On top of all this he had to carry his knapsack, a crude affair strapped to his back and around his chest, containing 20 or 30 pounds of equipment, including his rations for several day's march and all his worldly belongings. He also had to carry his rifle and up to 200 rounds of ammunition. It's no wonder, then, that the Civil War soldier would often arrive on the battlefield in a state of near exhaustion.
The private soldier, Federal and Confederate, was an uncomplicated individual, often illiterate, often confused as to what he was doing or why he was doing it, but almost always inordinately brave. The uniform he wore was often crude and inadequate, being made from a thick woolen cloth that was extremely uncomfortable to wear during the hot summer months, and stayed wet or damp all winter long. His training consisted largely of a few weeks marching back and forth in some quickly constructed boot camp; then he was thrown into battle at the first convenient opportunity. Many of those who went into battle for the first time didn't even know the complicated routine for loading their rifles. There are many documented cases of new recruits on the eve of battle desperately hunting for someone who could tell them which end of the bullet to put into the muzzle first, and there were thousands of weapons picked up on the battlefields found to contain as many as eight or nine charges rammed down the barrel, one on top of the other, without the weapon ever being fired. The majority of the Civil War infantrymen were poor marksmen. That being so, the infantrymen were almost always formed in line of battle in two ranks, one behind the other, to afford the maximum fire power. Such a formation could deliver a formidable volley of fire, a virtual wall of death, and thus eliminated the need for good marksmanship.
Away out in front of the line of battle would be the advance guard--the skirmish line--a widespread screen of soldiers deployed in loose formation who protected the main body of the army and gave warning of the advancing enemy. They would engage the enemy, draw his fire, and thus establish his position so that the army commander could develop his strategy. It was an effective, though somewhat primitive, way of doing business.
The basic weapon of the infantryman on both sides was the muzzle loading rifle musket. It was a little more than five feet long, weighed about nine pounds, and fired a large caliber bullet called a minie ball. The minie ball varied in caliber from .54 to .69. The rifle musket at a range of 300 yards was absolutely lethal, deadly accurate up to 500 yards and, in expert hands, could easily kill a man at 1,200 yards.
The most popular rifle musket of the Civil War was the 1861 model Springfield, .58-caliber rifle musket. It was a little over 58 inches long, weighed nine and one-quarter pounds, and fired a minie bullet propelled by 60 grains of black powder. The weapon was equipped with a ramrod and a 21-inch angular bayonet.
Also popular, especially among the Confederate troops, was the English-made, 1853 model Enfield rifle musket. The Enfield fired a .577-caliber minie bullet and it, too, was equipped with an angular bayonet, although a few were equipped with the not-so-popular sword bayonet introduced by the French during the 1840s. Sword bayonets were heavy and unwieldy, and by early 1864 had virtually been discontinued. The Enfield was a well-made rifle, dependable, and just as accurate as the American-made Springfield.
The name "minie ball," implies that it was both small and round; it was neither. It was named for one of its two French inventors: Claude-Etienne Minié (Henri-Gustave Delvigne was the other). Both were officers in the French army. The minie, a hollow-base, conical bullet, was developed to make better use of the new French rifles. Before the minie bullet, the rifle projectile had to be seated in such a way as to take to the grooves in the barrel. The only way to do that was to use a tight-fitting ball and wrap it a patch. The ball was then rammed down the barrel by brute force. It was a slow and far from satisfactory method, far less efficient than the relatively simple loading procedure of the smooth-bore musket with its loose-fitting ball. The new bullet, however, was made slightly undersized and its hollow base was designed to expand under the pressure of the gasses caused by the exploding black powder, thus forcing it into the grooves inside the barrel. Minié added an iron cup to the base of the bullet which was forced into its base by the explosion, thus adding to its efficiency.
The minie ball brought a new dimension to warfare in the 19th century. The accuracy of the new rifles combined with the deadly effect of the low-velocity, large caliber projectiles had a devastating effect upon all troops in all branches of the army. A wound inflicted by a low-velocity minie ball almost always had disastrous consequences. Bones were shattered beyond repair and the surgeon could do little more for the victim than remove the shattered limbs. Head and body wounds caused by the impact of a minie ball were of such a horrendous nature they were almost always fatal.
Although artillery played an important part in the Civil War, and was in a constant state of development and improvement, it was still effective only when the cannoneer could see his target, and even though the cannon of the period could shoot much farther, its effective range was only about 1,500 yards. It was therefore limited in both its use and effect.
There were two basic types of Civil War cannon: the bronze smoothbore--namely the six and 12-pounder Napoleon and the 12-pounder mountain howitzer--and the iron rifled gun of which the three-inch ordnance rifle was the most popular, with the three-inch Parrott rifle a close second. There were, of course, many more, most of them imported from Europe and bearing the names of their makers--the Blakely, the Whitworth, the Armstrong and so on. The rifled gun had an increased range and greater accuracy than its bronze counterpart. Both types of cannon fired solid iron round-shot, two types of explosive shell, canister and, to lesser degree, grape-shot.
Artillery shells were of two types, both hollow iron containers. One was filled with black powder and equipped with a fuse lit by the explosive charge that propelled the shell. The fuse exploded it at a prescribed distance. Or an impact device was used to explode the shell on contact. Either way, this type of shell was designed to inflict maximum destruction at the extreme range of the gun used.
The other type of explosive shell was the shrapnel or case-shot, a thin, hollow iron sphere filled with explosives and a lethal payload of metal balls. The case-shot was equipped with a Bormann fuse--a crude but effective device calibrated in quarter seconds--timed to explode the shell some five seconds (about 1,200 yards) into its flight in front of the target. The case shot was designed as an extension of the canister. The explosive charge was sufficient only to rupture and strip away the iron case, leaving the load of metal balls to continue on their way without the spread of the canister at long ranges.
The devastating anti-personnel canister, too, could be fired by either type of gun. The canister, unlike the case-shot, was a soft metal can full of sawdust and large caliber lead or iron balls and was designed to burst open upon leaving the muzzle of the cannon, very much like a giant shot-gun shell. At close range the effect of canister was always deadly, especially when hard-pressed cannoneers would double and triple-load their pieces. Canister was effective only at a range of 300 to 600 yards. Beyond that the balls became so dispersed they were ineffective. The piece was constructed with iron plates top and bottom, over which the ends of a sheet metal cylinder were bent. Iron balls, usually 48 in number, were tightly packed with sawdust inside the can in four tiers.
Grape shot was similar in principle to canister. It, too, consisted of an iron plate top and bottom. The load consisted of nine much larger metal balls than those of the canister arranged in three tiers. The whole thing was held together by several soft metal straps. Grape shot, like the canister, was designed to break apart on leaving the muzzle of the cannon, thus inflicting terrible damage at close range. Grape shot, however, was not popular with field artillery and, by 1864, had all but been discontinued.
Each type of projectile was fitted with a charge of gunpowder in the form of a powder bag. When double-loading canister, the cannoneer was supposed to knock the powder bag from the second load to ensure the barrel of the weapon wouldn't burst under the strain of a double load of explosive. Often, though, the gunners became carried away by the urgency of the moment and forgot, in which case the great weapons would bound high into the air under the recoil of an overloaded explosive charge.
Each gun was served by a crew of nine men: a sergeant (the chief of caisson), a corporal (the gunner whose job it was to aim the weapon), and seven cannoneers. A full and experienced crew could maintain a rate of fire anywhere from two to three rounds per minute.
Operating a Civil War cannon was something of a complicated affair. The Gunner would sight the weapon; the Number One man would stand to the right of the muzzle with rammer and sponge; Number Two stood to the left of the muzzle and inserted the ammunition; Number Three stood to the right of the breech and put his right thumb, in a leather stall, over the vent during sponging and loading (to prevent drafts igniting unburned powder left in the breech). Number Three also pricked the cartridge (the powder bag) through the vent, thus exposing the powder to the flash caused by the primer. Number Four stood to the left of the breech and inserted the friction primer into the vent (the primer, or striker, delivered a flash of fire down the vent to the powder bag causing it to explode), hooked his lanyard to it, and pulled on the command to fire; Number Five carried the ammunition five yards from the limber to the gun and handed it to Number Two. Number Six was stationed at the limber and cut fuses or handed ammunition to Number Seven, who the handed it on to Number Five. In theory, everything was supposed to go like clockwork, and usually it did. In the early days of the war, however, with the rush to get into battle, things did not go quite so smoothly and it wasn't unusual to find instructors on the field at the height of battle training rookie gun crews.
The light artillery cannon was an extremely mobile weapon. It could be quickly transported from one area of a battlefield to another by use of a two-wheeled limber that was pulled by a team of six horses and three drivers. The horses were harnessed in three pairs, one behind the other, with a driver mounted on each pair, usually on the left-hand side of the team. The limber also carried a single ammunition box with a variety of ammunition, fuses, and primers. Each cannon was supported by a caisson--a four-wheeled carriage that carried three more ammunition boxes. It, too, was pulled by a team of six horses and three drivers.
A typical Confederate artillery battery would be outfitted with four six-pounder guns and two 12-pounder field howitzers. The average Union battery consisted of four guns, all of the same caliber. A battery would be commanded by a captain of artillery and each section of the battery (two guns) would be in the charge of a lieutenant.
The romantic concept of the dashing cavalryman charging into battle, the reins between his teeth, a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other is largely a myth. The cavalry acted mostly as the intelligence--the eyes and ears--of the army. When it became necessary for them to fight, they would dismount and fight just like infantrymen. Every fourth man would stay back behind the firing line and hold the horses while his comrades engaged the enemy. The basic weapon of the cavalryman was officially the single-shot carbine and, during the later years of the war, the Spencer seven-shot repeating carbine. More often than not, however, the more popular weapon of the saddle was a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot. The effect of such a weapon at close range was devastating. The cavalry of the Civil War on both sides produced some of the most romantic characters of the period. On the Confederate side, there was Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and Jeb Stuart, and on the Union side George Armstrong Custer and Philip Sheridan, to name but a few.
For most of the enlisted men, and for the officers too, whether they were a part of the infantry, artillery, or cavalry, there was nothing romantic about the Civil War or what they did. They were, after all, expected to fight and die in the fields for cause and country, and more than 620,000 of them did just that.
The Ambulance Corps
At the beginning of the Civil War, most American doctors, Union and Confederate, had little idea of the numbers of casualties they would be called upon to deal with. After the debacle that was the Battle of First Manassas, or Bull Run, they soon realized that what was to come would require an effort without any precedent.
With few resources at the start, the Union Medical Department, assisted by the U.S. Sanitary Commission, was by the end of the war able to build and supply a remarkably efficient ambulance corps. The Confederacy, however, mainly because of the lack of resources, handled things more on a situation-by-situation basis. The fate of the wounded, then, depended very much upon which side held the field at the end of the battle.
The first real effort at creating an efficient field medical corps was made by Federal Surgeon General Charles S. Tripler, who commanded the Medical Department of the Army of the Potomac. Although he was, at that time, unable to transfer the ambulance corps from the Quartermaster's Department, he was able to regulate its use and configuration. He discarded the old, two-wheeled version in favor of a new four-wheel model. He established a fleet of 250 of the new ambulances and serviced them with crews of well-trained stretcher-men.
Unfortunately for Tripler, at the Battle of Second Manassas the new wagons were so fragile that they broke down and were abandoned on the field. Drivers panicked, broke open the supplies, and stole the whiskey. Tripler was replaced on July 4th, 1862, by Jonathan Letterman, who persuaded General George McClellan that the Army of the Potomac needed its own autonomous ambulance service.
Letterman organized the new service into corps and division units and began strenuous training of support staff under the direction of the Medical Department. Each infantry regiment had a complement of two surgeons, and each corps had a fleet of ambulances. From that point on the medical services for Federal armies improved steadily until the end of the war, by which time the situation in the Confederacy had deteriorated rather than improved.
There are thousands of stories of the horrors of the battlefield hospitals, most of them true. The advent of the new rifle muskets and the low-velocity minie ball brought devastating wounds to the operating tables. But these were not the only problems the doctors of the day were forced to deal with. More men died of disease than from battle wounds. Battlefield physicians were mostly country doctors, ill suited to coping with the devastating wounds, dysentery, measles, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and other diseases that often reached epidemic proportions.
The battlefield surgeon operated for days on end under terrible conditions, often without anesthetics. Time was always of the essence. Limbs often were removed simply because the surgeon had no recourse and even less time available to save them. It's no wonder, then, that "Sawbones" became the nickname for field surgeons.
After initial treatment in the field, the wounded might be evacuated to hospitals in the major cities. Those that were had a fair chance of survival. For those that ended up in the hastily constructed field hospitals, where the conditions were often dirty and poorly ventilated and the doctors ill equipped, the chances were somewhat more limited.
By the end of the war there were some 350 army hospitals in operation, most of them Federal. But the Confederacy, too, worked hard to develop its medical corps. The doctors and nurses were caring and conscientious and they received help from the aid societies that existed in many of the southern cities, but shortages of personnel and supplies made the Confederate hospital a less than desirable destination for the thousands upon thousands of wounded soldiers that arrived daily from the battlefields.
The ever-increasing number of casualties continued to tax both North and South until the end of the war.