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Artillery on July 3

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Andy Cardinal, Nov 12, 2017.

  1. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Sergeant

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    E. Porter Alexander spent most of the morning deploying artillery in preparation for the great cannonade. By noon, when Henry Hunt was on Cemetery Hill, he wrote that "“Our whole front for two miles was covered by enemy batteries already in line or going into position. They stretched in one unbroken mass from opposite the town, to as far south as the Peach Orchard. Never before on this continent had such a sight been witnessed.” (quoted from Double Canister at Ten Yards by Schultz)

    Hunt had spent the morning telling his battery commanders to hold their fire and conserve their ammunition. The Confederate batteries were more or less unmolested as they got into position.

    It seems to me that it was possible that Union artillery could have possibly preempted the cannonade by firing on the Confederate batteries as Alexander was putting them into position that morning. Would this have been a viable option? Why did Hunt make the decision to allow the Confederate artillery to deploy without interference?

    Obviously, I recognize that Henry Hunt was far better qualified as a Chief of Artillery than I am!
     

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  3. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    I believe he prioritized killing infantry when they finally attacked... instead of spending a lot of rounds on killing a few artillerymen.
     
  4. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    Let's see what Hunt himself said about this. From his report:

    Hunt didn't want his gunners to waste ammunition in counterbattery fire in which there was no promise of real results.

    Ryan
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017
  5. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Once the artillery opened up, dense smoke would obscure much of the field. It would be pointless to waste a lot of artillery ammunition for the relatively minimal damage inflicted at those longer ranges, as the Confederates were about to learn for themselves. The "shock and awe" of that era simply could not deliver significant results at long ranges, however impressive the noise and concussive power of multiple artillery discharges. The Federal artillery fire would necessarily diverge along a broad front, and because they could only guess where the enemy infantry preparing to make the assault was positioned, the impact would have been further reduced. I doubt Meade would have allowed it anyway; his greatest peeve seems to have been firing off ammunition to no clear purpose.
     
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  6. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Let's leave the confederates, and Alexander who has been touting his own horn after the War making himself seem more important than he was, alone for a sec. There are a lot of stories on the Union side.

    For one, there was a documented (lets call it) misunderstanding between Hancock and Hunt on what Union artillery should be doing, and Hancock himself used to run from battery to battery ordering them to fire, while Hunt running after him ordering them to stop. But that was during the cannonade. The only artillery fire that happened in the morning, happened at the area of Culps Hill. There were infantry engagements around the Bliss farm, which may or may not involved loose canon fire, but if anything that would have been sporadic.

    The cannonade started in early afternoon. That's when the situation between Hancock and Hunt happened.

    Nobody knows how much ammunition was left when during that battle by either side. Lots of stories about it.

    As far as Alexander's words go, his suggestion that he was "out of ammunition" and could not support the infantry is some what borderline ridiculous for example, if one looks at how much artillery ammunition Lee had with him during the retreat.
     
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  7. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Sergeant

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    I know that Hunt believed that if Hancock had not interfered no Confederate infantry would ever have made it to Cemetery Ridge on July 3. So the idea he was more concerned about killing infantry makes sense. After all, it's the infantry that wins or loses battles in the end.

    I guess part of my question was whether Union artillery could have preempted the entire assault by driving the Confederate batteries away before they had a chance to get into position for the cannonade.
     
  8. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Sergeant

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    Thanks for the reply, that is clearly a very good reason not to fire. And I know Hunt was concerned about ammunition supply as well, even though he still had his hidden reserve.
     
  9. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    Didn't Alexander say that it wasn't so much that he was out of ammunition but that he had to refill the caissons from the ammunition train in the rear and would have to discontinue firing in order to do so?

    Ryan
     
  10. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    The Union artillery might have caused some discomfort but they probably couldn't have seriously affected Lee's plans.

    Ryan
     
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  11. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Nope. a. Long range missiles are not too accurate to drive away artillery. They work fine if thrown among 1000 bodies of infantry. Got to hit some. b. Despite what Hunt said, about a quarter of the Confederate artillery could not be seen from his positions, other that from the LRT battery.
     
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  12. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Alexander said many things at different times, and let's not forget that Alexander commanded a bit fewer than half of the Confederate guns that day...
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017
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  13. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    I think the other point to consider, regardless as to whether the federal artillery batteries should or could have preempted Alexander's artillery barrage, is that Alexander's barrage was itself not particularly effective with much of their fire being directed too high and far over the federal infantry.
     
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  14. chucksr

    chucksr Corporal

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    Actually the argument concerning how to use artillery effectively July 3 1863 by Alexander vs Hunt was pretty well answered in the results. No matter what your preference might be, there it is, marked on the "high water" line.
     
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  15. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Last I checked, there was just a tad of infantry involved then and there :wink:
     
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  16. JohnW.

    JohnW. Sergeant Major

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    Hunt surmised correctly that the buildup of guns on Seminary Ridge was for a immense cannonade on the center of the line. And what good is such a bombardment if you are not going to follow through with an infantry assault immediately following???...He knew to hold back and save ammunition for the charge that was coming...afterall, counter battery fire is an enormous waste of ammo. Firing spherical case and canister at charging infantry is not!!! I would much rather be shooting for effect at something the size of 9 brigades stretched out for over a mile than trying to pick off a target as tiny as a cannon at the distance of a mile. :D
     
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  17. Greywolf

    Greywolf Private

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    I'm not an artillery expert but a couple of questions entered my mind reading this:
    1. Why did the Rebel barrage not start off slowly, allowing an opportunity to observe their fire before the smoke engulfed the field? Some range checks if you will.

    2. People often mention the "smoke" keeping the rebel gunners from really seeing their effect. Why is this not the case during the assault(Smoke from union guns not obscuring their view of rebel troop movements).
     
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  18. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    1. The whole idea was the equivalent of "blanket bombardment". And if you look closely at contemporary sources from Union rank and file, it was much more successful than what the bragging Union OR reports suggest.

    2. It did obscure the view, so did the volleys from both sides. But when you know that you have 15,000 infantry coming in a line pretty much, you can shoot canister by guesstimating. Only thing you need to do is not to decapitate your infantry up front.
     
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  19. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Sergeant

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    Obviously we know that's true in retrospect, but they did not know that this would be the case at the time. And while the damage was far greater behind the Union lines than it was on Cemetery Ridge itself, there still was some significant damage among the batteries, particularly Cushing's battery & Rorty's battery. Osborn had some uncomfortable moments on Cemetery Hill as well.

    If the Confederate bombardment had been more effective & caused more damage on the crest of the ridge, would the infantry assault that followed had a better chance of success? My own opinion is that it would not have for two reasons: 1. The time it took the infantry to cross the field would have given enough time for Union defenses to recover.
    2. Most of the Union battery fire that disrupted Pickett's men came from McGilvery's batteries and Rittenhouse on LRT. These batteries would have to have been knocked out to impact the result.

    Osborn's guns on Cemetery Hill did have an impact on Pettigrew's & Trimble's men, so if those guns had been knocked out, that part of the assault might gave been more successful.
     
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  20. JohnW.

    JohnW. Sergeant Major

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    While we are on the subject of Day 3 artillery...does anyone have any info on the Hell the Whitworths on Oak Hill raised on Cemetery Hill??? If they are half as good as I have read about, I imagine Osborn had his hands full up there.
     
  21. chucksr

    chucksr Corporal

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    You are correct and the answer to the argument about who was right about the use of artillery on July 3 1863 was the one that used their artillery on that "tad of infantry involved then and there".
     
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