Errant Cannon in Captain Andrew Cowan’s Independent New York Battery

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
On the afternoon of July 3, at the very start of the Confederate infantry advance against the Union Second Corps, Captain Andrew Cowan’s battery of six 3-inch Rifles was just galloping into position adjacent to the copse – the small umbrella-shaped group of trees on Cemetery Ridge that was about to become famous. To be more precise, five of Cowan’s guns took position on the south side of the copse, close to the spot vacated moments before by Lieutenant T. Fred. Brown’s battery. However, Cowan’s lead gun, under the direction of Sergeant Peter Mullaly, had apparently been carried by momentum to the right (north side) of the copse, where it squeezed into a small opening left between the trees and the left gun of Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing’s Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, only about 20 feet away. That’s where Cowan found it, and Cushing limped over (having been slightly wounded in the thigh) to speak to him about it. After hearing Cowan’s explanation, Cushing obligingly gave the order, “by hand to the front” to his left gun, which enabled Sergeant Mullaly to open fire with longer range ammunition.

Captain Cowan thereafter returned to the south side of the copse, where he had his hands full managing his other five pieces, including delivery of a final blast of double canister in the face of onrushing Confederate infantry, at which time he withdraw his guns by hand behind the ridge to a rise beyond, where he reopened fire with percussion shell. Upon the repulse of the enemy a few minutes later, Cowan brought his five guns back to their forward position. Only then, it appears, did he go in search of his other gun north of the copse, but it was gone and did not return for another hour (around 4:15 p.m.).

We are left to speculate what happened to Sergeant Mullaly’s gun in the interim. My assessment is that his gun was engaged for about 10-12 minutes - until a minute or so before Garnett’s men reached the stone wall close to the Angle (about 3:02 p.m.). That’s the moment soldiers of the 71st Pennsylvania who were at the forward wall broke and came streaming back, which might have convinced Mullaly that his infantry support was evaporating. He could not have fired canister for fear of hitting friendly troops in front (the right of the 69th Pennsylvania) and two guns of Cushing that had been pushed down among them. So he probably limbered up quickly and sped away toward the east. We don’t know if Mullaly traveled south or north upon reaching the Taneytown road, or continued east into the fields and woods in that direction, but he remained safely out of the action until the firing had nearly died down. Had he remained on the ridge, perhaps some of Pickett’s men would have noticed and directed their attention to his gun, like Brigadier General Armistead did to one of Cushing’s guns that was only about 50 yards to his right. There’s no suggestion that Sergeant Mullaly was ever criticized for his decision. It is merely one of those interesting details of the battle that tend to get overlooked in the bigger picture.

-Consolidated account of Captain Andrew Cowan, July 13, 1863, Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ed. by Janet B. Hewett, Noah Andre Trudeau, and Bryce A. Suderow, vol. 5, serial no. 5, Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1995, pp. 212-213)
-August 26, 1866 letter of Andrew Cowan to Col. Bachelder, Bachelder Papers: 1:280-282 and 2:1145-1148.
-New York at Gettysburg, III: 1227.

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