Overland Heavy Artillery Units in Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

AlexPensFan86

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Sep 19, 2014
Question: When did the heavies convert to infantry for the Overland Campaign? I'm a bit confused as I was under the impression they were converted to infantry at the campaign's opening but the Wilderness orders of battle attached the heavy artillery units to the Corps Artillery Brigades.
 

Carronade

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Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
They first fought as infantry during the Spotsylvania battles. There wasn't much conversion required; heavy artillery normally had rifles and basic infantry training, since they might find themselves garrisoning a fort without regular infantry present. However their parade ground infantry training and formations contributed to heavy casualties in their first actions.

As you may have seen, a brigade comprising the 6th and 15th New York was included in the artillery reserve at the outset of the campaign, later transferred to 5th Corps; and another "division" of five regiments joined the army in time for Spotsylvania. Subsequently heavy regiments were attached individually to existing infantry brigades. This could help them benefit from the veterans' experience; on the other hand, an artillery colonel fresh from Washington could find himself senior officer in the brigade.

The three battalions of the 4th NY were assigned to the artillery brigades of the three army corps of the AofP, presumably as train guards.
 

AlexPensFan86

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Sep 19, 2014
Ah okay, so they never served as artillerists proper in the field then? I knew they were infantry from at least Spotsylvania onward. It was the presence of the units in the Artillery Brigades that threw me off. Thanks for clearing it up!
 

gary

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Feb 20, 2005
Heavy artillerists manned the huge guns that were not used in field operations. We're talking coastal defense, static defense (forts defending Washington, DC, SF Bay Area, etc.). Being large, they were unsuitable for mobile operations and took too long to move and to set up (you erected a tripod to hoist up the barrel and then lower it onto its carriage). Thus, it was not required for heavy aritllerymen to take to the field. It was only later in the war when more men were needed that the heavy artillery were ordered to take up small arms and join the Army of the Potomac in the field.
 

Carronade

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Heavy artillerists manned the huge guns that were not used in field operations. We're talking coastal defense, static defense (forts defending Washington, DC, SF Bay Area, etc.). Being large, they were unsuitable for mobile operations and took too long to move and to set up (you erected a tripod to hoist up the barrel and then lower it onto its carriage). Thus, it was not required for heavy aritllerymen to take to the field. It was only later in the war when more men were needed that the heavy artillery were ordered to take up small arms and join the Army of the Potomac in the field.

One thing I'm not clear on, did heavy artillery regiments have their own guns, or did they marry up with guns when assigned to a fort? I'm thinking for example of Anderson's two companies in Charleston; they were stationed at Fort Moultrie, then abandoned that fort and its guns (disabled them in this case), moved to Sumter, and started preparing the guns that were basically in storage there for action.
 

thomas aagaard

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Nov 19, 2013
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Denmark
Unless we are talking siege artillery, I think they used the guns (both artillery and small arms) assigned to their post.

But It is just my impression.
 

rpkennedy

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Carlisle, PA
One thing I'm not clear on, did heavy artillery regiments have their own guns, or did they marry up with guns when assigned to a fort? I'm thinking for example of Anderson's two companies in Charleston; they were stationed at Fort Moultrie, then abandoned that fort and its guns (disabled them in this case), moved to Sumter, and started preparing the guns that were basically in storage there for action.

They went to the guns at their posts; the guns didn't follow them.

Ryan
 

Drew

Major
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Oct 22, 2012
Ah okay, so they never served as artillerists proper in the field then? I knew they were infantry from at least Spotsylvania onward. It was the presence of the units in the Artillery Brigades that threw me off. Thanks for clearing it up!

Not really. Grant took them with the AoP in the Overland Campaign, mostly from Washington's defenses. These guys were white glove types who'd never fired a shot, until they were handed rifles.
 

rpkennedy

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Not really. Grant took them with the AoP in the Overland Campaign, mostly from Washington's defenses. These guys were white glove types who'd never fired a shot, until they were handed rifles.

I wouldn't go quite that far. While many had never seen combat, several of the New York Heavy Artillery regiments had a core of soldiers who had served in 2-year regiments and had reenlisted in the fall and winter of 1863.

Ryan
 

Drew

Major
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Oct 22, 2012
I wouldn't go quite that far. While many had never seen combat, several of the New York Heavy Artillery regiments had a core of soldiers who had served in 2-year regiments and had reenlisted in the fall and winter of 1863.

Ryan

You'll agree then, most had never seen combat, but some had?
 

Carronade

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Location
Pennsylvania
Heavy artillery had rifles and basic infantry training in their normal role; here's one good thread about it, although about half of it ended up being about uniforms:

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/what-rifles-muskets-were-heavy-artillery-units-issued.103294/page-2

The last post, by major bill, is particularly informative:

I can show one example of the arms. The 6th Michiagn Infantry was converted from infantry to heavy artillery and then back to infantry. I will show its issued weapons.

June 30 1863 as infantry: 212 M1855, 61 & 63 U.S. rifle-muskets, 88 Austrian .577 cal., 143 Enfield rifle-muskets
Sept 30 1863 as heavy artillery: 172 M 1855, 16 & 63 U.S. rifle-muskets, 60 Austrian .577 cal., 148 Enfield rifle-muskets
June 30 1864 as heavy artillery: 287 M1855, 61 & 63 U.S. rifle-muskets, 13 Austrian .577 cal., 13 Austrian .58 cal, 492 Enfield rifle-muskets.
Sept. 30 1864 as infantry: 638 M1855,61 & 63 U.S. rifle muskets, 10 Enfield rifle-muskets.

Note it had no issued, carbines, revolvers or swords. I see a conversion to U.S. made long arms over time, but no real change due to being heavy artillery. You can also see the size of the regiment increase and then decrease, but again no real change in weapons
.
 

rpkennedy

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You'll agree then, most had never seen combat, but some had?

Being most familiar with the New York regiments, the heavy artillery units had a mix of veterans and rookies although I've never actually done the count to get a percentage. I can't make a statement one way or the other for the other states' artillery regiments.

Ryan
 
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