In the Field Limber pole towards or away?

byron ed

2nd Lieutenant
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Mar 22, 2017
Location
Midwest
By far the drill at reenactments is that, once unlimbered for battle line, the limber is moved to the rear of the gun by some yards, spun around and set in position with the limber pole towards the gun. The implication is that the limber chest top opens hinge-front so it somewhat covers the charges and those withdrawing charges from enemy fire, and, when wind direction is from the gun, also protects from embers floating back to the limber.

All well and good, except period war sketches and photographs will at times show the limber pole facing away from the gun, and not always because there are horses still attached. The implication is that the gun can be more quickly limbered up since it only takes a mere roll forward, using less time and maneauvering space. On the other hand, with the limber pole facing away from gun you'd think the men at the limber are now more exposed to enemy fire, and floating embers more likely to enter the chest.

So perhaps it's our fallacy in thinking that the limber men are better covered from enemy fire behind the chest rather than in front of it. Fact is, a penetrating bullet from any direction blows the darn thing up so the men aren't really safer after all. And as far as which way the top hinge on the chest opens; that time is so short that perhaps the embers thing isn't a big deal.

I'd rather be demonstrating all this on the field, it's hard just using words. I hope most can visualize. Anyway, thoughts?
 
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alan polk

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 11, 2012
Very good question. I wonder what the actual military manuals or regulations called for, that would be a starting point. But like all other situations, I’m sure the rules were discarded in the heat of combat. I imagine they just adapted their maneuvers to what the situation required.
 

John Winn

Major
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Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
The limber pole (and harnessed horses) faced toward the gun (see attached 1864 manual pages). The limber chest was copper clad to resist sparks and, if you think about it, would only open so as to make that work if the limber pole was forward. So, yes, the men manning the limber were, in fact, better protected if the limber pole was facing away from them (i.e. toward the gun).

Scan0001.jpg


So, they did a big circle to get the guns in position and then the limbers in position.

Here's what the battery looked like when in position:

Scan0002.jpg


I don't doubt that there were terrain conditions that required something different than what the manual stipulated but the norm would have been by the manual. If a battery had to retreat then it'd be another big circle to get the guns limbered up again.
 
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byron ed

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Mar 22, 2017
Location
Midwest
...see attached 1864 manual pages

Those pages refer to "Flying" (aka "horse" or "mounted") artillery whereby every member of the unit was mounted, the purpose being to be able to advance quickly with cavalry or mounted infantry. But I see the pole is certainly towards the gun.

However Light artillery (i.e. the crews, most of the men, march) is the more usual type of field artillery. That drill has the horses taken off as the guns are put into battery. The horses are kept in the rear. Light artillery was typically placed as a defensive line, where having horses exposed in the manner of advancing artillery puts horses as sitting ducks, targeted and killed in harness, entangling the whole team.

As an aside, reenactments actually portray Light artillery (whether they've thought about themselves that way or not), the underlying reason being that most units can't afford the horses, tack, year-round upkeep or the time and money it takes to field 6 horses per gun in the manner of Flying or even advancing artillery. Our ruse is to be able to claim "the horses are in the rear, Ma'am"

Anyway there is a Light artillery drill shown in other period manuals. I'll dig it up.
 
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drezac

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Baltimore,Ohio
The top figure is mounted artillery, where the men were on foot. The bottom is horse artillery where the men were mounted. Both are considered light or field artillery.


Another reason for the horse front position of the limber is that when ammunition was low, the limber from the casions would move behind the guns and the guns limber would go back to the caison. It was more efficient to just pull forward with the casion limber and do any manuvering with the empty one
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Those pages refer to "Flying" (aka "horse" or "mounted") artillery whereby every member of the unit was mounted, the purpose being to be able to advance quickly with cavalry or mounted infantry. But I see the pole is certainly towards the gun.

However Light artillery (i.e. the crews, most of the men, march) is the more usual type of field artillery. That drill has the horses taken off as the guns are put into battery. The horses are kept in the rear. Light artillery was typically placed as a defensive line, where having horses exposed in the manner of advancing artillery puts horses as sitting ducks, targeted and killed in harness, entangling the whole team.

As an aside, reenactments actually portray Light artillery (whether they've thought about themselves that way or not), the underlying reason being that most units can't afford the horses, tack, year-round upkeep or the time and money it takes to field 6 horses per gun in the manner of Flying or even advancing artillery. Our ruse is to be able to claim "the horses are in the rear, Ma'am"

Anyway there is a Light artillery drill shown in other period manuals. I'll dig it up.

See @drezac comments. I included both illustrations to show that both types of field artillery were positioned with the limber pole towards the gun.

The caissons and their horses were considerably more to the rear so "horses to the rear" isn't incorrect. When in battery the horses were kept harnessed because if a quick move was needed there wasn't time to harness them and, as has been pointed out, the limbers moved back and forth to the caissons to get fresh ammunition boxes.
 

SWMODave

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I believe the primary reason for the pole facing toward the cannon is this puts the caisson crew also facing the gunner. With communication between the gunner and caisson being difficult in a noisy environment anyway, being able to see the guy telling you what round, or fuse length, etc was not only beneficial, but probably necessary in a battle environment.

I think a proper artillery drill is one of the most beautiful "dances" ever - with every position doing something different and in synch, with every movement having a purpose and a reason. But that's just my opinion. After firing a few demonstrations on a hot, humid day clad head to foot in wool - the beauty soon sweats away :smile:
 
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When the gun is discharged, the primer tube will fly out of the vent. Depending on wind conditions, it will travel a number of yards, usually to the rear. Thus, the pole faces the gun so that the lid of the limber chest would open towards the direction of any flying tubes, thus acting as a shield. That hot tube has no place landing in a limber full of ammunition!
 

drezac

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When the gun is discharged, the primer tube will fly out of the vent. Depending on wind conditions, it will travel a number of yards, usually to the rear. Thus, the pole faces the gun so that the lid of the limber chest would open towards the direction of any flying tubes, thus acting as a shield. That hot tube has no place landing in a limber full of ammunition!

Very true. we were doing an event with a gun at the bow of a sternwheeler. It had 2 decks with a open observation area on the roof. We found primers on the top area at the stern.
 
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Very true. we were doing an event with a gun at the bow of a sternwheeler. It had 2 decks with a open observation area on the roof. We found primers on the top area at the stern.
I've heard primers hit the lid of the limber box on several occasions, as well as had them land on my hat!
If a person doesn't think they're hot, just pick one up after it lands! :smile:
 
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All well and good, except period war sketches and photographs will at times show the limber pole facing away from the gun, and not always because there are horses still attached.
Can you post photographs of the limber pole facing away that were taken under combat conditions?
I suspect (or theorize) photos with the pole facing away were "staged" (ie "posed") photos, for the purposes of simply having a "likeness" taken, and thus have many more inaccuracies as well.
OR perhaps the photo was taken at a particular stage of drill, before the limber was properly given the chance to have been turned around?
 

byron ed

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Midwest
When the gun is discharged, the primer tube will fly out of the vent. Depending on wind conditions, it will travel a number of yards, usually to the rear. Thus, the pole faces the gun so that the lid of the limber chest would open towards the direction of any flying tubes, thus acting as a shield. That hot tube has no place landing in a limber full of ammunition!

The limber chest is always closed before and when the gun fires, so a non-problem.
 
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byron ed

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Mar 22, 2017
Location
Midwest
The top figure is mounted artillery, where the men were on foot. The bottom is horse artillery where the men were mounted. Both are considered light or field artillery.

Yes, per the Gibbon Artillerists Manual, pg 342:

"Light or field-artillery, is that portion which manoeuvres field -pieces with troops in the field. It is divided into horse-artillery and mounted batteries. In horse-artillery, the cannoneers, of which there are eleven to each piece, are mounted on horses, from which they have to dismount before attending on the piece, the two extra men holding the horses of the rest. In the mounted batteries, formerly called foot -artillery, the cannoneers are on foot, and. remain so during the manoeuvres of the battery, except when it is desired to move at a very rapid rate, when they are mounted on the ammunition -boxes.

The horse-artillery was originally and is still designed for service with cavalry, receiving the lightest guns, which enables it to move at the same rate as the cavalry, and to keep it up for a considerable time."
 

byron ed

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Location
Midwest
See @drezac...The caissons and their horses were considerably more to the rear so "horses to the rear" isn't incorrect. When in battery the horses were kept harnessed...

Assuming you meant to say either "is incorrect" or "isn't correct" that's a good clarification. For horse artillery it was only the crew's horses (their transporation) that were brought to the rear during battle. The limber horses typically remained attached as you pointed out.

Perhaps it was confusing that I had mentioned that we reenactors have to pose that our limber horses have "been taken to the rear" because reenactors can't maintain six horses per gun on front line. It's in the same category as reenactors having to accept that our guns are often placed too close together compared to period, or having to accept that each cannon on the line deploys a 2nd sponge and a worm on each firing because of our modern issues with using foil, not because it was the way it was done in the CW (typically one sponge and out, and a rare worming to extract fragments).
 

John Winn

Major
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Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Assuming you meant to say either "is incorrect" or "isn't correct" that's a good clarification. For horse artillery it was only the crew's horses (their transporation) that were brought to the rear during battle. The limber horses typically remained attached as you pointed out.

Perhaps it was confusing that I had mentioned that we reenactors have to pose that our limber horses have "been taken to the rear" because reenactors can't maintain six horses per gun on front line. It's in the same category as reenactors having to accept that our guns are often placed too close together compared to period, or having to accept that each cannon on the line deploys a 2nd sponge and a worm on each firing because of our modern issues with using foil, not because it was the way it was done in the CW (typically one sponge and out, and a rare worming to extract fragments).

You were concerned about using a "ruse" that the horses were to the rear and what I meant was that some of the horses would have been in the rear for certain no matter what so it isn't really a ruse (i.e. incorrect) to tell folks the horses are in the rear.

I'm sure many things in a re-enactment have to be done differently than they actually were for safety and other reasons. As for pole forward or rearward I'd still say forward, horses or no, as that was how the limber box was oriented when a battery was in action.

In your OP I thought you were uncertain which way the limber was pointed back in the day and were wondering which way you should point yours so as to be authentic. I still contend that in most cases the gun's limber horses were facing the gun and remained harnessed. Exceptions to just about everything occurred but that was the standard practice.

While I've not lived where I could be a member of a battery (boy, do I dream and wish) I have read extensively about field artillery as my namesake (and avatar guy) was in the Richmond Howitzers and somehow I've always been attracted to the field artillery branch. You are lucky that you can actually man a tube. Just curious - what position do you fill on the crew ? Always the same one or do you rotate ? Ever fire any live rounds ?
 
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Limber horses were removed to the rear in combat.
This is for several reasons:
1) They instantly became targeted. If the horses were killed, the gun could be more easily captured, as it would not be able to withdraw.
2) If one of the 4 or 6 horses were wounded, it could thrash about, while harnessed, and injure or spook the other horses, who, in turn, would bolt, or thrash about and injure themselves or a crew member.
3) It was easier to unharness and move a live horse to the rear, than it was to unharness and move a dead horse so the gun could be withdrawn.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Limber horses were removed to the rear in combat.
This is for several reasons:
1) They instantly became targeted. If the horses were killed, the gun could be more easily captured, as it would not be able to withdraw.
2) If one of the 4 or 6 horses were wounded, it could thrash about, while harnessed, and injure or spook the other horses, who, in turn, would bolt, or thrash about and injure themselves or a crew member.
3) It was easier to unharness and move a live horse to the rear, than it was to unharness and move a dead horse so the gun could be withdrawn.

I've got to disagree. There are just too many first-hand reports of the horses being left harnessed. They were, indeed, targeted as without horses the battery was unable to move. Removing dead horses from the harnesses was a chore but it beat not having any of them harnessed. Maybe your reading and study (and I know you know of what you speak) leads you to a different opinion but surely you've read of how harnessed horses were often shot multiple times.

Don't want to be argumentative my friend - just saying there's lots of reports of horses not being unharnessed and moved to the rear.
 
Joined
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I've got to disagree. There are just too many first-hand reports of the horses being left harnessed. They were, indeed, targeted as without horses the battery was unable to move. Removing dead horses from the harnesses was a chore but it beat not having any of them harnessed. Maybe your reading and study (and I know you know of what you speak) leads you to a different opinion but surely you've read of how harnessed horses were often shot multiple times.

Don't want to be argumentative my friend - just saying there's lots of reports of horses not being unharnessed and moved to the rear.
No argument was perceived!
I believe there are instances where they were left harnessed as much as they were removed....it depends on which account, at which battle, under which circumstances....
I do believe that prudence dictates that the horses, as a general rule, be removed to safety.
 
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