In the Field Limber pole towards or away?

May 12, 2018
“But the rule requiring limbers and caissons to face the enemy should only be departed from while firing in retreat.”

“Two methods have been adopted for the formations in battery to the front: one requiring the pieces to be thrown forward, the other requiring the caissons to be thrown to the rear. The first method is equally adapted to light and heavy batteries. By this method the pieces and caissons are rapidly separated; and the commands may be given while the battery is moving, so as to leave the caissons at their proper distance in rear of the line on which the pieces are to form, The second method is not adapted to heavy batteries, on account of the difficulty of turning the pieces by hand. But with light pieces it is advantageous when the battery is already formed upon the line of battle, or when the column which is to be formed into battery is very near that line. In horse artillery the first method of coming into action is considered the best; for, while the cannoneers are dismounting, the pieces are moved forward and wheeled about by the horses, so that nothing remains for the cannoneers but to unlimber and commence firing.

-From French’s Field Artillery Tactics Manual, 1864

It seems to me these statements are somewhat contradictory, but it would appear that one would only have the limber pole away from the enemy when: 1. You were firing whilst retiring 2. Your artillery position was on the line of battle ], 3. You were horse artillery , or 4. You were a siege artillery.

So it seems to be a “not recommended, but sometime necessary” practice based on the context of the guns use. The way the manual is written is confusing and leaves just enough leeway that I think a reasonable commander could follow either style of unlimbering his guns and be able to justify it's use.


Jan 21, 2019
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.

I have copies of four diaries of men of Stanford's Mississippi Battery, they never state of unhitching the horses in battle. They refer to horses being killed in hitch...