Limbering

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Chris Rucker

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I agree that there were instances when a gun crew would prudently leave the horses attached to the limber while firing, but imagine the consequences: horses in the direct line of fire, terrified horses rearing and upsetting the limber, cutting dead and injured horses out of the traces, ruining valuable harness, etc. The manuals don't specifically address the issue of when and how the horses were unhitched from the limber pole, but it is evident that moving them to the rear was an option. I reference Artillery Drill: School of the Piece by George Patten, 1864, the manual my reenactment crew uses. Page 47: Unlimbering, and Coming into Action. At the command "Action Front" the gun's trail is lifted off the limber's pintle, and at the command "Drive On" Nos. six and seven reverse the limber to the left, and proceed with it to the rear..." So, two crew members are moving the limber to the rear. It isn't being drawn off by a hitched team of horses. That presupposes that the team was unhitched at some point after coming onto the field, and that subsequent movements were man-powered, not horse-powered.
Limbering up can be expected to be a reverse of the unlimbering process. Page 39: Limbering. At the command "Limber to the Front" the gun crew elevates the trail and reverses the gun's position, awaiting the arrival of the limber. "As soon as the limber is in front of the piece, the gunner commands: Halt, Limber Up..." So, the instructions here don't even tell us how the limber gets to the gun. Was it moved by the Nos. six and seven men, as during unlimbering, or had the horses been continually hitched to the limber, or, were the horses brought forward from a protected position they had during firing, and hitched to the limber pole at the command "Limber to the Front?"
It seems that the manuals are not specific in regard to these questions, and that specific circumstances during action would decide the disposition of the horses.
 

Belfoured

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I agree that there were instances when a gun crew would prudently leave the horses attached to the limber while firing, but imagine the consequences: horses in the direct line of fire, terrified horses rearing and upsetting the limber, cutting dead and injured horses out of the traces, ruining valuable harness, etc. The manuals don't specifically address the issue of when and how the horses were unhitched from the limber pole, but it is evident that moving them to the rear was an option. I reference Artillery Drill: School of the Piece by George Patten, 1864, the manual my reenactment crew uses. Page 47: Unlimbering, and Coming into Action. At the command "Action Front" the gun's trail is lifted off the limber's pintle, and at the command "Drive On" Nos. six and seven reverse the limber to the left, and proceed with it to the rear..." So, two crew members are moving the limber to the rear. It isn't being drawn off by a hitched team of horses. That presupposes that the team was unhitched at some point after coming onto the field, and that subsequent movements were man-powered, not horse-powered.
Limbering up can be expected to be a reverse of the unlimbering process. Page 39: Limbering. At the command "Limber to the Front" the gun crew elevates the trail and reverses the gun's position, awaiting the arrival of the limber. "As soon as the limber is in front of the piece, the gunner commands: Halt, Limber Up..." So, the instructions here don't even tell us how the limber gets to the gun. Was it moved by the Nos. six and seven men, as during unlimbering, or had the horses been continually hitched to the limber, or, were the horses brought forward from a protected position they had during firing, and hitched to the limber pole at the command "Limber to the Front?"
It seems that the manuals are not specific in regard to these questions, and that specific circumstances during action would decide the disposition of the horses.
Agreed that they aren't specific - although plate 29 in the official Instructions manual clearly shows the team hitched. Patten, as we know, wasn't official (although due to its size and its focus on steps by the crew rather than on each crew member it was pretty sought after). I suspect that if a battery was being used in support of infantry (such as E, 1st RI at Chantilly, which was firing from a knoll behind the federal infantry), you could take the luxury/precaution of unhtiching. That gets much more dicey if the battery is far enough forward to be subject to direct attack and may need to get out of Dodge quickly (such as at Glendale). We know that there are a number of accounts of an opponent targeting horses to cripple a battery, so the horses were in the line of fire in those cases.
 
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dclarryk

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For Light Artillery, it has always been my understanding that the horses remained hitched to the limber and held by the drivers (one per pair) during action. This is what my artillery unit tells spectators at NPS events when asked about the horses. Of course, that was probably not true 100% of the time, but it is my unit's opinion it was true most of the time. As Belfoured mentions, there were likely times that a battery had the luxury/precaution of unhitching the horses. Certainly, if there were no danger of counter-battery fire, and/or no reason to think the guns would need to be re-positioned, there would be little reason to keep the horses hitched. But I think those times were relatively rare.

As for how fast a gun can be limbered up, my unit can manhandle and limber up a gun in a matter of minutes , and we are not exactly a group of young soldiers.
 

Belfoured

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For Light Artillery, it has always been my understanding that the horses remained hitched to the limber and held by the drivers (one per pair) during action. This is what my artillery unit tells spectators at NPS events when asked about the horses. Of course, that was probably not true 100% of the time, but it is my unit's opinion it was true most of the time. As Belfoured mentions, there were likely times that a battery had the luxury/precaution of unhitching the horses. Certainly, if there were no danger of counter-battery fire, and/or no reason to think the guns would need to be re-positioned, there would be little reason to keep the horses hitched. But I think those times were relatively rare.

As for how fast a gun can be limbered up, my unit can manhandle and limber up a gun in a matter of minutes , and we are not exactly a group of young soldiers.
Those are good points. I would add that (anecdotally) I don't recall battery reports in the OR which indicate that teams were unhitched - which would be similar to going into "park".
 
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SWMODave

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So, in your opinion, how long did it take the average gun detachment in combat to limber and remove a piece?
Richard - welcome to cwt. You keep asking for a time that is hypothetical since it's not recorded. I suspect to give you an idea, you might watch this video of a crew that is NOT in a hurry to unlimber, and make up your own time (video here).

Under fire your time will be much faster, while setting up in a fortified position might be even slower. These same conditions, compounded by the possibility of infantry attack, also dictated whether you kept the horses hooked up to the limber (which we have numerous first hand accounts of), or unhooked them and tried to protect them from enemy fire. I recommend those who fire artillery and like to speak about the topic, read your manual, learn the drill, then read as many of the first hand accounts you can find. There are numerous online that can be downloaded and read for free.

You will soon realize, there was the way the manual said to do it (period manuals - not reenactment or NPS manuals that emphasis safety over speed) and then there was the way the crews did it in the field. Many decisions were based on the circumstances. Protection of men and horses was always a consideration but not the primary concern when in battle. Humans have the ability to adapt to their environment, and soldiers were no different.

Welcome aboard again!




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0RlMRN-Uj4
 

Belfoured

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Richard - welcome to cwt. You keep asking for a time that is hypothetical since it's not recorded. I suspect to give you an idea, you might watch this video of a crew that is NOT in a hurry to unlimber, and make up your own time (video here).

Under fire your time will be much faster, while setting up in a fortified position might be even slower. These same conditions, compounded by the possibility of infantry attack, also dictated whether you kept the horses hooked up to the limber (which we have numerous first hand accounts of), or unhooked them and tried to protect them from enemy fire. I recommend those who fire artillery and like to speak about the topic, read your manual, learn the drill, then read as many of the first hand accounts you can find. There are numerous online that can be downloaded and read for free.

You will soon realize, there was the way the manual said to do it (period manuals - not reenactment or NPS manuals that emphasis safety over speed) and then there was the way the crews did it in the field. Many decisions were based on the circumstances. Protection of men and horses was always a consideration but not the primary concern when in battle. Humans have the ability to adapt to their environment, and soldiers were no different.

Welcome aboard again!




Just one example of the impact on horses - at Glendale on June 30, 1862 Randol's Battery E, 1st US, had 38 horses KIA and 8 more wounded.
 

Frederick14Va

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I agree that there were instances when a gun crew would prudently leave the horses attached to the limber while firing, but imagine the consequences: horses in the direct line of fire, terrified horses rearing and upsetting the limber, cutting dead and injured horses out of the traces, ruining valuable harness, etc. The manuals don't specifically address the issue of when and how the horses were unhitched from the limber pole, but it is evident that moving them to the rear was an option. I reference Artillery Drill: School of the Piece by George Patten, 1864, the manual my reenactment crew uses. Page 47: Unlimbering, and Coming into Action. At the command "Action Front" the gun's trail is lifted off the limber's pintle, and at the command "Drive On" Nos. six and seven reverse the limber to the left, and proceed with it to the rear..." So, two crew members are moving the limber to the rear. It isn't being drawn off by a hitched team of horses. That presupposes that the team was unhitched at some point after coming onto the field, and that subsequent movements were man-powered, not horse-powered.
Limbering up can be expected to be a reverse of the unlimbering process. Page 39: Limbering. At the command "Limber to the Front" the gun crew elevates the trail and reverses the gun's position, awaiting the arrival of the limber. "As soon as the limber is in front of the piece, the gunner commands: Halt, Limber Up..." So, the instructions here don't even tell us how the limber gets to the gun. Was it moved by the Nos. six and seven men, as during unlimbering, or had the horses been continually hitched to the limber, or, were the horses brought forward from a protected position they had during firing, and hitched to the limber pole at the command "Limber to the Front?"
It seems that the manuals are not specific in regard to these questions, and that specific circumstances during action would decide the disposition of the horses.
The quoted section on Patten Pg 47 is also under the instructional heading of "Moving the Piece by Hand".

Continue to pg 72 & 73 which provided the instruction of "Order into Battery" "is that which the pieces are prepared for firing, the pieces, limbers and caissons being turned towards the enemy, and formed in three parallel lines"

This illustration on pg-73 indicates the arrangement and distances of the battery when placed in action. Horse teams of both the Limbers and Caissons remaining hitched at the ready facing towards the gun.
battery-Clipboard02.jpg

 
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Belfoured

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The quoted section on Patten Pg 47 is also under the instructional heading of "Moving the Piece by Hand".

Continue to pg 72 & 73 which provided the instruction of "Order into Battery" "is that which the pieces are prepared for firing, the pieces, limbers and caissons being turned towards the enemy, and formed in three parallel lines"

This illustration on pg-73 indicates the arrangement and distances of the battery when placed in action. Horse teams of both the Limbers and Caissons remaining hitched at the ready facing towards the gun.
View attachment 322214
Thanks for putting this up. It's clearly based on plate 29 in the Instruction. There's an interesting anecdote about Patten's unofficial manual (which was in high demand because of its more compact size and lower cost than the Instruction). Snowden Andrews, who wrote the Instruction-based CSA manual in 1863, reported that he was walking across the field at Mechanicsville the morning after the June 26, 1862 battle and much to his exuberant delight came across an abandoned copy of Patten. Free is free, after all.
 
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Frederick- your diagram shos how I imagined the ideal formation would look like. But the question remains: how long did it take, in this formation or not, to limber a gun?
 
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Frederick14Va

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Frederick- your diagram shos how I imagined the ideal formation would look like. But the question remains: how long did it take, in this formation or not, to limber a gun?
As previously mentioned the period manuals do not mention an allotted time frame that each motion or task it should be conducted within. Having actually done mounted artillery, and extensively practiced all these evolution's exactly as instructed per the period manuals we could easily be brought into battery, and/or limbered up to move/leave within a 1-2 minute time. Exit time likely slightly less since the hitched up limber is already facing towards the gun, (limber & team does not need to be turned about as it does after initially going into battery) it only has to move forward a few yards up beside to retrieve the gun.
 
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I am interested in how long it took gun detachments to limber field artillery. I would appreciate any opinions from this forum on suggestions as to further reading. I would like to know if being under fire would hasten or retard limbering and withdrawal. I would also like to learn how much benefit could be gained from training or experience. Any referrals would be appreciated; especially to those available online or in Kindle format.
As a member, for over 15 years, of a horse drawn artillery unit, we could halt and have a round headed down range in 52 seconds. We could be limbered and withdrawing in 49 seconds. Both with our caisson in formation. As was stated earlier, our horses were as good or better at following commands than the drivers. My biggest problem with horses was that one of mine would go to sleep while we were in line, firing. I had to remember to wake him before we moved or the rest of the team would stop when he would not "Come-Up". The photo is a complete battery, four guns and four caissons. If the battlefield was far from the resupply point, two caissons would be assigned to each gun to keep ammunition supplied. We supplied the first three caissons for the Hunley Funeral.

artillery%20moves%20up.jpg
 
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I agree that there were instances when a gun crew would prudently leave the horses attached to the limber while firing, but imagine the consequences: horses in the direct line of fire, terrified horses rearing and upsetting the limber, cutting dead and injured horses out of the traces, ruining valuable harness, etc. The manuals don't specifically address the issue of when and how the horses were unhitched from the limber pole, but it is evident that moving them to the rear was an option. I reference Artillery Drill: School of the Piece by George Patten, 1864, the manual my reenactment crew uses. Page 47: Unlimbering, and Coming into Action. At the command "Action Front" the gun's trail is lifted off the limber's pintle, and at the command "Drive On" Nos. six and seven reverse the limber to the left, and proceed with it to the rear..." So, two crew members are moving the limber to the rear. It isn't being drawn off by a hitched team of horses. That presupposes that the team was unhitched at some point after coming onto the field, and that subsequent movements were man-powered, not horse-powered.
Limbering up can be expected to be a reverse of the unlimbering process. Page 39: Limbering. At the command "Limber to the Front" the gun crew elevates the trail and reverses the gun's position, awaiting the arrival of the limber. "As soon as the limber is in front of the piece, the gunner commands: Halt, Limber Up..." So, the instructions here don't even tell us how the limber gets to the gun. Was it moved by the Nos. six and seven men, as during unlimbering, or had the horses been continually hitched to the limber, or, were the horses brought forward from a protected position they had during firing, and hitched to the limber pole at the command "Limber to the Front?"
It seems that the manuals are not specific in regard to these questions, and that specific circumstances during action would decide the disposition of the horses.
The horses were left hitched to the limber in nearly every instance, at least in the four diary copies I have, there is not a reference to unhitching the horses from the limber when in action.
 
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Cavalier

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This subject of limbering and unlimbering has baffled me for several decades, (a normal occurrence with me). My bewilderment lies with what the horse teams are doing to accomplish this. I see the diagrams of the guns and limber teams, I just don't understand how they got there.

The research I have been able to do never explains just how this occurred. I could have missed it of course.

Some time ago I was directed to a site on you tube that shows a reenactment of the British army unlimbering a horse drawn battery. "A 41-gun salute by the Kings Troop RHA" on youtube. This demonstration seems to answer the questions. I would post a link, (?), to this site on YouTube but, sadly, my lack computer skills renders that an impossibility.

Would the American civil war armies follow the same procedures? If anyone wishes to express an opinion on this topic, YouTube or not, I would appreciate it. Thank you in advance!
 

Belfoured

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This subject of limbering and unlimbering has baffled me for several decades, (a normal occurrence with me). My bewilderment lies with what the horse teams are doing to accomplish this. I see the diagrams of the guns and limber teams, I just don't understand how they got there.

The research I have been able to do never explains just how this occurred. I could have missed it of course.

Some time ago I was directed to a site on you tube that shows a reenactment of the British army unlimbering a horse drawn battery. "A 41-gun salute by the Kings Troop RHA" on youtube. This demonstration seems to answer the questions. I would post a link, (?), to this site on YouTube but, sadly, my lack computer skills renders that an impossibility.

Would the American civil war armies follow the same procedures? If anyone wishes to express an opinion on this topic, YouTube or not, I would appreciate it. Thank you in advance!
I'd have to check on this but my recollection is that the prescribed US 14 yard spacing between each gun in battery was calculated to accomodate the team and limber being brought around so that the trail and the limber could then be hooked up.
 
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