Battery A - 1st Rhode Island


Battery A - 1st Rhode Island

Battery A, 1st RI Light

Esteemed member HOYLE STEPHEN J contributes:

Hello Gentle Readers

Thought I would share this with the group. I apologize if some of you have seen it. The source is Aldrich's History of Battery A, 1st RI Light Artillery, and page nos. are in parens.

July 1, 1863 - It was a very fine morning. We received orders to march about six, and started north up the Taneytown road, passing through Taneytown about noon, and after making a brief halt...continued until nearly dark, then rested for the night on the roadside in a very rough country, having marched that day about 20 miles. All through the evening and night there was a constant passing of troops. The First and Eleventh Corps and Buford's cavalry had a fearful fight against Lee's army with overwhelming odds in favor of the latter, and were driven back with great slaughter and the loss of General Reynolds, of the First Corps, and commanding the First and Eleventh Corps and Buford's cavalry. It made us feel rather timorous when we thought of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and, with a new man in command of the army, we did not know but it might be a repetition of those former battles. As it was we waited the coming of the morrow with great anxiety. (201)

July 2, 1863 - The morning was clear and warm. We were put into line of battle just before six o'clock. The town of Gettysburg [about one mile north of the battery's position] lay glistening in the rays of the morning sunlight....The region round about us was diversified by hills and valleys, with tracts of land forming a beautiful and varied landscape which would have been more fully appreiated if it could have been viewed under more peaceful circumstances....On our left were Big and Little Round Top, both small mountains....[Culp's Hill, Cemetery Hill, and Wolf's Hill were on]...our right and rear. (202) The ground sloped away from Battery A's position down to the Emmittsburg Road. The Second Corps was placed...along Cemetery Ridge, running nearly north and south. On our right were the First, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps, and the extreme right extended nearly in rear of our battery in the right and rear of our line and formed a perfect fishhook. The right wing was commanded by General Slocum; the Second Corps by Hancock;, forming the left centre. On our left was the Third Corps under Sickles. Directly along the front of our guns ran a wall north and south composed of brownish ironstone, just to the left of our left gun, where it turned sharp to the left for about a hundred yards...and then turned again south. Our artillery was placed left to right as follows: Battery I [1st] United States, Battery A [1st] Rhode Island; Battery A 4th United States (Cushing); Battery B [1st] Rhodle Island; and Rorty's New York Battery making five six-gun batteries of the Second Corps. (202-204)

...there was very little firing during the day until four o'clock. General Hays was ocupied in trying to drive some sharpshooters out of a large barn in front; and by the courage he displayed, confirmed the statements we had heard concerning his bravery, as he appeared incapable of fear. After giving orders for the barn to be taken and burned he started out with the skirmish line. Going a hundred yards or more he missed his headquarters flag and came back himself to see about it. The color-bearer was an Irishman whom all the boys called "Wild Jack." The general came up to him exclaiming, "Why don't you come on with that flag?" Jack very politely saluted him as said, "All right, general, if yez gets into hell, look out of the window and ye'll see Jack coming." They were watched by thousands of eyes, all expecting to see one or both drop from their horses, but it was be, and they returned in safety. The delay of that day, on the part of Longstreet is what may be called the salvation of our army, as it had given time for the whole of the Union forces to assemble, though the belated Fifth and Sixth Corps could not be considered in fighting trim after marching thirty six miles with scarcely a halt. (204)

...about 4:30 p.m., the booming of a single gun gave notice that the...battle had begun. At this signal all the enemy's batteries opned in succession, and for a time a storm of shot and shell tore through Sickles's lines with crushing effect....For a time it looked as though we were lost, and, as far as I could see, all in sight was in the same plight. The Fifth Corps...reached the field just in time to save the day as...Sickles was outnumbered and outflanked. (205) The First Division of the Second Corps filled the gap left by Sickles. It was a near thing, though, as Hancock was surprised by Wilcox's column of Conbfederate infantry. Hancock ordered the First Minnesota to counterattack and they did. A desparate fight ensued, in which the Confederates were forced back, leaving their colors in the hands of the First Minnesota. (205)

Battery B, [1st] Rhode Island, was brought into the engagement by Gibbon and held a position in the Cordori field in advance of the main line, toward the Emmoittsburg road; the [15th] Massachusetts and [82nd] New York were advanced to the road. [Here] they were attacked on the left flank by Wright's brigade of Anderson's division, who were trying to fill the gap between Second and Third Corps, caused by the unfortunate movement of Sickles. The enemy advanced in solid front in two lines, and was cut down by a steady fire....From my position it looked to me as if our guns were never served better. All the troops in the Cordori field and the Peach Orchard were forced back...the ground between the Peach Orchard and the Devils Den was fought over again and again; at one time the fighting was hand-to hand. From the opposite sides of rocks men were striking and thrusting at each other. At one time during the Devil's Den and at the Wjetfield and Peach Orchard it seemed nearly as severe as that around Dunker Church and the sunken road at Antietam. (209)

NOTE: Battery A was in the thickest of the fight at Antietam.

Also - there has been some comments on casualties, prisoners, and the CSA retreat after the battle. Aldrich had this to say;

The morning of July 4 was fair and cool. We were encamped nearly two miles from the battlefield, among great roacks and boulders...I went up to the hospital and saw the boys, and then went over to view the battlefield...they were gathering and burying the dead as quickly as possible. There was no firing of any kind....I went over the wall infront of our position and found the ground covered with muskets. Upon picking one up I found it loaded and cocked...I called out to some soldiers nearby and told them to be careful with the guns, then stuck the one I had in the ground. I did the same to a number of muskets, and when I left...[the area] resembled a large field of bean poles, as evryone who picked up a musket, after looking at it, stuck it in the ground....The enemy appeared to be in about the same postion as on the 2nd and 3rd...A detatchment from our battery went over to bury our dead, but found that they had already been buried by Battery C of our regiment. (221)

Here's some more from Aldrich's book on Battery A, 1st RI. I apologize for the order of some of this, but the following was too good not to share. Again. page nos. are in parens. The following excerpts cover the Battery's march north from Virginia in June, 1863

The weather was brutally hot on the morning of the 15th of June, Aldrich recollected, "...and after feeding my horses and myself, I lay down and tried to go to sleep, but I was soon disturbed and ordered to hitchup. About [11] o'clock we started on the march again. [VI] Corps in...line of battle...were in the advance and our corps in the rear...when we reached Stafford Court House. They sent the balloon up from the discover where the rebels were located. We reached Acquia Creek at nearly three o'clock and put our guns into position. It looked as if we were going to remain there all night....[O]ur men had fallen out by the hundreds...and it was reported that a number of deaths had been caused by sunstroke. [We heard artillery firing]...all day in the Blue Ridge, and it seemed strange that [II Corps] should be going away from the direction...[of the firing.] (185)

"On the 16th we were hustled out at about 2:30 a.m., and after feeding our horses and getting something to eat ourselves, we hitched up, and by 3:30 we started. Heavy cannonading was heard in the direction of the Blue Ridge. We marched to the town of Dumfires...arrived there about [9] o'clock and halted...until about noon. We fed and watered out horses; also, had a good dinner, and drew three days rations....[I]t did not seem as warm as the day before, yet a great many of our men fell out of...ranks overcome by the heat. A few more such days would have stayed the progress of the whole army. It was an up and down hill road and the dust was suffocating." (186)

"on the 17th we did not start very early, and the men took advantage of the delay and had a good swim in the creek. [That day] we marched as far as Sangster's Station on the Alexandria Railroad, and on the east side of the Bull Run battlefield and there formed into line of battle....[T]he roads from Manassas to Warrenton were filled with army trains. On the 18th we remained in line of battle all day long and both men and horses were tired enough to take advantage of the rest afforded us. A refreshing shower made us all feel comfortable." (186) The following day Battery A moved to Centreville and stayed there until the afternoon of the 20th when they "...marched on the Warrenton Pike, over Cub Run, over Bull Run at Stone Bridge, and over our old battlefield of 1861 where we saw one of the saddest sights of our lioves. Skeletons of soldiers were lying everywhere, just where they had fallen or crept. It seemed to me as if they might have been buried." (186)

On June 21 some "...infantry of our corps picked up a shell or case shot and brought it to our battery....John Tyng was the man who never tired in showing to anyone everything [relating] to a battery and its equipment....He took the shell in his hand to explain its peculiarities, and told them it was perfectly safe as there was no percussion about it, and that it was simply a Roman fuzee which was cut to any distance it was to be thrown. To illustrate he took it over to the forge, and, taking the sledge hammer, began to break it. Being near the railroad there happened to be an old frog on a switch which was handy to lay the shell in. It did not break as easily as expected, and a number of men took a turn in trying to break it. At length it [began] to open, and, after looking it over, John said that about two more drills would do the work. A big fellow from the [1st] Minnesota took the sledge and gave it a tremendous swing....They were directly under a large oak tree; the shell exploded and threw the hammer [about 100 feet]...,up through the tree, and fragments of the shell cut good sized limbs from it, while there were about [50] men in the vicinity who saw it break into pieces. No one was injured...although...Tyng had considerable powder blown into his face. Lieutenant Hunt had the horses in line going to water, and, while quite a number of pieces of the shell fell all around, yet no damage resulted. This incident caused quite a bit of excitement and some of our troops fell into line thinking the enemy, with a battery, were about to open on us." (186-187).

We'll pick it up again tomorrow. Steve Hoyle

Gentle Readers

Here is Aldrich's account of the activities of Battery A on July 3. Page nos., as always, are in parens. Incidentally, in light of some of the recent posts to the group, you'll find woven through the passages below, a constant concern for safety and order; the sign of a well-trained and disciplined battery.

"[T]he morning of the 3rd of July dawned bright and beautiful. The rebel batteries commenced at daylight shelling from the right of their line of battle, and for over an hour made things quite lively for us. At the same time on our extreme right and rear, where the fighting was so sharp the night before, there began a very fierce engagement between [XII Corps and Ewell] and as both sides had orders to attack there was no delay on either side. From every commanding spot our batteries [sent] shells into the woods along Rock Creek." (210)

"During the height of this assault a shell struck the No. 2 limber of Cushing's Battery A [4th] United States artillery, and exploded it, which connected with their Nos. 1 and 3 and exploded both of them also. The concussion from these three limbers was so powerful that I was thrown down and my horses got twisted yp as the lead and swing ones turned short around. Lannegan and Healy soon had theirs by the head and we got them back into place. It was a great wonder that it did not blow ours up, as we were nearer to their first limber than their second one was. The horses of the first limber started...and went straight into the enemy's lines....[O]ur horses...were very uneasy the rest of the day." (210)

"Shortly after eleven o'clock the firing ceased, and, for over an hour, there was hardly a picket shot heard. It was a queer sight to see men look at each other without speaking; the change was so great men seemed to go on tip-toe, not knowing how to act, and all was speculation aqs to what was coming next. Everyone was soon busy making preparations for breakfast, as in the working of guns in action men become very hungry. I know it was my own condition, and I began looking around for something to eat. After eating we examined the ammunition chests and sponge-buckets and found them well fitted and everything in the battery ready for action." (211)

"All was quiet until one o'clock when two guns on the right of Lee's line opened, and in an instant, the whole line of artillery was blazing like a volcano. There appeared to be but one flash...and...the Union soldiers found themselves in a storm of shot and shell which burst and tore up the ground in all directions....[The Federal artillery returned fire but our] "...chests were soon running low for want of ammuntion and we [ceased] firing to a certain extent to [conserve] our [ammunition], as it was evident that something was to follow such an outburst from the enemy's lines.(211)

The main fury of the cannonade fell upon the batteries pf the Second Corps...the infantry hung close to the wall and fence, keeping down as much as possible. At about three o'clock...all the officers on our lines, from the generals down, set themselves to work repairing the damage caused by the cannonade, reforming ranks, replacing dismantled guns, rectifying positions, exhorting the men to stand firm, and, in short, themselves offering the best example of coolness and soldierly conduct. (213-213)

The Confederate infantry emerged from the woods and began to advance on the Union positions. "No sooner had the long gray lines come within range..." Aldrich recalled, "...than our batteries opened on them, right and left for a quarter of an hour....Solid shot tore through the rebel ranks; shells [burst] under their feet, over theior heads, and in their faces. Men, or fragments of men, were being thrown in the air every moment, but closing up their gaps and leaving swaths of dead and dying in their tracks, these brave men still kept up their march to the front, as if conscious that the eyes of both armies were upon them....[J]ust a little across the Emmittsburg Road, their attacking column suddenly made a left flanking movement, seemingly to close yo the break in their lines. By this movement Pickett's column received fire from Stannard's Vermont brigade on our left, who had, upon seeing the enemy's move, made a right wheel from the line to receive them, and as soon as Pickett's column faced to the front...Stannard's brigade kept up its deadly fire upon their flank...."(214)

"During all this time the men of [II] Corps held their fire. It was the trying moment of their lives....[W]hen within [200] yards, Webb's brigade, holding the so-called bloody angle at the stone wall, and Hall's brigade joining them on the left, opened a deadly fire upon the advancing column...General Hays, as usual, went up and down the line giving orders as if on parade....(214) Garnett and Kemper, of Pickett's disvision were in the front line, with Armistead in support. These troops came direct[ly] for Webb's brigade at the angle of the wall, while on their left Pettigrew's division of North Carolinians were directly in front of our battery, on which [I] was working the left gun at the corner of the wall, called the bloody angle....The point of attack was the clump of trees where the wall was lowest and [50] yards in advance of the wall where Hays's troops were posted.(214-215) When the charge was at its height, the surging masses of the enemy came rolling up like waves on a rocky shore, firing, screeching, brandishing swords and battle-flags; at one time covered by smoke, the enxt moment emerging still nearer."(217)

"One of [Battery A's] guns was double-shotted with canister....[The] 26th North Carolina [charged the ] position held by the battery and the [14th] Connecticut and [1st] Delaware regiments...and had almost reached the wall just in front of us...[Sergeant] Amos M.C. Olney cried out ' that gun! Pull! Pull!" The No.4 obeyed orders and the gap made in that North Carolina regiment was simply terrible. Armistead had just fallen and Pickett's charge had failed. This was the last shot fired from our battery when the rebels broke in retreat, and Gettysburg was won. [Pettigrew's men], seeing no way of escape, dropped their guns and fell on the faces near the wall, and were...captured." (216)

Battery A lost four killed and 20 wounded at Gettysburg. Their casualties testified to the ferocity of the fighting and the power of Civil War weapons at close range. One cannoneer had his head shot off; one was "mortally" wounded; a third had an arm and shouldee torn off; and the fourth died from a skull fracture. Most of the wounded batterymen were hit in the arms, legs, or sholulders although one man was shot in the hip and another lost a leg. (219)

To be continued...

"The morning of July 4th was fair and cool. We were encamped nearly two miles from the battlefield, among great roacks and boulders....I went up to the hospital and saw the boys, and then went over to view the battlefield....they were gathering and burying the dead as quickly as possible. There was no firing of any kind....I wne tover the wall in front of our position and found the ground covered with muskets. Upon picking one up, I found it loaded and cocked...I called out to some soldiers nearby and told them to be careful with the guns, then stuck the one I jad in the ground. I did the same to a number of muskets, and when I left...[the area] resembled a large field of bean poles, as everyone who picked up a musket, after looking at it, stuck it in the ground. The enemy appeared to be in about the same position as on the 2nd and 3rd....A detachment form our battery went over to bury our dead, but found they had already been buried by Battery C of our regiment." (221)

The Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat from Gettysburg on July 4. The ambulances and supply wagons departed first, followed by the infantry and the artillery. It began to rain heavily which made a "...fearful night for our...wounded who [lay] out in the storm all night." (223)

"On the morning of the 5th of July we found that the shower of the night before had cooled the atmosphere, which had abracing effect upon us all. The rebel army was in full retreat with the [VI] Corps and our cavalry in hot pursuit. The Fifth Corps pursued them on another road. About noon what remained of Battery B [1st Rhode Island LA] came to our camp, bag and baggage, as there were only about enough men left of both batteries to make one good one. Our ammunition chests were refilled and everything was in readiness to meet the enemy again. About seven o'clock that evening we hithed up, broke camp[,] and proceeded to what was called by some Littleton or Two Taverns, having marched about six miles. We went into camp not far from nine o'clock." (223)

"The morning of the 6th was very wet, and we had some difficulty in getting fires started. The country was rough and rocky, but pleasant withal, and I would have preferred to remain there rather than go back to Virginia." (223)

During the pursuit, II Corps "...was assigned the rear on account, it was said, of the heavy losses it had sustained in the battle, it being the purpose to gove us an opportunity to recuperate from the terrible ordeal to which we had been subjected...The Twelth Corps passed us by that day. General William Hays had been temporarily assigned to the command of our corps during the absence of General Hancock who had been severely wounded at Gettysburg." (223-224)

On July 8 Battery A covered about 25 miles in a heavy rain and camped for the night near Frederick City. A field of oats was nearby and the horses "...feasted on oats during our stay there." (224) On July 8, also, The Rhode Islanders heard of the surrender of Vicksburg.

On July 9 as they left Frederick they "...saw the body of a celebrated spy hanging to a tree. The deed had been commmitted by our cavalry. It was said to have been Richardson, one of the most noted spies of the Confederacy. He went in and out of Washington and dined with all classes. If it was Richardson, our cavalry had rendered important service in ridding the country of such a dangerous foe." (224)

The Rhode Islaners were on the move again on July 10 as they passed through Rohersville, Buena Vista, and Keedysville. Then they moved across the battlefield at Antietam and camped at Tilghmanton; three miles past Sharpsburg.

Lee's army was caught between the Federal force and the Potomac near Williamsport. It was a golden chance for Meade to attach and destroy his adversary. Alrich recalled, "...[t]he 11th was a beautiful day, clear and warm. We broke camp at about nine o'clock, and marched toward Williamsport, where we found Lee's army at bay, with the river out of its banks. He had no bridge and was not overstocked with rations or ammunition, and it looked as if we had him sure that time. We expected a battle at any moment. This was the occasion when Meade should have grasped the opportunity, crushed Lee with our overpowering forces and ended the war. Our corps went into line of battle on the left of the Fifth Corps, our battery taking position with the First Division. There was some sharp skirmishing, and at times our artillery opened, while the cavalry [made] demonstrations all along the line." (225) On the night of the 11th "...we were not allowed to build large fires [so] small qauds of men could be seen hovering around small fires of twigs, striving to make a cup of coffee, toasting pork, or making lobscouse. For myself, acup of coffee and a piece of raw pork between two hardtack was a good supper." (225-226)

We'll resume the story after the Memorial Day weekend.

Speaking of that, please take time this weekend to remember all of those (17 people in my family that I know of), blue and gray, who still march in our memories. The following is from Thomas Wolfe's Garfield, Arthur, and Hayes.

"There is the bridge we crossed,...and the creek. There is a field of wheat, a hedge, a dusty road, an apple orchard, and the sweet wild tangle of a wood upon that hill. And it is six o'clock across the field again, now and always, as it was and will be to the world's end forever. And some of us have died that morning coming through the field....We shall not come again, we never shall come back again, we never shall come back along this road again as we did once at morning - so, brothers, let us look again before we go...."

Steve Hoyle

Esteemed member HOYLE STEPHEN J contributes:

Gentle Readers: Here's some more from Aldrich's History of Battery A, 1st RI artillery. The story resumes on July 12, 1863 when the Union Army is pursuing the retreating ANV after Gettysburg.

The water started to recede of the 12th and the Confederates now had pontoon bridges. On the 13th "...[w]e could see the enemy's works which looked to be very formidable, and they appeared to be strengthening them, while squads of men seemed to be moving about preparing for an attack or getting ready to retreat. We thought it strange that the rebels had made no attck upon us. Darkness coming on, we bivouacked on the field under arms, ready for action...."(226) The next day, Lee slipped across the Potomac. Meade had planned to attack on the 14th, but found nothing but empty earthworks. The weather, wrote Aldrich, was "...wet and disagreeable. At daybreak our army made an advance along the whole length of the line on a reconnaissance in force with the cavalry, and to the surprise of everyone, found the rebels had fled."(226) The Army continued after Lee. "The roads were in bad condition from the rain, causing slow progress. We came upon some abandoned caissons filled with ammunition, which, with some played-out horses left behind, indicated a hasty retreat. We made a rapid march for Falling Waters, where Lee's army was crossing. As we approached,,,a fight was going on between Kilpatrick's cavalry and Pettigrew's brigade of Lee's rear guard. I walked over the ground and saw men lying dead in all positions. One man, lying dead behind a wall, was killed in the act of biting off a cartridge, one was under a scrubby tree near the wall, aiming hus gun, when he was instantly killed and apparently died without a struggle. The Second Corps coming up took a portion of the rebels prisoners...Our battery remained near Falling Waters that night, and bivouacked in line of battle during a heavy rainstorm." (227-228)

Between the 15th and 16th, Battery A moved to Weaverton. "Pontoon bridges were being laid at Harper's Ferry and Berlin...Ironclad cars, with howitzers mounted on them, were running between Harper's Ferry and Washington."(228) On July 18 the battery crossed the Potomac " Harper's Ferry for the third time during the war, [passed] through the lower part of the town and [crossed] the Shenandoah River at the foot of Loudon Heights into Loudon Valley as far as a place called Hillsboro, a short distance from Vestal Gap, where we camped for the night. While the scenery around us was picturesque and grand beyond description, the thought that we were soon to leave Pennsylvania and Maryland and return to the land of secesion and rebellion seemed to cast a gloom over all of us." (229)

The 19th was "...fine but extremely hot. We drew new clothing and stayed in camp untol near noon when we hitched up and marched about five miles to...Woodgrove, and camped for the night in a field where we found many fine blackberries. It was quite a sight to see the liine of men, as far as the eye could reach, filling their caps, buckets or anything...available....In marching from the road to our camp, near a quarter of a mile, the wheels of the battery were colored by the juice of the blackberries...crushed by us passing over them....On the 20th thw weather was fine. Blackberries appeared as plentiful as ever....We marched to Bloomfield and there went into camp/ Here was plenty of good grass and we were allowed to let the horses graze for an hour to their apparent was surprising to see them frolic like colts when liberated in this field. It was rather hard on most of them, as they ate yound clover or lobelia which caused the water to run from their mouths. Both of my horses were in bad condition,a nd streams of water ran from the mouth of each, and I noticed they would not eat their grain." (229-230)

On the 24th, Aldrich noted that the "...Confederates were marching toward Culpeper in plain view of us across the Shenendoah River. Our rations were getting short, also forage for the horses."(231) The weather was hot on the 25th and 26th and the roads were very dusty. "Some of the horses gave out completely...some dropping dead along the roadside." (231) The Army of the Potomac was concentrating around Warrenton and the Confederates around Culpeper but nobody seemed to know what was happening, a condition that Aldrich reflected when he wrote on the 28th rgat it was " of the days that was so trying to the soldiers - the uncertainty of whether bthey were to march or not. On the 31st it came out quite pleasant, and we found that we were in a delightful locality. The battery...drew new clothing, which was greatly needed. For myself I had lost all my spare clothing at Gettysburg, where a shell took my saddle trunk, clothes, and all. We were now back to the Rappahannock River, which we had left in front of Fredericksburg on the 14th of June, just [48] days before. Since that time [the] battery marched and countermarched [about 350 miles], campaigning and passing through portions of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania...Thus ended the Gettysburg campaign, one of the memorable events in history."(232)

This ends the portion about Gettysburg in Aldrich's book. I hope you found it interesting.

Steve Hoyle