Henry Hunt

Henry Hunt

Henry Hunt - The Proper Use of Artillery

General Discussion of Artillery at Gettysburg

Maybe someone can enlighten us about Gen. Hunt at Gettysburg. Rich Rollins may know something about how good a job Hunt did (if he was even involved) in getting fresh batteries up to the line in opposing Pickett's Charge. But it seems to me that Union artillery -- being on the defensive most of the time -- was in a better position to be effective than the Confederate artillery in its efforts to support attacks. In praising Hunt are we just extolling a performance that was good because it had all the odds and the technology in its favor? If Meade had attacked Lee on the morning of July 3, would we be singing the praises of Porter Alexander for shooting big holes in the Union attack column? What exactly makes Hunt superior to Alexander or others? What makes Hunt's deployment or other handling of guns better than, say, Alexander's at Fredericksburg? Being on the winning side isn't enough. Having better hardware isn't enough. Being able to sit back and fire double canister at point-blank range isn't enough. If Hunt is better, ther should be some evidence that he did things his contemporaries didn't. What is the specific evidence on which you base your opinion that Hunt was number one. Kindly bear in mind, I'm not saying you're wrong. I simply want to know why you think Hunt is number one. With greatest deference and respect, and with no personal digs at anyone, the encomium about Mr. Hunt I have read so far is a bit too general to be persuasive.

Hoping for enlightenment,

Mike Wright


Hunt's unique quality was the ability to handle mass. He didn't just effectively co-ordinate a battalion or two, he managed the Union artillery park as an entity. He maintained an effective army arty reserve, and used it to intervene effectively in threatened points. He made sure it was forward, well supplied, and adaquately commanded so that in times of crisis, he or his subordinates could intervene with significant power.

Some examples:

At Gettysburg itself, the Union artillery was brought to bear in large numbers numerous times. The artillery duel with Latimer on Benner's Hill comes to mind, where Union artillery selectively disabled numerous CSA guns, and never gave Latimer a chance to establish an effective artillery line. Or look at the rapid and powerful re-inforcement of Sickles with over 50 reserve guns. the reserve was the first to respond to Sickles' problems, and Hunt greatly strengthened a weak line with these extra cannon - and he did so extremely quickly. Milgivery's final line, which for a time were the only defenders of the Union positions between LRT and Cemetery Ridge, can be attributed to Hunt's tactical organisation and ideas for the use of guns. The reserve battalion commanders who responded to situations as they arose were not simply acting on inspiration - they were responding to the training and guidance Hunt provided.

Looking beyond GB, Malvern Hill displays a remarkable similarity to July 3rd. Again, Hunt used guns in mass, lining up over 100. They smashed every CSA battery that tried to unlimber against them, concentrating large volumes of fire on each enemy battery as it came up until those guns were driven off, and then moving to the next target. There, Lee's plans for an artillery bombardment followed by a grand assault fell apart even worse than they did on July 3rd, 1863.

Offensively, you are very hard-pressed to find an example anywhere of significant effective use during the war. Offensive bombardment was much tougher than defense, given the much longer range fire. However, with Hunt you do find such - Antietam. Again, he used his two key techniques, mass and concentration of fire, to severely hammer each CSA battery he could reach. More surprising this was done with most of his guns arrayed almost a mile from the battle site, providing one of the very few examples of effective long-range artillery support of an attacker you can find in the war.

Hunt's ability to infuence an action was so pronounced, it was noticable on the field. At 2nd Manassas, where Hunt was not in command of the Union guns, CSA reports mentioned the ineffectiveness of the Union cannon, and the lack of use of mass, so characteristic on the Peninsula. At Chancellorsville, where Hooker removed Hunt from tactical control and left him only admin duties, Union officers noted that the artillery was under-used compared to other battles.

Hunt was notable in that he was able to manage large numbers of guns. the Union arty reserve usually numbered between 100 and 150 cannon, in anywhere from 3 to 5 artillery battalions. Hunt used this grouping to dramatically intervene in a given situation with mass, in other words, being at the right place at the right time with LOTS of power. In addition, of course, Hunt was very involved in the placement of the Union corps artillery as well, so that he was usually controlling 300-400 guns.

I think Alexander might have done as well in a similar situation, but of course he was never in charge of as much firepower as Hunt. What he did control, however, he tended to use in mass, so I suspect they were kindred spirits tactically.

Dave Powell