Head-Quarters, Army of the Potomac,

FREDERICK, MD., September 12, 1862


The following instructions will, so far as circumstances admit, be observed in the Artillery of this Army, and the Commanders under whom it serves:

I. The responsibiity of choosing the position for action devolves upon the Commander of the Artillery. If assigned to his position by the General Officer under whose orders he is placed, he will, to relieve himself from the responsibility, report to the latter its objectionable features, provided a better one can be found, and suggest the means necessary to improve or secure it.

II. In taking up a position, four points require especial attention:

      1. The efficacy of fire of the battery.
      2. Cover for the pieces from the enemy’s fire.
      3. The position of the rest of the troops.
      4. The facility of movement.

1. That fire should be effective, is in all cases the most important consideration, to which—as far as may be necessary—the second consideration must be sacrificed. For this purpose a clear view of the enemy is necessary, and judgement must be used in the selection of the different projectiles, according to the nature of the ground and the object to be attained.

The concentration of fire rather than its distribution, is of importance; hence the guns should be as much as possible so placed, that their fire may converge on important points, and should not be too much scattered over the field.

In a hilly or undulating country, a moderate elevation which gives a good view of the ground, is the best position for Artillery. Too much elevation should be avoided, since the fire is more effective in proportion as the projectiles pass more closely to the ground. Ground covered by bushes, trees, or other obstructions, is not favorable to the use of artillery.

It is advantageous, under all circumstances, to fire at lines obliquely, and at columns, in the direction of their greatest depth.

Against walls the most effective projectile is solid shot, Shot and shell should be used against log stockades, barricades, etc., and for sweeping a wood, to which latter purpose, shrapnel and canister are not well adapted—and also against deep columns of cavalry taken in the prolongation of the column. There has been too much neglect of solid shot fire from the smooth bore guns.

Canister is to be employed at close quarters. It is effective both from the wide spread of its balls, and from the rapidity with which it may be fired; accurate aiming not being necessary. Canister may be fired with great advantage into the edge or skirts of a wood which is about to be charged by our infrantry, and against the flank of an enemy’s battery at close quarters, under which circumstances the canister shot are very destructive to both men and horses. The prevailing tendency to the use of canister is too great.

Shrapnel may be considered as a long range canister, the iron case or shell, carrying the bullets safely over the ground before distributing them. It should be chiefly used against troops which are stationary or not moving rapidly; or directed against fixed points over which an enemy is passing.

Distances must be accurately judged, the projectile carefully prepared, the fire slow and deliberate, and its effect well noted, with a view to the correction of errors. Shrapnel is too often wasted. Artillery officers should recollect that, although it is the most effective and powerful of projectiles if well used, it is also the most harmless and contemptible if used badly; that the elements of uncertainty in its effect are numerous, and, therefore, in its use, nothing should be left to chance which can be made certain by care and attention. Shrapnel should never be fired rapidly, except against large and dense masses.

An intelligent officer or non-commissioned officer should be detailed to watch the effect of each shot, and to report what correction appears necessary. When time presses, and observation of the shrapnel fire is difficult, canister is preferable if the range is such as to admit of its use. Shrapnel fire is very effective against lines of troops, columns, or batteries which are stationary upon open ground. It is not to be used against troops which are covered from view by the conformation of the ground, or by obstacles of any kind,—except only, when it is known that the enemy is stationed within a certain distance in the rear of a given obstacle, as in the case of field-works, against the defenders of which shrapnel is effective.

Batteries should be as much as possible, protected from sudden attack, either by their position, or by troops posted near them. A position within the rifle range of a wood or other cover, which is not held by our own troops is a bad one, and should not be taken if possible to avoid it, since the enemy can occupy the cover, if only with sharp-shooters, and pick off our men and horses. Woods and other places of cover within the range of small arms, must therefore be occupied by our own troops.

Even on perfectly open ground, the flanks of a battery must be protected from assaults. Its front can take care of itself, and hence it follows that the supports of batteries should never be placed behind them, nor amongst the carriages, but always on the flanks, either on the prolongation of the line of the battery, or, if ever can thus be secured, in advance or rear of that prolongation, but always within easy supporting distances, and no closer, so that the fire directed on the battery may not injure its supporting troops.

Although Artillery, as a rule, must protect itself against attacks from the front, yet if such attacks are made by a heavy force, either in successive lines or in column, and with determination and persistance, the supporting troops should, if practicable, wheel forward their outward flanks, so that their cross-fire may sweep the ground in front of the battery; and may then charge vigorously with they bayonet, the Commander of the supports having previously arranged with the Commander of the Battery for a suspension of the Artillery fire. The enemy having been driven off, the supports will at once fall back towards the flanks so as to unmask the fire of the battery.

2. Artillery should, whenever practicable without undue detriment to its offensive powers, seek positions in which it may be protected from the enemy’s fire, or concealed from his observation. The best natural cover is that afforded by the crest of hills which slope gently towards the enemy; the guns should be placed behind them with their muzzles looking over the top. The limbers and caissons will thus be entirely concealed. Cover which makes splinters when struck by shot, such as masonry, wood stacks, etc., is objectionable.

Artificial cover may be obtained by sinking the piece. This is done by making an excavation for it to stand in. The excavation should be 1 feet deep in front, and should slope gently upwards towards the rear. This earth is to be thrown up in front to the height of about 1 feet. Ditches are dug at the sides for the men. This system of sinking the piece is used with advantage behind the edge of a hill, as it permits the piece to be brought closer to the crest, and enables it the better to sweep the ground.

Next to the protection of the guns, that of the caissons and limbers is of importance. Where the batteries are frequently moving, the limbers cannot be put under cover, but must remain close in rear of the pieces. Caissons must not, in any case, be so far separated from their guns, that they are beyond the prompt control of the Commander of the Battery.

3. The third consideration in posting Artillery, is that of the position of the rest of the troops.

In general, the advance and positions of the Infantry and Calvary determine the position for action of the Artillery, which usually places itself on the flanks of the other troops, or between their intervals, where it is secure itself, and can fire for the longest period of time.

A position in advance of other troops is very objectionable, especially in advance of Cavalry; cases occur, however, in which it cannot be avoided, those cases being, in general, when the action of the artillery is of primary importance, and there is not suitable position for it elsewhere.

It may be laid down as a rule that Artillery should not fire over our own troops. For this there are three good reasons. Accidents are liable to happen to the troops from the projectiles. It embarrasses their advance by battering the ground in front of them, and obliging them to hold back until the fire can be stopped or its range extended. It makes the men over whom the projectiles are passing uneasy, and may demoralize them. When it becomes necessary to fire over troops, solid shot, and in rare cases, shell should be used, and not canister, nor shrapnel; the latter projectile being liable to burst too soon, and to carry destruction among those over whose heads it was intended to pass.

4. It is of importance that every position assumed by Artillery should afford facilities for free movement in every direction, in order that such new positions may be taken up as circumstances may require. When this is not the case, care must at least be taken that the safety of the guns is not compromised. When the position is to be held to the last extremity, strong supports should be furnished and the guns fought to the last, so that if lost it shall be with honor. If the position is not to be so held, and the nature of the ground will permit, prolonges must be fixed, that the Battery may be fought retiring with the other troops.

When it is likely that a position will be carried, and its defense will not justify the loss of guns; they must, if the nature of the ground will not admit of the use of the prolonge, be limbered up and retired in due season, under the protection of their supports. A Battery may often be retired by sections and half Batteries, under the protection of its own fire alone.

Whenever a Battery takes post, the means of moving it to the front, the flanks or the rear must be studied by its commander, and, if necessary, walls and fences torn down, and ditches filled up, so that no unexpected obstacles may hinder its freedom of movement in any direction. It is a disgrace to an Artillery officer if a gun, or even an opportunity of rendering service, should be lost, through a neglect or want of forethought on his part. Guns may be honorably lost, if their sacrifice is necessary to the safety of other troops,—provided the enemy is made to pay dear for them—and not otherwise.

III. Objects of fire. It is too much the tendency of Artillery to fire at Artillery. In the beginning of a battle, the Artillery should direct its fire wherever the enemy seems most exposed to danger.

When the battle is further advanced, if our own troops are about to repel an attack, that portion of the enemy’s force is to be fired on whose attack is the most dangerous for the time being.

If we are acting on the offensive and the guns must fire on that portion of the enemy whose resistance is most formidable. When acting on the defensive the enemy’s infantry and cavalry are the most proper objects of fire.

Artillery fire is to be concentrated on single points rather than divided between numerous objects, notwithstanding that such a division or distribution of the fire may cause a greater or absolute loss to the enemy. It is not the number of killed and wounded that decides a battle, but the panic and demoralization of those who remain; and this panic and demoralization are much sooner created and spread by concentrating the Artillery fire on successive points, than my distributing it over a wide space. The general rule is, that Artillery should concentrate its fire upon that part of the enemy’s force which, from its position, or from its character, it is the most desirable to overthrow. Against an enemy’s Battery the fire should be concentrated on a single piece until that is disabled, and should then be turned upon another, and an analgous plan should generally be followed in firing upon Infantry and Cavalry.

When firing upon a hostile column, the guns are to be directed at its centre. If the column is in the act of deploying, the flank toward which the deployment is being made is to be fired on with canister or shrapnel.

As a general rule, Artillery should not fire upon skirmishers or small groups of men.

IV. The fire of Artillery is not to be commenced until the enemy is within effective range; that is, so near that at least one quarter of the shots are hits. Firing at too great a distance wastes ammunition which will be wanted at the critical moments of the battle, and emboldens the enemy’s troops by giving them a contemptuous idea of the effects of our fire.

Certain remarks of Frederick the Great may here be borne in mind "It sometimes happens," he says, "that the General in command, or some other General, is himself forgetful, and orders the fire to be opened too soon, without considering what injurious consequences may result from it. In such a case the Artillery officer must certainly obey, but he should fire as slowly as possible, and point the pieces with the utmost accuracy in order that his shots may not be thrown away. Such a fire is only pardonable when the General wishes to attract the enemy’s attention to one point, so as to make movements in another."

In the fire of Artillery accuracy is of far more importance than quickness. The fire should be slow while the enemy is at a distance; it is to be quicker as the distance diminishes, and is to become rapid when canister shot is being fired at effective ranges, "The proper expenditure of the ammunition is one of the most important duties of an Artilleryman. An officer who squanderers the whole of his ammunition in a short engagement proves himself incapable of appreciating the due effect and use of his arm, and incur the heaviest responsibility. There are moments in which we should not fire, or only very slowly, and others of a critical nature in which there should be no question of saving ammunition; but the latter are only of short duration and do not lead to a lavish expenditure of ammunition; while the inefficient, constant fire at long ranges always has that effect."

After an engagement, the commander of each Battery must use all diligence in putting it into a condition to march and to fight. As soon after the action as possible, a return of the losses of men and material and a report of the fight will be presented to the proper staff officer.

The return should contain a specification of the men and horses killed and disabled; of whatever has been made unserviceable or injured; of whatever has been expended, lost, or damaged; and of all defects of material and ammunition noticed, and should suggest proper remedies. The report should briefly describe the participation of the Battery in the engagement, as far as may be necessary for understanding the part taken by the Battery; the special instructions communicated; the position of the Battery, with a statement of the neighboring troops; the nature of the enemy’s troops against which the projectiles used; the effect remarked; the reasons why positions were changed; the behaviour of the men; and, without regard to rank, who distinguished himself; lastly, all important circumstances observed in the neighborhood of the Battery.

If Sections or half Batteries were detached, it is to be specified by whose order and for what purpose they were so detached.

Separate reports should be prepared by the commanders of pieces so detached. There are to be annexed, in original; to the narrative of the commander of the Battery.

By order of

Major General McCLELLAN


Colonel and Chief of Artillery