From The Library Files – “Consolidated Return of the Loss and Expenditure of Artillery and Artillery Material in the Battle of Gettysburg”

How is that for a title! Every so often I plan on pulling some document from our research library files to share with those who follow the blog and to explore what we can learn from it.

This is rare document discovered by Licensed Battlefield Guide Jim Clouse in 2002 in the National Archives. Specifically, it is located in Record Group 393 (Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands), Pt. 1, E 4017. It is a detailed report about everything lost by the artillery of the Army of the Potomac in the battle and how much, and what type of ammunition was expended. I should amend the above statement as only the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th Corps submitted detailed reports. The 5th, 11th and 12th Corps reports are incomplete. But we can nevertheless learn about what types of equipment the Union army considered to be accountable property, and how much and what type of ammunition Union artillery fired during the battle. The document was prepared on sheets of paper that look to be about 10 or 11 x 14. The following two images show the top part of the report.

Page 1

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Page two.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Reviewing the top two tables we see the type of equipment that was lost in the battle.  It includes wheels, poles, limber straps, lanyards, haversacks, priming wire, tow hooks, sponge covers, sabres, pistols, bridles, whips, saddle valises, curry combs, horse blankets, horse collars, brushes, tarps, and on and on.  We also find, at the far right corner of the page two image, the number of horses killed and wounded.  There were a total of 431 killed and 64 wounded.  One has to imagine that many more horses were wounded but that the severely wounded horses were likely destroyed and became part of the total horses killed. What is interesting about this figure is it provides us with a more reasonable idea of the number of horses killed in the battle.  I have frequently seen the figure of 5,000 horses killed in publications with no reliable source associated with it.  This report renders such a figure both utterly fantastic and impossible.  Artillery in both armies suffered the highest losses among horses in the battle and we know that Union artillery batteries, because they faced greater exposure to small arms fire as well as artillery fire than did Confederate batteries, lost more horses than did the Confederate artillery.  A more reasonable estimate would place the total number of horses killed in the battle at about 1,000.

The report underscores the tremendous damage suffered by the Union 2nd Corps artillery brigade.  They reported 193 horses killed.  There were 28 artillery pieces in the brigade, meaning there were 336 horses that pulled each gun’s limber and caisson (six horses on each vehicle).  There were also horses for officers, buglers, the forge and the supply

A Union artillery battery in the field. Although this a horse artillery battery, in which every man was mounted, it nevertheless offers a view of the number of horses used to move an artillery battery. LC

wagons.  But most of the horses killed would have come from those that pulled the limbers and caissons, which means the 2nd Corps lost nearly 57% of their horses,  a loss that definitely would have limited the brigade’s mobility and combat effectiveness until replacements were received.

 

The bottom table on the report lists the amount and types of ammunition Union artillery expended between July 1-3.  If we tally the ammunition expended, Union artillery fired a total of 32,815 rounds during the battle.  The Artillery Reserve, which contained a total of 114 guns fired 10,584 rounds, or an average of 92 per gun.  The 2nd Corps fired the most of any army corps with 7,714.  This is a whopping average of 274 rounds per gun.

 

Bottom table of consolidated return. NA.

 

The table also reveals that Union rifled artillery did not fire any solid shot, because they did not carry it (note that there is no column for solid shot for rifled artillery).  They fired only percussion shell, timed fused shell, shrapnel (which used a timed fuse), and canister.  Only the smoothbore guns fired solid shot. 

I have only touched the surface of what we can learn about the battle from this document and others like it.  Original documents such as this provide us a unique glimpse into the workings of an army at war.  Although the army today is far more sophisticated and tracks equipment and ammunition with spreadsheets and computers, I suspect that a modern soldier who examined this report would conclude that some aspects of the army have not changed in the past 148 years. 

D. Scott Hartwig, Historian

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2 Responses to From The Library Files – “Consolidated Return of the Loss and Expenditure of Artillery and Artillery Material in the Battle of Gettysburg”

  1. John Nyeste - near Adamstown, PA says:

    Scott and John,

    Are any of the library’s files available on line?

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