Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery at the Battle of Antietam

Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery often provided artillery support for the regiments of the Iron Brigade. At the battles of Gainesville, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and Gettysburg, this Regular Army unit of artillerymen supported the volunteer infantrymen in action with their expert cannoneering, and likewise, the men of the Iron Brigade provided infantry support for the artillerymen, both in helping fend off attacking Confederates attempting to capture the guns, and also by lending a hand in the operation of the guns when needed.

Battery B was stationed in the Utah Territory at the outset of the Civil War, and was under the command of Captain John Gibbon. Gibbon, a West Point graduate, wrote the book on artillery–literally. He taught artillery tactics at West Point, and wrote The Artillerist’s Manual, a textbook on all aspects of artillery tactics and artillery itself. Gibbon and Battery B arrived in Washington DC in October 1861, and was assigned to General Irvin McDowell’s division, which also included the brigade made up 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana Infantry Regiments, later known as the Iron Brigade. Gibbon was the division’s Chief of Artillery, with Captain Joseph B. Campbell assuming command of Battery B, with Lieutenant James Stewart as second in command.

Horse Drawn Artillery by Edwin Forbes

Horse Drawn Artillery by Edwin Forbes

In May 1962, Gibbon was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, and was given command of the Iron Brigade. The brigade saw extensive action in August and September, and Battery B’s six Napoleon smoothbore 12 pounder cannons was in the thick of it as well.

Early in the morning of September 17th, Major General Joseph Hooker’s 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac went into action against the Army of Northern Virginia near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland in the opening action of the Battle of Antietam. The Iron Brigade was part of the 1st Corps, and was involved in heavy, costly fighting in and near the Miller Cornfield on the north end of the battlefield. Battery B provided artillery support, especially for the 2nd and 6th Wisconsin, the two regiments that were most heavily engaged at the cornfield. During the fighting, Campbell was wounded, and Stewart, a very capable artillery commander, took over. Stewart spent much time directing the fire of one two gun section that had been moved forward. Battery B lost several men and horses in the fighting, and was in danger of being overrun and the guns captured. Gibbon himself took command of the Battery at one point, and ordered Major Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin to gather his men and provide help with the guns and infantry support against the attacking Georgians, South Carolinians, and Texans of Colonel William T. Wofford’s brigade . The artillerymen fired cannister at the Rebels, and infantry units, including the 7th Wisconsin and 19th Indiana, backed up by three New York Infantry regiments attacked the enemy left, forcing Wofford to withdraw.

Afterwords, Stewart wrote this after action report:

CAMP NEAR SHARPSBURG, MD.,
September 24, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, during the engagement of the 17th instant:

I was ordered by General Gibbon to bring my section forward and place it in position, about 75 yards distant from and to the left of the turnpike, for the purpose of shelling the woods, distant from 800 to 900 yards, directly in my front.

After shelling for some time, General Gibbon ordered the section to be still farther advanced to a position in front of some straw-stacks, about 30 yards to the right of the turnpike. As soon as I came into battery in this position, I observed large bodies of the enemy from 400 to 500 yards distant, and ordered the guns to be loaded with spherical case, 1¼ and 1½ seconds, because the ground was undulating, and not suitable for canister. After firing two or three rounds from each gun, the enemy partially broke, ran across a hollow in front of the section, crossed to the left of the turnpike, entered a corn-field, and, under cover of the fences and corn, crept close to our guns, picking off our cannoneers so rapidly that in less than ten minutes there were 14 men killed and wounded in the section.

Battery of Light Artillery en Route

About this time Captain Campbell, commanding the battery, brought the other four guns into battery on the left of my section, and commenced firing canister at the enemy in the corn-field, on the left of the turnpike. In less than twenty minutes Captain Campbell was severely wounded in the shoulder, his horse shot in several places, and the command of the battery devolved upon me.

General Gibbon was in the battery, and, seeing the advantage which the enemy had, ordered one of the guns which was placed on the turnpike to be used against the enemy’s infantry in the corn-field, General Gibbon acting both as cannoneer and gunner at this piece. The fire was continued by the entire battery for about ten minutes longer in this position, the enemy part of the time being but 15 or 20 yards distant. The loss of the entire company whilst in this position was 1 captain wounded, 3 sergeants, 4 corporals, 32 privates killed and wounded, and 26 horses killed and 7 wounded. While in this position the battery was supported by General Gibbon’s brigade and a part of the Twentieth New York Volunteers.

General Gibbon ordered me to limber to the rear and place the battery in battery in the same position my section first occupied in the morning. Here I found Captain Ransom’s battery, of the Fifth Artillery, in position, and immediately came in battery on his left, but had no opportunity to use my guns, as some of our infantry were formed 20 yards in front of the battery; so I limbered up and followed Captain Ransom’s battery to the edge of the woods in rear, having my horse shot under me in two places in less than two minutes. Here I removed my wounded horses, and regulated the men and horses throughout the battery.

t this time I received an order from General Gibbon to place the battery in the same position my section first occupied in the morning, but to fire to the right. I immediately took a section to the point indicated, sending word to the general that I could not take the battery, as we had not men and horses to man the six pieces. I went into battery on the right of Captain Reynolds’ New York battery, who was then under a very heavy fire from two of the enemy’s batteries. After my section had been firing for some time, part of General Sumner’s corps passed to the rear very much disorganized, through the woods on the right of my section, closely followed by the enemy. During this time I was in a very difficult position, as the enemy had ascertained my exact range, and I was utterly unable to get his on account of the smoke from the musketry. After carefully viewing the ground, I limbered to the rear, and came in battery upon Captain Reynolds’ left, when one of my cannoneers reported to me that the turnpike directly in my front and about 75 yards distant was full of the enemy’s infantry. I ordered my guns to be loaded. The enemy commencing to fall back on the same road. I waited until I saw four stand of the enemy’s colors directly in front of my section; and then commenced firing with canister, which scattered the enemy in every direction. I kept up the fire until the enemy were out of sight.

In a few minutes Captain Clarke, chief of General Sumner’s artillery, advised me to limber to the rear and cross the plowed field, as I had no infantry support, and he was going to retire his batteries, which were in my rear on the left, and the enemy then advancing on the left in force. I remained in the plowed field for some time, when, learning that General Gibbon had placed the other four guns of the battery in position, and seeing there was no use for me there, I joined them on an eminence in rear of the woods between 1 and 2 o’clock p.m., remaining there inactive until 5 p.m., when the enemy opened from two batteries. I opened with my entire battery on the nearest battery, which was on my right, and from 800 to 900 yards distant, and after firing two or three rounds from each gun, the enemy not responding, I ceased firing.

The behavior of my men was all that could be desired, but the men whose names are given below came under my immediate observation, and discharged their duties with such calm, cool courage and discretion that I would earnestly request that their conduct may be brought to the favorable notice of the general commanding.

Their names are as follows: First Sergt. John Mitchell, Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery; Sergt. Andrew McBride, Light Company B, Fourth U. S. Artillery; Sergt. William West, Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery; Corpl. Frederick A. Chapin, Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery; Lance Corpl. Alonzo Priest, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers; Lance Corpl. Henry G. McDougal, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers; Privates Henry A. Childs, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers; James Cahoo, Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery; William Kelly, Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, John B. Lackey; Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery; Jeremiah Murphy, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers; William Green, Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery: Charles Harris, Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers; Elbridge E. Packard, Second Wisconsin Volunteers.

I desire to state that since the battery first went into action on the 26th of August, Benjamin N. Meeds, clerk at headquarters of General Gibbon, and private belonging to Company B, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, has voluntarily acted as cannoneer in my section in each and every engagement in which my section has participated, and although he has never been drilled with the battery, has rendered cheerful and very efficient service, so much so that I desire to bring his name particularly to the notice of the commanding general.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES STEWART,
Second Lieut. Fourth U.S. Artillery, Comdg. Light Company B.

Capt. John P. WOOD,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Gibbon’s Brigade.

General Gibbon filed this report:

HEADQUARTERS FOURTH BRIGADE,
Camp near Sharpsburg, September 20, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my brigade during the action of the 17th near this place:

The brigade was, by direction of Major-General Hooker, detached from the division, and ordered to advance into a piece of wood on the right of the Hagerstown turnpike, toward the village of Sharpsburg.

Gen. John Gibbon

Gen. John Gibbon

The brigade advanced in column of divisions on the left of the turnpike until the head of it reached an open space, when the Sixth Wisconsin was deployed and pushed forward into a corn-field in our front, the Second Wisconsin being deployed and formed on its left, while a section of Gibbon’s battery, under Lieutenant Stewart, was brought into action in the rear, to fire over the heads of our men in reply to one of the enemy’s batteries in their front. The Sixth and Second pushed gallantly forward, supported by the Seventh Wisconsin and Nineteenth Indiana, when, finding the enemy was likely to flank us on the right in the wood, which extended down in that direction, I ordered up Stewart’s section and directed the Seventh Wisconsin and Nineteenth Indiana to deploy to the right of the line, and push forward rapidly into the woods. The whole line soon became hotly engaged, and the enemy, heavily re-enforced from the woods, made a dash upon the battery. This attack, however, was successfully repelled by heavy discharges of canister from the guns, the fire of the few remaining men of the Second and Sixth Wisconsin, and the flank fire poured in by the Seventh Wisconsin and Nineteenth Indiana, which had been brought around to sweep the front of the battery with their fire, Captain Campbell having in the mean time joined Stewart’s with the other four pieces of the battery.

In this severe contest Lieutenant-Colonel Bragg, Sixth Wisconsin, and Lieutenant-Colonel Allen, Second Wisconsin, both commanding their regiments, were wounded and taken from the field. The gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Bachman, commanding the Nineteenth Indiana, fell mortally wounded, and Captain Campbell, while gallantly serving his guns, was stricken down by a ball through the shoulder. Thirty-eight of the battery men were killed and wounded, 27 of the horses killed, and, finding the guns almost deprived of support and of cannoneers to work them, I ordered them to limber to the rear and fall back, followed soon after by the infantry of my brigade, much reduced in numbers and scant of ammunition. The loss of the brigade is again an evidence of its well-earned honors.

While referring to the regimental reports for special mention of meritorious individuals, I beg leave to call attention to the steadiness and gallantry of both officers and men, and especially to the coolness and bravery of Lieutenant-Colonels Bragg, Bachman, and Allen; Major Dawes, Captain Callis, and Captain Campbell, and Lieutenant Stewart, of Gibbon’s battery. My aides, Lieutenants Haskell and Hildreth, were, as usual, prompt and active in conveying my orders, and the former, while carrying a message to General Hooker, had his horse killed under him.

The loss in the brigade is as follows: 61 killed, 274 wounded, 45 missing; total, 380.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN GIBBON,
Commanding.

Capt. E. P. HALSTEAD,
Assistant Adjutant-General, King’s Division.

The initial casualty figures stated by Gibbon were revised and official losses for the Iron Brigade were listed as 68 killed, 275 wounded, and five missing, for a total of 348. In addition, casualty figures for Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery were nine killed and 31 wounded.

Sources:

Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide
by Ethan S. Rafuse

Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner

The Iron Brigade: A Military History
by Alan T. Nolan

The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2 – 20, 1862
by Bradley M. Gottfried

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume XIX, Part 1

Service With the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers
by Rufus Dawes

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