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The State of the Armies, 1863

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Report by John Murray

 

The second talk on Saturday was given by Lt. Col. Joe Whitehorne, already familiar to many of our members.

 

Joe began by looking at Command and Organisation. As a result of the loss of Jackson at Chancellorsville in May 1863, there was a shake up of the Confederate High Command. The two Army Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia were too large and were reformed in to three Corps: Longstreet in charge of the 1st, Ewell the 2nd and A P Hill the 3rd.The new commanders had new responsibil­ities. They had to deal with regimental level losses and rebuild the infantry without reducing quality. At the time, the Confederate Government was fear­ful of the Federal build up at Fort Monroe and in North Carolina. Five of the nine Divisional commanders were new and there were changes to 25 of the 37 brigades.

 

 


In the Cavalry Division, the three brigades led by Hampton and the two Lees were extended to five brigades, one of whose commanders, Grumble Jones, was not on good terms with Jeb Stuart. The cavalry regiments were under­sized due to wear and tear and the impact of the con­frontation at Brandy Station. In the Confederate Army in general there was a serious shortage of horses which led to the loss of experienced personnel. If a cavalryman lost his horse, he had to go home to get another - and sometimes he was not seen again!

 

With regard to Confederate Artillery, as from February 1863, the allocation of batteries to Brigades ceased; batteries were allocated to Divisions. There was a serious shortage of horses and tack which to some extent was rectified at Chancellorsville and Second Winchester.

 

Joe concluded that Confederate morale and self confidence was very high because of the constant successes. However, this led to an overconfidence in their abilities and a contempt for their opponents.

 

For the Federals, Hooker had replaced Burnside. The latter had operated with Grand Divisions; Hooker reorganised his forces into seven Corps. Union morale slumped in the immediate aftermath of Chancellorsville but to his credit Hooker had reorganised the Cavalry under Stoneman and Pleasanton. Officers such as Hancock, Meade, Sykes and Reynolds formed a very solid group but the lack of confidence in Hooker led to his replacement by Meade. Meade, however, retained Hooker's staff officers. Hooker had also restored the physical condition of his troops as, in large part through the skills of Letterman, improved sanitary conditions led to better health. The institution of Corps insignia and a tem­porary amnesty for absentees also helped improve morale.

 

As Hooker tried to get the Army of the Potomac in shape, he had to contend with personnel turbulence - manpower losses. The 1861/62 two year enlistments were ending and the nine months regiments' term of service would be expiring at the time of Gettysburg. 23,000 left the Army of the Potomac, a 20% loss to add to the 12% losses at Chancellorsville. Union veteran regiments formed by individual States were not refilled - new ones were created. Michigan was an exception, rotating new troops into existing regiments .

 

Joe turned to military organisation and stated that the regiment was the building block. Three regiments would form a brigade, three or four brigades would form a Division and two or more Divisions would form a Corps. Although Hooker had abused his cavalry which was at 60% strength before Brandy Station, it was in rea­sonably good shape.

 

With regard to the command of artillery, infantry line officers wanted control. Artillery officers took the view that infantry did not know how to use artillery . For the Federals, Henry Hunt, the Chief of Artillery, was attached to HQ. He con­trolled all reserves and liased with line officers. There was some tension between Hunt and Hancock. On the Confederate side, their Chief of Artillery, Pendleton, was more of an adviser: he had limited control over guns and ammunition resupply. Hunt controlled over 30% of the Union guns; Pendleton, who had responsibility without authority, controlled none. Their style was different. Hunt was in the thick of things and he would keep bat­teries idle until he needed to use them. Pendleton stuck close to HQ and had to work through the Corps commanders, with obvious limitations at Gettysburg where the Confederate line were three times longer than their opponents'.

 

The Federals operated with 6 gun batteries, five batteries in a brigade. The seven Corps each had a brigade of guns. The Confederates operated with a battalion of 4 batteries with 4 guns. A Union battery would consist of four guns of the same type; the Confederates would have a battery with two rifles and two "Napoleons". This posed a double threat but did mean that half the battery was always at a disadvantage and ammunition resupply was a nightmare.

 

Each Union gun was allocated 250 rounds. At Gettysburg, the Federals used 40,000 out of 100,000 rounds. At the end of 3 July 1863, the Union forces had 60,000 rounds left. The Confederates had 200 rounds per gun. If they had issued all their rounds they would have used them all. At the end of the battle at Gettysburg , the Confederates were critically low on ammunition. Crucially, it is estimated that 50% of the rounds fired by the Confederates at Gettysburg were duds!

 

Joe next considered the support troops. The Army of the Potomac had an engineer brigade. Engineers had the important function of bridging streams. The Confederates, who were much more informal, had pioneer companies. In August 1863, the Confederates passed a law enabling four regiments of engineers to be created.

 

The quartermaster had a vitally important role. For the Confederates, the Culpepper railhead was 50 miles from the supply depot at Winchester, in turn 90 miles from Gettysburg. Attempts to live off the land were uneven. The Confederate soldier travelled light, perhaps with a gum blanket, and many were shoeless. There were 60 miles of wagon trains but a critical shortage of livestock. Across the Mason-Dixon line, the road sur­faces were harder and the animals began to wear out at a high rate. Essentially, Lee was immobile at the end of the retreat from Gettysburg. The Union army filled 83 miles of road to Gettysburg, using 3,000 wagons. The Federal railhead was skillfully man­aged. The first base was at Frederick, Maryland, then Westminster, Maryland. General Haupt used a shuttle system of 15 trains a day to Westminster. Over 3,000 wounded a day were evacuated. By 6 July, the railhead was at Gettysburg.

 

Joe then focused on small arms . Two- thirds of Union units had Springfields or Enfields; one-third were mixed. The nine-month units had smoothbores. Most Confederates had Springfields or Enfields so that ammunition resupply was less of a problem. Federal cavalry had breech loading weapons, Colt revolvers and sabers. The Confederate cavalry, suffering from an absence of good tack and very bad saddles, were armed with pistols and sabers but very few had carbines. In a direct cavalry engagement, the advantage lay with the Federals.

 

The Federals had an efficient ambulance system and benefited from the enforcement of sanitation requirements. The majority of wounded were quickly treated at hospitals. There was an ambulance Corps but this had not been officially approved by Congress because it might take too many men away from the battlefield. The Confederate medical service was much less formal and suffered from lack of supplies. At Gettysburg, there were 650 Union medical officers. There were 1,000 ambulances. 14,000 were evacuated. In all 21,000 were treated. Meade insisted that the bulk of the surgeons would follow the Union troops to Williamsport.

 

On the question of intelligence, the Confederates had very foggy information. Lee could not get troops back from North Carolina because of a perceived threat. For Lee a primary source of information was the Northern press: it was loose but it was not reliable. Lee was learning of the Union's new manpower but not about the outflow of troops. This resulted in Lee overestimating enemy forces and feeling outnumbered. Counting enemy brigades as if fully filled led Lee to think he was outnumbered 2 to 1. On his part, Hooker thought the level of forces was slightly in Lee's favour. The best estimate is that Lee had about 75,000 men and Meade 85,000.

 

Joe concluded that the Confederates were hampered by their new organisation. Hill was reluctant to be too aggressive. Ewell needed pressure. Longstreet was more collegial. All this resulted in hesitancy at critical moments.

 

A wide ranging question and answer session followed with Joe commenting on, amongst other things, the quality of the Confederate ordnance, sickness rates, the use of balloons and Confederate manpower policy .