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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 307: Artillery 'a killing machine'

Friday, March 9, 2012

In keeping with the sesquicentennial or 150 year commemoration of the Civil War, this column features two "artillery" after-action reports that describe the deadly use of artillery or cannons in the Battle of Pea Ridge in northeastern Arkansas March 7-8, 1862. The effective use of artillery in the Civil War or, for that matter, in any war was to create a devastating killing machine. To be a member of a Civil War artillery/gun crew was a hazardous occupation with, for the most part, a very short life expectancy. The main reason for this was that the enemy was always attempting to and very often succeeded in destroying the 'Union" or "Confederate" artillery and killing the gun crews.

The following after-action reports are located on pages 265-269 in Series I, Vol. 8 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. "Report of Capt. Junius A. Jones, 1st Independent Iowa Light Artillery.

Camp near Elkhorn Tavern, March 9, 1862.

Sir: In accordance with my duty, I beg to leave to report that on the morning of the 7th instant I proceeded to your camp with my battery. Upon arriving at Elkhorn Tavern, I sent Lt. Gambell with the left section of the battery some 200 yards farther north, on the Springfield road, to take a position against the rebels and proceeded on the road to the right and easterly from the tavern some 800 yards to take position against the same force. I found Lt. Gambell actively engaged the rebel guns having him (the enemy) in in perfect range of grape, shell and shrapnel (artillery ammunition). The fire of the rebels was galling in the extreme. Just as I delivered (fired) my second round Reese Parkhurst, acting as No. 3 cannoneer, was killed, a cannon ball taking off his left leg and a piece of rock striking him in his head. I then had the prolonges (long ropes used to manually drag cannon) fixed to fire retiring when necessary.

Shortly after this event, one of my caissons was exploded by a shot from the rebels and another was lost to me by a runaway team running into the caisson team, which took fright, and they in running away capsized it down a slope, breaking the pole and otherwise disabling it. The team escaped. Two of the horses were subsequently recovered by Lt. David as was by him two of my ammunition chests and contents.

By this time the rebels' fire began to tell on my men. Kirk W. Henry was disabled by a piece of shell striking him in the mouth; Sgt. H.R. Horr was severely hurt by a spent round striking him in the groin; W.F. Conner was slightly wounded in the hand; D.J. Duvall was struck over the eye with a piece of shell, disabling him for some time; Thomas Brown was injured by a piece of shell, wounding him in the right side; I.B. Nelson was wounded in the right hand and back; Clark Woodmansee was wounded in the right shoulder by a grazing ball, Samuel Black was wounded in the right ankle by a grazing solid shot; James Molesworth was disabled by a spent round striking him in the hip and John Easton, detailed from the 4th Iowa, was wounded in the right arm slightly by a grape shot (very small cannon ball about the size of a golf ball). After these casualties, the limber of the second caisson was exploded by the rebels, burning severely E. Skivinki, the driver of the wheel team.

About this time Lt. Gambell was disabled by a grape shot passing through his left leg above the knee and between the bone and tendons. My ammunition becoming exhausted, I began to fire retiring. The second piece (cannon) had nearly reached the road when I was hit by a spent round shot below the groin on the left leg, which compelled me to retire from the field, being unable to sit on my horse. When I left the scene of action, the last piece was retiring.

We were keeping up the fire, waiting to be relieved by the Dubuque Battery. Lt. Williams kept the field with the last piece and afterward collected the left and center sections and drew them up in battery in a field east and south of the tavern, where they were afterward joined by Lt. David with the right section, who being the senior officer took command. After I retired, Gustavis Gustavison, No. 3 of the piece remaining in action, had his right leg shot off by a solid shot (a solid cannon ball) and William Selden No. 6 of the same piece, was wounded severely in the ankles by a fragment of a shell. Gustavison has since died from shock and amputation. For the labors of the right section and the subsequent service of the battery, I refer you to the report of Lt. David. I should have noted that to keep the ammunition of the capsized caisson from the rebels, we exploded it. In conclusion, I am pleased to state that with the exception of Lt. Gambell and William Selden, the wounded will be ready for duty in a short time.

Capt. Junius A. Jones, First Iowa Battery."

"Report of Capt. Mortimor M. Hayden, 3rd Independent Battery Iowa Light Artillery, Sugar Creek, Ark. March 9, 1862.

Colonel: Herewith please find statement of the part taken by this command in the action of the 7th and 8th instant. Pursuant to your order, I sent forward one section of the battery in charge of Lt. M.C. Wright, who took position in the road directly in front and under a heavy fire from the enemy's battery. Lts. W.H. McClure and J. Bradley, with their respective sections, were ordered forward to engage the enemy on the right and left of the first section. Supported by the 9th Iowa Infantry, we held this position until the rebel guns had disabled 10 pieces and killed and wounded many of both men and horses. The engagement now became general along the whole line with both artillery and infantry. The enemy's fire becoming too severe, we withdrew, leaving behind our disabled limber and several killed and wounded horses. We then took position about 300 yards in the rear of the point where our fire was first opened, remaining there until near evening (having held the enemy in check during the entire day), at which time the whole division fell back to a large open field, where it halted during the night. Here the enemy pursued but, being vigorously engaged by our artillery and infantry, were driven back with severe loss.

During the engagement we attempted to plant the pieces of the battery upon a commanding hill, but failed in the endeavor, an immense force of the enemy's infantry charging upon us, carrying away one of my guns and killing and wounding two of my own and several of the battery horses.On the morning of the 8th, we took position on the enemy's left, unsupported by either infantry or cavalry, opening fire on the slope where our guns were captured the previous day. Shortly afterwards the enemy opened upon us from a battery in our front to which we then turned our fire, silencing his guns and driving him from the field. Our loss is two men killed and 17 wounded. We lost 23 horses killed and three disabled. Three of our guns and one limber were captured by the enemy.
I desire to make mention of the coolness and bravery of the whole command during the entire engagement, especially of Lts. Wright and Bradley, who, fearless of all personal danger, met the enemy with a spirit worthy of the highest commendation and cannot overlook the efficient services rendered by Sgts. House, Harkins and Weaver, alike of Cpls. Martin, Guilford, Goldthorp and Rowles. The latter while spiking (disabling) the last gun left upon the field, was severely wounded in both legs.
I am, colonel, very respectfully,M.M. Hayden, Commanding."

Now then, no Kansas troops participated in this battle, but many "Union" regiments from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa did. The military mission of the "Union" Army of the Southwest (Mo.), commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel Ryan Curtis, was to destroy or drive the "Confederate" Army of Missouri, commanded by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, from the Show-Me-State.

Price's Army was not completely destroyed, but it was driven or forced from Missouri and was defeated in this, the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., on March 7 and 8, 1862; and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches