Number 9. Siege of Petersburg Reports of Bvt. Brigadier General Henry L. Abbot, First Connecticut Heavy Artillery, commanding Siege Train, of operation January 1 – March 31

   

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No. 9. Reports of Bvt. Brigadier General Henry L. Abbot, First Connecticut Heavy Artillery, commanding Siege Train, of operation January 1 – March 31.1

HEADQUARTERS SIEGE ARTILLERY,
Broadway Landing, Va., March 2, 1865.

GENERAL: In obedience to the circular of July 29, 1864, I have the honor to submit the following report of my operations during the month of January last. The amount of firing is shown by the following table: Coehorn mortar, 219; 8-inch siege mortar, 636; 10-inch siege mortar, 15; 10 inch sea-coast mortar, 144; 30-pounder Parrott, 879; 4 1/2-inch gun, 3; 100-pounder Parrott, 209; field guns, 137 rounds; making a total of 2,242 rounds, weighing about fifty-one tons, or at a rate of about 1.6 tons daily.

The most important event during the month on these lines was the attempt of the rebel fleet to pass the obstructions in James River on the night on January 23, when I think it may fairly be claimed that my batteries prevented a serious disaster. Three rams, the wooden gun-boat Drewry, a small steam torpedo-boat, and perhaps more, passed Fort Brady about 8 p. m., under cover of the darkness. they received about twenty-five shots from the fort – armament, two 100-pounder Parrotts and three 30-pounder Parrotts. The fort was instantly opened upon by the rebel land batteries, mounting some dozen guns, and their fire soon disabled one of the 100-pounder guns. The fleet passed on to a point near the rebel Howlett Battery, out of range of Fort Brady. My batteries below Fort Brady were three in number: Parsons and Wilcox – armament, one 100-pounder Parrott and one 10-inch sea-coast mortar; Spofford – armament, one 30-pounder Parrott, placed in position about 7 a. m.; and Sawyer – armament, one 100-pounder Parrott and two 10-inch sea -coast mortars. About 10 p. m. a ram succeeded in reaching and began removing the obstructions, receiving thirty-one shots from the mortar in Wilcox and nine from those in Sawyer, with musketry fire from all the spare artillerymen while so engaged. At 3 a. m. one ram passed the obstructions and anchored about 600 yards above Sawyer, where she remained for forty-five minutes. This position was only exposed to mortar fire. One shell fired at 60 degrees elevation struck her, and she immediately moved up the river nineteen shells had been fired at her while in this position. During the night firth-four rounds form the 100-pounder and twenty-four rounds from the mortar in Parsons and Wilcox and three rounds from the 100-pounder in Sawyer were fired at the fleet above the obstructions. The darkness prevented the effect of this from being known.

At daylight two rams and the Drewry were discovered aground near left bank, some 1,500 yards above Parsons. Fire was at once opened from that battery with long percussion-shell from the 100-pounder. The second shot struck the Drewry and the third exploded her magazine,

completely destroying her. The following table shows the fire upon the fleet after daylight, before it escaped up the river, about noon:

As soon as the rams could get afloat they retreated out of range, near Howlett Battery, leaving the torpedo-boat aground. About 3 a. m. on 25th they escaped up the river past Fort Brady, receiving a number of rounds in the darkness, several of which struck them.

The ammunition used in this engagement consisted in part of solid shot, and in part of shell – percussion and time – and case. Unfortunately the line of fire when the rams were aground was oblique, and the projectiles glanced off without penetrating. Officers on picket directly opposite, however, report that the armor was started and partially ripped off in a number of places. During the firing my batteries, especially Forts Brady and parsons and Wilcox, were under a very heavy fire from the rebel land batteries. Three men were killed in the former, and a large number slightly injured from fragments, &c. Too much commendation cannot be given to Captain Pierce, commanding Fort Brady, and to Lieutenants Pratt, Mason, and Silliman, commanding the other batteries, for their excellent conduct. The total firing, including those fired in reply to the rebel land batteries, was about 500 rounds of siege ammunition. Lieutenant W. G. Ball, Thirteenth New York Artillery, also moved a 20-pounder Parrot (field gun) to the bank of the river and fired eighty-five rounds, at a range of about 1,400 yards, with creditable zeal.

At 6.30 p. m. on January 5 I received an order from General Grant to embark a siege train, which ultimately proved to be destined for Fort Fisher. I was to accompany it with a sufficient detail of artillerymen from my command and a company of volunteer engineers from General Benham’s brigade, also a small detachment from general Graham’s naval brigade. During January 6 I was waiting transportation, but removed three companies of First Connecticut Artillery from the lines, and also two 30-pounder Parrotts and four Coehorn mortars. The propeller C. C. Leary, 841 tons, reported at 8 a. m. on January 7, and my ordnance officers at once began loading her, from both sides, with all possible dispatch with the ordnance. They employed about 150 men. The propeller Scott, 1,086 tons, reported at 3 p. m., with 50,000 feet of lumber on board. By 8 p. m. she was ready to sail, with two companies (280 men) and thirty-six mules. At 7.30 a. m. of January 8, the propeller Governor Chase, 746 tons, reported. At noon she was ready to sail, with two companies (282 men) and forty-one animals. During the evening the three steamers, with my headquarters on the Leary, dropped down to City Point, where I received written orders from General Terry. My command consisted of 20 officers, 568 men, 77 animals, 12 wagons, sixteen 30-pounder Parrotts, 20 Coehorns, with 8,000 rounds for former and 6,600 for latter,

50,000 feet of lumber, &c. We took nineteen days’ rations, four being cooked. We sailed at daylight of January 9, and reached Fort Monroe that evening. On January 10 we were detained by a severe storm, but sailed at 8 a. m. of January 11, arriving at Beaufort, N. C., on the following day in time to join the fleet then starting for Fort Fisher, where we arrived about 5 p. m.

During January 13 we were ordered to remain on board. On January 14 I put the engineer company on shore, with thirty-seven animals, rations, forage, &c. The sea was too rough to land the guns. The steamer was anchored, and a warp of 3-inch rope, 120 fathoms long, was secured to be beach. The men were pulled in surf-boats, and the animals slung, hoisted overboard, and towed ashore by the warp. On the 15th the sea was smoother. I had brought three launches and a detachment of thirty-five men of General Graham’s naval brigade, under lieutenant nelson, to aid in disembarking my train. I also received all the assistance required from the navy. Acting Muster Z. L. Tanner, aided by Acting Ensign L. Pope, both of the Rode Island, took charge of removing the stores, &c., from the ship’s side to the beach, and labored most faithfully and skillfully on January 14 and 15 to accomplish all that was possible. On January 15, three 30-pounder Parrotts, complete, with ammunition, &c., another company, the rest of the animals, the wagons, &c., were unloaded. The guns were unloaded in the following manner: They were raised from the hold, and slung overboard, by using purchases from the masthead and the yards strengthened by a prevented brace. They were carefully lowered overcoat, and placed on the launch (one at a trip), with very considerable risk, owing to the rolling of the ship. The launch was then pulled along the warp to the edge of the surf, and the gun rolled overboard. It was draped up by about 200 men pulling upon a rope secured to it. It was a slow and dangerous process, and only possible in very smooth sea. The carriages, ammunition, &c., were landed in a similar way.

Fort Fisher was carried by assault on the evening of January 15, and the disembarkation of my train was at once suspended. Captain Hatfield, my ordnance officer, was ordered by me to make a survey of the fort. A copy of his sketch will be forwarded to the department upon his return from a leave of absence.

The following list of captured guns was taken:

Many of the carriages of the guns in good order were disabled. Immense quantities of ammunition, ordnance stores, &c., were taken.

On January 20 a storm drove my vessels to sea, where they remained on the following day, returning on 22nd. On this date General terry relieved myself and staff, ordering me to report to Lieutenant-General Grant in person, leaving my command temporarily to garrison Fort Fisher and my train afloat at Beaufort, N. c. I arrived at City Point on January 24, when General Grant at once ordered my train and three companies back to these lines, and placed me specially in charge of preparing additional land batteries to oppose the rebel fleet. After making all needed arrangements for placing four more 100-pounder Parrotts and three more 30-pounder Parrotts in position on James River, I received a leave of absence for thirty days, starting on January 27.

With reference to such an expedition as that at Fort Fisher, I am fully of the opinion that the ordnance (siege) should be loaded on side-wheel steamers, on account of their greater seediness. There are very few days in the winter when a 30-pounder Parrott can be landed from a propeller on an open beach.

On relieving me General Terry published an order, a copy of which I inclose herewith.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

HENRY L. ABBOT,
Bvt. Brigadier General of Volunteers, Captain of Engineers, U. S. Army.

Brigadier General RICHARD DELAFIELD, Chief Engineer, U. S. Army.

[Inclosure.]
SPECIAL ORDERS,
HEADQUARTERS U. S. FORCES, Numbers 11.
Fort Fisher, N. C., January 22, 1865.

* * * * * * *

III. Bvt. Brigadier General H. L. Abbot, U. S. Volunteers, is relieved from duty as chief of artillery of this expedition, and will proceed to City Point, Va., and report to the lieutenant-general commanding the Armies of the United States.

The major-general commanding desires to express to General Abbot his thanks for the zeal, ability, and energy evinced by him in landing the siege train of this command upon the open ocean beach under the most disadvantageous circumstances.

By order of Major General Alfred H. Terry:

ADRIAN TERRY,
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.

HEADQUARTERS SIEGE ARTILLERY,
Broadway landing, Va., March 4, 1865.

MAJOR: I would respectfully submit the following report heretofore delayed by my absence, of the operations of my command during the action with the rebel fleet in January last, and would request that it may be forwarded to department headquarters, with a favorable indorsement upon my application for brevets for the officers commanding the batteries:

On the night of January 23, 1865, three rams, the wooden gun boat Drewry, a small steam torpedo-boat, and perhaps more, passed Fort

Brady about 8 p. m., under cover of the darkness. They received about twenty-five shots from the fort – armament, two 100-pounder Parrotts and three 30-pounder Parrotts. The fort was instantly opened upon by the rebel land batteries, mounting some dozen guns, and their fire soon disabled one of the 100-pounder guns. The fleet passed on to a point near the rebel Howlett Battery, out of range of Fort Brady. My batteries below Fort Brady were three in number: Parsons and Wilcox – armament, one 100-pounder Parrott and one 10-inch sea-coast mortar; Spofford – armament, one 30-pounder Parrott, placed in position about 7 a. m; and Sawyer – armament, one 100-pounder Parrott and two 10-inch sea-coast mortars. About 10 p. m., a ram succeeded in reaching and began removing the instructions, receiving thirty-one shots from the mortar in Wilcox and nine from those in sawyer, with musketry fire from all the spare artillerymen while so engaged. At 3 a. m. one can ram passed the obstructions and anchored about 600 yards above Sawyer, where she remained for forty-five minutes. This position was only exposed to mortar fire. One shell fired at 60 degrees elevation struck her, and she immediately moved up the river; nineteen shells had been fired at her while lying in this position. During the night firth-four rounds from the 100-pounder and twenty-four rounds from the mortar in Parsons and Wilcox and three rounds from the 100-pounder in Sawyer were fired at the fleet above the instructions. The darkness prevented the effect of this fire from being known.

At daylight two rams and the Drewry were discovered aground near left bank, some 1,500 yards above Parsons. Fire was at once opened from that battery with long percussion-shell from the 100-pounder. The second shot struck the Drewry and the third exploded her magazine, completely destroying her. The following table shows the fire upon the fleet after daylight, before it escaped up the river, about noon:

As soon as the rams could get afloat they retreated out of range, near Howlett Battery, leaving the torpedo-boat aground. About 3 a. m. on the 25th they escaped up the river past Fort Brady, receiving a number of rounds in the darkness, several of which struck them.

The ammunition used in this engagement consisted in part of solid shot, and in part of shell – percussion and time – and case. Unfortunately the line of fire when the rams were aground was oblique, and the projectiles glanced off without penetrating. Officers on picket directly opposite, however, report that the armor was started and partially ripped off in number of places. During the firing my batteries, especially Forts Brady and Parsons and Wilcox, were under a very heavy fire from the rebel land batteries. Three men were killed in the

former, and a large number slightly injured from fragments, &c. The total firing, including those fired in reply to the rebel land batteries, was about 500 rounds of siege ammunition. Lieutenant W. G. Ball, Thirteenth New York Artillery, also moved a 20-pounder Parrott (field gun) to the bank of the river, and fired eighty-five rounds, at a range of about 1,400 yards, with creditable zeal.

In my judgment, the determined reception which the rebel fleet received from my batteries, joined to the difficulties of navigation, which, under this fire, they could not overcome, saved this army from a serious disaster. The fire of the rebels land batteries upon mine was very severe. Several guns were struck; three shells passed nearly through the parapet of Fort Brady, and by their explosion knocked down many men with fragments of the revetment. In all batteries the rebel fire was effective. I think that some reward is mentioned for so important services thus rendered, and therefore request that brevets may be conferred upon the following officers:

First. Captain H. H. Pierce, First Connecticut Artillery commanding Fort Brady. This officer was actively engaged in the battle of the Petersburg Mine; was in charge of the artillery at Dutch Gap during about all the heavy firing there. He directed the fire upon the rebel fleet in James River last, autumn, when it was driven back with loss. During the last action (January 23-24) with the rebel fleet he was knocked senseless and considerably injured by a shell which exploded very near him, but refused to be carried to the rear. He has been indefatigable in discharging his during the whole campaign.

Second. First Lieutenant H. A. Pratt, First Connecticut Artillery, commanding Batteries Parsons and Wilcox, who has, on many occasions, done excellent service there during the summer.

Third. First Lieutenant E. P. Mason, First Connecticut Artillery, commanding Battery Sawyer.

Fourth. Second Lieutenant C. N. Silliman, First Connecticut Artillery, commanding Battery Spofford.

Fifth. Fifth Lieutenant W. G. Ball, Thirteenth New York Artillery, commanding the light 20-pounder. Although his piece was practically of little utility, his efforts deserve reward.

I would also request that a medal of honor may be bestowed upon Sergt. George L. Fox, Company H, First Connecticut Artillery, for his coolness, under a heavy fire, in pointing the piece which blew up the gun-boat Drewry. Be afterward struck the ram six times in succession at a distance of nearly a mile.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

HENRY L. ABBOT,
Colonel First Connecticut Artillery, Commanding Siege Artillery.

Bvt. Major GEORGE A. HICKS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Bermuda Hundred Defenses.

HEADQUARTERS SIEGE ARTILLERY,
Broadway Landing, Va., March 5, 1865.

GENERAL: In obedience to the circular of July 29, 1864, I have the honor to submit the following report of my operations during the month of February, 1865:

I was absent on leave of absence until February 27.

The following table exhibits the amount of firing during the month on these lines: Coehorn mortar, 357; 8-inch siege mortar, 509; 10-inch siege mortar, 103; 30-pounder Parrott, 609; 4-inch gun, 63; 100-pounder Parrott, 1; field guns, 3 rounds; making a total of 1,645 rounds, weighing about 32 tons, or at a rate of about 1.1 tons daily, an amount less than in any preceding month.

There has been so much discussion of late as to the merits of the different kinds of guns and ammunition now in use in our service that I have decided to report upon certain records which I have been accumulating here, remarking that it is possible that future firing may modify the results obtained:

First, as to endurance. The only failures have been the bursting of a 24-pounder Sawyer (rifled), and the blowing off of the muzzle of a 30-pounder Parrott, caused by the explosion of a shell in the bore. The gun was not destroyed; the face was cut smooth with a cold chisel, and its accuracy seems not impaired. the following table shows the extent of the tents, the record of a few guns showing the largest amount of firing being selected:

One hundred-pounder Parrott.- Numbers 11, fired 302 times; Numbers 13, fired 533 times; Numbers 15, fired 304 times; Numbers 20, fired 458 times. All old guns; irked an unknown number of times before coming into my possession.

Thirty-pounder Parrott.- Numbers 100, fired 1,210 times; Numbers 101, fired 1,404 times; Numbers 121, fired 970 times; Numbers 255, fired 1,487 times; Numbers 256, fired 1,472 times; Numbers 259, fired 1,392 times; apparently uninjured.

Four and one-half-inch ordnance.- Numbers 41, fired 457 times; Numbers 89, fired 578 times; Numbers 96, fired 499 times; Numbers 97, fired 519 times. All rendered dangerous from not being botched when made; this is a great defect in these guns which should be removed.

Eight-inch siege mortars.- Numbers 20, fired 1,530 times; Numbers 24, fired 1,614 times; Numbers 25, fired 1,521 times; Numbers 26, fired 1,536 times; Numbers 32, fired 2,015 times; Numbers 36, fired 2,016 times. Apparently uninjured, the vents, even, not showing much wear.

Second, as to ammunition. the following tables explain themselves; they include February:

The following table tests the fuses in use; it includes the February firing:

These figures are too simple and convincing to require remark, other than to explain that every possible care has been taken to secure accuracy. They are taken from the daily reports of the batteries, where men are specially detailed, under the close supervision of the battery commander, to note the effect of very shot. If any uncertainly exists the shot is entered “uncertain,” and is not included in the final ration. I believe that such records have never before been attempted in actual service, and therefore regard them as extremely valuable.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

HENRY L. ABBOT,
Captain of Engineers, U. S. Army, Bvt. Brigadier General of Viols., Commanding

Brigadier General RICHARD DELAFIELD,
Chief Engineer, U. S. Army.

HEADQUARTERS SIEGE ARTILLERY,
Broadway Landing, Va., April 25, 1865.

GENERAL: In accordance with the requirements of the circular of July 29, 1864, I have the honor to submit the following report for March, 1865:

The following changes occurred in my command: On March 10 the three companies of the First Connecticut Artillery returned from Fort Fisher, N. C. On March 21 Major-General Hartsuff, commanding Defenses of Bermuda Hundred, announced me as commander of the artillery brigade of his command. This added a light battery to my forces, and thus placed me in command of eighteen companies; aggregate, 2,700 men and 199 guns. Of these, eight companies were serving with the Army of the Potomac, and ten with the Army of the James. On March 28 Brevet Major-General Hunt ordered me to report temporarily for the former to Major-General Parke, commanding Ninth Corps. During the month I was detailed by Major-General Meade as a member of a board to examine certain officer of the Fifteenth New York Volunteer Engineers, and by Lieutenant-General Grant as a member of two boards, one to report upon Colonel Tal. P. Schaffner’s system of artillery mining, and the other upon Mr. R. L. Fleming’s incendiary shell. These boards all completed the work assigned them and adjourned.

The following exhibits the firing of my batteries during March: Coehorn mortar, 1,107 rounds; 8-inch mortar, 461 rounds; 10-inch mortar,

139 rounds; 30-pounder Parrott, 485 rounds; 4 1/2-inch ordnance, 342 rounds; making a total of 2,534 rounds, weighing about 25 tons, or at a rate of about 0.8 tons daily, an amount less than during any month of the siege.

On March 25 an event i which well illustrated the advantages of the system of fortifications adopted by Colonel Duane, chief engineer, Army of the Potomac. This system consists, in general terms, of a series of small field-works, capable of containing a battery of artillery and an infantry garrison of some 200 men each. They are closed at the gorge, well-protected with abatis or polishing, often supplied with bomb-proofs, and placed at intervals of about half a mile, on such ground as to well sweep the line on front with artillery fire. They are connected by strong, continuous infantry parapets, protected in front by obstacles. they differ from those of the rebel line chiefly in being closed at the gorge, which is rarely the case with the latter. Fort Stedman is one of the weakest and most ill-constructed works of the line, being not protected by abatis in rear, being masked omits right (just in rear of Battery Numbers 10) by a mass of bomb-proofs, rendered necessary by the terrible fire which has habitually had place in this vicinity, and being only about 200 yards distant from the enemy’s main line. The parapet had settled greatly during the winter, and, in fine, the work was very liable to being carried by a sudden assault. Company K, First Connecticut Artillery, served mortar batteries in Batteries 9 and 10, and Company L, First Connecticut Artillery, in Battery 12 and in Fort Haskell. At about 4 a. m. of march 25, three divisions of the rebels, under General Gordon, made a sudden and well-arranged attack upon this fort. It was a complete surprise, and was successful. Their columns simultaneously swept over the parapet between Stedman and Battery 9, over Battery 10, and over Battery 11, former in rear of the fort, and carried it almost without opposition. From that time to daylight a hand-to-hand fight raged among the bomb-proofs and on the flanks of the enemy’s position. He assaulted Fort Haskell again and again, but failed to carry it, or Battery Numbers 9, which, unlike the other named, is closed at the gorge. As soon as the light would admit, all my own artillery from Batteries 4, 5, 8, 9, and Fort Haskel, and all the light artillery which General Tidball, chief of artillery, Ninth Corps, could concentrate upon the position, opened and maintained a terrible fire upon the enemy. No re-enforcements could join them across the plain, owing to this fire; their own position was entailing deadly loss upon them. The reserves of the line were rapidly assembling, and finally, about 8 a. m., made a gallant charge, which resulted in the recovery of our works, all our artillery – even including my Coehorn mortars – and in capture of over 1,800 prisoners. The following extract from rebel papers show the effect of our artillery fire:

It was found that the inclosed works in the rear commanding the enemy’s main line could only be taken at a great sacrifice.

The enemy massed his artillery so heavily in the neighboring forts, and was enabled to pour such a terrible enfilading fire upon our ranks, that it was deemed best to withdraw.

The enemy enfiladed us from right and left in the captured works to such an extent that we could no longer hold them without the loss of many men, &c.

If the inclosed works on right and left had not fixed a limit beyond which the enemy could not extend, I think a great disaster might have i; as it was, my regiment’s loss was heavy, being about sixty men.

The remainder of the month was spent in cannonading and in placing guns for the great assault of April 2.

My address is, “Colonel First Connecticut Artillery, City Point, via Fort Monroe, Va.”

I am, general, very respectfully, &c.,

HENRY L. ABBOT,
Captain of Engineers and Bvt. Brigadier General of Volunteers.

Brigadier General RICHARD DELAFIELD,
Chief Engineer, U. S. Army.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pages 165-174

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