Richmond Howitzers – Civil War service


The Howitzers, on April 19, 1861, went into quarters in the basement of the Spotswood Hotel, at the corner of Main and Eighth streets. On April 21 the company was mustered into the service of the State for one year.

On the same day, a Sunday, rumors had it that the Federal sloop Pawnee was on its way up the James to shell Richmond. Bells rang, whistles blew, and the Howitzers, with the Fayette Artillery, Richmond Grays, and Company F, were called out, and sent to Wilton’s Bluff, about eight miles down the river. The Pawnee never arrived, and after some target practice at Wilton’s, the Howitzers returned on the 23rd. “Pawnee Sunday,” however, was remembered for many years in Richmond. Soon after their return to the city, the Howitzers were sent to the artillery barracks, which had been established at Richmond College.

About May 3, 1861 Lieutenant Brown was ordered with the battery’s left section, which included the rifled piece, and forty-seven men, to Gloucester Point, where on May 7 they opened fire on the United States steamer Yankee. Only a few rounds were exchanged before the steamer withdrew, but they were apparently the first hosti1e shots of the war fired in Virginia.

The Howitzers increased in numbers, and during May 8-10, the command, now detached from the lst Regiment, was divided into three companies, forming the Howitzer Battalion under Major Randolph. The original company, reorganized on May 8 with the election of Captain John C. Shields, was thereafter known as the 1st Company. At this time, the battalion, less Lieutenant Brown’s detachment at Gloucester Point, was sent from Richmond College to a camp at Howard’s Grove. From there it was moved to Chimborazo Heights by May 21.

On May 24 the lst Company left Richmond by railroad, and reached Camp Pickens at Manassas Junction on the next day. The company on June 29 moved to Fairfax Court House, where they were attached to General Milledge L. Bonham’s Brigade, of the “advance forces,” Army of the Potomac. On July 17 they fell back and took up positions at Mitchell’s Ford on Bull Run. The four guns comprising the battery were placed so as to command the approach to the ford; and about 9:30 A. M. the company underwent their baptism of enemy artillery fire when Federal batteries opened up; but as the enemy did not move within the range of the Howitzers, the battery did not reply. This attack proved to be but a feint, as the main attack was launched at Blackburn’s Ford on the right, and within sight of the company. The battery remained in position at Mitchell’s Ford, and on July 21 stood by anxiously while the battle of First Manassas raged over on their left. After the retreat of the Federals began, the right section of the battery, under Lieutenant William P. Palmer, was sent with Bonham’s Brigade in pursuit to Centreville, but returned without having fired a shot.

On August 9 the lst Company was transferred to Brigadier General N. G. Evans’ Brigade, which it joined on the 10th at Leesburg, Loudoun County, and went into camp at nearby Mead’s Farm. Later, Lieutenant Edward S. McCarthy’s section moved to Big Spring on the other side of town. During August the sections of the battery went on several expeditions to harass the enemy in the vicinity of Lovettsville, White’s Ferry, and Point of Rocks. On October 9 Lieutenant Palmer’s right section was moved to Edwards’ Ferry road, near Fort Evans, where a rifled iron gun of the battery was posted. By this time the battery had been increased to six guns. Lieutenant Palmer’s section was ordered to Carter’s Mill on Goose Creek, October 17, but was soon afterwards returned to the Edwards’ Ferry road. Meanwhile, the left section participated in Ashby’s attack on Harpers Ferry. On November 17 Lieutenant Palmer was elected captain of the company, replacing Captain Shields, who was promoted to lieutenant colonel and sent to command Camp Lee at Richmond. In late December the company went into winter quarters, the right section erecting huts at Fort Evans, and the other two sections at Goose Creek.

About March 7, 1862 the forces at Leesburg, now under Brigadier General D. H. Hill, left the town and moved eastward to join the main army under General Johnson. In early April Johnston’s army moved out to join General Magruder’s forces on the Peninsula. The lst Company arrived in Richmond about April 10, and was encamped at Camp Lee, where its former captain, now Colonel Shields, provided them with a “long remembered” dinner, accompanied by a “fine flow of wits and spirits,” toasts, and speeches. Discipline was relaxed at Camp Lee, and the men were allowed to visit their families and friends in the city. Within a few days the company left by steamer down the James River for the Peninsula lines, where, during the attack on April 16, the battery was hurried into position at Dam No. 1, where it was exposed to severe artillery fire and sharpshooting. While at Dam No. 1 the twelve months enlistment period expired and the company was re-enlisted and reorganized. An election of officers was held, and lst Lieutenant McCarthy was elected captain. Captain Palmer, who desired to go on the medical staff of the army, did not seek re-election. On May 2 the artillery, moving in advance of the infantry, was withdrawn from the lines and on the 4th two pieces of the battery were placed at Fort Magruder, near Williamsburg. Here, on the 5th, they served in repelling the attack on General Longstreet’s command, serving as the rear guard for the army moving up the Peninsula toward Richmond. Firing next to the guns of the 1st Company were three pieces of the Richmond Fayette Artillery. At Williamsburg the lst Company acquired a 3-inch iron rifle which had been abandoned by the enemy.

After crossing the Chickahominy, the company went into camp near Richmond, and remained there until May 17 when they left for picket duty at Meadow Bridge, the Christian farm, the Friend House, and Garnett’s field. From the first two locations the battery delivered harassing fire against the Federals across the Chickahominy, and from Garnett’s two pieces participated in as much of the action of the battle of Seven Pines as occurred in that area.

During the Seven Days’ Battles the 1st Company served with Griffith’s Brigade, Magruder’s Division, to which it had previously been assigned. The company was under fire at Fair Oaks Station on June 29, but was not engaged. Three pieces of the battery were ordered to the front at Malvern Hill, and were engaged until their ammunition was exhausted. One 6-pounder was damaged by a 12-pounder solid shot, which struck the face of the muzzle, and several of the battery’s gun carriages were considerably damaged by shellfire.
In August the lst Company’s left section remained near Richmond waiting for new equipment while the right section, attached to Barksdale’s Brigade, McLaws’ Division, moved with Longstreet’s Corps to Gordonsville. It was not until after Second Manassas that the sections were united. The battery during the Maryland Campaign was reported as being comprised of two 10-pounder Parrotts and two 6-pounders. Only two pieces, however, were apparently brought into action on September 17 at Sharpsburg. These guns, served by one officer and thirty-two enlisted men, remained in line of battle all day, losing one killed and one wounded.

The artillery of Lee’s army was in poor condition after the Maryland Campaign, and the fall of 1862 was spent in rebuilding its strength. For some time the lst Company remained in camp near Culpeper Court House, and in November moved with Longstreet’s Corps to Fredericksburg. On December 13, the day of General Burnside’s attack, the two 10-pounder Parrotts were among the guns firing from the hill in rear of the Howison House, to the right of Marye’s Heights and the Telegraph Road. The battery’s two 6-pounders were in position, but were not engaged.

In the general reorganization of the artillery in April 1863, the four batteries of McLaws’ Division were formally organized into a battalion under Colonel Henry C. Cabell. On April 29 when part of Sedgwick’s Corps crossed the river below Fredericksburg, the battalion was in position on Lee’s Hill. On May 1, when it became apparent that the Federal main attack was in the direction of Chancellorsville, Major S. P. Hamilton, commanding the battalion, brought up the batteries of Captains McCarthy and Manly with the division. On May 2 they relieved Pegram’s Battalion on the turnpike within view of the Federals at Chancellorsville. Later in the day the line fell back, and after its re-establishment the battery’s two 6-pounders were ordered to the front. On the morning of the 3rd they were joined by the two Parrotts. Late, on the same day, the battery moved with the division to meet the threat, which had developed at Salem Church. The battery was again engaged on the 4th, and on the morning of the 5th reported to Kershaw’s Brigade for further duty. During the fighting at Chancellorsville the lst Company had two killed and two wounded.

After Chancellorsville, General Lee took the offensive, and on June 3 the lst Company, with Longstreet’s Corps, started on the march which would ultimately take them into Pennsylvania. The Potomac was crossed on June 26, and on July 1 they were encamped within a few miles of Gettysburg. The battery moved up with the division on the 2nd, and the rifle section commenced firing about 4:00 p.m., with the Napoleon section in reserve nearby. Two hundred rounds were fired, and both sections were exposed to the heaviest artillery fire they had ever experienced. Seven men were wounded, and the battery lost thirteen horses. The battery went into position on the morning of the 3rd, about 350 yards in advance of the skirmishers; and, firing twenty rounds succeeded in driving back a Federal advance. At 1:30 p.m. the battery, which had moved to another location, opened up in the general artillery fire preceeding Pickett’s assault. Both sections of the battery were engaged during the day. One of the rifles was disabled when a wheel was shot away, and a caisson had to be abandoned when its team was killed. The company lost two men killed and two wounded. Ten horses were killed on the 3rd. During July 2 and 3 the rifle section fired about 600 rounds, and the two Napoleons expended 264 rounds. On the return march to Virginia the battery went into Position at Hagerstown on the 6th, but was not engaged. During the period of inactivity following the Gettysburg Campaign, the company was encamped successively at Bunker Hill, near Winchester, Millwood, Gaines’ Cross Roads, and on July 25 arrived at Culpeper Court House. The severe winter of 1863-64 was spent at Morton’s Ford on the Rapidan.

Early on May 6, 1864 the lst Company moved with Cabell’s Battalion to Parker’s Store, and later in the day proceeded on to New Hope Church, as no suitable ground was found for their employment in the Wilderness. In the fighting at Spotsylvania Court House the battery was located on an elevated position on the left of Longstreet’s Corps, on the right of General Ewell. The fighting here on May 10 was about the bitterest yet experienced by the company. On one occasion the Federals broke through the lines, and, believing it was being flanked, the infantry fell back. Just at the right moment, Sergeant E. G. Steane, whose piece was on line with the infantry entrenchments, turned his gun and poured an enfilading fire of double canister into the Federal ranks, which, with the help of the infantry, drove the enemy back and restored the line.

The operations of the armies moved south toward Richmond, and on May 28 the company went into position 200 yards in front of Pole Green Church, Hanover County, on Totopotomoy Creek, where a considerable amount of skirmishing and sharpshooting took place. From this point the company moved south, across Old Church Road, to cooperate with Kershaw’s Division near Old Cold Harbor, where the battery was heavily engaged June 1-3, especially in the repulse of the Federal general assault on the 3rd. On June 4, while the battery was in position just east of Gaines’ Mill Pond, Captain McCarthy was instantly killed by a Minie ball through the head. The company remained with the battalion on the lines east of Richmond until about June 15, when they proceeded toward Petersburg, then under attack by General Grant.

During the operations around Petersburg the lst Company was encamped at the Dunn House, opposite Port Walthall Junction, about halfway between Richmond and Petersburg. The company was then under Captain Robert M. Anderson, and its battery at this time consisted of four 12-poundei Napoleons. During the winter of 1864-65 the battery saw little, if any, action. On the night of April 2, 1865 the lines at Richmond and Petersburg were evacuated. The battery’s horses were in bad condition, and many gave out by the time they reached Amelia Court House. The caissons were abandoned and destroyed, leaving the horses to be used as gun teams, which restricted the ammunition supply to that which could be transported in the limbers. At Amelia Court House Cabell’s batteries were placed in the advance of the artillery train under General Reuben L. Walker, and were not engaged until April 8 near Appomattox Station. Here, during a rest period when the teams were unhitched, the train was completely surprised by Federal cavalry. The guns were quickly unlimbered and loaded with canister, which, with the artillerymen now armed with muskets, drove away the attacking force. The column proceeded on towards Lynchburg, and, on April 10, upon learning of the surrender at Appomattox Court House, the guns were spiked and buried, the carriages and harness destroyed, and the 1st Company disbanded.


FROM: “The Richmond Howitzers” by Lee A. Wallace, Jr. (Virginia Regimental Histories Series)

 Posted by at 10:23 pm