Thread: Horse Artillery
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Old 08-10-2019
Theodoric Theodoric is offline
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1862 Battle of Fredericksburg

FOUR MILES SOUTH of Fredericksburg, at the end of the battlefield tour road, stands a cannon-studded knoll known as Prospect Hill. Today the hill is a quiet, peaceful place, but 139 years ago it was the scene of a fierce duel between artillerists of the Blue and the Gray.

John F. Reynolds, commanding the Union army's 1st Corps, had orders to take the hill, a task he delegated to Gen. George G. Meade's division of Pennsylvania Reserves. As Meade aligned his men for the attack, Maj. John Pelham of the Confederate army brought forward a lone cannon and began shelling Meade's left flank. Union artillery drove away the annoying Confederate, allowing Meade to proceed with his attack.

Pelham's was not the only Confederate cannon on the field, however. Meade knew that the wooded ridge ahead harbored dozens of additional guns. Before ordering his troops to attack the forbidding heights, Meade resolved to knock out with artillery any Confederate guns that might be lurking there.

The bombardment began at 11 a.m. Meade opened with four batteries totaling 18 guns. Union artillery across the Rappahannock River on Stafford Heights added their weight to the attack. For an hour, wrote one witness, "the air was resonant with the savage music of shells and solid shot."

The Union gunners fired at a slow, steady rate. Three months earlier, at the Battle of Antietam, artillery chief Henry J. Hunt had watched in disapproval as gun crews rapidly fired off their ammunition so as to be able to leave the battlefield. He was not going to let that happen again. At Fredericksburg, he ordered his gun crews to fire no more than one round every three minutes. Firing at a more rapid pace, he sternly lectured, would be viewed as evidence of cowardice.

At the height of the bombardment, Hunt had as many as 60 guns in action. The shelling was impressive in terms of the noise and smoke it generated; however it failed to draw out and destroy Confederate artillery on the ridge. Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had approximately 50 guns on his portion of the line, but he had wisely ordered his men to withhold their fire until the Union army sent forward its infantry. Because Jackson's artillery did not reply to his bombardment, Wainwright could not tell where the Confederate guns were were, much less whether he had damaged any of them.

Jackson's gunners finally tipped their hand about noon. As Meade aligned his division for the attack, he pushed forward the 9th Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment as skirmishers. Capt. David G. McIntosh, commanding a Confederate artillery battery on Prospect Hill, watched breathlessly as the Union line approached.

"What an awful suspense these last moments are," he later recalled. "The gun is charged, lanyard in hand, the gunner at the trail, ammunition heaped in piles nearby, waiting for the order to fire. Minutes seem like hours. One holds his breath and then breathes hard. But at last the moment comes."

Eight hundred yards in front of the Confederate guns stood a lone tree. Southern artillerymen had precisely measured its distance and cut the time fuses on their exploding shells accordingly. When the Union line reached the tree, 14 guns let loose with a roar.

"From then on," McIntosh wrote, "it is load and fire, load and fire, as fast as sponge and rammer and lanyard can do their work, and as fast as muscle and skill and consuming zeal can direct and control"
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