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Thread: Pelham’s Battery

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    Pelham’s Battery

    Eight cannoneers are needed to fire a cannon. Five men work the gun—the Gunner (G) and Cannoneers 1, 2, 3, 4.

    The Gunner is in charge of the piece, gives the commands and does the aiming. Cannoneer 1 handles the sponge-rammer, pushing the ammunition down the barrel and washing the bore after every shot. Number 2 loads the ammunition and uses the worm to clear debris. Number 3 thumbs the vent and uses the priming wire to puncture the powder bag. Number 4 places the friction primer and pulls the lanyard to fire the gun.

    Cannoneer 5 runs the ammunition from the limber to the gun. Cannoneers 6 and 7 prepare ammunition and cut the fuses.
    Coming Soon ...

    During the Maryland Campaign, Pelham’s Battery was comprised of two sections and equipped with six guns: an 1857 Model Napoleon, a Blakely, and four 3-in. Ordnance Rifles. The Napoleon sports a bronze smoothbore barrel, firing 12.3lb. projectiles at a range of up to 1,600 yards at five degrees elevation. The Blakely was probably a 12-pound model, which fires 10lb. projectiles at a range of up to 1,800 yards at five degrees elevation. The 3-in. Ordnance Rifle is of wrought-iron manufacture, capable of firing 9.5lb. projectiles at a range of up to 1,800 yards at five degrees elevation.

    There were four types of ammunition: Solid Shot—cast iron with no explosives. Shell—a hollow projectile filled with powder that exploded by an impact or timed fuze. Case—hollow shell filled with powder and several round balls that exploded in all directions. Canister—artillery round containing 27 golf ball-sized iron shot packed into a tin can that ripped open at the muzzle, showering approaching troops. Canister was generally reserved for use at close range, 100 to 300 yards. The Ordnance Department recommended that batteries carry eight solid shots, sixteen spherical case shots, four shells, and four canister rounds.

    Artillery was both a science and an art. Artillerists became expert at estimating distances, cutting fuses, and gauging the effects of wind and terrain, but other factors impaired their precision. Confederate arsenals were notoriously unreliable, and the "Long Arm" of the Confederate armies complained incessantly of poor quality powder, "worthless friction primers," and "entirely worthless" paper fuses. A variation in the amount of gunpowder alone could affect the distance of a shot by 161 feet. The famous Washington Artillery was once reported to have missed 70% of shots taken at an 8' x 12' target at 1,300 yards, likely on account of inconsistent powder. Capt. Overton Barret reported that all of the seventy-six spherical cases fired by his Missouri Battery in one engagement had burst prematurely. In October 1861, Gen. Magruder wrote Gen. Gorgas from Yorktown that about half the shells fired by his command exploded at the guns’ muzzle. An Artillerist at the Battle of Chancellorsville estimated only one out of every fifteen of the shells that were fired by his gun exploded at all.

    Stand firmly by your cannon, Let ball and grape-shot fly, And trust in God and Davis But keep your powder dry.

    —Confederate stationary imprint, 1861


    At Fox’s Gap, Pelham’s Battery placed two guns in the corner of a field to the right of Col. Thomas L. Rosser’s line of (severely understrength) 5th Va. Cavalry. Pelham’s Battery defended this position all afternoon, frequently with canister shot, and acted as rear-guard on the Old Sharpsburg Road to Boonsboro.


    Pelham’s Battery occupied Nicodemus Hill from 6 PM on September 16th until approximately 7 AM on September 17. One historian considered this the most "skillfully placed in probably the most effective position of any single Confederate battery on the field." Another historian wrote, "[Pelham's] guns are positioned squarely on the flank of Hooker’s assault [on the cornfield]. Seldom does artillery find itself with such a target of opportunity, and Pelham is not one to neglect it. For nearly ninety minutes, his batteries rain shot and shell on the hapless Federals." Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson concurred, delegating a number of his batteries to Pelham's command for the remainder of the battle.

    It was a grand and inspiring sight to witness batteries going headling into action—the neighing of horses, the rumbling of caissons, the halt, the furious cannonade, the officers on their charges with swords gleaming in the sunlight, with buglers clanging out the orders, the passing of ammunition, the ramming, the sighting, the firing, and the swabbing, the guns booming in chorus like heaven-rending thunder.

    —Pvt. Edward Spangler, 130th Pennsylvania Infantry
    The Federal advance was finally screened by the West Woods at around 7:30 AM. Pelham’s Battery relocated to Hauser’s Ridge. This, too, was considered an excellent position and the improvised artillery line formed there was credited by Union Brig. Gen. Willis Gorman with stalling his advance, "although the firing was not so rapid, it was most deadly, and at very close range. We also had to stand the most terrific fire of grape and canister, which told fearfully on the three right regiments of the brigade."

    I wish to say that soon after taking this last position [Hauser's Ridge] we were joined by that gallant and brave artillery officer, Major Pelham of Stuart's Horse Artillery, who remained with us throughout the day working at one of our guns as a gunner, and by his conduct and bravery greatly assisted us in repulsing every charge made against our battery, and that they were very frequent.

    —Pvt. John W. Bryan, Garber's Battery
    At approximately 4 PM, Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson ordered Gen. J.E.B. Stuart to reconnoiter McClellan's right. Major Pelham and his ad hoc command reoccupied Nicodemus Hill and Pelham personally led three of his guns and four belonging to Rockbridge Light Artillery's north from Nicodemus, against the protests of Captain Poague who, like Pelham, saw very clearly Federal batteries in the vicinity outnumbered their own 4:1. Pelham laughingly responded, "Oh, we must stir them up a little and slip away." The teams and limbers got bogged down in the plowed field and required assistance from the 13th Virginia Infantry to haul the guns into place on the slope west of Nicodemus Farm. From this position, Pelham's guns fired double-canister directly into the 19th Massachusetts Infantry. Opposing Federal artillery was sufficiently "stirred up" and Poague recorded tersely in his after-action report, "[We were] silenced in fifteen or twenty minutes by a most terrific fire from a number of the enemy's batteries." The Confederate artillerists quickly limbered and made-off for good cover. Pelham reported to Stuart, "We stirred them up, alright—and found a hornet's nest."

    So far as I know, there are no reports of losses by Pelham's Battery during the Maryland Campaign. Lt. Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson wrote of Pelham, " is really extraordinary to find such nerve and genius in a mere boy. With a Pelham on each flank I believe I could whip the world." J.E.B. Stuart wrote in his after action report:
    The gallant Pelham displayed all those noble qualities which have made him immortal. He had under his command batteries from every portion of General Jackson’s command. The batteries of Poague, Pe-gram, and Carrington (the only ones which now recur to me) did splendid service, as also did the Stuart Horse Artillery, all under Pelham. The hill, held on the extreme left so long and so gallantly by artillery alone, was essential to the maintenance of our position.

    —Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart

    The historical information, maps, artwork, etc. I have used here has been gleaned from several sources...

    The Perfect Lion: The Life and Death of Confederate Artillerist John Pelham by Jerry H. Maxwell
    To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 by David S. Hartwig
    Artillery Hell: The Employment of Artillery at Antietam by Curt Johnson and Richard C. Anderson, Jr.
    Antietam, South Mountain, & Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide by Ethan S. Rafuse
    Galloping Thunder: The Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion by Robert J. Trout
    The Antietam Campaign by Gary W. Gallagher
    Artillery At Antietam, National Park Service
    Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry J. Daniel
    The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy by Bell Irvin Wiley
    General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse by Joseph Glatthaar
    American Battlefield Trust
    Staff Ride Guide: Battle of Antietam by Ted Ballard
    The Strangest Race by Mort Künstler

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    I wish you guys good luck and the best, great group of people here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KyPatriot View Post
    I wish you guys good luck and the best, great group of people here.

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