Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cannoneers in Gray (revised ed.)


Of the three major combat arms, Civil War artillery is my favorite. Larry Daniel's Cannoneers in Gray : The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennesseeis a completely revised and updated edition of his earlier work of the same title. With the inclusion of more tables and new primary source material from both sides, this edition is a significantly better book.

Cannoneers in Gray is more of an organizational and logistical study than a combat history. Historians, buffs, and wargamers will appreciate the author's attention to detail in terms of orders-of-battle and battery compositions but one wishes Daniel had gone the extra mile and produced detailed maps and battery composition charts for all the major battles. As it is, you can amass a great deal of information from the notes, text, and tables but Daniel could have made this information collection easier for the reader to assemble. Although a bibliographic essay was included, a proper bibliography would have been helpful as well for those interested in further research. Overall, even with the book's many strengths, the picture is still in an incomplete state for the most demanding readers.

Many things strike you as you read the book, mainly how poorly equipped, organized, and supplied the Confederate batteries were in the western theater. Even by 1863, 85% of the Army of Tennessee's guns were either obsolete 6 lb. smoothbores or 12 lb. howitzers. It wasn't until the beginning of Sherman's Atlanta campaign that all the 6 lb. guns were exchanged with Napoleons. It was also at this time, with the arrival of Joseph E. Johnston to army command, that Daniel believes the Army of Tennessee finally achieved a viable artillery organization that could achieve concentration of fire on the battlefield.

The complete inability to create a regulation reserve of fixed artillery rounds was appalling as well, ranging from 1/3 to 1/2 of what was common for Union guns. This severely hampered training and battlefield performance. Defective shells and fuses were the rule rather than the exception. In one action, a Union artillerist noted that 128 Confederate shells passed near his position with only 19 bursting. As with many Confederate units of all arms, the lack of replacements for manpower and horse losses was even more keenly felt in the artillery, where they were crippling for the batteries's mobility and fighting ability on and off the battlefield. All this makes me wish Daniel had included a more indepth comparison of these problems with those of the eastern artillery arm of the Confederacy and also of their Union opponents. (btw, there was an interesting article about Confederate artillery shells at Gettysburg written by Richard Rollins and published in North and South Magazine, the exact issue escapes me.)

(P.S. Ha...by an odd coincidence, it appears Brett Schulte and I were reading and writing blog entries about the different editions of this book at the same time. For his comments on the first edition go here.)

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