Today in History:

85 Series I Volume XLVI-II Serial 96 - Appomattox Campaign Part II


As an "arm of service" it has grown up from the modest beginnings, and every step in advance has been forced upon the different nations by the lessons of experience, from the time when each battalion had a company of grenadiers and one or two cannon hauled by hand or by contract until as at present it forms one of the most powerful and costly elements of an army: organized as a unit, commanded and administered by its own officers, specially educated and set apart for the purpose and distributed according to the wants of the service, under the special code which the nature, variety, and extent of its duties requires.

Our present organization or rather want of one, is a long stride toward the ancient system; although it does not divide the guns up among the battalions, it adopts that organization in principle, by considering the artillery as an integral portion of the division or brigade or other fraction of an army with which it serves. It thus breaks up the arm as a unit, deprives it of a uniform system of administration renders esprit de corps impossible, and subjects the army to the whims and caprices as well as the various systems, of as many officers as there are distinct army commands with batteries assigned to them.

The prevailing idea in our armies that artillery and engineer officers above the rank of captain are merely staff officers is the natural result of our organization, and has led to infinite mischief ot the service. It belongs to the same period and the some class of ideas which required that general officers should reside at general headquarters and be detailed by the roster for the direction of troops when work was to be done. In all other armies a juster knowledge now assigns general officers of all branches of the service to organized commands, and in ours infantry and cavalry generals are so assigned whilst the theory is still maintained that an artillery officer of rank cannot command artillery and if he does it must be as a staff officer, and his orders must be given in the name of some general officer outside the artillery to give them binding force. This has degraded the arm and deprived it of officers essential to its efficiency, driven many of the best of them from the service, deprived those who remained of promotion, and has led to a slur being officially cast on a whole class of officers as being useless in General Orders, Numbers 126, 1862, War Department, respecting field and staff officers of artillery.

There was at the beginning of this war a special reason for adopting an anomalous organization: there has been none for continuing it after that special reason disappeared. But few artillery officers, and those mostly of the lower grades, had been instructed in battery duties, not half a dozen of them had ever commanded artillery in battle. In the new requirements of artillery the field officers of volunteers were wholly uninstructed and it was deemed proper in the first months of active operations to give to the officers who had been instructed the command of the batteries on the field officers of volunteers were wholly uninstructed, and it was deemed proper in the first months of active operations to give to the officers who had been instructed the command of the batteries on the field. The duties of field officers or chief of artillery were made purely administrative. The batteries were assigned to divisions then 12,000 strong, giving four batteries-one regular and three volunteer-to each division the captain of the regular battery an instructed officer, commanding the four. As time passed, battles were fought, the regular captains were appointed to staff duties or otherwise promoted and removed from the artillery, the volunteer chiefs of artillery became instructed in their duties, the divisions were reduced in strength, half their batteries were withdrawn, and a reserve for the corps placed under the command of the chiefs of artillery the chief of artillery of the army being placed in command of the whole.