A Regimental History of the Civil War Years

The beginning of the American Civil War found the Regular Army dispersed widely around the boundaries of the United States, on the seaboards and on the frontier. None of the artillery units were available, except those that had been posted in or around the Washington environs, such that the first major engagements were conducted, for the most part, without Regular artillery.

With the appointment of Major General George B McClellan to command of the Army of the Potomac, all the Regular batteries were called in, including 2nd US, battery B. Unfortunately, pre-war financial restraints had precluded Battery B from attaining its full compliment, a common affliction for Regular companies in that era, so Battery B was amalgamated with Battery L as a horse artillery company under the command of Captain Roberston. The joint battery was assigned to the Artillery Reserve, then under the control of Colonel (later Brigadier General) Barry.

The Battery's first war service came during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862. Disembarking at Fortress Monroe, the Battery took part in the siege of Yorktown, and thence in the pursuit of Johnson's rebels up the Peninsula and at the Battle of Williamsburg, under temporary attachment to Stoneman's Cavalry Division. Further retreats by the rebels led the Battery on to the outskirts of Richmond itself. At this time, the Battery was re-assigned to V Corps, under Major General Porter on the right wing of the army.

Thus, Battery B/L was in the thick of the fighting during the Seven Days fighting. With the major engagements of Mechanicsville and Gaines Mill, the Battery aided in the repulse of successive assaults by the divisions of A P Hill, R S Ewell, G Pickett, D H Hill and T Jackson, then J Longstreet. The Battery returned to the Artillery Reserve and formed up with that great unit, now commanded by Henry Hunt, in the great rebel repulse at the Battle of Malvern Hill, where serried ranks of artillery beat off successive rebel assaults, inflicting the usual crop of heavy casualties which accompanied the attacks of Robert E Lee.

There now followed a period of relative quiet as the Army of the Potomac was shifted north to come under the command of Major General John Pope in the disastrous Second Bull Run campaign. Battery B/L took no part in that campaign, but was on hand in the Artillery Reserve for the upcoming Antietam Battle.

However, only one section of the Battery got into action, supporting the division of General Richardson after the failure of II Corps to achieve a lodgement on the rebel left during the morning assaults. Poor organisation and general timidity on the part of McClellan left the remainder of the Battery in the Artillery Reserve Park for the duration of the battle.

The Battery took part in the bombardment of Fredericksburg, prior to the infantry assaults, and provided artillery support to the Right Grand Division in its futile assaults against Marye's Heights.

With Capt. Robertson now promoted to Brigade Command, and even temporary Artillery Reserve command, Battery B/L, now commanded by Lieutenant Heaton, was in the Artillery Reserve park at Gettysburg, moving out onto the firing line during the repulse of Pickett's Charge, the second time that the Battery had been in action against that luckless General.

The Battery was now re-assigned to the Cavalry Corps, whence its greater mobility as horse artillery could best be utilised. They saw action at the Wilderness/Spotsylvania/Cold Harbor campaign. Following the stalemate situation that ensued, the Battery was sent with Sheridan to drive the rebels out of the Shenandoah Valley, pursuing Early's Corps down the Valley to final destruction at Cedar Creek.

Returning to the Army of the Potomac with Sheridan, the Battery took part in the Siege of Petersburg. With Sheridan in the final months of the War, Battery B/L took part in the Battle of Five Forks, racking up the hat-trick of victories over George Pickett, and thence in the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia to its final surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Battery B/L took its place in line during the Grand Review in Washington, and its Civil War Years came to an end. From start to finish, Battery B/L was armed with the ultimate muzzle-loading field artillery piece, the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.

And the Regular Army was dispersed once again around the seaboards and along the frontiers.

Gordon Clifford, 2nd Lt. & Adjutant 2nd US Artillery, Battery B

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, June 1998