Questions Concerning Weapons and Ammunition in the Gettysburg Campaign – Part 2

On June 10, one day after the fight at Brandy Station, General Pleasonton issued two orders to his horse artillery commanders, telling them to “send in their requisitions for ammunition, ordinance stores and horses and take every other means in their power to put their batteries [in] condition to take the field, thoroughly equipped on the shortest notice.” He followed up with another order, telling his battery commanders to report as soon as possible “the kinds of ammunition used, the working of different kinds of ammunition during the engagement yesterday, and also any other information that will be of service to the Chief of Artillery. They will also report what ammunition they considered best adapted to the service of the three-inch Ordinance gun, with the advantages and disadvantages of each and whether in their opinion it would be advisable to attach two more horses to each carriage of Horse Artillery.” If the battery commanders made such reports, I have not found them, and the pandemic prevented me from looking for them before my book went to press.

Likewise, cavalry officers inspected their men and compiled requisitions for equipment lost or damaged during the battle. Indicative of the carbine shortage I mentioned in my last post, an official at the arsenal told the commander of the 8th New York, “We have…shipped you…sixteen boxes of repaired arms.”

General Ripley then filled a requisition from General Buford for “100,000 Colts Army cartridges, 1188 3” percussion Schenkel shells, 306 Hotchkiss 3” case shot and 100 rounds of 3” canister. I think we can, with confidence, look at Ripley’s message, as far as it goes, as reflecting Buford’s ammunition expenditure at Brandy Station. In other words, Ripley only mentions artillery ammunition and pistol cartridges. But then Ripley tells a subordinate to send Buford “500 carbines and accoutrements and 100,000 rounds for the same.”

Beyond now having a sense of the carbine ammunition expended by his men, what might we make of Buford’s need for 500 carbines. He reported taking 2061 men into battle from the 1st Division and 1857 men from the Reserve Brigade, or 3918 men combined. He also counted total casualties of 471 men. If he needed 500 carbines, then every casualty represented a lost weapon, with another 29 thrown in for good measure. Looking at it another way, one man in eight lost or damaged his weapon for one reason or another during the fight. I have not found similar information for either Gregg’s or Duffie’s brigades, but Gregg reported 370 casualties in his division and Duffie incurred about 24. Building from Buford’s carbine loss, the corps may have lost 900 carbines.

Going back to Ripley’s message, the general gives another vital piece of information, telling his subordinate to, “take the carbines from the best kinds you have on hand.” Because Buford’s Division included the 8th New York, Ripley then clarified the problem in a message to one of Buford’s aides, “Have no Sharps carbines but will send the best on hand.”

One of the most pernicious Gettysburg myths is that Buford’s men carried the revolutionary new Spencer repeating carbines during their July 1 stand against Southern infantry. In truth, the Spencer carbine was still months away from production and distribution to the Cavalry Corps. But with Ripley’s statements in hand, we should begin to understand that Buford’s men not only did not have the Spencer, but they could not get the very reliable Sharps to replace the weapons lost in the June fighting.

I believe the odd weapons, or “the best on hand,” went to the 3rd West Virginia of Colonel Devin’s Brigade. The June 30 return shows the loyal Virginians carrying only Smith and Gallagher carbines. Exactly when the replacement weapons arrived is unknown, but the 3rd Quarter returns show the regiment carrying a diverse mix of weapons, including 1 Sharps, 63 Burnsides, 93 Gallaghers, 70 Smiths and 50 French Rifles.

Consider the logistical nightmare such variety created. The Gallagher and Smith carbines were both .50 caliber, but fired different cartridges, with the Smith using a rubber cartridge and the Gallagher employing three different cartridges, including brass, paper, and tin. The Sharps was .52 caliber with a paper cartridge, and the Burnside .54 caliber with a brass cartridge. Some employed a percussion cap and others percussion tape. And then there are the 50 French Rifles.

General Ripley also sent a message to the arsenal in New York, directing that the 1,000 Burnside carbines held there be sent to Washington “at once by railroad.” Once they arrived, at least 500 went to Gen. Julius Stahel’s Division.

Beyond weapons, the Cavalry Corps also needed saddles. As of June 13, the Washington Arsenal had two orders outstanding, including 727 saddles needed for the 16th Pennsylvania, in Duffie’s 3rd Division and another 362 saddles for men in Gregg’s 2nd Division. The Pennsylvanians had missed the fight at Brandy Station because of the shortage, and while the saddles had been ordered from an arsenal in Pennsylvania no one knew when they would reach Washington. But quality had also become a concern, as Pleasonton told Meigs after the fighting in the Loudoun Valley. Complaining that saddles from a manufacturer in New York ruined “the backs of the horses,” Pleasonton asked to “have saddles from other contractors” sent to the corps.

Amid the efforts to resupply the cavalry, the Army of the Potomac began abandoning the supply depots in the Falmouth area around June 13. With the cavalry moving along the army’s western flank and uncertainty as to where new temporary depots would be established, some equipment went into storage, as the colonel of the 17th Pennsylvania learned when he requested carbines.

The sudden move, as well as the critical need for equipment, appears to have created other confusion. On June 12, Army of the Potomac quartermaster Rufus Ingalls queried the senior officers at the Washington and Alexandria depots regarding a missing barge carrying needed weapons and saddles.  The next day, officers also began searching for “100,000 rounds of Sharps ammunition that had been shipped by rail on May 23.” The ammunition had been sent for Buford’s command and remained missing days later.

On June 20, just after the fighting at Aldie and Middleburg and the day before the fight at Upperville, one of General Gregg’s staff officers requested “160,000 Sharps carbine rounds, 126,000 Burnside carbine rounds, 42,000 Smith carbine rounds and 260,000 Colts pistol cartridges and 300,000 carbine caps. His requisition gives us a sense of the ammunition his division had expended on June 17, 18, and 19.

The same day, Marsena Patrick, the army’s provost marshal, sent a request to his counterpart in Alexandria, seeking volunteers to fill vacancies in Lt. Samuel Elder’s Battery E, 4th U.S. Artillery and Capt. Joseph Martin’s 6th Independent New York Artillery. Both batteries had been heavily involved in the fight at Brandy Station, and Martin needed 20 men to fill vacancies and Elder needed 12 men. Patrick looked to fill the vacancies with “prisoners under sentence of General Court-Martials.” Neither battery participated in the Loudoun Valley fighting, but Martin had reported nine men wounded and twelve missing at Brandy Station while Elder had reported no casualties. Thus, Martin’s request matches his reported casualties rather nicely while Elder may have been looking to replace men whose enlistments had expired.

Two days later, after the fight at Upperville, General Ripley again confirmed that he had “No carbines on hand,” and could not advise “when there will be any.” He also told a subordinate to “Repair the old horse equipments as well as you can,” by using up “old material” and stripping parts from unrepairable equipment. Then, as though a messenger had just given him an update on the situation, he told the officer to send saddles and other horse equipment “just as they are without repairs.”

On July 4, Meade’s ordnance officer requested “200,000 Sharps carbine cartridges, and 100,000 Colt’s pistol cartridges.” Two days later, General Ripley told the officer, “49 [train carloads of ammunition] have left this place for Westminster… the remaining ten carloads have not yet left the depot.” On July 8, the same officer gave a more complete list of the ammunition needed by the Cavalry Corps, to include, “150,000 Sharps carbine cartridges, 25,000 Merrill’s, 40,000 Sharps & Hankins & 50,000 Burnside. 100,000 Colt’s Army pistol cartridges & 30,000 Colt’s Navy, 300,000 pistol & 400,000 carbine percussion caps.” Combined, the requests give us a starting point from which to estimate ammunition expended by the corps at Gettysburg.

The earliest request for Spencer ammunition I have found is from the end of July. The date precludes a direct link to the battle itself, but rather later actions, after which the Michigan Brigade needed “100,000 Colt’s Navy pistol cartridges, 200,000 pistol caps, 25,000 Spencer Rifle cartridges and 500 sets of horse equipments complete.”

Without belaboring the point, I hope you have a better sense of the supply situation within the Cavalry Corps during the campaign and appreciate that Pleasonton’s men did not enjoy the overabundance of the best equipment often represented. Southern cavalry suffered from all the same problems and with fewer solutions but digging into the details for Stuart’s command is nearly impossible, as the records simply do not exist to the same extent.


Unpublished documents from the National Archives

Benjamin Crowninshield, A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers

Andrew Lustyik, Civil War Carbines, From Service to Sentiment

Peters Schiffers, Civil War Carbines, Myth vs Reality

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