The Battle of Monterey Pass: Artillery Hell at Monterey Pass

Over the last few years, I have had a lot of great artillery questions asked by visitors to the Monterey Pass Battlefield. Enthusiasts who are starting to learn more about the Civil War or the Battle of Monterey Pass are surprised, and often confused about the terminology of the artillery. Many of the questions relate to the organization of the artillery during the Pennsylvania Campaign. One thing to keep in mind is that all batteries in the Union Army during this time frame of the Civil War contained the same type of cannon. Meaning, one battery may be armed with all 10 lb. Parrot Rifles or all 12 lb. Napoleons, ect… In the Confederate Army, the idea of two types of guns, usually two rifled and two smoothbore made up the battery. But this was not always followed. There are a few batteries that contained four of the same gun.

Because of the viewed effectiveness of massed artillery utilized by Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolution, as well as by the Confederate Army during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, and the sweeping victory against General John Pope at Second Manassas, it was deemed necessary to revitalize and wholly implement this style of artillery organization. This style of massed artillery was referred to as an artillery battalion. An artillery battalion could be made up of four to five batteries and was commanded by a senior ranking officer such as a major or a lieutenant colonel. If a portion of the battle line was in peril, guns from the artillery battalion could quickly come to their aid. Translated into simpler terms, each infantry division would be assigned an artillery battalion.

From this divisional artillery battalion, batteries or sections could be sent to aid and support infantry brigades. The reorganization would also allow for fresh batteries to be exchanged for depleted ones, thus giving the depleted batteries time to re-supply and refit. This method of circulation would render a constant flow of unmolested batteries that could be put into service when needed.

An artillery reserve would be utilized for the circulation of fresh batteries to the battlefront and batteries could be easily transferred around a battlefield and those sections were commanded by a lieutenant. Several artillery battalions would be kept within the artillery reserve for emergency purposes. Where the Union artillery reserve could be tapped by any infantry unit in need, a corps commander was needed to authorize usage of the Confederate artillery reserve.

An artillery battery (usually 4 guns Confederate and 6 guns Union) would be divided into sections, typically 2 guns Confederate and 3 guns Union, and those sections were commanded by a lieutenant who relayed orders from the captain commanding the battery. Firing styles in a battery were very simple; you could fire by piece, by section, or by battery.

So how did the gun detachment work? Nine men, including the gunner, are necessary for the service of a field piece. Cannoneers 1,2,3 and 4 are positioned around the gun and service the piece. Cannoneer 5 receives the round from the Cannoneer 7 and carries it to the gun. Cannoneers 6 and 7 prepare ammunition and fused rounds. Cannoneer 8, or Chief of the Caisson, prepares rounds from the three limber chests located on the caisson when necessary. The Gunner, a corporal (G) relays commands to the detachment and points the piece. When, from necessity, the detachment consists of less than nine, the higher numbers are struck out, and additional duties are imposed upon those remaining.

The field artillery fired four basic types of ordinance. Solid shot was made of solid iron that does not explode. This type of ammunition is meant to roll and skip along the ground, breaking battle formations or smashing through buildings. Another type of projectile is that of shell. Shell is a hollow iron shell that is filled with a bursting charge that, when fused, will explode at a predetermined time and yardage. Case has a slightly thinner shell wall than a shell round and is filled with lead musket balls packed in a sulfuric resin mixture that aided in the bursting process. This round was fused and made to explode over the heads of the enemy, raining down its contents. The last type of ammunition was canister. Canister was comprised of a tin can filled with twenty-seven 1.25 inch round balls packed in sawdust. This round essentially turned the cannon into a giant shotgun.

There were two types of cannon used during the Battle of Monterey Pass. The lone Confederate cannon was called a Model 1857 Light 12 lb. Gun Howitzer or better known as the 12 lb. Napoleon. The tube is made of bronze and the gun itself fires a 12 lb. solid shot. The ammunition is fixed, meaning that the 2.5 pound powder charge of black powder is attached to the projectile. The maximum range for this smoothbore cannon is about 2,000 yards. The smoothbore cannon at Getttysburg are indentifiled, among those those cannon that are turning green. The greenish patena on the bronze is a reaction of years of exspoure to the elements of weather.

The Union artillery that was with Kilpatrick’s cavalry division that night all had the 3-Inch Rifle. The tube on this gun was made of iron, firing an unfixed 10 pound solid shot with a 1 pound powder charge. The powder bag was inserted first into the tube and then rammed to the rear of the tube. After this was done, the projectile was then introduced and rammed. This was done because the rifling in the barrel often ripped the powder bags. The maximum range of the projectile was about 3,000 yards. If you were to take a drive on the battlefied at Gettysburg all of the black painted barrels of a cannon are rifled. Rifled defines the groves that are cut into the barrel where as a smoothbore, the name itself defines the type of gun. For accuracy, think of the difference between a soccer ball vs. a football. Which one is more accurate at a longer range. If you guessed the football you are correct and the same concept would apply to a projectile being shot from a cannon. The peice being fired from a rifled cannon would go a greater distance, because the rifling of the gun would give the projectile a definitive spiral, much like a football when it is thrown.

During the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 4th, the artillery was to play a crucial role, giving support to the cavalry and infantry escorting the wagons into Maryland. Confederate General William Jones’ had the 1st Rockbridge Artillery, Chew’s Battery and Mooreman’s Battery to aide him if needed. As the wagon train made its way through South Mountain, a section of the 1st Rockbridge Artillery positioned itself at Monterey Pass. One gun took to the heights of Clermont Craig, overlooking Monterey Pass as well as Waynesboro. The second piece was positioned behind the toll house near the barn. As the day progressed, these guns were recalled and ordered to be deployed at Burns Hill in Waynesboro.

During the afternoon of July 4th, Chews Battery was parked at the intersection of Iron Springs Road waiting for the rear of the wagons to pass by. A section of Mooreman’s Battery was ordered to Jacks Mountain, while the other section remained near Fairfield. Eventually two guns of Mooreman’s Battery made their way to Fairfield Gap, guarding the entrance of that intersection.

It was just by luck that Captain William Tanner, who commanded the Courtney Henrico Artillery was to assist in protecting General John Imboden’s wagon train at Cashtown. Tanner ended up at Monterey Pass by following Ewell’s wagon train from Black Horse Tavern rather then going to Cashtown. Tanner was asked to haul two additional Napoleons in addition to his battery that contained 3-inch rifles. Arriving at Monterey Pass, and seeing that there was no artillery support on the eastern edge of South Mountain, he ordered one gun to be placed in the middle of the Emmitsburg and Waynesboro Turnpike. He then ordered the other four 3-inch rifles and the remaining Napoleon to Waynesboro. The limber chest contained only a few rounds of canister.

While the Confederate Army began its withdraw from Gettysburg, General Judson Kilpatrick was ordered to Emmitsburg to pick up a brigade of cavalry and additional artillery for support. Kilpatrick already had with him, First Lieutenant Samuel Sherer Elder’s Battery E, 4th US Artillery that contained four 3-inch rifles, and First Lieutenant Alexander C. M. Pennington’s Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery that contained six 3-inch rifles. At Emmitsburg, Kilpatrick acquired First Lieutenant William Duncan Fuller’s, Battery C, 3rd US Artillery that contained six 3-inch rifles which was not engaged at the Battle of Gettysburg. Upon leaving Emmitsburg, Kilpatrick’s horse artillery now consisted of three batteries for a total of sixteen cannon.

Kilpatrick’s cavalry came into contact with a local farmer by the name of Charles Buhrman. This meeting was a stroke of luck for Kilpatrick, because he now knew where on South Mountain that the Confederate wagon train was located. With the weather conditions worsening, Kilpatrick’s cavalry rode upon the narrow, winding road that led to Monterey Pass. It was noted that if they came under attack, the landscape would not allow Kilpatrick to deploy even one of his artillery guns. The muddy road was very narrow with Monterey Peak to his right and a very steep ravine to his left. At nine in the evening on July 4th, the head of Kilpatrick’s cavalry made the last turn approaching the summit when a flash appeared in the midst of the darkness followed by a loud boom.

Captain William Tanner had heard the movements of the Union cavalry and ordered his gun to load a double round of canister. After the first shot was fired, those weary Union cavalry soldiers knew a major fight was going to occur. Captain Tanner then ordered several more rounds of canister to be fired until a small portion of the 1st Maryland Cavalry under Captain George Emack charged the Union horsemen. Once the initial charge was over, Emack ordered his cavalry to pull back from the eastern summit to the Monterey House. Tanner, unaware of Emack’s withdraw, was forced to save his gun at the last minute during the second Union cavalry assault. Once Tanner’s men pulled back from the position, the limber was captured by the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Realizing that he has no ammunition, Tanner pulls his cannon back several hundred yards near the intersection of the wagon train. Tanner will have a fresh supply of ammunition as General Rodes’ divisional ordinance wagons were entering the turnpike. Tanner’s cannon will command the bridge, keeping the Union cavalry of General Custer’s Brigade from crossing and forcing his battle line to stall.

Meanwhile, Kilpatrick had already sent a small portion of the 1st Michigan Cavalry to attack the Confederate right that was holding Fairfield Gap. There, they were met with the most fearful fire from a section of Mooreman’s guns. The Battle of Monterey Pass raged into the dark hours of July 5th. Mooreman’s Battery, along with additional Confederate cavalry pushed the 1st Michigan back, securing the Fairfield Gap and saving those wagons from certain destruction.

While Tanner held the extreme left of the Confederate battle line at Monterey Pass, Kilpatrick ordered a section from Pennington’s Battery to deploy and fire on the Confederate lines. Since the right could not be turned, Kilpatrick needed to punch through Monterey Pass, thus his two 3-inch rifles soon began to open fire. As this ammunition exploded in the air, the light of the explosion illuminated the ground. By this point in time, from the weather, and the darkness the battle was being fought in between lightning strikes and the flashes from the muzzle of small arms.

Tanner kept his fire hot, and the 1st West Virginia, who were ordered to the front, thought that there was a full battery firing into the Union lines. Once the order to charge came, Tanner fired his piece one last time and soon after the cannon was captured by the West Virginians, who tumbled it down a steep embankment. As the West Virginians, followed by the Michiganers, began charging on the turnpike, Pennington’s Battery sends a section to the intersection to fire on the incoming wagons. Case shot was still exploding in the air.

More Confederate reinforcements arrived, including Chew’s Battery who had made their way from Fairfield Gap to Monterey. Once into position they deployed and began firing. Kilpatrick, realizing that he was in a very dangerous position ordered his reserves forward, down South Mountain, ending the battle upon the summit. The battle would now carry into Waterloo and end in Maryland near Ringgold.


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