Recap: Bull Runnings Artillery Tour 10/20/2018

28 10 2018

On Saturday, October 20, 2018, about 23 tourists (I think – my muster sheet slid down a storm drain in Winchester, VA on the way home…really) formed up outside the Manassas National Battlefield Park visitor center for a tour of the use of artillery at the First Battle of Bull Run. This was the third of what I hope will be many battlefield tours I’ve organized and will organize through this site, and I took a bigger role in guiding this one than I did in the first two, but the real artillery expert on hand was Craig Swain of To the Sound of the Guns. Craig and I really focused on laying this one out (we even used an OUTLINE!) and I think it turned out great. We even finished on time!

In brief, our format from stop to stop was for me, through the use of after action reports (AAR), letters, memoirs, and congressional testimony, to describe how the actors got to that spot and what they did there. Then Craig went into the deep detail of artillery tactics and use, gun production, and options available and not available. For that last bit, Craig provided graphics exhibiting elevations and ranges of what could and could not be seen (and therefore possibly struck) from various positions on the field.

We didn’t cover all the artillery involved, and focused on the Federal batteries of Griffin, Ricketts, and Reynolds and the Confederate batteries of Imboden and those comprising Jackson’s gun line.

We started of on Henry Hill (aka Henry House Hill). I gave a little overview of what we were going to talk about – and why – and in itinerary, which was pretty simple. We only had two driving stops off of Henry Hill. At Ricketts’s guns, Craig went over the different types of cannons used during this battle, the types of projectiles and how they worked and were used, and the overall “mission” of artillery. He also discussed the different manuals in use at the time (and shortly thereafter). After that, I talked about the opening of the battle with the 30 pdr Parrott rifle under the command of Peter Hains. (Click on the images for larger versions.)

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Pre-Tour Selfie on Henry HIll

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Craig makes a point (photo credit Paul Errett)

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I point (photo credit Paul Errett)

 

 

Next stop was Reynolds’s guns on Henry Hill. I read from a letter by a member of the battery, , and Craig described the notion of a Napoleonic “artillery charge,” the “staying power” of guns on line, and fire effect on infantry.

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We assemble at Reynolds’s guns on Matthews Hill

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Traditional Tour Group Photo – Reynolds’s guns, Matthews Hill

Then we went somewhere I had not been before, Dogan’s Ridge, which was the first position of Ricketts’s and Griffin’s guns. I covered the stories of Griffin and Ricketts, and then Craig broke out the graphics and discussed line of sight, training, projectile and fuse selection, and other position options available. I really enjoyed this part of the tour, and am pretty sure not too many artillery tours of First Bull Run have covered this spot. It’s a cool place with a great perspective – you should go there next time you’re at the field.

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We move from the John Dogan house (not the wartime house) toward the first positions of Ricketts and Griffin.

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The first position of the guns of Griffin and Ricketts, view east toward Sudley Rd and Reynolds’s guns beyond

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View south from Dogan Ridge to Henry Hill

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Craig addresses the group on Dagan Ridge

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Me, in my Butcher Bill t-shirt (photo credit Dan Carson)

After breaking for lunch, we reconvened on Henry Hill and walked to the wayside marking Imboden’s guns. I read from Imboden’s wonderful report (the full report you can find here, not the truncated version in the Official Records) and from a rejoinder published by Clark Leftwich, who commanded the two guns of Latham’s battery that were north of the Warrenton Turnpike. Then Craig discussed counter-battery fire and the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of rifled guns.

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Craig at Imboden’s guns

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Bill and me at Imboden’s guns (photo credit Dan Carson)

Then we took a walk to Jackson’s gun line. This  was the longest walk of the day – there wasn’t a whole lot of walking on this tour at all. Lots of stuff covered here: on my end, accounts from three AARs, one letter and one post-war memoir (everything I read from on this tour is right here on this site). Craig went into the use of masking terrain, massing artillery, and yes, the intricacies of James Rifles. I’m sure the attendees dreamed of James Rifles for days afterwards (I know I did). It was also here that we were joined by Manassas National Battlefield Park Superintendent Brandon Bies, who stayed with us for the remainder of the tour.

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We assemble at Jackson’s gun line

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Craig explaining the make and model, and probably what the foundry foreman had for lunch the day the gun was cast.

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Me, trying to recall what Craig just said, and what the heck kind of James Rifle is this anyway? (Photo credit Dan Carson)

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Craig explaining a production flaw in a tube manufactured by an inexperienced New Orleans Confederate contractor (photo credit Jared Mike)

We returned to Ricketts’s gunline, and Craig discussed infantry support and what said support was supposed to do, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of rifled versus smoothbore cannons. Supt Bies also discussed a new artillery adoption program to provide for cannon refurbishment. I completely forgot I had material to discuss here, but remembered by the time we made it to the next stop and presented Ricketts’s and Griffin’s JCCW testimony and Griffin’s AAR again, as well as an interesting 7th Georgia account of the capture of Ricketts.

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Craig pointing near one of Ricketts’s (representative) guns. MNBP superintendent Brandon Bies in uniform.

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Craig Swain (photo credit Paul Errett)

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Federal Parrott band/tube intersection (photo credit Paul Errett)

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Confederate “knockoff” Parrott band/tube intersection (photo credit Paul Errett)

Our last stop was at the famous section of Griffin’s guns that he detached and sent north. After making up for my mistake at the prior stop, I covered Griffin’s report and testimony once again. Craig discussed oblique fires and what to do when your battery is overrun. He also talked about reforms in the use of Federal artillery in the wake of First Bull Run.

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Craig making one last point at Griffin’s 2 gun section.

I think a great and educational time was had by all. We can of course conduct this tour again if demand is great enough.

One lesson I took away from this tour was that there is absolutely no relation between the number of people who say they are definitely attending a tour, or who say they are interested, and the number who actually show up. None. At. All.

Thanks to everyone who turned out. Sound off in the comments here with reflections, complaints, or suggestions.

Our next tour will be held on either May 4 or May 11, 2019. It will be epic. Stay tuned.


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2 responses

28 10 2018
Meg Groeling

I promise I will make it there, even if I have to be pushed around in a chair! So sorry I live so far away.

Liked by 1 person

30 10 2018
John Foskett

How about Tour 2 (The Sequel) – Craig can also cover artillery at the second battle on the same field while you – in protest – get a headlamp and go looking for that muster roll. :) Seriously, this one looks like it was terrific.

Liked by 1 person

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