BATTERY A FIRST REGIMENT RHODE ISLAND LIGHT ARTILLERY
CARRYING ON THE MEMORY OF THE BATTERY A VETERANS AND VETERANS OF THE R.I. GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC RI GAR ARNOLD POST No.4
THEY TOOK THE FIELD TO SAVE OUR COUNTRY
Battery A History Page 3
IN BEGINNING, 1861 THE JOHNNIES CALLED DOWN THE THUNDER AT FORT SUMTER, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
IN THE END, 1865, THEY SUFFERED FOR THEIR ERROR BECAUSE A LOUD PART OF THE THUNDER THEY UNLEASHED WAS BATTERY A FIRST REGIMENT RHODE ISLAND LIGHT ARTILLERY THE RHODE ISLAND ARTILLERY RED LEGS
UNDER THE DIVINE PROTECTION OF ST. BARBARA THE RED LEGS ALWAYS PREVAIL !
Battery A, of the First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery, was one of the greatest State organized light (or field) volunteer artillery units enlisted for long term service at the outset of the American Civil War. Throughout the War the unit was respected by Union and Confederate Officers alike as being as good if not better than most well trained Regular U.S. Army, Light Artillery Batteries, deployed in the field. The Battery was first organized in Providence Rhode Island at the end of May 1861 by the young tenacious Captain J. Albert Monroe, who suggested to Governor William Sprague it might be wise to form a second Light Artillery Battery just in case the war lasted longer than 90 days. The Governor understood he might have a problem since all units thus far mustered in the Rhode Island Brigade and sent to Washington were enlisted for only three months. Sprague privately shared Monroe's belief that hostilities might not end in the short amount of time that most Northern Politicians and News Reports were telling the people in the media. In May of 1861, most Northerners believed Mr. Lincoln's Grand Army of the Republic gathering in Washington D.C. would sweep the Rebels from the field in Virginia and end the Rebellion of the Southern States in short order. Just in case the experts in Washington were wrong Governor Sprague agreed with Monroe and authorized formation of a second light artillery battery as well as a second infantry regiment of the State Guard-Militia for longer service (at least 3 years) to keep Rhode Island prepared for the worst if things didn't go as the War Department predicted.
Planning for the creation of what eventually became Battery A actually originated simultaneously along with the famous Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry with intentions to reinforce Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside's Rhode Island Brigade, (of the Rhode Island Detatched Militia-RIDM) the day after Burnside left for Washington with his troops. The first two units of Burnside's original Rhode Island Brigade were the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, RIDM (or the 1st Light Infantry, RIM), and the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery Battery, RIDM (or the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery, RIM). Battery A, originally called the "2nd Rhode Island Light Artillery Battery", was initially part of, and attached to, the 2nd R.I. Volunteer Infantry Regiment, RIDM, when first mustered. Both the 2nd Rhode Island Light Artillery Battery (later separated and re-named Battery A to form the 1st Regiment R.I. Light Artillery) and the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry RIDM, held their first muster-encampment on the Dexter Training Ground in Providence, which was the old fair grounds area in the city converted for military purposes by the Rhode Island State Guard. The headquarters for all four units was at the "Old Arsenal" on Benefit Street in Providence. The historic Old Arsenal became the key enlistment and muster center for most Rhode Island units formed to fight in the Civil War. It was the place where men were either selected or rejected for service, and the place where most gathered after the war as MOLLUS and GAR Veterans.
From 1909 to 1993, the Old Arsenal still located on Benefit Street in Providence was the State leased headquarters of the Rhode Island Grand Army of the Republic Veterans Organization (till 1943) as well as their descendant organizations the RI Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the Allied Orders of the GAR until 1993. In 1900, Dexter Field became the site of what is now the historic Cranston Street National Guard Armory, today located on the corner Cranston and Dexter Streets, in Providence. At Dexter Field, Battery A (the 2nd RI Light Artillery Battery) became the first Rhode Island Volunteer Light Artillery Battery of the First Rhode Island Volunteer Light Artillery Regiment, authorized by R.I. Governor William Sprague, mustered into service for a "3 year term" to fight in the Great War of the Rebellion (the Civil War), or as many Veterans later referred, "The Late Unpleasantness", commencing with the firing of harbor and coastal South Carolina Militia Heavy Artillery Batteries commanded by P.G.T. Beauregard, on the Federal Garrison at Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861, at 2:30 p.m., and officially concluding on August 20, 1866, at 8 p.m., with a proclaimation (State of the Nation Address to Congress) by President Andrew Johnson that, "Peace, order, tranquility and Civil Authority now exist in and throughout the whole of the United States of America". Today is is hard for most Americans to think their ancestors of the mid 19th century could embriol our country of only 30 million people in their time in a vicious Civil War that would eventually claim at least 624,000 lives and countless more wounded before it ended; a struggle that deeply effected the entire population.
Top Commanders Of The First Campaign
Photos Left to Right: Rhode Island Governor (Brigadier General), William Sprague, MOLLUS ID# 00095 Major General Irwin McDowell Brigadier General David Hunter, MOLLUS ID# 00579 Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside, MOLLUS ID# 00889.
Off To Thrash The Rebs
On June 6, 1861, Battery A (2nd R.I. Light Artillery Battery) was officially put under the command of Capt. William H. Reynolds, who was older and more experienced than J. A. Monroe. Reynolds resigned his commission in the PMCA militia and transferred from the 1st Rhode Island Battery to the 2nd R.I. Battery (Battery A). If the Civil War lasted longer than 3 months, Battery A was actually mustered to replace the 90-day volunteer enlistment artillery battery in the field, called the ‘The 1st Rhode Island Battery’ or 'Tompkins Battery' (commanded by Captain Charles Tompkins). The 1st Light Artillery Battery was a unit mostly formed by the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery of the R.I. State Militia (the PMCA). Battery A was also formed as part of the Rhode Island State Militia, but originally designated the '2nd Rhode Island Battery' or 'Reynolds Battery'. Both the 1st and 2nd R.I. Batteries were formed at the 'Old Arsenal' on Benefit Street in Providence, the State Militia Headquarters of Col. A. E. Burnside. However Battery A (the 2nd R.I. Battery) was a new unit formed by citizens throughout the State. Most of the men of Battery A were not a part of the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery State Militia or any other State Militia unit, as was the 1st R.I. Battery (Tompkins Battery, commanded by Capt. Charles H. Tompkins). The 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery Battery (The PMCA) was considered by the Militia to be the 'Mother of All Rhode Island Light Artillery Batteries'. However, that was not entirely true according to the actual records and accounts by Captain J. Albert Monroe, Thomas M. Aldrich, Col. Elisha Hunt Rhodes and many veterans of the other seven Batteries (B through H) that were eventually formed as part of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery Regiment.
However, the 1st Rhode Island Battery (Tompkins Battery) was the first unit ready for duty prior to the First Battle of Bull Run. It was originally sent by Governor Sprague to perform training duties to assist other State Light Artillery Batteries in Easton Pennsylvania, where 4th Sergeant Elisha Dyer Jr., son of former Rhode Island Governor Elisha Dyer Sr. was severely injured during one of their training exercises. Then the 1st Rhode Island Battery (Tompkins Battery) was recalled and sent to Washington along with the 1st R.I. Infantry, R.I. Detached Militia, as part of Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside's Rhode Island Brigade.
WHERE THEY GATHERED
Top Image: Rhode Island troops of the Rhode Island Brigade under Burnside leaving Providence for Washington, circa Spring 1861; Bottom Images Left to Right: The Old Arsenal on Benefit Street, Providence, east side; and the Providence Armory, built in 1900 on the site of the Dexter Training Ground, today the corner of Dexter Street and Cranston Street, Providence, south side.
Organizers of the second units (Colonel John Slocum and Captain William Reynolds) went to work straight away to get their troops ready for battle. After the 2nd R.I. Battery (Battery A-Reynolds Battery) and the 2nd R.I. Volunteer Infantry were fully trained at Dexter Field in Providence, they too joined the 1st Infantry and the 1st Battery in Washington under Col. A.E. Burnside. Shortly after, Reynolds Battery encamped with Tomkins Battery at Camp Clark near Washington D.C. in the spring of 1861, Tompkins Battery was again re-deployed and attached to General Patterson's command and sent to Sandy Hook in Maryland to guard the approaches to Washington to the north of the capital along the Potomac River. When the 90 day enlistments were up for the 1st R.I. Battery (Tompkins Battery-which saw no action in the Civil War) it was sent back to Providence R.I. and disbanded in lieu of the formation of a larger and better equipped full field artillery regiment called the First R.I. Volunteer Light Artillery Regiment. Upon their departure for the trip back to Providence, Tompkins Battery turned over some of their ordnance and equipment to Battery A.
On parade and in review Battery A was most noticible due to their look and professional manner. For example: Sergeant Shippe, the Battery A Lead Teamster, said he was very proud of all his 6 horse teams of "Large Grays", that pulled the Battery's 6 guns, 12 limbers, 6 caissons, 2 forges and 6 battery wagons. Most people who viewed the Battery on parade thought Battery A to be as hansom in the field as the famed British Cavalry Regiment, "The Scots Grays", who fought Napoleon at Waterloo. The 2nd R.I. Light Artillery Battery or Reynolds Battery was at this point in time officially re-designated 'Battery A' of the 1st R.I. Volunteer Light Artillery Regiment and therefore became the first of eight, three (3) year enlisted R.I. State Guard Field Artillery Batteries of the Rhode Island Light Artillery Regiment formed to fight in the Civil War. The original ordnance of Battery A, included six (6), 12 pounder James Conversion, bronze rifled cannons divided in to (three (3) two (2) gun sections (Left Section, Center Section, and Right Section). Their guns were procured by Governor Sprague from the Ames Foundry at Chicopee, Massachusetts prior to the outbreak of the war. During the Civil War light artillery batteries were trained for close combat duty in support of infantry and quite often took the same risks as the infantry. Light artillery batteries usually deployed on or near the front battles lines, unlike heavy field artillery units which were usually deployed farther to the rear.
In the summer of 1861, after its deployment to defend Washington D.C., Battery A was among all Union Forces gathering and training to fight the Rebels in Virginia. During this time Battery A, favored comparable to the best of the "Regular" U.S. Union Army field artillery units. The Rhode Islanders of Battery A became a part of the pride of Mr. Lincoln's Grand Army of the Republic. As the Union Army prepared to invade Virginia for the first major campaign of the Civil War, Battery A, and the 2nd R.I. Volunteer Infantry became the first well trained Rhode Island units to be officially Federalized by the War Department since they were both 3 year enlisted units and led the Union Army on its march in to Virginia. From then on, Battery A would become involved in every major engagement against the Rebels while serving in the Union Army of the Potomac until its 3 year enlistment’s officially ran out on June 15, 1864, at the Siege of Petersburg. Since Battery A first took the field as part of the R.I. State Militia, prior to being Federalized, the War Department allowed Battery A to carry its original R.I. State Militia artillery guide-on banner throughout the war. This was an extremely rare honor bestowed on Battery A in recognition of its outstanding abilities and performance. As result the Rebels always knew they were up against the dreaded Battery A when through their field glasses they spotted the men with red bedrolls and distinct guideon making ready to pour shot and shell down upon them. Ultimately Battery A, became one of the best known R.I. Light Artillery units in the Union Army. It would participate in some of the most horrendous and costly Civil War Battles and Campaigns in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania during its next 3 years of service.
The First Officers of Battery A
Photos Left to Right: The first 4 Officers of Battery A, 1st Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery: "The 2nd Rhode Island Light Artillery Battery, RIM"
Left to Right: Sr. Capt. William H. Reynolds, the first commander of the Battery; The first Section Chiefs were: Lieut. William B. Weeden, Jr., MOLLUS # 02625; Capt. John Albert Monroe; and Lieut. John A. Tompkins, MOLLUS # 02591.
Rhode Islanders & The 2nd Corps Artillery Brigade Bullies Of The Battlefield Red Legs Huzzah !
THE STANDARDS THEY CARRIED IN TO BATTLE
Col. John G. Hazard's Headquarters 2nd Corps Artillery Brigade Guidon; The Rhode Island State Colors; and Col. Charles Tompkins Headquarters 6th Corps Artillery Brigade Guidon.
RHODE ISLANDERS ~ BEST OF THE ARTILLERY
Left Image: (Col.) Lieut. John G. Hazard, MOLLUS #01054 In September 1861, he succeeded Lieut T. F. Vaughn as Battery A Center Section Chief. Later Hazard became Artillery Brigade Commander of the 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac.
Middle Image: Major General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Union Army of the Potomac, MOLLUS #04327, he was in command of all the Union Artillery in the Army of the Potomac.
Col. Charles H. Tompkins, MOLLUS #04056, was perhaps Rhode Island's Artillery Master. He helped form most of the Rhode Island Light Artillery Batteries for Sprague and Burnside, 1861, Col. C.H. Tompkins (originally served as captain and commander of the 90 Day 1st R.I. Battery, RIM - Tompkins Battery-PMCA) The 1st Battery saw no action at the First Battle of Bull Run, 1861, and was disbanded. Tompkins was re-commissioned and briefly appointed 2nd Corps Artillery Brigade Commander He was replaced as 2nd Corps Artillery Brigade Commander by J.G. Hazard He was reassigned to help start the 5th R.I. Heavy Artillery Then he became Artillery Brigade Commander of the 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac.
General Hunt considered Rhode Islanders J.G. Hazard and C.H. Tompkins two of his best artillery wizards of all his artillery units. (Col.) Lieut. J. Albert Monroe left Battery A to command Battery D. Later Monroe was made Artillery Brigade Commander of Burnside's 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac. Lieut. W. B. Weeden was given command of Battery C. Later Weeden was promoted Chief of Artillery of Porter's Corps, Army of the Potomac. (Mjr.) Lieut., the Capt. John A. Tompkins replaced Capt. William Reynolds. Reynolds resigned as Battery A Commander after 1st Bull Run. Later J. A. Tompkins was promoted to Artillery Staff. He was relaced by Capt. William A. Arnold prior to The 1st Battle of Fredericksburg, December 1862. Arnold led most of Battery A home to Providence when their 3 year enlistment was up, summer 1864. NOTE: Crpl. T. Fred Brown went on to command Battery B in 1863. G. Lyman Dwight took over first for Arnold then also Brown, fall 1864/65. Col. John G. Hazard combined Batteries A & B at Petersburg. Both were designated Battery B. Dwight commanded both units in the final weeks of the war.
Left to Right: The famed Battery A Militia Guidon; The Battery A Guidon Bearer John F. Leach, who distuished himself in almost every engagement fought by Battery A and the Battery B Militia Guidon, given the same honor as Battery A Both RI Batteries A and B were a part of the 2nd Corps Artillery Brigade.
On To Richmond !
Marching out of Providence, under the command of Captain William H. Reynolds, Battery A embarked on board the transport steamer Kill Von Kull for Washington on June 19th 1861. Two steamers (The Kill Von Kull and The Empire State) took Battery A and the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry through Long Island Sound to New York City where they again boarded ferrys and crossed the Hower Hudson to New Jersey. They then boarded trains that passed through Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington City. Upon arriving in Washington, the Battery and the Second were attached to Burnside's Brigade, of General David Hunter's Division, in General McDowell's Grand Union Army of the Republic. Commanded by Captain Reynolds, Battery A remained under Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside's Rhode Island Brigade, until August, 1861. However, in July it was posted and remained at Camp Clark, (an encampment of Rhode Island troops near Washington D.C., named in honor of the Rt. Rev. Thomas M. Clark, Bishop of Rhode Island and a well know outspoken northern anti-secessionist). The Rhode Islanders pretty much tended stayed in camp until the movement of the Union Army to Bull Run, because most were surprised to find their Nation's Capitol City not to be what they expected.
"On To Richmond" was the battle cry. When Union and Confederate forces finally clashed at the First Battle of Bull Run, Battery A fired the first shots that started the famous battle. Their shots actually opened the main Union attack of the right flank of McDowell's offensive under Hunter and Burnside against the Rebels under P.G.T. Beauregard and T. J. Jackson with a spirited volly. Rhode Islanders led the way starting the brawl and nearly broke the Confederate line, which may have given President Lincoln an early end to the war. But the Rebels were reinforced in the nick of time by troops from Harper's Ferry and broke the Union attack. After the battle Thomas J. Jackson was nicknamed "Stonewall" Jackson, but his troops called him "Old Blue Light", because of his fierce blue eyes. However, in this, the first major clash of arms of the Civil War, Brother Against Brother, in Virginia, Battery A actually fired the first, as well as the last shots of the great battle that forever became known as 'The First Battle of Bull Run', July 21, 1861. During the famous battle, the first part of the day, the battle went like clock-work for the Union Army, but by mid-day Confederate resistance stiffened. By the end of the day, when the First Battle of Bull Run started going badly for the Union, the exhausted retreating Union troops became jammed up at a pair of stone bridges, which were needed by McDowell's Army, as it tried to disengage and cross to safety towards Fairfax C.H. and Centerville. Seeing trouble, the Confederates pressed their counter attacks causing panic among Union ranks trying to cross the stone bridges over Bull Run and Cub Run. At that point, the well organized Union Retreat turned in to a disaster, but Rhode Islanders held their own in the face of great danger. The 2nd R.I. Volunteer Infantry and Battery A, 1st Regiment R.I. Light Artillery were two of the last Federal Units off the battlefield covering the Union retreat. Captain Reynolds fought his guns with great vigor and deadly effect, and had two men killed and fourteen wounded. One of the Battery A two gun Section Chiefs, Lieutenant Weeden had his horse shot and killed under him.
During the engagement one Battery A gun, being out of ammunition, was ordered with its limbers and caisson to the rear. As the Rhode Islanders finally tried to retreat from the field of battle, Captain Reynolds found the second bridge over Cub Run so obstructed, and the enemy pressing so hard, that he was forced to abandon the remainder of the Battery A ordnance on the field while still in the fight. All ended up falling into Rebel hands. However, before matters got completely out of hand, Captain Reynolds ordered his men to save themselves and as many of their horses as possible. They did their best to comply. After Battery A was completely over-run by the advancing Rebels only the gun sent to the rear earlier survived the battle. That cannon, a 12 pounder riffled bronze James Gun, was likewise saved by the people of the State as a symbol of Battery A valor and remembrance of Rhode Island Volunteers. It was later conveyed to the people of Rhode Island and presented by vote of the General Assembly as a gift to Governor William Sprague, in recognition of his services on the field of Bull Run that memorable day in July 1861. It was first displayed at the Governor's Mansion in Cranston then later Sprague had it put on display at the Old R.I. State House on Benefit Street in Providence for all to see. The Battery A, Bull Run Cannon is still on display today in the current Rhode Island State House on Smith Street, finished in 1903. It still symbolizes the love of country and the commitment of the people of even the smallest State in the Union, to do their duty to defend America.
Photos Left to right: Prvt. Thomas M. Aldrich and Lieut. Charles D. Owen.
NOTE: According to Thomas M. Aldrich (author of the Battery A Regimental History) the guns issued to Battery A were "10" pounder James Conversions (old 6 pounder James bronze barrels milled and riffled to fire a 10 pounder fuzed exploding projectiles--same ordnance as riffled 10 pounder Parrot guns). However, according to Capt. J. Albert Monroe, as well as Sergeants Charles D. Owen and John H. Hammond (who saved the Battery A Bull Run Gun during the 1st Battle of Bull Run) the 6 cannons issued to Battery A on the 1st of June 1861, were "12" pounder riffled James Conversions--same as the cannon in the Rhode Island State House--"The Bull Run Gun". Production of James Conversions by the Ames Foundry in Chicopee Massachusetts was later discontinued because the rifflings in the softer metal bronze cannons wore out too soon.
The original 1861 Battery A Bull Run Cannon, on display at the Rhode Island State House
Thanks also to Robert Hunt Rhodes for allowing us to use some of his material about his ancestor, Elisha Hunt Rhodes and to Ken Burns for featuring E.H. Rhodes and our State's Civil War History in his PBS series on The Civil War. And a special thanks to David McCullough, Edwin Bearrs, Brian Pohanka, Jeff Shaara and Ron Maxwell for their support for Rhode Island Civil War History and raising the American conscience about the triumphs and tragidies of the Great War of the Rebellion 1861 to 1865.