Artillery: Finding An Artillery Manual

In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln observed, “Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” He referred to a religious situation, but I meant no disrespect when this quote came to mind as I looked at a secular book in the archives last week. The book wasn’t just secular. It was a manual of instruction for making war. Making war with artillery in effective, terrifying ways. And this book of war – like others written even earlier – was studied by officers on both sides of the American conflict.

Both sides read the same manual, loaded similar cannons, and each pulled the lanyards, hoping to send death crashing into their countrymen.

In the reading room at the Huntington Library, I placed the fragile book on the padded book holder. I knew it was an artillery manual, with text originally written and prepared by U.S. Officers and published by the War Department in just prior to the Civil War, but the cover surprised me. In fading embossing, it read: Property of State of Virginia.

RB 107441, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Gingerly, I opened the cover. The interior book plate warned that the book belonged to Virginia and was endorsed by the state adjutant general, William H. Richardson who was in that office in the decades leading up to the war. There may even be clues about who had the book during the war from the possible signature across the book plate.

Did the State of Virginia “steal” the text and publish their own version of the manual? Or did they obtain War Department copies, change the cover, and make them available? I’m certainly curious to learn more… There is more handwritten text in the front of the book, but not all the writing was easy to read and it’s not dated, making it unclear when the notes were added. More to examine on another research trip for certain. Also, it doesn’t help that pages one through twenty-four are completely missing from the book, including the front pages that should have had the publisher information.

RB 107441, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Beyond those little mysteries to be further explored at a later date, I found it curious that a book authored by Henry J. Hunt, William H. French, and William F. Barry on field artillery tactics instructed Confederates during the war. These military officers and tacticians intended to write a manual to guide the United States Army’s field artillery batteries, but it coached the Rebels, too.

This particular book – Instructions for Field Artillery – was the go-to guide for Union artillerists during the conflict, but – at least one copy and probably quite a few more were in the hands of Confederates. This book with its cover and interior book plate suggests both sides may have been referring to the same artillery manual – just on opposite sides of the battlefields.

Just what was in the Instructions for Field Artillery? Every. Single. Thing. anyone could need or want to know about artillery. Seriously, I think if the equipment for a battery was laying in an open field and some untrained soldiers waited nearby, anyone who could read could prepare a trained field artillery battery, given enough time and practice. The details in this book amazed me!

Here are just a few things covered in the text:

  • How to pack the boxes and cassions – item by item, with details about the weight of each box
  • How to make paint to refinish the gun carriages
  • How to care for horses
  • Precise instructions for drilling; marching, positions, saber drill, positioning cannon, unlimbering – then the actual steps for loading and firing
  • How to aim
  • Which types of ammunition to use
  • How to limber
  • How to move the cannon by hand
  • How to change an ammunition chest
  • How to change a wheel
  • Instructions for riding the horses, including how to bridle, saddle, lead out, hold the reins, dismount, unsaddle, and unbridle
  • Detailed directions for equestrian military drill
  • Instructions for jumping – ditches or bars
  • How to harness the horses to pull the cannon and cassion
  • Detailed directions for the driver
  • Drills and exercises for a battery and a section
  • Marching, columns, getting into lines, all kinds of maneuvers
  • Notes on knot tying
  • Bugle calls
  • And much more!

As we head into the last week of the Artillery Series, watch for sections from this primary source manual. I’ve picked a few pages to share, and it should provide useful information as we continue the quest to understand more about Civil War Artillery.

You’ll be able to read original sources from the manual that instructed Union artillerymen and officers and gave hints to at least a few Confederate cannoneers as well. In at least a few cases, they were reading the same manual but wearing different uniforms and believing in different causes.


Instruction for Field Artillery, 1860, RB 107441, The Huntington Library,
San Marino, California. Link to record.

8 Responses to Artillery: Finding An Artillery Manual

  1. The CSA ultimately had two of its own manuals modeled largely on the Instruction – Snowden (1863) and Stark (1864). Many officers on both sides regarded as essential Patten’s succinct manual, which was also modeled on the Instruction but was focused on the steps for each member of the gun crew in sequence rather than on sequential steps for the entire crew. These manuals were primarily concerned with drill and devoted a smaller amount of content to tactics. If an officer wanted to cover the field, he’d have the Instruction, Patten, Gibbon’s Artillerist’s Manual (which encyclopedic on equipment, projectiles, theory of fire, etc.), and Roberts’ Q&A book.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, John. It definitely adds to the conversation. Fascinating how many manuals were available!

      1. Sarah: One interesting insight came from Snowden Andrews (who wrote the 1863 CSA manual). He described walking over the field at Mechanicsville after the battle and – much to his ecstatic surprise – stumbling upon a discarded copy of Patten. As noted Patten was “Instruction for Field Artillery Lite”.

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