“The numbers of cannoneers is so small”

Lt. Edward Williston (courtesy of Norwich University)

Lt. Edward Williston commanded Battery D, 2nd United States Artillery at the Battle of Antietam. While at the National Archives, I found this revealing letter about the issues Williston’s battery encountered on the Antietam battlefield due to a shortage of men in the battery. The letter is transcribed as it was written, typos and all.

Edward Williston to Robert [Garvin?], September 21, 1862, Entry 4434, Record Group 393, Part 2, National Archives.

Battery “L” 2nd U.S. Artillery.

Camp in the field near Williamsport Md

Sept 21st 1862.

Lieut. Robt. L. [Garvin?].

Adjutant Light Arty Brigade

Slocums Division, 6th Army Corps

Army of the Potomac


I have the honor most respectfully to call attention to the urgent necessity which exists for immediately increasing the number of men in this company.  Owing to discharge, sickness, death, and to several being on extra duty unavoidably, the number of cannoneers is so small that the officers of the battery were obliged, during the recent engagement at Sharpsburg to assist in the manual of the peice.  Difficulty also occurred in forwarding ammunition, with sufficient promptness.  The largest number of cannoneers serving at any one of the guns was six—the smallest two.

To equalize I was obliged to order up all the drivers of the battery wagon, and forge, leaving them and the teams belonging to them in charge of the artificers, thereby leaving them almost entirely unprotected and thereby incurring great risk.

Many of the men now on duty will be sent to hospital as soon as possible, and several will soon be discharged.  Under these circumstances I consider it my duty to urge to the fullest extent the immediate necessity for increasing the number of men in the company as in case such measures are not taken, it will soon be impossible to bring more than four guns into action.

Your Very Obt. Servt

Edward Williston

1st Lieut 2nd U.S. Arty

Comdg Battery “D” 2nd Arty

6 Responses to “The numbers of cannoneers is so small”

  1. Interesting that they were still near Williamsport. Any idea when the 6th Corps reached their camps in Bakersville?

  2. Kevin: Thanks for this excellent contribution. As we know, the “long arm” was subjected to indignities which were at direct odds with its importance. One was the stringent limits on rank which caused good officers to seek advancement in the infantry – Charles Griffin is only one example. Another is how often batteries had to replace KIA/wounded/missing by dragooning volunteers from infantry regiments they were brigaded with. An interesting solution because it meant sticking inexperienced volunteers into tasks which were the subject of highly specific and repeated drills. Then there was the matter of horses ….

    1. John, that’s an excellent analysis of the problems that constantly plagued the artillery branch. Thanks!

  3. Williston would go on to be a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions at Trevilian Station in June 1864 and would retire from US Army in 1900 as a brigadier general. He would live a long life too, dying in Portland, Oregon in 1920 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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