Cannoneer's Armament

Prepared by Bob Williams


John C. Tidball (USMA, 1848) was an artillery officer who is most noted for his command of the Second Horse Artillery Brigade under Alfred Pleasonton. In 1863, he was appointed Colonel of the 4th New York Artillery and commanded the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the Wilderness in 1864 and served briefly as the commandant of cadets at West Point from July to September 1864. From October through the end of the war, Tidball commanded the IX Corps artilllery and became a brevet major general in 1865.

Shortly before his death in 1906, Tidball drafted his memoirs. Titled, Remarks upon the Organization, Command, and Employment of the Field Artillery During the War, based upon experiences of the Civil War, 1861-5., the work was never published. This extract is from the copy in the holdings of the Fort Sill Museum archives.


Battery drill regulations before and during the Civil war period prescribed a saber for all men of a battery -- non-commissioned officers, drivers, and cannoneers alike, but this saber was a heavy clumsy affair, exceedingly inconvenient to the soldier at all times but particularly so at such times as required most activity.
When volunteer batteries came into service they, too, adopted the saber; but as campaigning progressed this weapon was cast aside by both volunteers and regulars, except only in instances when it was retained for the use of non-commissioned officers. A very little active field service proved it to be entirely useless as a weapon and so cumbersome as to interfere with the performance of duty required of artillery soldiers. It was so superfluous that the War Department made no attempt to improve it, either in weight or model. With such qualities it was soon abandoned, not, however, by any form or official order but by simple disappearance. On the march it soon found its way, with other trash of its kind, to the caissons or carriages of the pieces, where battered, broken, and rusty, it was carried along as trash until such time as it could be brought before a duly authorized inspector for formal condemnation to be dropped from the property returns of the battery; or, more frequently, it was eliminated from the returns by the remark, “lost in action”.
The sabers retained for non-commissioned officers re used more as badges of authority than as weapons. Non-commissioned officers not thus armed were supplied with revolvers, certainly a very great improvement on the saber.
The first battery equipped as horse artillery completely discarded the saber and adopted entirely the revolver for all of the men. Other batteries, following as horse batteries, adopted the same custom. But it was soon discovered that revolvers were of no practical use for men of a battery, even for horse batteries, and in a little while they, too, fell out if use except for non-commissioned officers who still retained them as badges of authority than for actual use as weapons.
The revolver, while not as objectionable as a saber is still an encumbrance to the soldier; is more difficult to keep in serviceable condition; is liable to theft and loss from many causes; and being without practical use is quite superfluous as a piece of equipment.
The fundamental idea suggesting that the men of field batteries be individually armed arises from the supposition that the battery may be caught without the protective support of the other arms of the service and thus fall as easy prey to the enemy. All of which might possibly occur with a carelessly conducted expedition, or even in an army corps marching in hostile territory without ordinary precautions. But where such conditions exist no amount of personal armament will suffice to correct the evil. When batteries fall under incompetent commanders whether of army corps or of small expeditions, they must take their chances.
Batteries do not operate in the field without other troops. In a general sense, all the troops about them, whether a single battalion or an army corps, become their supports, and. reciprocally, they are supports to such troops. They each do their proper share of the battle with their own specific arms, using them in such a manner as to be most effective.
In spite of everything to the contrary, batteries will sometimes be lost in battle, even by the victorious party. But to attempt to prevent it by such ridiculous measures, such as the use of sabers and revolvers, is to tempt fate.
It is sometimes supposed that batteries require arms for their camp guards. Nothing is more erroneous. A driver’s whip in the hands of a sentinel at the picket line is far better for preserving order among the horses than a saber and revolver; and, as to the sentinels of the battery park, their function as watchmen are performed as well without as with arms. To the eye of the amateur soldier these suggestions may seem highly unmilitary, but it must be remembered in time of war all that is not actually useful should be discarded.
The issue of battery armament received serious consideration by a board of battery commanders who but a short time previous to the outbreak of the Civil War, prepared the drill regulation of that period. These officers, all Mexican War veterans, and some with more recent experience in the Utah Expedition, were imbued with the idea that batteries should be able to take care of themselves under any and all conditions, and although divided in opinion as to the kind of arm for the men of the battery, they compromised on the saber, which proved to be entirely useless. At the time, the board did not imagine a war of the scope of the Rebellion, and this explains their selection of the weapon.
While hand weapons of any kind are useless for a battery on campaign, there are useful for some garrison purposes; drills to ensure a soldierly bearing in the men, for example. For this, though, both the saber and the rifle are inferior to the infantry rifle or cavalry carbine. In this connection it should be mentioned that small arms target practice is a highly useful means of making artillerymen expert in aiming their guns. Such practice not only sharpens the eyesight but aids in recognizing distant objects. It helps in estimating distances and every artilleryman should be thoroughly drilled in all such matters.
The cavalry carbine is almost equal to the infantry rifle for all the foregoing purposes and therefore suggests itself as a suitable arm to be issued to the man of a battery for garrison purposes; never, however, as an arm to be taken to the field for campaigning. A broad distinction should be made between garrison and field service.
Recruits for batteries in the field should be thoroughly drilled and instructed in the foregoing points at camps of instruction before being sent to batteries, for in the field there is little or no opportunity for such instruction. This matter was very much neglected in all armies of the Civil war. No attention was given to target practice at all, even for the infantry, and thousands of men fired their first shot in battle, and artillerymen were even worse off in practical knowledge of their guns. All of their preliminary instruction was confined to the school of the Piece and to some battery maneuvers. They received no instruction in target practice or in the exercises leading to it. Even under these adverse conditions, many of the men became passably expert in using their guns and greatly assisted in making the batteries efficient.
There was no military head at the War Department to direct such matters, and suggestions from the field tended to be ignored.
A saber for a soldier on horseback certainly adds to his martial appearance. The same weapon attached to a soldier trudging by the side of his piece on the march adds nothing to his martial appearance and the evident uselessness of his weapon makes him appear ridiculous. Even when mounted on an ammunition chest with his saber by his side, the cannoneer appears ridiculous.
A strong sheath knife, something after the Bowie pattern, is a most convenient thing for an artilleryman to carry. It comes in handy for many purposes about the camp or on the march; does not encumber the soldier, and when attached to his belt does not detract from his appearance. The roman cutlass, experimented with at one time for such a purpose was too heavy and awkward to give satisfaction. It was neither sword nor knife.
Mention has been made of the camps of instruction for the preparation of troops for the replenishment of batteries in active campaign and in this connection, although not directly tied to the subject of personal weapons for artillerymen, it may be remarked that such camps, had but little development during the Civil War. The result was that troops fresh from civilian life and entirely unfamiliar with the duties of a soldier, were hurried to the field and expected to immediately perform the service and to accomplish the deeds of the trained soldiers; a condition most hurtful to the armies and to the cause.
The entire system of recruitment on the Federal side was defective in the extreme -- so defective that it has been impossible, after years of labor by statisticians for the war Office to compile more than a very rough estimate of the actual number of troops put into the field. Calls for troops were spasmodic, usually in response to a dire emergency when additional troops were needed to avert some calamity.
Under such methods, armies, becoming depleted in the midst of a campaign, had to halt until such time as they could be replenished, even by fresh troops raised under an emergency call.
Under this system camps sprang into existence all over the country. Each state had one or more, but in general they were mere camps of rendezvous for the assembling and mustering in of their respective quotas. They were in no sense camps of instruction. The levies assembled at them were hastily equipped, and taking on the semblance of soldiers hurried to the front picking up as they went what they could of the rudiments of their new profession.
While this was the case generally of all troops, the field artillery fared a little better, for as the war advanced, camps were created and assumed a greater degree of stability. They served in great measure as camps of instruction as was the case of Camp Barry near Washington. After the Army of the Potomac had taken to the field, Washington continued as a grand depot for outfit, and Camp Barry became a place of concentration for batteries organized in the various states east of the Alleghenies, and there were sent their men and officers to receive their guns, horses, and the other requirements of a field battery. This required but little time; after which the batteries were sent industriously to work acquiring the rudiments of drill. This instruction did not reach the point of target practice with the guns of the battery or of any other battery. The batteries were thus deprived of the prime essential for efficient service against the enemy. Economy in ammunition was the primary argument against it.
Camps similar to that at Washington were established at various points in the west, to supply batteries operating in that region. To all such camps batteries were sent from the field which required refitting and recuperation. These camps also served as depots from which batteries could be supplied for expeditionary enterprises, one of the great features of the war. This was particularly true of camp Barry.
In many ways they proved themselves an essential factor for the maintenance of armies in the field in a good state of efficiency; showing them to be one of the first things to be established at or prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

J. C. Tidball,
U. S. Army
Aug., 1905
Montclair, N. Jersey.