|from The |
| Letter From Governor Andrew
Arms For The Fifteenth Regiment
Boston, Oct. 25, 1861
My Dear Sir:
Very truly yours
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Oct 25, 1861, 10 1/2 oclock P. M.
Hon Geo. Boutwell:
Col. Devens of the fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers , marched from the state with the latest improved pattern of Springfield smoothbore musket. We have not been able to import ( by reason of the delays incident to their manufacture abroad,) rifled arms so rapidly as we enlisted regiments, nor have we been able to obtain for our volunteer regiments any rifled arms from the Springfield Armory; and although we are constantly receiving shipments from England of rifled (Enfield) muskets, we always need them as fast as we can accumulate them, for regiments on the need of their departure. Indeed at one time I bought in New York the supply of Enfield arms for one regiment, in consequence of the slowness of our foreign arrivals. Honorable Francis B. Crowninshield, ( our agent ) and his assistant who remains in England, I am confident have done their best to urge them forward, and they will continue to come by installments as fast as may be.
The following tabular statement will show you the precise character of the arms of our various volunteer regiments.
1st Col. Cowdin Springfield rifled muskets
2d Gordon Enfield
9th Cass Springfield smoothbore muskets
10th Briggs Enfield rifled muskets
11th Blasdell Springfield smoothbore muskets
12th Webster Enfield rifled muskets
14th Greene Springfield smoothbore muskets
16th Wyman Enfield rifled muskets
17th Col Amory Springfield smoothbore muskets
19th Hinks Enfield rifled muskets
20th W. R. Lee
21st Morse Springfield Smoothbore muskets
22d Wilson Enfield rifled muskets
26th Jones Springfield rifled muskets
27th H. C. Lee Enfield rifled muskets
28th and 29th not yet armed for service.
Our entire stock of Springfield rifled muskets was exhausted in arming the 31, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th militia regiments which were sent into the field in April, except so many as suffered to arm the first volunteer regiment, which was based on a militia organization. The 5th, 6th, and 8th , when they returned from their three months service, brought back their arms, which were immediately sent to be repaired and cleaned. Only enough of them have returned yet from the hands of the armorers to supply the 26th volunteer regiment. The 3d and 4th were sent back to Massachusetts from Fortress Monroe without the rifled muskets they took into service, having been deprived of them by command of General Butler, although those arms were the property of this state, and against the written protest I deemed it my duty to interpose in view of urgent need of them for our three year volunteer regiments then organizing. I feared at that time, and I believed in my protest I expressed the fear, that the withholding of those arms might at some future day be made a cause of reproach in case I should not interpose all effort of which I was capable to prevent it.
Besides what Springfield rifled muskets we thus had on hand available for arming the militia regiments which first took the field, and the Enfield rifled muskets already mentioned, whether purchase here or contracted for abroad, we obtained very early from the Watertown arsenal a quantity of Windsor rifles, without bayonets, never having intended to be used with them. And although we procured sabre bayonets for one thousand of them, and had bayonets attached to others so that they might be used with bayonets, our late Master of Ordnance Col Stone, was always of the opinion that it was not best to serve out those arms to our troops. I spoke with him a number of times on the subject, but he was always opposed to them, urging, among other reasons.
1st. The inexpediency of having to furnish a fourth size of cartridge in consideration of the great danger of mistakes inn that respect in the confusion of a battle; for we were already obliged to furnish three sizes, vis: for the Enfield rifled musket, the Springfield rifled musket, and the Springfield smoothbore;
2d. the want of bayonets, and the ill adaptation of the arm for the reception of the bayonet, and
3d That for unskilled troops the smoothbore is always the most effective weapon, and in close action and indeed for all service within a certain range, is the best arm, even for skilled troops. That while for skirmishers the rifled arm is necessary, the capacity for the smoothbore to carry not only a ball, but also three buckshot at every discharge, makes it very efficient for a large portion of the exigencies of a battle; so that it is better for our troops to divide those two descriptions of arms in proper proportions among them, than for all of them to carry the same description of gun. this view, of course implies that in detailing the various corps for duty, their commanders shall have reference to the classes of duty for which their arms respectfully adapt them. I am not in any sense, a military expert, but I perceive a certain soundness in this view, which, on frequent inquiry, I have found sustained by soldiers of much actual experience in field duty, and of military education; so that, although I always desire that out regiments shall carry the rifled arms, I do not understand that it is desirable or useful that rifled arms only should be used throughout the whole service.
Col. Greene of the fourteenth, and Col. Amory f the seventeenth, both of them officers of extensive experience and careful military education, (Col. Amory being granted a furlough from his regular army service to assume command of volunteers, and Col. Greene having been also educated at West Point and taught by service in the field.) had a decided preference for smoothbores in their regiments.
I do not know what were the views of Col. Devens, nor of any of his officers on this point, since, neither before or after marching from this commonwealth, did they address me on the subject, save that some two weeks since two gentlemen came to me on behalf of Col. Devens, and stated that his regiment had been placed in a position within reach of the rifles of the enemys pickets, to which their own pickets could successfully reply with their short ranged muskets; and that consequently Col. Devens wished the state to send him Enfield rifles for his two flank companies. I ascertained that it was then in our power to do so, and although it was irregular on my part, there being no requisition from the ordinance office at Washington, I nevertheless assumed the responsibility of so far interfering with a regiment already in the field and under the command of the war department, as to give the order for the immediate transmission to Col. Devens of the number of Enfield muskets thus asked for. I have since learned that two more of his companies had received similar arms from Washington. But I have heard of no further application on this commonwealth.
It should be remarked that Massachusetts sends all her soldiers with arms in their hands, intended to be the best at command; while the soldiers from many quarters arrive at Washington with none at all, who must draw on the ordinance department of the United States. We cannot , therefore draw at pleasure at the Springfield arsenal; nor with so many of our regiments armed with the rifled muskets, It is to be expected that officers of the United States will serve out rifles to the residue, taking their muskets from them merely to be served to other soldiers, even though a majority of the arms of Massachusetts soldiers are, in the first instance, paid for by the commonwealth.
In a word smoothbore muskets must be used by some portion of an army, are effective weapons for their appropriate service, are said to be more destructive to the enemy in close action, and can be fired longer without fouling than the rifles. But this also must be confessed; that the officers and soldiers of Massachusetts are proudly emulous of distinguishing and gallant service. They press for the posts of honorable peril. They are active, aspiring, enterprising, and brave. They almost always desire places of trust and distinction, and seek the advanced positions. Skirmishing duty, incidentally necessary to the kind of tasks they like the best, is attractive to such men, and it is more dangerous than mere loading and firing after the lines are in easy range, it is at the same time more exciting, calls the faculties more fully into play and therefore challenges the favor of men ambitious of such work as shall task their best powers..
Mindful of all this, and of other considerations, we have tried to get the best arms, and enough of them. We have even formed three companies of sharpshooters, buying, as best we could, the costly telescopic rifles for many of the men, they drawing into service the skilled marksmen of the state and diversifying the service by the addition off their brilliant qualities to the field.. And, three days ago our first company of sharpshooters, supported by Co. K. of the 19th Massachusetts volunteers, skirmishing under some protection of a battery on the Maryland side, opposed themselves to three regiments of southern troops, across the Potomac, and defeated their plans, bringing down a rebel at fire of each rifle, and loosing but one only of their own men, while the loss of the enemy was very great
Here was a case strikingly illustrative of military adaptation of means to an end. the fire of these men is something terrible to think of. And yet I suppose an equal number of smoothbore muskets would in the same hands, be better weapons in close action.
I am not yet aware that the command of Col Devens, in the recent engagement at Edwards Ferry was detailed for any duty inappropriate to its weapons. Nor does it appear that Col Lees command armed with rifled muskets suffered less than did Col Devens. They fought, all of them, brave, noble, gallant heroes as they were, although outnumbered three to one, until all their ammunition was expended.
I have not heard that on the narrow field occupied by the battle, there was any error of class of troops or arms, advanced; nor that the arms of the enemy were of disappropriate range to ours. Should that appear it would be a source of unspeakable, though unavailing mortification and sorrow, that a position inappropriate to their arms was assigned to one corps, when others of which there are several from Massachusetts on the upper Potomac carrying the proper arms therefore, were not thrown forward to the position lately occupied by the command of Col Devens. I beg leave to add that, hearing yesterday that it was the desire of Col Devens to have his whole command armed for that kind of duty, I immediately directed certain rifles which I learn we can command in quantity sufficient for some six companies, to be sent to him.
It may also be remarked that our new master of ordinance, Colonel Charles Amory, regards with more favor the Windsor rifles, of which we have only enough for two regiments; but those have to be supplied with bayonets. The other portion of them have heretofore been taken by Maine and new Hampshire,( one regiment each. ) Finding none were taken by our own troops, I obtained some weeks since permission to return them to the U. S. arsenal. About that time these two states proposed to take, each a quantity, when we promptly responded to their wishes, it being my own strong desire that no effective gun should lie a day unused by somebody. And therefore, seeing that there were those who wished to se the weapons, I decided not to return them to the United States, but to hold on to the balance , in the hope of their being made useful for our troops. One regiment has already indicated to me a wish to take them; and I have omitted nothing to gratify that wish. And though I cannot pretend to know, and have understood heretofore,, that these arms, with bayonet attached, have been condemned by the highest authority at Washington, still I have never ceased to feel, and do now feel, that there may be a traditionary prejudice at bottom of that opinion, a suggestion not quite modest, I confess, to be made by someone quite unskilled as I am. The idea of sending a regiment into the field without bayonets, is not for one moment to be entertained.
I thank you for your note; and beg pardon for the long reply; which I cannot close without doing homage to the brilliant heroism and intelligence ,, as well as bravery , which our Massachusetts officers and men conducted themselves in that unequal contest which has given the Massachusetts fifteenth and twentieth a fame undying as the country they defended, and has commanded for them a gratitude as sincere and perpetual as the affections of the heart of man.
I have the honor to be
With sincere regard