Historical Sketch of the 15th New York Independent Battery
Taken from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg) by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.
The Fifteenth Independent Battery was formed in December, 1861, by uniting Batteries A and C of the Second Battalion, New York Light Artillery, after which it was designated as Battery B of that command. This battalion was raised in New York City, the men having been recruited prior to December 9, 1861, at which time the battery was mustered into the United States service for three years. It was organized with the expectation that it would be attached to the Irish Brigade; but, owing to the exigencies of the service, it was ordered elsewhere, and its connection with that famous organization was only nominal.
In December, 1861, the battery, then under command of Capt. Henry J, McMahon, was ordered to Washington. It remained there about four months, during which time it received its equipment and was instructed in artillery drill and carnp duty. Its armament at the time consisted of six three-inch rifled guns. In March, 1862, it was assigned to Williams' Division, of Banks' Corps, and, in May, to Doubleday's Brigade of McDowell's Corps, with which it participated in the preliminary movements of the campaign to the Rappa-hannock. In September, 1862, the battery was ordered to Maryland, and stationed at the Relay House. While there its designation was changed to that of the Fifteenth Independent Battery, New York Light Artillery.
Captain McMahon having left the service, he was succeeded in February, 1863, by Capt. Patrick Hart, with whose name the battery subsequently became identified, and under whose command it achieved honorable distinction. Having been assigned to the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac, the battery, under command of Captain Hart, was engaged at the second battle before Fredericksburg, May 1-4, 1863, but without sustaining any loss.
During the Gettysburg campaign Hart's Battery was attached to McGilvery's Brigade, of the Reserve Artillery. It was equipped at this time with four brass guns, twelve-pounder smooth bores, known as Napoleons. Marching with the Reserve Artillery it left Falmouth, Va., on June I3th, and moving northward with Hooker's army crossed the Potomac into Maryland, arriving at Frederick City on the 27th. It halted there two days. On the 30th the brigade arrived at Taneytown, thirteen miles from Gettysburg, where it remained encamped during the first day's battle. At daybreak on the morning of July 2d, the brigade started for the battlefield, arriving there about 10:30 a. m. The batteries as they arrived were placed in reserve on a cross-road which runs from the Taneytown Road to the Baltimore Pike in rear of the position held by the Third Corps.
Everything seemed quiet along the lines, with no firing to be heard except that of some distant pickets and, at long intervals, an occasional cannon shot. At 4 p. m. Captain Hart was ordered to take his battery to the front, and go into position on General Sickles' line. General Hunt, the chief of artillery of the Army of the Potomac, placed the battery at 4:30 p. m. in the Peach Orchard, with the four guns pointed south, from which position they opened on the enemy's artillery, using solid shot and shell with such good effect that one of the opposing batteries was forced to withdraw. But the enemy brought up fresh batteries, some of which, having a cross-fire, proved destructive to Hart's men and horses.
This artillery fire was succeeded by a strong infantry advance, a part of Ker-shaw's South Carolina Brigade attacking the south front of the Peach Orchard, where Hart's guns were in line. He ordered his gunners to use shrapnel, which was soon changed to canister as the advancing lines of Confederate infantry came within close range. This attack was repulsed by the battery; the enemy formed for a second charge and were repulsed again. But the battery having exhausted its stock of canister, and having nothing left in the caissons except some solid shot, was obliged to withdraw. It was in action at this place over two hours. It then limbered to the rear of the main line where it repaired damages and replenished the ammunition chests, after which it reported to General Tyler that it was again ready for action.
On July 3d,— the third day of the battle,— the Fifteenth Battery took part in the grand cannonade which was such a prominent feature of the day's contest. It was posted with the rest of McGilvery's Artillery Brigade at a point in the line about half way between Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top. When the Confederate infantry advanced, at the close of the artillery fire, the battery assisted in the repulse of Wilcox's and Perry's brigades, using double charges of canister on their ranks. During the artillery fire with which the enemy sought to cover the retreat of their infantry, the Fifteenth New York Battery achieved signal success by exploding two of his caissons and dismounting two guns by well-directed shots aimed by Sergeant Sheehy and Corporal Hammond.
The battery carried 2 officers and 68 men into action at Gettysburg, of whom 16 were killed or wounded, Captain Hart being among the latter. Lieutenant Knox, who was severely wounded, is mentioned in Captain Hart's report as one whose " noble and gallant conduct deserves the highest honor that could be conferred on him." In addition to the casualties among the men, the battery lost 25 horses killed or wounded.
After Gettysburg the battery participated in the fall campaign, being present at Rappahannock Station and Mine Run, after which it went into winter quarters with the Army of the Potomac near Culpeper, Va.
Breaking camp early on the morning of May 5, 1864, Captain Hart and his command moved with Grant's army on the Wilderness campaign, during which it was present or engaged in that long series of hard-fought battles. On May 23, 1864, the battery was in action at the North Anna, where it was under fire and several of the men were wounded.
It was attached, at this time, to the Artillery Brigade of the Fifth Corps, having been transferred from the Reserve Artillery on May 16th. At Cold Harbor further losses in killed and wounded were sustained while in the works in front of that place.
During the assault on Petersburg, June 17, 1864, the battery was actively engaged, its guns being run up well to the front and placed within easy canister range of the enemy's earthworks and artillery. Captain Hart and his men received special mention in the official reports for the courage and skill with which they handled their guns on this occasion. In addition to the losses sustained in this action, several men were killed or wounded in the trenches before Petersburg during the long siege that followed this first assault.
On the morning of August 18, 1864, the battery left its camp near the Avery House, in front of Petersburg, and, accompanying the Fifth Corps, moved to a point on the Weldon Railroad where a general engagement occurred. Hart's guns went into position near the Blick House, and west of it. Later in the day the pieces were placed about twenty rods farther west. The battle opened on the next day about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the Confederates attacking vigorously in order to drive the Fifth Corps from its position. In this fight, Hart's Battery, with others of the Artillery Brigade, assisted materially in checking the advance of the enemy.
But the battle was not over. On the next day, August 20th, the artillerymen busied themselves in throwing up earthworks in front of the guns, putting down platforms, and strengthening their position generally. The enemy renewed the attack on the 21st, but were again repulsed, the artillery taking a prominent part in the fighting. At no battle in the Virginia campaigns of 1864 was artillery used so effectively as at the Weldon Railroad.
The Fifteenth New York Battery did its share, as is evident from the official reports. Colonel Wainwright, commander of the Artillery Brigade, Fifth Corps, says in his report: " The advanced position held by Hart's and Mink's Batteries, especially the former, afforded these commanders greater opportunities to display their promptness in changing front, while they were also more exposed than others. The manner in which they handled their guns is worthy of the highest praise."
In the battle at the Weldon Railroad the Fifteenth Battery lost 11 men killed or wounded; a severe loss, as it only had 4 guns at this time.
Three months later, in November, the battery was ordered to Washington, where it remained for a short time in the defences of that city. During this period it was attached to the Twenty-second Corps. In December it moved to Harper's Ferry, where it was consolidated, February 4, 1865, with " Kus-serow's Battery,"— the Thirty-second New York Independent Battery — Captain Hart being retained in command. The Thirty-second Battery, still under command of Captain Hart, was mustered out of service July 14, 1865, at New York City.
The guns that had thundered on so many battlefields were turned over to the Ordnance Department, and the veterans who had stood by them so bravely returned to the quiet walks of peace.