top of page
  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

"Going Into Action" but Which Battery Was It?

by Gordon Thorsby

Is a correct Photograph identification of critical importance? To Civil War Artillerist fans and enthusiasts, it is. If using the photograph for a post or article, new skirmishes and battles flare up each time this picture is shown. May we attempt to settle the question?

Timothy O’Sullivan (below) was part of the Alexander Gardner studio team of photographers. Bob Zeller from the Center for Civil War Photography proffers that Gardner and his crew were the beginning of Journalistic Photography and the photo by O’Sullivan documents a battery loading to fire.

So what battery was in the Timothy O’Sullivan photograph? The Official Records from the War of the Rebellion may help answer this question. Battery D, Second U.S. artillery was under the command of Lt. Edward Williston as part of the Artillery Brigade for the VI Corps.

Battery D, Fifth Artillery was under the command of Lt. Charles Hazlett in the V Corps Artillery Brigade. Its role in the two-day fight was negligible. Its position was in reserve. They were in heavy fighting at Second Bull Run and at the debacle at Fredericksburg. The V Corps' entrenched to protect the unengaged flank. Hazlett’s own report (about one short paragraph) illustrated that nothing much happened but for marching up from Fredericksburg and back again.

As for Battery D, Second U.S. Artillery, they had their hands full. The Artillery reserve and the VI Corps Artillery Brigade batteries were in constant motion, at multiple positions, and dueling Confederate batteries and infantry positions. In the Official report, the Second U.S. was cited throughout Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt’s 7,000+ word report and in reports from several other generals during the campaign. If a battery deserved an excellent photograph, Battery D Second earned one at Chancellorsville.

However, Battery D Fifth was available to do some posing and O’Sullivan titled it as the Fifth Artillery. Second Artillery was too busy and the boys would have been too exhausted from the fighting. The after-action refitting would have kept them consumed with equipment and animals. But wait. The Photograph has in the title 'Fredericksburg?'

Ready for a best answer?

The high-quality photo of O’Sullivan allows a zoom up to analyze what guns were in use by these crews. The closest two guns reveal that these were Napoleon twelve-pounders. The muzzles of the guns (see below right) are “slightly fluted." Only one of these batteries fired Napoleon twelve-pound smoothbore cannons with the title "Battery D" and that was Williston’s Battery D Second U.S Artillery, Hazlett’s Battery D Fifth U.S. Artillery was equipped

with the unique looking ten-pound Parrotts, a rifled gun. The iron ring/ band at the back of the tube is to reinforce the barrel to prevent accidental explosion. The closeup has no noticeable band.

Could it be another battery with twelve-pound Napoleons? Maybe. The title from the photograph is that it took place June 4, 1863, one month after Chancellorsville involving a Battery D." The Battle of Franklin’s Crossing (June 5,1863) mostly involved Sedgewick’s Twelfth Corps. Only one battery in the XII Corps had Napoleon twelve- pound smoothbores and that was Fourth U.S. Artillery Battery F. Battery D, Second U.S Artillery appears to best fit the bill. Do we know 100% certain? No, not100%, but it is not Battery D, Fifth U.S. Artillery.

Is the lead photograph one that could be used for other units? Why not? Timothy O’Sullivan took this photograph to show the average person how artillery batteries appeared in the Civil War while in action. It wasn’t meant for just one battery.

What do you think?

Note: We often hear of Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack and how the XI Corps was routed. The artillery fight at Chancellorsville is an interesting topic to know more about.


Library of Congress. “Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery, going into action on south side of Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg, Va., June 4, 1863.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume XXV, Chapter XXXVII, pp 163-165.

50 views0 comments


bottom of page