Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports

The Document


No. 6.

Report of Col. Charles P. Kingsbury, U. S. Army, Chief Ordnance Officer.

PITTSBURGH, PA., January 24, 1863.

SIR: Nearly all the papers connected with my duties while serving with the Army of the Potomac were left, when I was detached therefrom, [155] to my successor. I shall have to rely, therefore, upon memory for the statement asked for in your letter of the 20th, but which I hope will convey with sufficient minuteness of detail the information desired by General McClellan. The duties referred to extended through a period of about eleven months, and my object will be to give a brief abstract of the more prominent facts pertaining thereto. The want of arms was one of the principal difficulties to be overcome in the preparation of the Army of the Potomac for the field. From an inadequate appreciation of the magnitude of the impending conflict, or from some other cause, no provision was made at the commencement of the war for a supply of arms, except from the Springfield Armory. No encouragement was then offered to private manufacturers in the United States, and I believe no attempt was made to import arms until alter General McClellan’s arrival in Washington, in the latter part of July, 1861. Indeed, I have been informed that the appropriation made near the close of the extra session of that year for the purchase of arms was on the estimate of an officer not of the Ordnance Department. Most of the arms originally furnished were the altered percussion musket, to the reception of which there was an unconquerable aversion from almost the entire army, the objection to them being partly, perhaps, due to prejudice, but generally to their known inferiority. The alteration from flint to percussion was in many cases not well done, and from the hard usage to which they were subjected in the hands of raw troops they were so liable to become unserviceable that officers and men soon lost all confidence in them, and to a certain extent they were a prolific source of demoralization. Reports were constantly received from commanders of regiments and from military boards, condemning them without discrimination, and not seldom expressing an unwillingness to engage the enemy with such weapons. Many of the foreign arms which were substituted for them were but little better, and after a brief trial in camp served only as a basis for the renewal of complaints. Thus experiments were going on for months in the exchange of one suspicious musket for another of similar quality.

Notwithstanding these continuous transfers and new issues [it was] about January 15, 1862, I believe, when two division commanders, by direction of the President, made an official inquiry as to the condition of their department, and whether that condition was such as to prevent an immediate advance. There were, I think, between thirty and forty regiments still armed with the altered musket, and others with foreign arms of perhaps inferior quality. Nor was this all. When the army left Washington two or three kinds or calibers of arms were often found in the same regiment, and in the entire army there were probably not less than ten varieties, and of almost as many calibers, from the manufactories of the United States, England, France, Belgium, Prussia, and Austria. This variety of caliber was constant source of trouble and anxiety in keeping up a supply of suitable ammunition for the field, and as the wagons of the ordnance trains were not properly marked, so as to reveal their contents at a glance, extraordinary exertions were required to supply the troops during the movement from the Chickahominy to Harrison’s Landing. Thus, with the exception of the inferior quality of a portion of the arms, and a dangerous variety of calibers, the infantry of the Army of the Potomac, I believe, took the field with an ample supply of ordnance material of unexceptional quality.

The armament of the cavalry was also attended with vexation and delay, but to some extent this was due to indecision or difference of opinion among some of the officers of that branch of service. It was [p.156] at one time determined to abandon the carbine and convert all the mounted troops into light cavalry; but soon after taking the field this arrangement was changed, and application was made for carbines, which had but recently been condemned as an incumbrance to mounted troops. These were furnished not as fast as they were wanted, but as fast as they could be procured from the department.

The supply of field artillery—smooth bore and rifle—was abundant and generally of excellent quality. At an early day I addressed a letter to General McClellan recommending that no more 6-pounders be received, and that the smooth-bore batteries be formed, as far as practicable, of light 12s or Napoleons. This suggestion was approved, and the army was thus liberally provided with what, perhaps, proved to be the most efficient part of our artillery. Of the rifle ammunition there was some complaint, and officers were divided in opinion as to the relative merits of the different kinds employed. It may be stated, however, that in some instances sufficient care had not been observed in the fabrication, and that its use was attended with but little less danger to ourselves than to the enemy.

After leaving Yorktown the principal depot was at the White House, and when the communications with that point were threatened several millions of cartridges for small-arms and artillery were rapidly transferred from thence to the vicinity of Savage Station and what was known as Forage Station. From these temporary depots such of the troops as had exhausted their ammunition in the various and protracted conflicts of June 26 and 27 were resupplied, and were thus enabled, without any lack of material, to fight and win the battles of Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale, and Malvern Hill, and when the army reached James River several steamboats laden with the remainder of the supplies from the White House were already at the landing.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General, New York.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.154-156

web page Rickard, J (9 October 2006),

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