When we look back at historical events we do so with selective vision. We focus on those things that stand out and interest us. Generally these are some type of action or perhaps the exercise of initiative in some fashion. Perhaps its the hero giving the order for the grand charge, or maybe the charge itself.
But it wasn’t that way for the participants was it? These people existed in the current vernacular 24/7/365. The days weren’t spent doing nothing but fighting, they still had to live. Eating, personal hygiene and all the mundane tasks that are required to make an army function have to be performed as well. And the battlefield wasn’t a neat place, everyone in their proper place, shoulder to shoulder, at attention with a heroic look on the face. Rather it was a constantly shifting kaleidoscope, of troop movements large and small, officers and orderlies dashing too and fro, malingerers and skulkers, details, etc.
One episode I have found interesting occurred behind Doles Salient on the night of May 10. Smith’s Battery of the Richmond Howitzers had been overrun by the Federals during Upton’s charge that afternoon. Shortly thereafter the guns had been recaptured and put back into action by the Confederates. Since the men of Smith’s battery had either become casualties or dispersed, the guns had been manned by an ad hoc group for much of the fight. However, General Lee personally ordered Captain Asher Garber to take his gunners and man the guns. This he did and along with the men he found there fought the battle to its conclusion.
It was obvious that Smith’s battery was unfit because of its losses to maintain the position the following day, particularly if the Federals resumed the attack. Therefore Captain Garber was ordered to place his battery in the position. Of course, this meant that his own guns would take the position. So to make room the guns from the Howitzers were pulled by hand from the pits and taken to a position of safety a short distance behind the line (1). The survivors along with the remaining horses were then ordered to the rear for rest.
However, even in a position of “safety”, behind the Confederate lines, at night, the guns could not be left unguarded. A detail of men, under a sergeant, was left to protect the battery. These men stayed with the guns all night and accompanied them to the rear when Garber’s men moved them toward the artillery camps. (2)
So was the guard detail just because that’s how things were done? Or, was it to prevent wandering Confederates from helping themselves to any and everything useful? While guns are what is mentioned we can probably assume the caissons, and all other line equipment was there as well. My guess is that they knew things would walk away during the night if not guarded.
An interesting little note about soldiering even in the midst of a battle.
(1) In the article “A Diary of the War” Found in “Contributions to a History of the Richmond Howitzers” the author says they were removed and taken back 75-100 yards.
(2) General Long visited the area and after telling the guard detail that they would be reequipped immediately ordered Garber to move the guns. En route they met a detail under the ranking Lieutenant of the battery, Henry Carter, coming with battalion horses to remove the guns. The transfer was made and the guns taken to camp by their rightful owners.