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The Keystone Battery of Pennsylvania

Battery "A", 1st Regiment Light Artillery (43rd Volunteers)

Book Review:

Keystone Thunder - Pennsylvania Field Artillery in the Civil War

by Richard W. McCoy

Keystone Thunder

Copyright © 2012 by Richard W. McCoy.  Published 2012 by HERITAGE BOOKS, INC., Publishing Division, 100 Railroad Ave. #104, Westminster, Maryland 21157.  ISBN 978-0-7884-5373-1 (paperbound) and 978-0-7884-3424-2 (clothbound).

The back cover of the paperback edition of this book states, "The story of Pennsylvania's field batteries during the Civil War is, to a great extent, the story of the war itself."  The author supports this theme throughout the book by showing that Pennsylvania field artillery units fought in nearly every theater of the war and participated in nearly every major battle from the beginning to the end of the war.

The author has researched his subject well and the book contains numerous illustrations, officer listings, battery assignments, excellent bibliography, an exhaustive index, and an epilogue outlining the postwar careers of some of the more notable alumni of the Pennsylvania field artillery.  Yet this book is not a mere compendium of facts.  It tells the story of the entire Pennsylvania field artillery service during the Civil War in an engaging and readable style, as a few brief exerpts from the book will demonstrate.

Captain Hezekiah Easton

During June of 1862 the Army of the Potomac was engaged in its Peninsula campaign.  Pennsylvania artillery units were of course heavily involved, and on the 27th of June the confrontation known as the Battle of Gaines' Mill occurred.  "At around 5 o'clock in the afternoon … a Union regular army cavalry unit attempted to charge the Confederates, but was repulsed and retreated directly through the position occupied by Captain Easton's Battery A.  The fleeing troopers dragged Battery A's horse teams and limbers away with them, leaving Captain Easton's battery without ammunition.  Battery A was quickly overwhelmed.  In response to a demand that his battery surrender, Captain Easton shouted, "No! We never surrender!" and was immediately killed, along with many of his men.  Battery A's cannon all fell to the Confederates."

This fighting spirit was not unique to Captain Easton.  The book contains several accounts of gun crews defending their hubs and their guidons by fighting "hand to hand with rammer-staffs and other implements."

Logistical problems were very common and, necessity being the mother of invention, solutions were found.  Again, June of 1862, "Battery B's guns had been declared unserviceable by the army's chief of artillery because intense use had caused the vent holes to burn out well beyond their proper size, but the emergency left the cannoneers with no choice but to position their well-used pieces in line and start firing.  The cannoneers were forced to place one or two extra friction primers in the vent holes because of the increased diameter.  Then the caissons were ordered rearward by General Truman Seymour to prevent their capture or destruction, and the artillery ran out of cannister rounds.  Some gunners began firing shells with the fuses removed."  A dangerous solution indeed!

The author reveals that the soldiers who aided President Lincoln immediately after he was shot were, you guessed it, Pennsylvania cannoneers.  "Booth ran from the stage as screams rang out from the box above.  President Lincoln had been shot in the head.  An army surgeon named Doctor Charles Leale was in the theatre and rushed to the aid of the President.  After a brief examination, Doctor Leale asked for help in carrying his unconscious patient out of the theater.  Privates Corry, Griffiths, Sample, and Soles, along with two other men, went up to the box and lifted the prostrate form of Abraham Lincoln in their arms.  Laura Keene led them downstairs and outside where an officer named Lieutenant James Bolton cleared the way through a crowd by brandishing his sword and cursing those who got too close."

"The four artillerists carried their charge to the nearby home of William Petersen at 453 Tenth Street, where the unconscious and mortally wounded President was placed on a bed in a small room.  The four men from Battery C stepped outside, their personal role in the national tragedy having ended ... Five days after the assassination, on the 19th of April, a select detachment of mounted men from Pennsylvania Independent Battery F (Irish's) were selected as an honor guard when the catafalque bearing Lincoln's coffin was taken from the White House to the train that would carry it across a mourning nation to the President's final resting place in Illinois."

These are just a few of the many fascinating stories in the book Keystone Thunder - Pennsylvania Field Artillery in the Civil War by Richard W. McCoy.  This is a book that belongs in the library of every Civil War or artillery enthusiast.