Charles Griffin (December 18 th , 1825 -Septemeber 15 th 1867) was a career officer in the United States Army and became an Union general during the American Civil War. He rose to command a corps in the Army of The Potomac and fought in many of the key campaigns in the Eastern Theatre. In 1849 as a first Lieutenant, he was to serve in the New Mexico Territory against Navajo Indians until 1854. He then left the southwest frontier and taught artillery tactics at West Point. He was to form an artillery battery from the academy’s enlisted men shortly after the southern states began seceding from the Union. Captain Griffin led the “West Point Battery”, (officially designated as Battery D, 5 th US Artillery) at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.
The southern cause was helped by a case of mistaken identity. Colonel Arthur C. Cummings’s 33rd Virginia Regiment wore blue uniforms. The Colonel afraid his men would break and run if they were held in their position any longer, ordered them to advance towards the guns of Ricketts and Griffin.
Griffin saw them coming and swung two of his guns round and had them loaded with cannister. Just as he was about to fire, his superior officer, Major William F. Barry, shouted, “Captain, don’t fire there; those are your battery support.”
“They are Confederates” Griffin shouted back, as certain as the world, they are Confederates.” But Barry insisted, and the guns were swung back to their original line of fire.
The Virginians, meanwhile marched ever closer, halted and fired a volley. Griffin told a subsequent Board of Inquiry, “was the last of us, We were all cut down.” Most of the horses and many of the gunners were killed.
Ricketts was severely wounded. Griffin struggled to save what he could, but Cummings and his Virginians were among them quickly to capture the guns and much ammunition.
A typical “field piece” had an authorized crew of 12 enlisted men constituting a “gun section” led by a sergeant and assisted by one (and sometimes two) corporal. Each section consisted of one “gun,” its “limber” (with one ammunition chest also serving as a seat) and (nominally) six horses (but often only four) to pull it, and a “caisson” (with two ammunition chests/ seats, a spare wheel, tools, and crew baggage) with its own limber pulled by another six horses, and two “spare” horses (when available) tethered to the rear of the caisson. Each “vehicle” was known as a “half section.” Two sections under the command of a second lieutenant constituted a platoon.
While the platoon commander and the two section sergeants (there were no “platoon sergeants” at that time) rode their own assigned horses, six artillerymen rode the three left-side horses in each half section, while the remaining six privates either rode on the three ammunition chests (two to three per chest/seat) or walked alongside. Three platoons (sometimes only two, especially in Confederate units), plus a small headquarters, under a captain, assisted by a first lieutenant and a first sergeant, constituted a “battery.”