5 May 2008
James F. Gibson, of Mathew Brady’s Washington studio, took a lot of photographs as he traveled with the Federal Army on the Virginia Peninsula in early summer 1862. Among these are a number with particular interest in artillery and artillerymen. Well represented among them are Horatio Gates Gibson and his command, the combined Companies C and G of the Third United States Artillery.
This is Regular Army Captain Gibson in the midst of his command in June 1862. It’s a detail from a stunning picture of the entire battery of six 3-inch ordnance rifles and the nearly 100 officers and men who were present on campaign. Gibson and many of these were in action from the Peninsula through Antietam and Gettysburg to Appomattox Courthouse with the Army of the Potomac.
Here’s the full image of the battery that summer:
Motion has blurred just about everyone and everything except Gibson and objects immediately around him, which gives the picture a dramatic quality–as if the entire unit was placed to frame the commanding officer–an effect probably unintended by the photographer.
Notable also, is that all the men of the battery are mounted. This is what distinguishes the Horse or Flying Artillery from the other kind of horse-drawn light artillery of the period, in which most of the men walked. Flying artillery was well suited to accompany fast moving cavalry, which it did with great success in both American armies during the Civil War.
By the occasion of the picture, though, Horatio Gibson had been in US Army service nearly 19 years, since reporting as a cadet to the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, in July 1843. He graduated 17th in the Class of 1847, just behind AP Hill (15th) and ahead of AE Burnside (18th) and John Gibbon (20). He was briefly brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Artillery, then commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, 3rd US Artillery for service in the Mexican War.
He was at Vera Cruz and in action at Puebla and Mexico City under the command of Captain Braxton Bragg, of whom he thought highly. If the reported fragging incidents are true, Gibson may have been nearly alone in admiring Bragg.
After Mexico, like many of his brother officers, Gibson saw wide-ranging service on expeditions and garrisons in the American West. He was briefly stationed at Ft. Columbus, on Governor’s Island in NY Harbor in 1858, but from 1849 to 1851 he was on duty at the California posts of Monterrey and San Francisco.
He was promoted to First Lieutenant in May 1851 and subsequently served at Sonoma, and up the coast skirmishing with Native Americans on the Cocqille River and at Port Orford, Oregon Territory into 1852. After a short stint at Fort Sullivan, Maine, he was transferred to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri (1852-53), saw remote frontier duty at Forts Gibson and Washitain in the Indian Territory (later Oklahoma, 1853-54) and was back on the west coast at Fort Reading, California by 1855.
From the post at Reading he set out as part of the escort for a “topographical party”–the Williamson Expedition–exploring the southern route for a proposed Pacific Railroad.
…The other coastal expedition set out from Sacramento with two goals. Led first by [Lieutenant Robert S.] Williamson and later [Lieutenant Henry L.] Abbot after Williamson took ill, the party sought a suitable crossing of the Sierra Nevada near the source of the Carson River. In addition, their orders called for a survey of possible routes to Oregon and Washington.
Because the Indians of northern California and Oregon were hostile, a large escort under Lieutenants John B. Hood, Philip Sheridan [cavalry], Horatio Gates Gibson [artillery], and George Crook [infantry], accompanied the topogs. Williamson and Abbot were in good company as they started north to Klamath Lake…
Later that year he was sent to Fort Lane, Oregon, the advanced base for action against the local Indian tribes–activity later known as the Rogue River Expedition–where he was severely wounded in action with Oregon Indians about 1 November 1855.
He returned to the San Fransisco Bay area at Benicia and The Presidio through 1856 and into 1857. In mid-1857 he and a small group of artillerymen and other soldiers from the Presidio were assigned to construct and man an Indian-control outpost in the Mendocino Reserve.
… when First Lieutenant Gibson established an Army post on the Mendocino Indian Reservation in northern California, he had no hesitation regarding a name. Colonel Bragg had left the Army in favor of the life of a Louisiana planter, confining his government service by 1856 to serving as his state’s Commissioner of Public Works. By naming the new camp after this hero of Buena Vista, Gibson felt that at least the Bragg name was back in the service of the Army.
For an artilleryman, the early days of Fort Bragg were especially trying. Men who had been recruited and trained as cannoneers of the 3d Artillery found themselves performing the age-old Army chores of artisans, masons, and hewers of wood.
“It is slow work, owing to the scarcity of proper tools,” reported Gibson on June 18, 1857, a week after officially establishing the post. “I do not expect to have all necessary buildings completed before the beginning of the rainy season…”
Fort Bragg was a year old when almost the entire garrison was suddenly rushed to eastern Washington for the Coeur d’Alene War. Gibson was sick when the call came. He ordered 15 of his men to respond to the call. Ten days later he followed them [in action 5-8 September 1858], placing a noncommissioned officer in temporary charge of the post.
Gibson returned to Bragg for a short time after the end of the Coeur d’Alene War, then moved on [15 November 1858] to be the quartermaster of his regiment …
Though briefly remaining at Fort Vancouver, Washington, and again tasked with missions into Northern California Indian Country thereafter, he and his battery were permanently assigned to the garrison at The Presidio from 1859 up to the outbreak of Civil War in Spring 1861. Due to absence or illness of the usual commander of the post, Captain Erasmus D. Keyes, 3d Artillery, Gibson was reported in command there over several periods, including 1 March – August 1856, 6 February – 19 May 1859, and June 30 – July 1859.
On 14 May 1861 he was promoted Captain, 3d Artillery, and summoned East as the Federal Army prepared for war. We’ll get to all that and the rest of his career in Part 2.
The 1862 James F. Gibson photograph is from the US Library of Congress, and all his digitized works are easy to find in the online catalog to their Prints and Photographs collection.
The illustration above of Scott entering Mexico City is by William Henry Powell (1823-1879) and is reproduced online in a US Army publication on the Occupation of Mexico (pg. 36). Powell is listed in Appleton’s, online from Google.
The details of Horatio Gibson’s military service are from Cullum (Vol 2, Pt. 2 pg. 316-) –his number is 1347.
The quote about the Williamson Expedition and accompanying illustration are from Chapter Six of Dr. Frank N. Schubert’s Vanguard OF Expansion: Army Engineers in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1819-1879 (USACoE, 1980), posted online by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Erasmus Keyes’ memoirs are in Fifty Years’ Observations of Men and Events, Civil and Military (1884), online from GoogleBooks, and contain more details about service at the Presidio and combat with Indians in the 1850s. Lt. Gibson is briefly mentioned at several points.
The story of the naming of Fort Bragg and link to the Coeur d’Alene War are quoted from Colonel Hart’s history page hosted by the California State Military Museum. The plaque photo is from the Fort Tours page about the site of the fort.
In a comment below, Craig noticed that the third gun from the bottom in the Battery picture above looked more like a Napoleon than an Ordnance Rifle. See if you don’t agree: