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.

Gibson on the Peninsula, 1862
Capt. H.G. Gibson, 3d US Artillery, June 1862 (James F. Gibson, Library of Congress)

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:

Gibson's battery at Fair Oaks, VA, 1862click to see larger image
Companies C and G, 3d US Artillery, June 1862, Fair Oaks, Va. (James F. Gibson, Library of Congress)

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.

General Scott entering Mexico City
General Scott Entering Mexico City (W.H. Powell, Library of Congress)

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.

Lieutenant Williamson's survey party at work near the entrance of Livermore Pass
Lieutenant Williamson’s survey party at work near the entrance of Livermore Pass

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.

Plaque at Ft Bragg

… 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.

His last pre-war forays were to find combat on the Truckee River and the skirmish on Pyramid Lake, June, 1860 and a stint at Ft. Churchill, Nevada nearby.

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 another day.

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.


Addendum button-counting

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:

might be a Napoleon!

14 Responses to “Horatio Gibson of the Flying Artillery (1)”

  1. Harry says:


    Bragg ascended to the command of Ringgold’s Battery (IIRC, Ringgold was the champion of the flying artillery) after that famous officer’s death, over the objections of the senior ranking officer T. W. “Old Tim” Sherman. Sherman was given Battery E, 3rd US in compensation, which he led with such distinction in Mexico that the battery was still known as Sherman’s Battery long after that officer had left the command. In fact, it was called Sherman’s Battery by both sides at First Bull Run, where it was commanded by Romeyn B. Ayres.

  2. Harry says:


    I think the middle section of the battery in this photo was under the command of Peter C. Hains, the June 1861 USMA grad who opened the First Battle of Bull Run with a shot from a 30 pdr Parrott rifle.

  3. Craig says:

    At the risk of being a “button counter,” doesn’t the third artillery piece from the camera (up and to the right of Gibson) appear to be a 12pdr Napoleon? The breech appears flat, the knob’s neck less blended into the breech, what appears to be a muzzle swell, and perhaps a slightly different tint of the gray scale. As you say, very detailed photo. Too bad the battery wasn’t turned about, as we probably could make out the registry numbers and foundry stamps! :-0

  4. Brian says:

    Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the connection to Ringgold and Sherman’s Battery.

    I think your friend Hains commanded Battery M of the 2nd Arty on the Peninsula. Which reminds me how poor my bio of him on AotW is. I remember doing tons of research and finding many Washington DC (hometown) connections for Peter Conover some years back … I’m worried a little now about his role at Antietam: he transferred to the Topographical Engineers in July 62, but we all have him in battery command, still, in September.

    I mean to get to the other officers of Gibson’s battery (thanks to another James F Gibson photo) in a follow-up post to this one. And his USMA class ring, too. The wonder of digital photo archives!

  5. Brian says:

    Hi Craig, as you say, the third gun does look different. See the slightly contrast-enhanced detail portion of the photo. Good eye!

    might be a Napoleon!

    The record is pretty clear that he had 6 Rifles at Antietam, at least. Wonder what this means? Did he employ a mix on the Peninsula and replace with a rifle later? Was it due to a gun lost at Williamsburg in May? Did someone substitute a borrowed Napoleon just for the photograph because of a carriage out for repair (or some such)?

  6. craig says:

    Well now we have a riddle. I’m showing that Gibson’s battery was armed with six Ordnance rifles, dating back to April 1862. [OR Ser 1, Vol 5, S#5, page 19]. Maybe the photograph happened to include one (or more) guns from another battery also preparing for movement?

    And another interesting note to pass along: Of the 957 3in Ord Rifles produced from 1861 to 1867, only 230 or so were issued for service by September 1862. Phoenix Iron Works had delivered around 500 by September, but for some reason, less than half were issued. We know this because a nice patent stamp on the trunnions for registry numbers higher than 235, indicating the date of December 9, 1862.

    So that means Gibson’s guns at Antietam had to be registry numbers 235 or lower. Of those early production guns, around 145 are cataloged as existing today. Running the numbers, there is a 60% chance that one of the guns flanking Gibson is today sited on a National Park, Courthouse square, or other memorial.

  7. Don says:


    As you prep the piece on Gibson’s officers, his report on the Williamsburg skirmish lists several of them as injured in the skirmish. Approximate page numbers are in the post, or I can shoot you his report. I think he may be the one I blame for starting the B.F. Davis legend….


  8. Brian says:

    Hi Don, thanks for the pointer. I’ll not go too deep on the other officers of the Battery, but include them in Gibson part 2.

    I’m sure I’m being dim, but what legend are you meaning?

  9. Don says:


    It ties back into the never-ending Harpers Ferry project, I’m afraid. Davis gets the lion’s share of the credit for the escape, and I’m not so sure he’s entitled to it. One of the reasons he did receive it was that he was better known in and outside army circles than the officer in charge of the escape, Colonel Arno Voss. Some of Davis’ advantage came from pre-war reputation, but his wartime fame really began with this engagement. Which will eventually be an entire different post over at my place if I ever get it figured out. 8^)

  10. Tom Clemens says:

    A Napoleon in a horse battery would be extremely unlikely. From the appearance in the photo, size comparison to carriage, etc. and logic, my guess it that the gun in question is a M 1841 six pounder. These were popular in the horse batteries early in the war. A Napoleon weighed approx. 1,200 lbs and used a No. 2 carriage of 1,000 lbs. A six pounder was about 860 lbs. and its carriage 750 lbs. That is a huge difference in terms of being horse-drawn. I am almost certain it is a 6-pdr.
    Tom Clemens

  11. Brian says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’d be an idiot to argue arty with you, so I won’t :)

    I thought maybe 6-pounder also, but didn’t see the “rings” around the middle of tube or near the muzzle as I’d expected. Perhaps they’re obscured in this view.

    I do see a hint of a ring just behind the muzzle now that I look again, perhaps.

    Still don’t know why the ‘odd’ gun was with the battery, though. Perhaps our supporting doc isn’t all it could be.

    [6-pounder page on AotW for picture]

  12. Craig says:

    I agree. On further examination, it does look to be a 6pdr. The base ring is evident in the photograph, which was not on any Napoleon. I must have looked at one too many “false Napoleons” over the last few months.

    This sort of falls in line with the speculation that the weapon in question as a “float” to temporarily replace the piece lost at Williamsburg. In the early summer of ’62 the AoP artillery was discarding the remainder of it’s old Model 1841s for updated weapons. I could see a 6-pdr, more so than a 12-pdr, offered as a float from the depot.

  13. Ron McKimmy says:

    My Great Grandfather was a photographer in Madison, Georgia. He was born in New York and was a friend to the Comstocks from there. They all moved to Michigan where Addison J Comstock founded Adrian, Mi. A son married a Gardner. Could the James F. Gibson, the Civil War photographer, assistant to Alexander Garnder be of this family? Where can I get history of James F. Gibson? Thank you for your time. Ron McKimmy

  14. Wendie Allison says:

    Hi Ron,
    I don’t know if you come to this website any longer, but I too, am looking for more info on James Gibson. I have have Gibson ancestry in my family… I have a book that is called Mathew Brady…Portraits of a Nation by Robert Wilson…Very good book. Check it out. You may find more about Gardner in there too…Let me know what you find if anything about James F. Gibson. I’m trying to find out who is parents are and if married, etc.
    Thank you, Wendie

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