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The Richmond Otey Battery: 1862-1865

"Here's forty shillings on the drum
For those who'll volunteer to come
To 'list and fight the foe today.
Over the hills and far away"


History of the Otey Battery


In early March, 1862, Captain George Gaston Otey, adjutant of the 1ST Virginia Infantry, was given the assignment of organizing a new battery of light artillery. The recruits for this unit were from Richmond’s upper and middle classes, as well as transfers from other units. Some native born Yankees from Pennsylvania and Maryland also joined the mix. Captain Otey and the battery were held in such high esteem that men who had served in other units as officers and NCO’s joined the battery as privates.

The service record of the battery for the next three years would bear out this high reputation , making it one of the Confederate Army’s premier, and highly respected, artillery units.

Upon its activation the battery was ordered to Western Virginia for service. The situation in the region west of the Blue Ridge was desperate for the Confederacy and good troops were sorely needed. The need was so dire that General Henry Heth, commander of the Dept. of Western Virginia, ordered Captain Otey to report immediately with his men and that guns were waiting for him on his arrival. The battery became part of a battalion commanded by Major John Floyd King. The battery’s association with King would continue on and off for the remainder of the war.

From 1862 until the Spring of 1864 the battery was engaged in numerous operations in Western Virginia and East Tennessee.

The battery saw its first action at the Battle of Giles Court House, Virginia on May 10, 1862. At Lewisburg, West Virginia on May 23, 1862 it lost its commander, Captain Otey, who was mortally wounded. Lt. David Norvell Walker assumed command of the unit, a position he would hold for the remainder of the war.

In September, 1862 the battery was placed in a battalion of artillery commanded by Major John Floyd King.

The Battalion consisted of :

Otey Virginia Battery : Capt. David Norvell Walker

Ringold Virginia Battery: Capt. Timothy Stamps

Bryan’s Virginia Battery: Capt. Thomas A. Bryan

Lowery’s Virginia Battery: Capt. William M. Lowery

Chapman’s Virginia Battery: Capt. George B. Chapman

Detailed to ensure the safety of the Virginia-Tennessee Railroad from the Fall of 1862 through the Spring of 1864 the battery continued to perform in an exemplary manner.

While in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee, new, and different, blood was added to the battery’s upper crust of Richmond society as mountaineers from Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee were recruited to replace those men of the Otey Battery who had left the unit due to enemy action and illness.

In October, 1863, King, now a Colonel, and his battalion were assigned to the division of Major General Robert Ransom. At that time the battalion consisted of:

Otey Battery : Capt. David Norvell Walker

Ringold Battery: Capt. Crispin Dickenson

Davidson’s Battery: Capt. George B. Davidson

Lowery’s Battery: Capt. William M. Lowery

Rhett Tennessee Battery: Capt. William H. Burroughs

McClung’s (Caswell Artillery) Tennessee Battery: Capt. Hugh L.W. McClung

Shedding the two Tennessee batteries in January, 1864, the battalion was officially designated as the 13th Virginia Light Artillery Battalion. Before the Spring of 1864 the battalion would also shed Lowery's Virginia Battery, leaving the Otey, Ringold, and Davidson Batteries to be the makeup of the battalion for the remainder of the war. The Otey Battery was designated as Company A, the Ringold Battery as Company B, and Davidson's Battery became Company C. The men in the three batteries would grow to be proud of this association for the duration of the war and afterward.

1864 would also bring new challenges to the Otey Battery and the battalion. They would be placed in a theater of war which would test their mettle to a far greater extent than before.

In February, 1864 command of the battalion would pass to Major William M. Owen of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans. King would return to command in April, but only for a brief time.

In early May, 1864, after two years serving in the mountainous regions of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee, Col. King was ordered to split his battalion and report, with two of his batteries, to the command of Brig. Gen. E. Porter Alexander. He chose Otey’s and Lowery’s Batteries to accompany him. However this plan did not come to fruition. Lowery’s Battery was assigned to a battalion commanded by King, and then , Major William McLaughlin, in the Valley District. Otey’s Battery continued on to join Alexander. Command of the battalion passed to Major Wade Hampton Gibbes of South Carolina.

The Ringold Battery was delayed at Dublin Depot and would take part in the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain on May 9, 1864. Later, Davidson’s Battery at Abingdon, Virginia and the Ringold Battery would head East to join Otey’s Battery in Longstreet’s 1ST Corps. All would take part in the bloody Overland Campaign. As part of Breckinridge’s Division Otey’s Battery would see action at North Anna and Totopotomoy Creek. After being reunited with the Ringold and Davidson’s Batteries in late May, Otey’s Battery took part in the bloody fighting at Cold Harbor.

**(When the 13th Battalion was ordered to join Alexander's artillery, it was to replace the famed Washington Artillery of New Orleans, which had been transferred from the 1st Corps.)

After Cold Harbor, from June, 1864 through April, 1865 the battery, armed with four[4] 12 pounder Napoleon guns, was involved in the deadly siege of Petersburg. The battery also served three[3] 24 pounder Coehorn Mortars. At the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864 the 13th Virginia Light Artillery Battalion was positioned in the line to the right of where the crater, created by the explosion of a mine planted by the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, was located. Davidson’s Battery was positioned immediately to the right of the crater with Otey’s Battery next in line. At the explosion, Davidson’s gunners, stunned, frightened and confused by the blast, abandoned their guns. Major Gibbes sent the men of the Otey Battery to man the guns abandoned by Davidson’s men. From their position they fired directly into the large pit made by the Yankee mine, performing lethal execution on the Federal troops trapped there. Throughout the fight the men of the Otey Battery fought with tenacity and distinction. One of the Otey gunners stated that the crews “fired a wagon load of shells into the crater”. Not one of their gun positions was disabled by Federal fire.

Major Gibbes was seriously wounded in the fighting at The Crater. Command of the battalion once again fell to Major William M. Owen. He would hold the position until April, 1865. At that time Captain David N. Walker, commander of the Otey Battery, would assume command of the battalion, its final commander.

Life in the trenches was still perilous after the Battle of the Crater. Otey’s Battery still lost men to enemy action. Illness decreased the ranks further as the trenches were not a healthy place. In early August Capt. G.B. Davidson of Davidson’s battery resigned and command of the battery went to Lt. John H. Chamberlayne.

On October 27, 1864, while the two armies were engaged in heavy fighting at Burgess's Mill 8 miles southwest of Petersburg, enemy forces attempted an incursion into the Confederate line in the 13th Bn.'s sector. Artillery commander E. Porter Alexander ordered heavy fire to be brought down on the attackers. The 3 Coehorn mortars of the Otey Battery alone fired 130 shells!

In October, 1864 the 13TH Battalion was transferred from Longstreet's  1ST Corps to A.P. Hill’s 3RD Corps. With the exception of brief detachments to John B. Gordon's 2nd Corps in February, 1865, they served with the 3rd Corps through the Appomattox Campaign.

The winter of 1864-65 brought hardship due to cold and hunger for the battery, but they moved about the defenses around Petersburg repelling Union incursions.

On February 5, 1865, temporarily attached to Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's 2nd Corps, the battery took part in the Battle of Hatcher's Run.

In late March, 1865 the 13th battalion was sent to Fort Gregg in the outer rim of defenses.

With the Confederate defeat at Five Forks on April 1, Lee knew he would have to evacuate his lines at Petersburg. The defenders at Fort Gregg were to buy time for the Army of Northern Virginia to make its escape.

At noon on April 1, the Federal XXIV Corps attacked Fort Gregg causing heavy casualties among the defenders, but the stand of the gallant Confederates bought the precious time Lee needed to get his army out and to safety. Those of the 13th Bn who survived the action at Fort Gregg headed west across the Appomattox River, to join in the retreat of the army which began on April 2.

The Army of Northern Virginia retreated from the trenches in the evening of  April 2, 1865. The now small battalion, consisting of Otey’s Battery and Dickinson’s Ringold Battery, under the command of Captain David N. Walker, became part of Brig. Gen. R. Lindsay Walker’s artillery column. So as not to hamper the movement of the rest of the army Walker’s artillery moved out ahead of Lee’s main force. Chamberlayne’s(formerly Davidson’s) Battery had been transferred to McIntosh’s Artillery Battalion.

On April 5, at Amelia Court House, the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized. The Otey and Ringold Batteries, along with numerous other artillery companies, were  divested of their artillery pieces and rearmed with Enfield rifled muskets. Thereafter they served as an ad hoc infantry battalion.

Otey’s Battery fought their last action at Appomattox Station, Virginia on April 8, 1865 against George Armstrong Custer’s Yankee Cavalry. The 13TH Battlion of Virginia Light Artillery, of which the Otey and Ringold Batteries were the only two batteries left, were Gen. Walker's pickets and skirmish line. Repeating the gallant service they had rendered  at Fort Gregg, the battalion was instrumental in holding back the Federals, preventing them from closing with Lee's main body thereby eluding a total disaster. During the fight, Walker's Reserve Artillery also opened up on the Federals. The men of the Otey and Ringold Batteries were caught in a vicious crossfire between their artillery and that of the Yankees. The battalion was eventually over run losing many in the process. The Otey Battery lost 1 killed, 1 wounded, and several captured. Those who escaped from the fight were surrendered the next day along with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia.

During its three years of service, 203 individuals passed through the ranks of the battery. Nine men were killed or mortally wounded. Twenty-four were wounded but recovered. Eleven were listed as missing, and must be presumed as having been killed. If the 11 missing were killed then the battle death toll would actually be 20. This came to a total of 44 men lost to enemy action. Four members of the battery died of disease. One died in a Federal prison camp.

As a tribute to the unit’s integrity and an indication of the battery’s quality, ONLY FIVE members were lost to desertion in its three years of service!! Few units, Confederate or Union, could boast of such a record!

To further appreciate this outstanding unit the following book is recommended.

The Otey, Ringold, and Davidson Virginia Artillery by Michael A. Cavanaugh. This book is part of the Virginia Regimental History Series.