Monday, May 21, 2007

Is a little bang well placed?

Whenever I see a Mountain Howitzer on the field, I'm reminded of the "I know a little German" joke in the movie Top Secret! But my version of the joke would go, "I have little artillery..."

On a more serious note, this leads to a larger question about what artillery should take to the reenacting field. I've noted in past posts that artillery tend to be the most problematic units on the reenacting field. I hold fast to this belief for several reasons, most stemming from my personal observations and discussions with various artillerymen for many years.

Before I go any further, I'll say that I do appreciate artillery whenever placed and used properly, and whenever there are good personal impressions to back it up. So I'm no "hater". That opinion also extends to every represented branch recreated in reenacting.

Now to the meat of this discussion, which revolves around the use of the smaller pieces along side of the full-sized guns, or more to the point, what their role should be within a reenactment. Admittedly, I have my peeves and the biggest is in regards to the 3/4 scale pieces. To be honest, these should never find their way on any serious reenacting field. I think we all know that the reason these guns are used in the first place - in comparison to a full scale piece, they're a less expensive way to get on the field to make a loud noise. Sorry, that reason doesn't cut it. If expense is a problem, sell the piece and do infantry instead. They look silly when lined up in a battery of full-scale guns, and flatly, they're farby.

OK, with my feelings about 3/4 scale pieces aside, that leaves us with two other pieces of small artillery that finds way on to the reenacting field - the mountain howitzer and the coehorn mortar.

The coehorn mortars have gotten a bad rap because of the way they're used and who uses them. Like the 3/4 scale cannons, they're relatively inexpensive. Unlike 3/4 scale cannons, most of the mortars you see are full scale and have documented use in the Civil War. This site is a great primer on how various artillery was used, and includes mortars. Although there is some documentation of Confederate use, mortars are historically most identified with the Federals, who used them in every shape and size. By their very purpose and use, mortars are siege weapons, so they shouldn't find any way to any reenactment that involves a moving battle. That's what the more portable cannons are designed for. But alias, it seems a disproportionate number are in Confederate hands, used close to regular cannon sometimes, and are usually undermanned.

Mountain howitzers are much like mortars, except with a little bit better reputation on the reenacting field. For the most part, the ones I have seen are full scale, but again, they're used to fill out a battery of much larger cannon and look silly. They were actually meant to be more mobile than a normal artillery piece by the ability for the crew to take the tube and limber apart and mount it on a team of mules for transport using a specially-designed harness. Actually "mountain" is a class of artillery because of this mobility, and is akin to "light" and "heavy" designations.

What to do?

Event hosts need to become more proactive in dictating the needs of the scenarios they wish to present, and what makes sense. In my honest opinion, 3/4 artillery doesn't make sense at all, along with pairing up mortars and mountain howitzers with light artillery pieces. What would be nice would be siege and assault scenarios using a battery of mortars, or a battery of mountain howitzers during a moving battle. The goal is to use the artillery more effectively and more realistically, and not in the haphazard ways it's used currently.

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Postscript: Here's a site that has a down-to-earth guide about artillery that reenactors should read and take to heart.
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