- "Double Canister at Ten Yards": The Federal Artillery and the Repulse of Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863 by David L. Shultz
Many readers are aware that the Army of the Potomac's artillery played a decisive role in repulsing Longstreet's Assault (or Pickett's Charge, if you prefer the less-accurate appellation) on the third day at Gettysburg. Double Canister at Ten Yards provides a comprehensive overview of the Union artillery's role on that famous day. Author David Shultz goes into great detail, explaining how Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt was able to deploy his batteries and work within and without the army's regulations to keep them supplied and belching death at the unfortunate infantrymen of Robert E. Lee's army.
Double Canister at Ten Yards is well written and provides vivid detail. Shultz makes good use of the Official Records and other primary sources to piece together the Union artillery's scattered positions. Excellent maps and photographs accompany the text.
Primarily, Shultz credits General Hunt with organizing the Union artillery's success. According to the author, Hunt brilliantly predicted the Confederate assault's location. As the morning of July 3 unfolded, Hunt meticulously positioned his batteries to cover the Union center along Cemetery Ridge and achieve a crossfire. During the pre-assault bombardment, he ordered his batteries to cease the return-fire in order to deceive the Confederates. The noticeable slackening in the counter-fire caused the Confederates to think the Union gunners were low on ammunition, and thus, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet sent word to begin the attack. Hunt's ruse worked, even though the act of ordering the cease-fire proved especially challenging. Each chapter illustrates Hunt's skill at battlefield management, applauding his communication with his battery commanders, his ability to assess enemy intentions, his speed in reacting to changing situations, and his knack for remaining mobile throughout the engagement.
Even though Double Canister at Ten Yards is commendable, there are places where more explanation would have been helpful. For example, the book could have benefited from additional background on artillery tactics. Introductory readers will not likely understand the complexities of artillery deployment and terminology. For instance, Shultz repeatedly referred to the prolong, the long rope that allowed gunners to connect their piece to the limber without hitching it. When he first introduced the prolong, Shultz did not specify what it was. Occasionally, the author assumes his readers already possess an advanced understanding of Civil War terminology and tactics. Consequently, this book could be a hard sell for readers who are just beginning to learn about the battle.
Also, the author makes a claim that requires more explanation. On page 30, Shultz writes, "By and large, Union gunners were also better artillerists than their Southern counterparts." Without any examples or explanations, Shultz lets that generalization hang there awkwardly. I wouldn't necessarily disagree with him, but a deeper analysis of Confederate shortcomings would have been a helpful addition.
In any case, Double Canister at Ten Yards is a good overview of the importance of Union artillery during this chaotic phase of the battle, and it should be read by anyone who wants to study Long-street's Assault. Should the author want to turn his eye toward the Union artillery's counterpart—the less-decisive role of the Confederate artillery during the bombardment—I'll bet readers would be just as interested in it.