Horse artillery batteries were a much rarer commodity in the western theater than they were in the east. During the Atlanta campaign, for example, there was only one battery assigned to each cavalry division, according to David Evans’ excellent book Sherman’s Horsemen.
The Chicago Board of Trade is one of the country’s oldest currently operating futures and options exchanges. It was responsible for raising several units of Illinois volunteers during the course of the Civil War. President Lincoln sent out a call on July 6, 1862 for an additional 300,000 volunteers. On the evening of the 21st, the Board decided to raise a battery of artillery. By 4 pm on July 23rd, $15,000 had been raised and 180 men volunteered for the battery. 156 of these men were selected by the mustering officer, Captain J. Christopher, and mustered into federal service on August 1st as the Chicago Board of Trade battery, Illinois Volunteers.
Captain James H. Stokes was mustered in as captain of the battery. He graduated seventeenth in his class at West Point in 1835. A veteran artillerist, he had served five years as an artilleryman fighting Indians in Florida and three years as a quartermaster before resigning in 1843. He gained a great deal of notoriety by assisting Captain Nathaniel Lyon in securing and moving small arms from the St Louis Arsenal to Springfield, Illinois to equip Illinois volunteers in April 1861.
On August 2nd the battery marched in review past the Board of Trade offices despite a lack of uniforms and went into camp near 37th Street and Stanton Avenue. By the 4th, all officers and noncommissioned officers had been appointed and the command was organized. The battery received six James rifled six-pounder field artillery guns on August 11th, followed by its horses nine days later.
By September 10th, the battery was fully equipped and assigned to the command of General Don Buell. A week later the battery exchanged four of its rifled guns for smoothbore six-pounder guns. They moved with the army on October 1st, and their first engagement was at Lawrenceburg on October 11th.
On December 4th, muskets were issued to the cannoneers, enabling them to act as their own infantry escort for the battery. Ten days later the battery suffered its first casualties when a foraging party was attacked. The loss was one man wounded and six taken prisoner.
In late December 1862, the battery distinguished itself in its first major engagement as an entire battery at the battle of Stone’s River. Positioned by General Rosecrans himself in a gap in the Union line, the battery held its ground against cannon fire and repeated charges by Confederate infantry. Although one charge reached within 30 yards of the guns, the battery repulsed them with canister and held its ground. According to the battery’s historian, “By 11 o’clock the enemy had learned that neither bravery nor numbers could carry the battery in the front, and all was quiet. Three of our men lay dead by their disabled gun.” (Sketch, pg 22)
“After the battle of Stone River, General Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, issued a special order, giving the Battery the privilege of carrying the colors presented by the Chicago Board of Trade, this being the first time in the history of the army where a battery of artillery was allowed a stand of United States colors and a battery flag.” (Sketch, pg 31) By the end of the war, the names Stones River, Elk River, Chickamauga, Farmington, Dallas, Decatur, Atlanta, Lovejoy, Nashville and Selma had been inscribed on the flags. Tragically, the battery’s flags were returned to the Board of Trade after the war and destroyed by fire in 1871.
In March 1863, the battery was changed from field artillery to horse artillery. On May 16, 1863, the battery was attached to the Second Cavalry Division, Army of the Cumberland. They were then ordered to be equipped as horse artillery, the first battery in the western theater to do so, according to the unit historian (Sketch, pg 44-45). Interestingly, they kept their same cannons. The battery remained with this division until the end of the war.
The battery was split during the battle of Chickamauga. The second section of the battery, under Lieutenant Griffin, fought with Minty’s brigade on the Union left during the battle. The first and third sections fought under the battery commander on the Union right. The entire battery withdrew on September 22nd through Chattanooga to Washington, Tennessee, claiming to be the last battery to retire from the field (Sketch, pg 45).
In October 1863, the battery participated in the pursuit of General Wheeler’s command to Alabama, and was engaged in the battle of Farmington. On October 20th, Captain Stokes was relieved of command to assume duties as the Inspector of the Quartermaster, Military division of the Mississippi as a lieutenant colonel of volunteers. Captain George I. Robinson succeeded Stokes in command of the battery. There was no loss of the battery’s discipline or ability, as Robinson had been its senior lieutenant since it was mustered into service.
In February 1864, the battery turned in their brass guns and was issued six 10-pounder Parrot guns. The battery was engaged in numerous actions while advancing with General Sherman’s army on Atlanta, including Dallas, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Marietta, Vining Station, Noon Day Creek, Stone Mountain and Decatur.
The battery participated in General Kilpatrick’s raid around Atlanta from August 18-22, losing five men and two guns disabled. When Sherman split his army in November, the battery turned all of its good horses over to Kilpatrick’s command and moved north to Nashville under General Thomas. Upon their arrival, they were placed behind breastworks for the first and only time during the war.
They were assigned to General Wilson’s command during the battle of Nashville and the subsequent pursuit, arriving at Waterloo, Alabama just before the end of the year. The battery wintered near Waterloo.
When the spring campaign began in March 1865, they accompanied General James Wilson’s Second Cavalry Division on its raid through Alabama into Georgia. At the battle of Selma on April 2nd, they accompanied the charging advance after the outer works were seized. The battery continued to accompany the division until Macon, Georgia was reached on the 20th, and they learned that the war was over.
On May 23rd, the battery started home. In early June, they turned in their remaining four Parrot guns at Nashville, Tennessee. By June 27th, the battery arrived once again in Chicago. The men of the battery were mustered out a week later on July 3, 1865.
The battery suffered relatively light casualties during the war, with a total of only 19 fatalities. Ten enlisted men were killed in action or died of their wounds, while an additional nine died of disease, according to Dyer’s Compendium. A monument to the battery was erected in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, on May 30, 1901.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. 3 vols. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959.
Historical Sketch of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery. Chicago: Andrew Finney Co., 1902.
Robinson, George I. “With Kilpatrick Around Atlanta,” War Papers, Commandery of Wisconsin MOLLUS, Volume 1. (New York: Nostrand Van Allen, 1891) pages 201-227.