I have frequently seen that trains could not be found when most needed when a battle was going on. It is important that this evil should be removed; the substitution of caissons for army wagons would remove it. On the day of battle, trains of caissons could be easily found and would have unquestioned precedence of movement.
There would be numerous other advantages; the ammunition could always be inspected. Boxed up as it is now such inspection is impossible. It would be better protected. Wagons are now often unloaded of their ammunition that they may be used for other purposes, the ammunition being put in the mud or on wet ground, or left exposed to the weather, rain beats in at the ends of the wagons, and the covers often leak.
In fine, there can be no security for the condition of the ammunition as long as it is carried in wagons. On the field of battle the boxes must be taken from the wagons, unscrewed, and the ammunition transferred to the caisson, a waste of time when time is too precious to waste, and delay may cause disaster. If transported in caissons, a team from a battery can hitch in and gallop off with a new supply, exchanging an empty caisson for a full one.
There is another point. Each wagon carries 325 pounds of ammunition boxes (14 boxes). The boxes are lost, but the great evil is the transportation of so much unnecessary weight, 23 pounds for each 8 shots. All this would be saved by the use of caissons. About one wagon in six now transport boxes. At need, each caisson can be drawn by a team and one driver as in a wagon, for the train caissons do not maneuver.
For the train, the Gribeuval caisson could be used to advantage if the ordinary wagon team should be found unsuited to the caisson of the present system, but I apprehend no difficulty on this subject. Forges are often drawn by such teams with but one driver, and their limbers are the same as those of the caissons.
I believe, also, that for the same reasons and stronger ones, caissons could be used with advantage for the transport of small-arms ammunition. The present caisson can be arranged with trays for the chests, so as to transport from 25,000 to 30,000 musket cartridges. Properly manned, these caissons could be galloped upon the field and take their places behind infantry brigades, replenish the cartridge boxes, with the help of the file closers, and leave again in ten minutes. There would be no further reports of regiments leaving the field for want of ammunition; the men would not be weighted down with an oversupply and the consequent waste would be prevented. This, however, would require a higher organization than is required for the transport and supply of artillery ammunition, and that companies of foot artillery should be furnished to act as drivers and guards for the trains. I think this could be done with decided advantage, and the whole ammunition train composed of caissons.
I will add that the subject has been several times brought to the notice of higher authorities, but so far without results. Your department is interested in the subject, and I am certain you will find on examination that the transport of ammunition may be more safely, surely, and economically provided for than by the present system.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
HENRY J. HUNT,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Artillery.