Memorial Day 2016

This entry is part of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

I wrote this post in 2012 for Memorial Day. It is well worth reprinting in memory of all those who fought and died to make the United States the free nation that it is today.

When I was younger, Memorial Day was sometimes referred to as Decoration Day. It was the day that was set aside by a grateful nation to decorate the graves of our honored dead. It wasn’t meant for sales, outdoor barbecues and games.

The original Decoration Day was first proclaimed by General John Logan, the first national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in General Order #11 on May 5, 1868. The United States was barely three years past the end of the Civil War.

Perhaps 750,000 Americans, North and South, had perished on battlefields and in John A. Loganhospitals. Untold numbers had been crippled. Not a single town across this great land had been spared.

Mothers had lost sons; sometimes as many as five in the case of Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston, Massachusetts. Abraham Lincoln’s letter to her is featured in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. (It now appears that she only lost two of her five sons.) The Union veterans were looking for a dignified way to honor their fallen comrades. Logan gave them that way.


General Order No. 11

Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, ‑‑ the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander‑in‑Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By command of: JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief .

N. P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant-General.

The Price of Freedom-Memorial DayUntil 1882 the day was called Decoration Day. New York was the first state to make it a legal holiday. By 1890 all of the northern states had followed suit. The southern states had their own Memorial Day. The National Holiday Act of 1971 changed the whole feel of Memorial Day from a one-day commemoration of the nation’s war dead to a three-day holiday weekend.

“There are no better teachers for those who come after us than the silent monuments on the battlefields, marking the places where men died for a principle they believed right, whether they wore the blue or the gray uniform.”
Major Wells Sponable, 34th New York Monument dedication at the Antietam battlefield.

So when you’re flipping that burger, eating that hot dog or cruising the mall, please have a thought for those who lie beneath the ground that they defended with their lives. Remember that the price of freedom has been very high. Remember that was paid for in the blood of American patriots. When you see a service member be sure to thank them for their service to our country.



The Things They Carried

This entry is part 1 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Outfitting a Civil War SoldierSoldiers in both armies carried similar items. Reduced to a minimum, the private soldier in either army consisted of the following:

  • One man,
  • One hat,
  • One shirt,
  • One pair of pants,
  • One pair of drawers (underpants),
  • One pair of shoes,
  • One pair of socks.

Depending on their branch, Civil War soldiers carried a rifled musket, a musket or a rifle. They also may have carried a bayonet, a sword or a knife. Some soldiers even carried brass knuckles in case they got in a hand to hand fight.

He carried:

  • One blanket,
  • One rubber blanket,
  • One haversack.

Click image to expand.

One Union soldier described the contents of his haversack as including flannel and sole leather for bending clothes and shoes. Mixed in could be 20 extra rounds of ammunition, photographs, cards and letters, huswife, testament (Bible), pens, ink and paper. The huswife was a cloth roll which contained a woman’s tools, such as needles and scissors. They also may have carried soap, a razor and perhaps a hair comb.

The same Union soldier also said that his load included a double wool blanket, a shelter half tent rolled with the rubber blanket. He also carried a haversack that contained a mixture of bacon, rice, sugar, coffee, salt, tea and desicated vegetables.

Soldiers in both armies would also carry a candle, and matches. Some soldiers smoked either cigarettes, or pipes so they always had tobacco, and the fixings for a smoke.

The early Confederate knapsack contained much the same materials. One Confederate soldier described it as carrying two great blankets and a rubber or oil cloth. It weighed between 15 and 25 pounds. However, the Confederate knapsacks often disappeared as the war went on. “The better way was to dress out and out, and wear that outfit until the enemy’s knapsacks, or the folks at home supplied a change.” 

The soldiers in both armies found that boots were not good for a long march. They were soon replaced with brogues or brogans with broad bottoms and big flat heels. Shoes, or the lack thereof, were a particular problem for the Confederates. Oftentimes, the men went barefoot. Other times, they got pieces of raw hide from the butchers and wrapped their feet in rags sewing the hide around them. They then wore this arrangementConfederate Soldiers until it wore out.

Most men found that overcoats became too heavy on long marches so they dropped them along the way. Most men threw away their canteens and made do with a good strong tin cup. It was far easier to fill at a well or spring and could be used as a boiler to make coffee or tea.

Finally, most soldiers carried pre-packaged bullet and powder packs, along with the percussion caps for their rifle or musket. In some cases they filled up their pockets with additional rounds of ammunition before a big battle. It would not have been uncommon for soldiers to carry as much as 100 rounds if they were available.

At the beginning of the war each mess of five to ten men was issued a camp chest which held a skillet, a frying pan, a coffee boiler, a bucket for lard, a coffee box, a salt box, utensils and cups. However, this cumbersome piece of equipment soon disappeared. The men each carried a portion of the equipment and supplies.

Following is a report by one Samuel Weaver who document the things found on the bodies of soldiers who were reburied at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

“Sir, I herewith submit the following brief report of the results of my labors as the superintendent of the exhuming of the bodies of the Union soldiers that fell on the battle-field of Gettysburg.”

“There were some articles of value found on the bodies ; some money, watches, jewelry, &c. I took all relics, as well as articles of value, from the bodies, packed them up and labelled them, so that the friends can get them. There are many things, valueless to others, which would be of great interest to the friends. I herewith submit a list of names of persons and articles found upon them, and you will, no doubt, take means to get information to the friends, by advertisement or otherwise, so that they may give notice where, and to whom, these things shall be forwarded. I have two hundred and eighty-seven such packages.” 

Mr. Weaver then listed by state, the name, company and regiment of each soldier plus the items found on their bodies.



Camp Life in the Civil War

This entry is part 2 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Camp lifeThe American Civil War like many wars was one of sporadic combat interspersed with periods of stultifying boredom. Armies spent large parts of the war encamped waiting for the next big fight. “If there is any place on God’s fair earth where wickedness ‘stalketh abroad in daylight’ it is in the army,” wrote a Confederate soldier in a letter to his family back home.

Camps for both armies were laid out in a fixed grid pattern with officers’ quarters at the front end of each street and enlisted men’s quarters aligned to the rear. The camp was set up roughly along the lines the unit would draw up in a line of battle and each company displayed its colors on the outside of its tents. Regulations also defined where the mess tents, medical cabins, and baggage trains should be located. On occasion, the terrain would preclude such uniformity.

In the spring and summer months troops slept in canvas tents. At the start of the war both sides used a tent that had been invented by Henry H. Sibley, who later became a Confederate brigadier general. The Sibley tent was a large cone of canvas 18 feet in diameter, 12 feet tall, and supported by a center pole. The tent had a circular opening at the top for ventilation, and a cone-shaped stove for heat. It was designed to hold 12 men but army regulations changed that to 20 men, making sleeping uncomfortable and crowded.

As the war dragged on the Sibley tent was replaced by smaller tents. The Union army used a wedge-shaped tent that was about six feet long. It was made of canvas and was draped over a horizontal ridge pole. Staked to the ground on the sides, it was closed on one end and open on the other.

When canvas became scarce in the South, many Confederates were forced to rig open-air beds by heaping straw or leaves between two logs. In autumn and winter, those units that were able to find wood built crude huts, laying split logs on the earth floor and fashioning bunks with mattresses of pine needles.

When not fighting or marching to a fight, which was about 75% of the time, soldiers in both armies rose at 5:00 AM in the summer and 6:00 AM in the winter. After roll call, the troops ate breakfast and prepared for drill exercises. During the course of the typical day there may have been as many as five different two-hour long periods of drill exercises. One soldier described his days in the army like this: “The first thing in the morning is drill. Then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill.”

During the intervals between drill exercises, the soldiers cleaned the camp, built roads, dug trenches for latrines, and gathered wood for cooking and heating. Finding clean and potable drinking water was constant goal. The lack of clean water was the chief cause of sickness among the troops. Sickness killed more men during the civil war than did battle wounds.

In a letter home Philip W. Hudson of the 1st Connecticut Infantry wrote a description of his typical day. Here it is in part:

Reveille and roll call at 4:45 A.M.; 1st drill from 5½ to 7 A.M., when we have (what we can get) breakfast. Surgeon’s call at 8 o’clock, when all those unwell who can walk call at the surgeon’s tent for medicine, advice, &c.; at 9 o’clock A.M., guard mounting, when a new officer of the day, officer of the guard, sergeants and corporals of the guard, and seven men from each company, are detailed to guard the camp for the next 24 hours, and relieve the guard that is on. 

The 2d drill is from 9 1/2 to 11 1/2 A.M., when we are dismissed for dinner; 3d drill, from 1 to 3 P.M.; 4th drill from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 P.M.; dress parade at 6 1/2 P.M…. Tattoo and roll call at 9 1/2 P.M.; 15 minutes later there are three taps of the drum, when every light in the men’s tents must be out.

At the outset of the war, the soldiers on both sides were relatively well-fed: the mandated daily ration for a Federal soldier in 1861 included at least 20 ounces of fresh or salt beef, or 12 ounces of salt pork; more than a pound of flour, and a vegetable, usually beans. Coffee, salt, vinegar, and sugar were provided as well. Supplies became limited when armies were moving fast and supply trains could not reach them in the field.

When in the field, soldiers saw little beef and few vegetables; they subsisted for the most part on salt pork, dried beans, corn bread, and hardtack-a flour-and-water biscuit often infested with maggots and weevils after storage. Outbreaks of scurvy were common due to a frequent lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Boredom was a large part of life in both armies. “There is some of the onerest men here that I ever saw,” wrote a new recruit, “and the most swearing and card playing and fitin [fighting] and drunkenness that I ever saw at any place.”

When not engaged in the more military activities of camp life, soldiers engaged in different competitions to fight boredom. They played any game they could devise, including baseball, cards, boxing matches, and cockfights. One competition involved racing lice or cockroaches across a strip of canvas.

Army commanders attempted to curb gambling and drinking in the camps to little avail. Confederate General Braxton Bragg wrote, “We have lost more valuable lives at the hands of whiskey sellers than by the balls of our enemies.” 

Prostitution was pervasive around camps and in both capitals. By 1862, for instance, Washington, D.C., had 450 bordellos and at least 7,500 full-time prostitutes; Richmond, as the center of prostitution in the Confederacy, had about an equal number. Venereal disease was prevalent in both armies with about 8% of men in the Union army treated for the disease. Figures for the Confederacy are unavailable, but assumed to be about equal in proportion.

Men in both armies spent large amounts of their time writing. They wrote letters home and they wrote in diaries. Much of the small details of life in both armies have been gleaned from letters and diaries of soldiers.




Training the Civil War Soldier

This entry is part 3 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Training during the Civil WarThe antebellum United States Army numbered no more than 16,000 officers and men. The army was organised into ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, two of cavalry, two of dragoons, and one of mounted rifles. These regiments were mostly posted in small forts of company-sized detachments, the majority posted West of the Mississippi River.

With secession many of the officers and men resigned to return to their home states where they joined the Confederate States Army or state militias. As trained soldiers they became the core of the Confederate Army.

On April 15, 1861, after the surrender of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers militia to serve for three months. However, there were restrictions on the number of men and the length of time they could serve that the President of the United States, as opposed to a State Governor, could summon. Lincoln by calling for 75,000 men to serve for three months was at the constitutionally-mandated limit.

Until Congress returned to session, that was the most that he was allowed to call for. On July 22, 1861, Congress authorized a volunteer army of 500,000 men. Between April 1861 and April 1865, at least two and a half million men served in the Union Army, of whom the majority were volunteers.

On the southern side of the fight, the Confederate government formed their army in much the same way. Initially, most of the officers were former officers in the United States Army.

The Confederate Congress provided for a Confederate Army patterned after the United States Army. It was to consist of a large provisional force to exist only in time of war and a small permanent regular army. The provisional, volunteer army was established by an act of the Confederate Congress passed February 28, 1861, one week before the act which established the permanent regular army organization, passed March 6, 1861.

Although the two forces were to exist concurrently, very little was done to organize the Confederate regular army and in fact it only existed on paper. Supplementing the Confederate States Army were the various state militias of the Confederate States.

Because of the destruction of records in Richmond in 1865 and the comparatively poor record-keeping of the time, there can be no definitive number that represents the strength of the Confederate States Army. Estimates range from 500,000 to 2,000,000 men who were involved at any time during the war. Reports from the War Department began at the end of 1861 (326,768 men), 1862 (449,439), 1863 (464,646), 1864 (400,787), and “last reports” (358,692). Estimates of enlistments throughout the war were 1,227,890 to 1,406,180.

Soldiers in both armies were organized according to their military specialty. The combat arms included infantry, cavalry and artillery. Different types of training were carried out for the different specialties.

Infantry soldiers drilled as squads and in company formations, each man getting accustomed to orders and formations such as marching in column and in a “company front”, how to face properly, dress the line, and interact with his fellow soldiers. After an hour of drill on that level, the company moved onto regimental level drills and parades.

The soldier practiced guard mount and other procedures such as the Manual of Arms, which infantrymen learned for the rifle-musket. Veterans of the war often remarked how they could recite the steps of loading and priming for many years after the war, thanks to the continual drill.

By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, the rifle musket made up the majority of infantry weapons in both the Union and Confederate armies though it took much longer for the tactics to change. Even with the advance of the rifle musket, the weapons were still muzzle loaders and officers believed that the old-fashioned drill formations were still useful to insure a massing of continuous firepower. The result of this slow change was a much higher than anticipated rate of casualties on the battlefield.

Cavalrymen drilled with their sabers, both on foot and horseback. As the war progressed the use of cavalry changed. At the start of the war most cavalry was used for reconnaissance and skirmishing with the other side’s forward elements. In the case of the need to retreat, cavalry was used as the rear-guard.

Later in the war, cavalry tactics changed dramatically with large-scale cavalry engagements taking place at Brandy Station, Gettysburg and Yellow Tavern. Cavalry was also used for long range raids behind enemy lines. J.E.B. Stuart was a skilled practitioner of this tactic but he was soon joined by Union commanders like John Buford, George Stoneman and Benjamin Grierson.

With these new tactics, new training methods were needed. Cavalry depended less on the saber and more on the repeating revolvers and rifles. Cavalry in the latter part of the war acted more like mounted riflemen with their horses bringing them to the battlefield and swiftly taking them away. Both sides prized horsemanship and marksmanship.

Each detachment had to learn to act and move as a team in order to maintain an acceptable rate of fire. An artillery detachment was one gun and its crew. The Chief of the piece was a sergeant, in charge of the gun; there was a corporal in charge of the caisson, and another who was the gunner that aimed the piece. The “spare men” of the Battery were those who were unassigned, and took care of the horses and equipment.

Those who were assigned to the “numbered positions” had a bit of status within the Battery, at least in terms of their own pride. The cannoneers were: #1, who swabbed the bore and rammed the load; #2, inserted the charge and projectile into the muzzle; #3, tended the vent; #4 primed and fired the piece at the command of the sergeant; #5, carried the round to #2; #6 had charge of the limber; and #7 carried the round to #5.



Civil War Tactics: Infantry

This entry is part 4 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Civil War TacticsThe American Civil War began with the assumption by both sides that after just a few battles the war would end with either the Confederacy collapsing or achieving their independence. No one could have envisioned a war that lasted four years and took more than 620,000 lives.

At the start of the war both armies were manned for the most part by untrained militia. Early battles were simply clashes between armed mobs. It was by pure luck that the Confederates actually won the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. Neither side was capable of overwhelming the other side.

After the initial phase of the war, the Union government appointed Major General George B. McClellan as commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. After the consolidation of a number of Union military units, McClellan became the commander of the Army of the Potomac, the main Union Army in the Eastern Theater.

McClellan may have been timid on the battlefield but he was a genius when it came to logistics and training. He oversaw the training and equipping of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan’s army grew from 50,000 men in July 1861 to 168,000 by November and was considered by far the most colossal military unit the world had seen in modern historical times.

He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. Unfortunately, he was afraid to send his precious force into battle against the Confederates.

The tactics of early Civil War armies included maneuvering infantry units by brigades in wide battle lines. Both sides attempted to overwhelm their opponents with massed musket fire in the open field with little use of fortifications and emplacements. The most common deployment was a long “line of battle,” 2 ranks deep. More massed was the “column,” varying from 1 to 10 or more companies wide and from 8 to 20 or more ranks deep. Less compact than column or line was “open-order” deployment: a strung-out, irregular single line.

Early Civil War commanders rarely understood the effect of rifled musket fire on offensive infantry assaults. After devastating casualties at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Shiloh, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, both sides began to adapt to the new effects of firepower against infantry. Both the artillery and the cavalry were quicker to adapt their tactics to devastating firepower of new weaponry.

As the troops and their commanders became more experienced fortifications came into greater use by both sides. Most troops would quickly build light fortifications each night as a defensive measure. The Confederate defensive emplacements at Vicksburg, Port Hudson and Corinth, Mississippi were much more permanent and prevented quick assaults against these important Southern cities.

Sieges and the assault of fortified positions are probably the most complex and demanding of military operations. The foremost authority on these matters in the civil war was considered to be the French engineer, the Marquis de Vauban, who designed many European fortification systems, and organized many successful sieges of the seventeenth century. The Confederate earthworks of Port Hudson, and their use of artillery lunettes show his influence, and corresponding attacks on such systems would have benefited from his theories.

At both Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Union forces initially attempted to rush the defensive fortifications. All of their attempts failed miserably with serious casualties. At both locations the Union attackers settled into methodical sieges.

The Siege of Vicksburg lasted from May 18, 1863 until July 4th when Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered his entire garrison of 29,495 men after 3,202 had been killed or wounded. In addition to his surrendered men, Pemberton turned over to Grant 172 cannons and 50,000 rifles. The loss of Vicksburg was a massive blow for the Confederacy.

The Siege of Port Hudson was similar to Vicksburg’s siege. It lasted from May 22 to July 9, 1863. After a number of unsuccessful and costly frontal assaults the Union attackers settled into a siege that lasted from June 15th to July 9th when the Confederate garrison of 6,500 surrendered after a loss of 1,000 killed or wounded. The Union attackers lost 5,000 killed or wounded plus an additional 5,000 men who died of disease. The surrender gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River and its major tributaries, severing communications and trade between the eastern and western states of the Confederacy.

Corinth, Mississippi, an important rail junction in northern Mississippi, was the scene of two battles. The first engagement was called the Siege of Corinth and lasted from April 29 to May 30, 1862 but the Confederates under Lt. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard withdrew before Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck’s massive 120,000 strong army could engage his 65,000-man force. Made cautious by the staggering losses at Shiloh, Halleck embarked on a tedious campaign of offensive entrenchment, fortifying after each advance, sometimes only advancing a mile or two each day.

The second engagement at Corinth took place on October 3–4, 1862. Confederate forces under Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn, numbering about 22,000, attacked Union forces emplaced in rifle pits dug by the Confederate Army in the Spring. The Union forces, numbering about 23,000, were commanded Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans.

The Union forces were able to repulse a number of frontal assaults against their fixed defenses. Rosecrans’s army lost 2,520 (355 killed, 1,841 wounded, and 324 missing) at Corinth; Van Dorn’s losses were 4,233 (473 killed, 1,997 wounded, and 1,763 captured or missing).





Civil War Tactics: Cavalry

This entry is part 5 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Cavalry chargeAs infantry tactics evolved over the long four years of the American Civil War, so too did cavalry tactics. The use of cavalry by both sides began with them being employed mostly in a reconnaissance role. In addition, they were used to guard supply lines and be advance elements of the army. General Robert E. Lee told J.E.B. Stuart that his cavalry were the “eyes and ears of the army”.

During the Civil War there were four types of cavalry units:

  • Pure cavalry forces carried carbines, pistols and sabers. Only a small number of cavalry met this definition, primarily Union cavalry in the Eastern Theater. Confederate forces in the Eastern Theater carried only pistols but in the Western Theater some were armed with shotguns, especially early in the conflict.
  • The most common use of cavalry forces was as Mounted Infantry. They rode to battle on horseback but fought dismounted. The armed principally with rifles. In the second half of the war Union cavalry were armed with repeating rifles, weapons that multiplied their firepower exponentially.
  • Dragoons were a hybrid force that were armed and mounted as cavalrymen but were expected to fight on foot. The fighting tactics of the forces deployed by Union General Philip Sheridan in 1864, and by Confederate General Wade Hampton after the Battle of Yellow Tavern, fit the dragoon model, although those units did not adopt the term.
  • Irregular forces, also known as partisan rangers and guerrillas, were usually mounted. Their weapons were as varied as their uniforms, anything available would do. The Confederacy produced the most famous irregular leaders, including William Clarke QuantrillJohn S. MosbyNathan Bedford Forrest, and John Hunt Morgan.

At the time of the Civil War, the cavalry had five major missions, in rough priority:

  1. Reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance screening
  2. Defensive, delaying actions
  3. Pursuit and harassment of defeated enemy forces
  4. Offensive actions
  5. Long-distance raiding against enemy lines of communications, supply depots, railroads, etc.

Cavalry was used extensively in a reconnaissance role. In an era when armies were essentially blindly groping for the enemy, cavalry was the paramount tool that military commanders used to find and identify the enemy. They were also used to screen their own forces from enemy reconnaissance.

Cavalry used in an offensive role was a rare occurrence but most cavalry battles were at key points in the war. They include the massive cavalry Battle of Brandy Station where over 20,000 cavalrymen were engaged, the Gettysburg cavalry battles and the Battle of Yellow Tavern where J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded.

Cavalrymen most desired the long-distance raid for two reasons: the fame that a successful raid would bring and the practical value of disrupting the enemy’s rear areas.

J.E.B. Stuart became the darling of the Confederacy for twice circling around the Army of the Potomac in 1864 but his extended raid before Gettysburg left Robert E. Lee blind to the Union Army’s whereabouts.

Union General George Stoneman led a number of long-distance raids behind enemy lines. His first long-distance raid was a key component of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Chancellorsville plan. It accomplished very little and its lack of success was one of the main reasons for the Union defeat in the eyes of Hooker.

In December 1864, Stoneman led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia. He led raids into Virginia and North Carolina in 1865, took Salem and other towns, destroyed Moratock Iron Furnace (a Confederate foundry) and at Salisbury attempted to free about 1,400 prisoners, but the prisoners had been dispersed by the time he arrived in Salisbury.  His command nearly captured Confederate president Jefferson Davis during his flight from Richmond, Virginia.

The raid led by Union Colonel Benjamin Grierson from LaGrange, Tennessee to Baton Gauge during the Vicksburg campaign was considered a strategic masterpiece that diverted critical Confederate forces away from Ulysses S. Grant’s army. During this 800-mile foray through the heart of the South destroyed railroad lines, supply depots and generally disrupted the Confederate Army at a time when they were trying to defeat the Union forces around Vicksburg.

During the early part of the Vicksburg Campaign, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn led 3,500 cavalry on a daring raid to Holly Springs, Mississippi where they destroyed Grant’s key supply depot forcing him to restart his campaign from Memphis.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan was one of the most gifted Union cavalry commanders. Promoted by Grant to overall cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac, he led his forces through a number of battles large and small during the Overland campaign and the subsequent Petersburg campaign. At the Battle of Trevilian Station(June 11–12), the largest all-cavalry battle of the war, he achieved tactical success on the first day, but suffered heavy casualties during multiple assaults on the second.

Given command of the Army of the Shenandoah in August 1864, Sheridan led his combined arms army in a successful clearing of Confederate forces from this strategic area. After defeating Jubal Early in a number of engagements, he unleashed his cavalry forces  to seize or destroy livestock and provisions, and to burn barns, mills, factories, and railroads. Sheridan’s men did their work relentlessly and thoroughly, rendering the Valley a wasteland.

Cavalry were organized into companies of 100 men with ten companies in a regiment. Two or more companies might be organized into ad hoc battalions. Civil War regiments were rarely near authorized strength so that they were commonly brigaded with two to four other regiments. Two to four brigades were combined into divisions. By the end of the war, 272 cavalry regiments were formed in the Union army and 137 in the Confederate army. In both armies, the cavalry was accompanied by batteries or battalions of horse artillery, as well as its own train of ammunition and supply wagons.

Both sides had a number of notable cavalry commanders who are too numerous to mention. Some began their service in the infantry and later transitioned to the cavalry arm. Others began in the cavalry but ended up leading combined arms units.




Civil War Tactics: Field Artillery

This entry is part 6 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Confederate artillery piece in ColumbusLike the other arms of the two Civil War armies, the artillery evolved dramatically during the four years of the war. In fact, artillery saw more innovations and experimentation during the Civil War than during all other previous wars combined.

Like the other branches of the armies, artillery had a variety of roles on the Civil War battlefield. The most common type was termed field artillery. At the start of the war most artillery was the smoothbore type. Most of the officers in the antebellum army were older men who believed that since smoothbore weapons had won previous wars there was no need for innovation.

American inventors were subjected to years of expensive experimentation, field trials and political maneuvering before their innovations were accepted by the War Department. Many of the inventors invested their own money in their projects and stood to lose everything if they were not accepted.

The majority of artillery at the onset of the war was the smoothbore type. Smoothbore artillery refers to weapons that are not rifled. Smoothbore field artillery of the day fit into two role-based categories: guns and howitzers. Further classifications of the weapons were made based on the type of metal used, typically bronze or iron (cast or wrought), although some examples of steel were produced.

Smoothbore artillery was also identified by the bore dimensions that roughly equalled the weight of the projectile that it fired. Smoothbore guns were designed to fire solid shot projectiles at high velocity, over low trajectories at targets in the open, although shot and canister were acceptable for use. The barrels of the guns were longer than corresponding howitzers, and called for higher powder charges to achieve the desired performance.

Howitzers were short-barreled guns that were optimized for firing explosive shells in a high trajectory, but also for spherical case shot and canister, over a shorter range than the guns. While guns fired at enemy forces arrayed in the open, howitzers were considered the weapon of choice if the opposing forces were concealed behind terrain features or fortifications.

In the early war, guns and howitzers were often mixed in the same batteries but as more rifled cannon appeared on the battlefield this changed.  Antebellum allocations called for 6-pounder field guns matched with 12-pounder howitzers, 9 and 12-pounder field guns matched with 24-pounder howitzers. But the rapid expansions of both combatant armies, mass introduction of rifled artillery, and the versatility of the 12-pounder “Napoleon” class of weapons all contributed to a change in the mixed battery practices.

Rifled artillery was first invented in Great Britain. Rifling was a system of lands and grooves in a barrel which caused a projectile to turn as it exited the muzzle, thereby improving trajectory and accuracy. The grooves were cut into the smoothbore gun and the lands were the original diameter and spaces left after the rifling process.

Rifled weapons had to be stronger than smoothbore because a greater stress was inflicted on the gun by a tighter seal necessary for the projectile to take the rifling, resulting in vastly greater pressures in the breech to overcome the friction between the projectile and the rifled bore. Rifled artillery was generally more accurate and could be fired for greater distances with more force.

At the start of the war, the Confederacy’s only immediate sources of artillery were the various Federal arsenals and forts throughout the South. Their only cannon manufacturing facility was the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia. During the war the Confederacy built several additional foundries but Tredegar still produced 1,100 cannon, approximately one-half of the Confederacy’s production. Therefore, they were forced to acquire a large part of their artillery needs from Great Britain.

The Federal government had some 4,000 pieces of artillery at the start of the war but only 165 were of the field artillery type. The balance were fixed artillery pieces used for coastal defense. The North had more foundries and were able to produce artillery at a greater rate than the South. By the end of the war, the army had 3,325 guns, of which 53% were field pieces.

The Confederacy had many disadvantages in the manufacturing of both artillery and ammunition. The Confederacy had to rely to a significant extent on captured Union artillery pieces (either on the battlefield or by capturing armories, such as Harpers Ferry). It is estimated that two-thirds of all Confederate field artillery was captured from the Union.

The Confederate cannons built in the South often suffered from the shortage of quality metals and shoddy workmanship. Another disadvantage was the quality of ammunition. The fuses needed for detonating shells and cases were frequently inaccurate, causing premature or delayed explosions. All that, coupled with the Union gunners’ initial competence and experience gained as the war progressed, led Southern forces to dread assaults on Northern positions backed up by artillery.

Field artillery was just that, artillery that was used by the field armies in battles and engagements. Artillery was organized in batteries 6 guns for the Union Army and 4 guns for the Confederate Army.

Union batteries were usually of the same caliber which simplified training and ammunition requirements. Each gun, or “piece”, was operated by a gun crew of eight, plus four additional men to handle the horses and equipment. Two guns operating under the control of a lieutenant were known as a “section”. The battery of six guns was commanded by a captain.

Artillery brigades composed of five batteries were commanded by colonels and supported the infantry organizations as follows: each infantry corps was supported directly by one artillery brigade and, in the case of the Army of the Potomac, five brigades formed the Artillery Reserve.

This organization, championed by Maj. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery in the Army of the Potomac, allowed the artillery to massed for greater effect rather than being distributed all over the battle field. Many historians consider the Third Day at Gettysburg to be the Union artillery’s finest action. Hunt insisted on preserving his ammunition supply over the objections of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock in order to have it available to defend against Pickett’s Charge.

Confederate batteries usually consisted of four guns, in contrast to the Union’s six. This was a matter of necessity, because guns were always in short supply. And, unlike the Union, batteries frequently consisted of mixed caliber weapons.

Confederate batteries were generally organized into battalions (versus the Union brigades) of four batteries each, and the battalions were assigned to the direct support of infantry divisions. Each infantry corps was assigned two battalions as an Artillery Reserve, but there was no such Reserve at the army level. The chief of artillery for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton, had considerable difficulty massing artillery for best effect because of this organization.

Although virtually all battles of the Civil War included artillery, some battles are known better than others for significant artillery engagements, arguably critical to the overall outcome:

For a more detailed description of the artillery of the American Civil War, I wrote a three-post series on the subject that begins here.




Photographing the Civil War

This entry is part 7 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

220px-BloodyLaneAntietamThe American Civil War was the first American war to be extensively photographed. Not only were the soldiers photographed in studio environments but they were also photographed on the battlefield. Most of the civil and military leaders on both sides were also photographed. Today, many of these images have thankfully been preserved for later generations to view. They can be seen here, here and here just to link to a few places.

Photography was in its early phase. Nearly every Civil War soldier had his photograph taken by one of the more than 5,000 American photographers active at the time, and a select group of documentary photographers took thousands of images on the battlefields and in the army camps, often in 3D with the use of anaglyph 3D glasses.

Like any newfound pioneering work, the process of taking photographs during the Civil War proved to be complex and time-consuming. Photography was still in its infancy. Many photographers were older than the technology. It was Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre who simplified the process and reduced the exposure time to less than thirty minutes that made it adaptable for battlefield conditions in the future.

The Daguerreotype method became popular in New York City, and by then, several studios had been setup. The methods continued to be fine-tuned, and by the start of the Civil War, a cheaper and more practical system of photographing was developed. A new processing system developed by Henry Fox Talbot used the modern-day positive-negative process, thus making it possible to have several copies of the same picture.

The invention of the tintype, which was a metal image, and the ambrotype, printed on glass, allowed for mass production of small photographs Carte de Visite of Jefferson Davisusually kept by families in wooden or glass cases. Bob Zeller, president of the Center for Civil War Photography in Abilene, Texas says that “It was their most visceral, closest link to their loved ones. For girlfriends or wives at home, the only thing they had was the ambrotype.” More than a million such images were produced during the war.

The second kind of photo was the carte de visite. The carte de visite, or cdv, was also primarily a portrait photograph, except it was made with a glass, wet-plate negative, which meant unlimited copies could be created. Prints were made on albumen paper. These portraits of generals, statesmen, actors and other celebrities were mass produced and given out like trading cards.

During the Civil War two men were required to take a picture. The photographer’s assistant would mix the chemicals necessary and pour them on to a photographic glass plate. After the chemicals evaporated, it would be sensitized in a bath solution, all while in the dark. Meanwhile, the photographer would be setting up the camera equipment and focusing it. The plate would be placed in the camera, quickly exposed and then rush to the wagon or dark room to be developed.

Photography on the battle field would have a terrific visual impact for public understanding of the savagery of the war. The first major battlefield to be photographed extensively was Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. Matthew Brady, the preeminent Civil War photographer, staged an exhibition of photographs of the Antietam battlefield in his New York studio shortly after the battle.

Brady’s exhibit, entitled “The Dead of Antietam” are still powerful today. Many images in this presentation were graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in photographs as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions”.

Brady’s first popular photographs of the conflict were at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he got so close to the action that he barely avoided capture. He employed Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O’SullivanWilliam PywellGeorge N. BarnardThomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom was given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the Civil War.

Brady generally stayed in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited battlefields personally. This may have been due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady’s eyesight had begun to deteriorate in the 1850s.

President Lincoln visiting AntietamAlexander Gardner began the war as Matthew Brady’s chief photographer but soon left his employ, primarily because Brady published all of his studio’s photographs as “Photographed by Brady”. Gardner had been Brady’s chef contact with Abraham Lincoln through his relationship with Allan Pinkerton. Gardner photographed the Battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. He also documented the Siege of Petersburg.

Gardner would photograph Lincoln on a total of seven occasions while Lincoln was alive. He also documented Lincoln’s funeral, and photographed the conspirators involved (with John Wilkes Booth) in Lincoln’s assassination. Gardner was the only photographer allowed at their execution by hanging, photographs of which would later be translated into woodcuts for publication in Harper’s Weekly.

Many photographs were taken by Southerners, but most were lost to history. According to the Photographic History of the Civil War

The natural disappointment in the South at the end of the war was such that photographers were forced to destroy all negatives, just as owners destroyed all the objects that might serve as souvenirs or relics of the terrible struggle, thinking for the moment at least, that they could not bear the strain of brooding over the tragedy.

Images of everyday life are also depicted for the first time in the Civil War, men playing cards, playing instruments or cleaning equipment. Black soldiers and slaves were also depicted for the first time. All of these images combined to make the war more real for the public on both sides of the conflict. The number of Civil War photographs that are available contrasts sharply with the scarcity of pictures from subsequent conflicts such as the Russian wars in Central Asia, the Franco-Prussian War, and the various colonial wars before the Boer War.




Ministering to the Troops

This entry is part 8 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Father William Corby at GettysburgReligion was an important part of American’s lives in the Civil War Era. Every city and town had churches and synagogues that ministered to the populace. Why, therefore, wouldn’t the men who fought on both sides of the war look for the same solace in battle as they found at home?

The soldiers on both sides of the conflict were for the most part men of faith. And the violence of the Civil War was shaking their faith in their God. Chaplains who ministered to the troops therefore found it necessary to provide them with some solace and comfort during the most stressful times of their lives.

The violence and suffering of the war impelled many men to look to God for answers. religion stood at the center of the Civil War for both sides. Both North and South looked to God for meaning, and each side believed, with equal fervor and certitude, that God was on its side.

Many ministers, generals, leaders, and editors went so far as to proclaim that God had ordained the war and would determine its length, its damages, and its outcome. The victor would show, in other words, whose side God really supported. New England political and religious leaders had long proclaimed themselves God’s “chosen people.” With the start of the Civil War, southerners laid claim to the title and, through speech, print, and ritual actions, proceeded to “prove” their claim.

In order to minister to the troops both sides enlisted chaplains of all faith and incorporated them in their regiments. Protestants still enjoyed a significant numerical and cultural dominance in the 1860s. However, Catholics and Jews also provided chaplains to both sides.

During the course of the war the chaplains numbered about 3,000 and the average length of service was 18 months. It is important to understand that the average age of chaplains was 50. Although that sounds middle-aged by modern standards during the Civil War era it would actually be closer to 70 in length of life. It is no wonder that the average service length was short.

Chaplains not only ministered to the troops but there was a wide variety of other services that they performed. The ministered to the sick in camps and the dying on the battlefield. They wrote letters and read them to illiterate troops. They counseled troops individually. They held church services and revival meetings.

They solicited supplies and bibles from their home congregations. Some wrote to their hometown newspapers in an effort to kept them informed about their men. Some chaplains also served as assistant surgeons, hospital stewards, regimental adjutants, or quartermasters.

Chaplains also were aided by various religious publications which were made available to troops through various benevolent societies. Tract societies published such varied titles as A Mother’s Parting Words to Her Soldier Boy,Are You Ready to Die, and Sinner, You are soon to be Damned. Even more popular were the periodicals, such as the Army and Navy Messenger, which were circulated by the various denominations.

Bibles were also circulated to troops on both sides due to the work of the American Bible Society and various organizations in England and Bible societies, such as the Confederate States Bible Society formed in the Confederate states. In 1862, Moses D. Hodge, a Richmond minister, evaded the Union blockade and brought back from England 10,000 Bibles, 50,000 Testaments and 250,000 miscellaneous publications. Not only were the Testaments that were distributed to the troops printed in English, other versions printed in German, French, and Italian were also distributed.

At the start of the war the Union War Department authorized the appointment of regularly ordained ministers as chaplains with the quota beingA chaplain performing a field service one per regiment. Chaplains held no command rank, but instead entered the army with the rank of private.

On October 31, 1864, Congress and the War Department awarded the chaplains with the pay and allowances commensurate with the rank of captain in the cavalry. They wore the uniform and insignia for that grade as well as sword and pistol and were sometimes mistaken for command officers.  It is estimated that about 3000 chaplains were appointed by governors, Federal officials and commanders

Unlike the Union, chaplains within the Confederate army held no rank whatsoever, but were still paid as members of the military at the rate of one half the pay of a first lieutenant. The Confederate Army was well supplied with chaplains. Although reliable information regarding the total number of chaplains serving in the Confederate army is non existent, existing military records indicated that early in the war 400 chaplains were appointed by President Davis. The number of chaplains serving within the Confederate army as been estimated between 600-1000.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of religious men in the military of both sides was the concept of “fighting chaplains” or “fighting parsons.” This subject will be covered in the next post in this series.



Medical Care for the Civil War Soldiers

This entry is part 9 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Wounded menThe American Civil War was not a time of innovative health care. One Union surgeon said that the Civil war was fought “at the end of the medical Middle Ages.” Caring for the Civil War soldiers was an inexact science at best and at its worst it ranged from barbaric to barely competent.

At the start of the war the medical corps in both armies was woefully underqualifled, understaffed, and undersupplied. Doctors simply had no experience in handling the medical needs of large numbers of men, much less any experience with the treatment of battle wounds.

The Civil War armies lacked proper hygiene practices, proper food and proper nutrition practices. Most doctors had served in small towns and cities where all of the above was available. Health was not the primary concern of an army on the march, finding and defeating the enemy was.

Let’s start with the training of doctors in the antebellum United States. Unlike Europe where four-year medical schools were common, most American doctors served a two-year apprenticeship under another doctor. They received practically no clinical experience and had no laboratory training, even if they did attend one of the few medical schools in the United States. To say medicine was primitive is an understatement.

At the beginning of the war the Union army had 98 medical officers while the Confederacy had just 24. In the four years of the war some 13,000 men served as medical officers in the Union army while 4,000 served with the Confederate Army. Both armies had an unknown number of male and female volunteers who served as nurses and medical orderlies. It is estimated that more than 4,000 women served as nurses in Union hospitals.

Civil War doctors treated more than 10 million cases of injury and illness in the 48 months of the Civil War. Poet Walt Whitman, who served as a volunteer in Union army hospitals, had great respect for the hardworking physicians, claiming that “All but a few are excellent men…”.

The current official figure of death during the Civil War is 620,000, although gradual acceptance of the higher figure of approximately 750,000 is gaining among historians. Of that number 110,000 Union soldiers and 94,000 Confederate soldiers are believed to have died from battlefield wounds. That means that two-thirds or more of Civil War fatalities were caused by illness.

Of the more than 175,000 wounds to the extremities of Union troops, about 30,000 led to amputation. Approximately the same proportion occurred to Confederate troops. This counteracts the accepted belief tat every wound immediately led to amputation.

The Minie ball was the most common Civil War ammunition. It tore an enormous wound on impact: it was so heavy that an abdominal or head wound was almost always fatal. A hit to an extremity usually shattered any bone encountered. In addition, all bullets carried dirt and germs into the wound and that often resulted in infection, gangrene and ultimately amputation of the affected limb.

One witness described a common surgeon’s tent this way: “Tables about breast high had been erected upon which the screaming victims were having legs and arms cut off. The surgeons and their assistants, stripped to the waist and bespattered with blood, stood around, some holding the poor fellows while others, armed with long, bloody knives and saws, cut and sawed away with frightful rapidity, throwing the mangled limbs on a pile nearby as soon as removed.” It sounded like a scene from the Dark Ages.

Contrary to popular belief (and Hollywood movie making) anesthetic was readily available for amputations and other surgeries. Chloroform and other pain-deadening medicines were usually available to Civil War doctors on both sides of the conflict.

Soldiers who survived a battlefield wound and primitive surgery very often succumbed to infection. General Stonewall Jackson survived being shot and having his arm being amputated only to die a lingering death from  pneumonia.

Very often soldiers contracted Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenesbacterial cells which generate pus, destroy tissue, and release deadly toxins into the bloodstream. The risk of gangrene was high in the Civil War. Despite all of these issues, nearly 75% of amputees survived.

Even though most surgeons were aware of the relationship between cleanliness and germs, they didn’t know how to sterilize their equipment. Battlefield hospitals where most surgeries occurred were not conducive to washing their hands or their instruments after every operation. Often fresh, clean water was not available. Time was of the essence as the surgeons performed amputations in mere minutes.

Despite the belief of the soldiers that bullets and shells were their deadliest enemies, disease was the main killer of troops. In the Union Army approximately 60% of all fatalities occurred due to disease while in the Confederate Army it may have been 2 out of three.

Many of the troops on both sides were in poor health when they joined due to poor conditions in civilian life. It appears that many of the early recruits were unfit for service but were still allowed to join. In late 1862, the Union Army discharged approximately 200,000 men as unfit for duty.

About half of the deaths from disease were due to intestinal disorders: typhoid fever, diarrhea, and dysentery. The remainder died from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Camps populated by young soldiers who had never before been exposed to a large variety of common contagious diseases were plagued by outbreaks of measles, chickenpox, mumps, and whooping cough. In many cases these childhood diseases were fatal.

Much of these illnesses were caused by the filthy, unsanitary conditions of the camps. One Union health inspector in 1861 said that the camps were “littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition; slops deposited in pits within the camp limits or thrown out of broadcast; heaps of manure and offal close to the camp.” 

Disease spread through camps like wildfire. Bowel disorders were the most common illness. The Union army reported that more than 995 out of every 1,000 men eventually contracted chronic diarrhea or dysentery during the war; the Confederates fared no better.

Typhoid fever was even more devastating. Perhaps one-quarter of noncombat deaths in the Confederacy resulted from this disease, caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated by salmonella bacteria.

Epidemics of malaria spread through camps located next to stagnant swamps teeming with anopheles mosquito. Although treatment with quinine reduced fatalities, malaria nevertheless struck approximately one quarter of all servicemen; the Union army alone reported one million cases of it during the course of the war.

As the war progressed the medical corps of both sides struggled with all of these issues. At the Siege of Petersburg the Union Army built several hospitals capable of handling up to 10,000 men each, an indication of the medical problems.