Writing Militarily pt 2

25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, Ft. Keogh, Montana 1890

Indian Wars, post-Civil War to WWI

The Indian Wars, though occupying a time frame mirroring colonization, from the Pequot War in 1637 to the Posey War in 1923 between the Ute and Paiute against Mormon settlers, the conflicts romanticized in western films cover a time between the American Civil War and the crushing of the Sioux after Little Big Horn in 1876. It can be said that the uprisings, localized conflicts between settlers and marauders, punitive expeditions, and conflicts like the French and Indian War, War of 1812, and Civil War there were incidents that pit Indians against whites or hispanics throughout our nation’s history.

In 1862, a column of infantry, cavalry, and artillery raised in California to help repel Confederate General Sibley’s New Mexico invasion never faced a confederate save for a brief skirmish in Arizona when a patrol of the 1st California Cavalry ran into a confederate held outpost at Pichacho Pass, rounding up three prisoners and scattering the rest. The numbers involved were small and the outcome already established as the confederates had little choice but to withdraw before the superior union force. Having arrived too late to affect the outcome, the remaining Union forces in New Mexico: the 1st Colorado, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Mexico Volunteer Infantry and the 1st California Infantry, 1st California Cavalry, 1st California Artillery spent the rest of the war fighting Apache and Navajo Indians. A visit to the Santa Fe National Cemetery will reveal remnants of Californian service in New Mexico, men who died of disease and wounds from Indian campaigning.

As before the Civil War, these frontier units were scattered about in forts established along critical trade and communication routes throughout the western states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and later Texas and Oklahoma.

The ubiquitous cavalryman from our western films wasn’t the only federal army presence in the west even after the war. The army still had several regular army regiments of infantry that were again located in the various forts. Cavalry makes for better westerns, but not for a complete view of our military at this time.

View of markers from Last Stand Hill, Little Big Horn

The campaign undertaken in 1876 to corral the Sioux and Cheyenne who were following Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse into the Black Hills of Montana was made up of both infantry and cavalry elements, Custer’s 7th being famous among them. A column under the command of General Crook, ten companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I, L, and M) of the 3rd Cavalry, five (A, B, D, E, and I) of the 2nd Cavalry, two companies (D and F) of the 4th Infantry, and three companies (C, G, and H) of the 9th Infantry was attacked at the headwaters of the Rosebud River, Montana and soundly defeated just days before General Terry’s column of including twelve companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, and M) of the 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s immediate command,[4] Companies C and G of the 17th U.S. Infantry, and the Gatling gun detachment of the 20th Infantry arrived at the mouth of the Rosebud. Custer’s 7th was to make its way up the Rosebud while Terry’s other units were to converge on the Little Big Horn River and catch the Indian encampment between two forces and disperse it. The rest is history as the 7th stumbles on the encampment first.

Infantry regiments as well as artillery units played key roles in defending frontier outposts. Know your area of interest’s history for the forts and who manned them lest you stray into more myth about the cavalry’s sole role in this time period.

Infantry Officer's tunic button

Organizationally, there is little difference from before with the regiment still the primary unit that held ones allegiance. As before the Civil War, with a reduced regular army, units would be spread out on garrison duty so that a single company or two of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a troop or two of cavalry might be the only units present. The duties and the organization would be adapted to the need. The Indian Wars were punctuated affairs with several months of active campaigning where an entire regiment might be united for the hunt and then dispersed once again for garrison.

Patrolling would be done in one to two troops of cavalry or company sized infantry detachments. Because the enemy (from the army’s point of view) was wily and evasive, preferring hit and run to a stand up fight, the use of large numbers of men (aside from a large campaign) would be minimal. The expansive, hostile desert made operating and supplying large numbers of armed men difficult. Little patrolling was done as the fort was a presence and a response to possible Indian depredations on communication trails or settlements. The soldiers spent more hours in drill and upkeep activities than they did in actually fighting Indians.

references cited:

Infantry Kepi bugle


Writing Militarily, Pt 1 Revolution to Civil War

Writing Militarily

Sometimes a good story can miss the mark when we lack the minutia of details that can transport the reader or give our plot realism. Sometimes these details are elusive unless time has been spent living the life we wish to portray. Although a brief article on civil war or military parlance can’t make up for having lived it, I will outlay some things that I hope will be helpful in creating realistic scenes, dialogue, plots, and character arcs.

I have always been a military history buff, the American Civil War being my favorite area of research but most periods of wars have drawn my interest. I’ve also been both a Civil War and WWII reenactor for over ten years.

One thing, no matter what period one is writing about, it was probably an era of conflict. What we see in movies and television is often inaccurate or cliché. Until the Second World War introduced a large and permanent standing army, our wars were fought by volunteer armies raised from state levees and disbanded as soon as peace was achieved. This brings the type of movie character we are familiar with, the fatherly sergeant, the young and inexperienced privates, into conflict with a very real dynamic that existed between soldiers and the command structure used at the time. For the Civil War time period, picking one or two published journals like Hardtack and Coffee by John Billings or Company Aytch by Samuel Watkins will give you an idea of soldier life. Another great resource is The Life of Billy Yank and The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley.
Do not assume that the army organization and functionality has remained static. Organization and how armies were used changed with tactics and wars. Here’s a quick guide to the basic elements of an army unit. These exist in any branch of the army (cavalry, artillery).

For Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican American War, Civil War, and Spanish American War the basic element was the company. The reason for this is that fire is massed in a tight formation, two ranks. The smallest element in the company was the comrades in arms, a group of four men who made up a skirmish group.

The next formation up was the battalion, a grouping of companies under the second in command of a regiment. It is rare that this unit is separated from the regiment but a battalion could be sent off on a small mission where it is not expected to run into much resistance. Picket (a string of vedettes along a long line like on a river bank separating forces or spread out along a line of miles whose purpose is to be an early warning for the larger force behind it) and garrison duty would be the only reason a battalion might be separated from their regiment.

The primary unit of all of these time periods was the regiment, made up of 10 companies that march, bivouac, and fight together. Volunteer regiments (as opposed to regular army regiments) were raised by the states and federalized for national service. They retained their state designation and the governor of each state had the power to grant commissioned officers. Volunteers were raised from each county in the state, sometimes from specific counties in the state and the volunteers being formed into companies from those who volunteered from that county, so that one served with men one knew already. This was a consistent practice up to WWII. Officers and noncommissioned officers would be elected after the formation of each company or the captaincy of each company would be commissioned by the governor and other commissioned officers by the same process. When writing about soldiers in these time periods, it was the regiment that held their allegiance most and governed their daily lives.

The next unit of note was the brigade, made up of between three to four regiments. When reading about these various wars and battles, one often runs into the brigade being mentioned most as tactics governed the movements of brigade sized units about the battlefield.
The third and fourth unit was the division (made up of three to four brigades) and the corps (made up of three to four divisions). These are forces made up of thousands of men and controlled by the commander of the army.

The last organization is the army, a grouping together in a geographical theater of operations (a term meaning anything from a state to a region to an entire continent). An army was usually comprised of a variety of organizational schemes. For instance, as the civil war progressed and the need to control the vast armies grew, army commanders used a variety of methods to group regiments and brigades together. Up until 1862 the largest designation was the division or, as at Fredericksburg, Right, Center, and Left Grand Divisions made up of several divisions. After the Union disaster of Fredericksburg, Corps were formed and Union armies kept these designations and organization for the duration of the war. The Confederate forces used different means of organizing itself and never adopted the Corps structure.

Writing Militarily, how to write with the pre WWI military in mind

Writing Militarily, Pt. 2 Indian Wars to WWI

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