Writing and Researching the battle of Corinth


What I love about writing historical fiction is that I get to dramatize the little things that I dredge up in my research. Reading the after action reports on Corinth and heavy note taking I often find little things that tie people and events together. One of them is from the 63rd Ohio’s report and that of Major General Price and Captain Hoxton regarding a mishap that occurs early on the morning of October 4, 1862 in front of Corinth.

General Price was desirous that any and all advantage be gained from the position the Confederates occupied almost surrounding Corinth, close up to the town and under the cover of woods and ridges that shielded them from the incomplete defensive works Rosecrans had ordered built to command the Mobile and Ohio rail line, the Memphis road, the Chewalla road, and the cross point of the Memphis and Charleston rail line; a series of fortified positions that were spread out 800 yards apart containing heavy caliber cannon. Rosecrans never suspected that these would be the positions he’d have to use to defend the town with from a numerically superior force but that the outer former Confederate works would be.

The ground around the town and the cover allowed Price and Van Dorn to marshall their divisions close to the Union positions without being subject to artillery fire. Hoxton and several other batteries were ordered to take positions upon the ridges to the northwest of the town and before first light begin to shell the town and anything that they could engage, as the battle was to be initiated at first light.

Hoxton’s section under the command of Lieutenant Tobin was busily moving his section into place when two companies of the 63rd Ohio blundered into them. Companies B and G were ordered to buttress the skirmishers of the 27th Ohio of Fuller’s Ohio brigade and to push up the Chewalla road up to the trees and ensure that they controlled the road. The two companies were just as surprised as Tobin was to run into the enemy, only that running into a battery in the blind was a prize seized too easily.

Tobin’s section lost a gun and himself and his bugler as prisoners of war and the two companies were soon beset by Price’s skirmishers and the troopers of the 7th Tennessee cavalry who nearly bagged the whole lot themselves.

It is the little anecdotes like this that I love envisioning and dramatizing through the use of historical characters doing what they would have done. This little episode will be features in the third novel of the Shiloh Series, Iuka to Corinth.

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On the March from Hamburg to Camp before Corinth


Title: On the march from Hamburg to camp before Corinth / sketched by A.E. Mathews, 31st Reg’t O.V.[U.S.A.] ; lithographed by Middleton, Strobridge & Co., Cincinnati.
Creator(s): Middleton, Strobridge & Co., lithographer

A depiction of the type of terrain that the combined Army of the Ohio, Army of the Tennessee, and Army of the Mississippi had to contend with in their maneuvering to surround Corinth, Mississippi in May of 1862.

The second novel in the Shiloh Series, A Certain Death deals with some of the events of this campaign that ultimately failed to achieve all of its goals, the destruction of Beauregard’s Army of Mississippi.

72nd Ohio nearly uncovers pre-Shiloh Confederate plans

Battle flag of the 72nd Ohio OVI

Prior to the Confederate attack on the Union camps along the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, there was an accidental meeting between a picket relief from the 70th Ohio Infantry and a troop of the 1st Alabama Cavalry under Lt. Colonel Clanton marching up the West Corinth Road to the intersection of the Bark Road. Two companies of the 72nd Ohio were drilling nearby and an alert Major Pickerel from the 25th Missouri directed them to push up the Corinth Road to investigate.

In most books I’ve read about Shiloh, this little incident gets a sentence or two or this little skirmish is barely a footnote. Yet, for those who were captured, killed, and wounded this was not just another day in the war.

What is ironic about this skirmish is how close the companies from the 72nd Ohio, 70th Ohio, and 5th Ohio Cavalry came to discovering what it was behind the 1st Alabama Cavalry screen at Michie’s. The fight was brief but no less full of drama. I discovered this incident while researching for the next novel in my Shiloh series, A Certain Death. Like most historians, I gave this incident barely a mention in the first in the series They Met at Shiloh myself, a happenstance in the story. But, to give it its due, it is drawn out in detail in A Certain Death.

April 5, 1862 in a communication to his superior, Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis Grant had this to say after reporting on the incident.

General: Just as my letter of yesterday to Captain McLean, assistant adjutant-general, was finished, notes from Generals McClernand’s and Sherman’s assistant adjutants-general were received stating that our outposts had been attacked by the enemy, apparently in considerable force. I immediately went up, but found all quiet. The enemy took 2 officers and 4 or 5 of our men prisoners and wounded 4. We took 8 prisoners and killed several; number of the enemy wounded not known. They had with them three pieces of artillery and cavalry and infantry. How much cannot of course be estimated.
I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place…
U.S. Grant, Major-General

Battle flag of the 5th Ohio OVC

General Sherman’s report of the incident adds further detail:

Sir: I have the honor to report that yesterday about 3 p.m. it was reported to me that the lieutenant commanding and 7 men of the advance pickets had imprudently advanced from their posts and were captured. I ordered Major Riker, of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry, to proceed rapidly to the picket station, ascertain the truth, and act according to circumstances. He reached the station, found the pickets had been captured as reported, and that a company of infantry sent by the brigade commander had gone forward in pursuit of some cavalry. He rapidly advanced some 2 miles and found them engaged; charged the enemy and drove them along the ridge road until he met and received three discharges of artillery, when he very properly wheeled under cover and returned till he met me. As soon as I heard artillery I advanced with two regiments of infantry and took position and remained until the scattered companies of infantry and cavalry returned. This was after night.
I infer that the enemy is in some considerable force at Pea Ridge; that yesterday morning they crossed a brigade of two regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and one battery of field artillery to the ridge on which the Corinth Road lays. They halted the infantry and artillery at a point about 5 miles in my front, and sent a detachment to the lane of General Meeks, on the north of Owl Creek, and the cavalry down towards our camp. This cavalry captured a part of our advance pickets and afterwards engaged the two companies of Colonel Buckland’s regiment…
We lost of the picket: 1 first lieutenant and 7 men of the 70th Ohio Infantry, taken prisonersl 1 major, 1 lieutenant, and 1 private of the 72nd Ohio Infantry taken prisoners, and 8 privates wounded. I have the honor to be, your obedient servant, W. T. Sherman

Of the official reports, the real action comes from the reports of Colonel Buckland of the 72nd and Major Riker of the 5th Ohio.

Battle flag of the 1st Alabama Cavalry

On the 4th of April, a Major Pickerel of Peabody’s 25th Missouri was out inspecting the picket posts of his brigade as officer of the day when he bumped into Lieutenant Herbert of the 70th Ohio with his picket relief marching up the Corinth Road. As Pickerel was making his way he happened to notice the presence of horseman through a line of trees in an adjacent field. Curious, he picked his way closer when he noticed that they were rebel horseman and they were relieving the picket relief of their weapons. Having heard the commands of a unit at drill close by he raced through the trees until he ran into Major Crocket drilling several companies of the 72nd Ohio Infantry. Informing Crocket that there were rebel horseman just down the road he suggested that he move his companies to disperse them. As they were equal in rank and in different commands, he could not order Crocket to comply.

After dispatching a lieutenant to report to General Sherman, Crocket marched companies H and B down the Corinth Road and was soon pushing a troop of the 1st Alabama Cavalry back down the Corinth Road. It was here that, convinced that this was just a small force of the enemy, Crocket split his battalion with company B on the right of the Corinth Road and H on the left. After marching and lightly skirmishing for two miles they came face to face with the whole of the 1st Alabama Cavalry and a battery of artillery. With horseman moving on their flanks, Captain Raymond of company B moved his men onto a hill that commanded the road and hunkered down while Major Crocket found himself captured as company H became surrounded.

With his regiment formed on the field, Lt. Colonel Clanton had easy pickings until Colonel Buckland arrived with an additional one hundred men of companies A, D, and I of the 72nd Ohio. Surrounded on the hill, Captain Raymond weathered an assault on foot by Troop I of the 1st Alabama and turned his company about and charged for the rear, breaking up an attempt by the 1st Alabama to block his egress. Captain Raymond would return his company mostly unscathed while company H would lose several more men in their attempt to escape.

With the arrival of reinforcements from the 72nd Ohio, the skirmishing became desultory until the arrival of the 5th Ohio Cavalry, who secured the Union hold of the field and pushed the 1st Alabama all the way to the artillery battery when they prudently turned around and marched back to camp.

It is intriguing to read the account by Colonel Buckland in The war of the rebellion; Series 1 – volume 10 (part 1) pg. 91 when you understand that just one more day later the great battle of Shiloh will occur. Other signs were clearly visible that a grand movement of Johnston’s Army of Mississippi was happening and this was not just a random skirmish but an accidental blundering of forces. The two companies of the 72nd, separated and surrounded at one time were close to revealing an attack that would dwarf any battle that had been fought to this time in the war. The numbers of troops involved were small but the obvious impact of this event, if it had been evaluated differently, are immense.

The first novel in the Shiloh Series, They Met at Shiloh, will be free for Kindle on 10/10 to 10/12.

They Met At Shiloh

The Martial days of ’61

90 day volunteers from Mass. at Camp Cameron Mass, 1861
(click on image to enlarge)

I chose this image because I was fascinated by what it does not tell you. Who were these men? How many answered the call once the 90 day enlistments expired? How many survived the war? How many went back home to leave the war to a younger generation?

A brief history of Camp Cameron can be found here: Camp Cameron.

The following is a brief history of the 1st Mass.

Organized at Boston and mustered in Companies “A,” “B,” “G” and “H” May 23; Companies “D,” “F,” “K” and “I” May 24; Company “E” May 25, and Company “C” May 27, 1861. Left State for Washington, D.C., June 15, arriving June 17. Attached to Richardson’s Brigade, Tyler’s Division, McDowell’s Army of Northeast Virginia, to August, 1861. Hooker’s Brigade, Division of the Potomac, to October, 1861. 1st Brigade, Hooker’s Division, Army of the Potomac, to March, 1862. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 3rd Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to March, 1864. 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 2nd Army Corps, to May, 1864.

SERVICE.–Duty at Camp Banks, Georgeton, D.C., until July 16, 1861. Advance on Manassas, Va., July 16-21. Occupation of Fairfax Court House July 17. Battle of Bull Run July 21. At Fort Albany until August 15. Moved to Bladensburg August 15 and duty there until September 7. Expedition to Lower Maryland September 7-October 7. Moved to Posey’s Plantation October 25-27. Duty there and at Shipping Point until April 5, 1862. Affair at Mattawoman Creek November 14, 1861. Ordered to Fortress Monroe, Va., April 7, 1862; thence to Yorktown. Siege of Yorktown April 16-May 4. Affair at Yorktown April 26 (Cos. “A,” “H” and “I”). Battle of Williamsburg May 5. Battle of Fair Oaks, Seven Pines, May 31-June 1. Seven days before Richmond June 25-July 1. Battles of Oak Grove June 25; Savage Station June 29; White Oak Swamp and Glendale June 30; Malvern Hill July 1. At Harrison’s Landing until August 15. Movement to Fortress Monroe, thence to Centreville August 15-26. Bristoe Station or Kettle Run August 27. Catlett’s Station August 28. Battles of Groveton August 29 and Bull Run August 30. Duty in the Defences of Washington until December –. At Fort Lyon until Sep tember 13. Near Fairfax Seminary until October 20 and at Munson’s Hill until November 1. Duty at Fairfax Station November 2-25. Operations on Orange & Alexandria Railroad November 10-12. Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., December 12-15. “Mud March” January 20-24, 1863. At Falmouth until April 27. Operations at Rappahannock Bridge and Grove Church February 5-7. Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6. Battle of Chancellorsville May 1-5. Gettysburg (Pa.) Campaign June 11-July 24. Battle of Gettysburg July 1-3. Pursuit of Lee until July 24. Moved to New York July 30-August 1. Duty at Governor’s Island Ricker’s Island and David’s Island, New York Harbor until October 15. Moved to Washington October 15 thence to Union Mills, Va., and rejoin Corps October 17. Advance to line of the Rappahannock November 7-8. Kelly’s Ford November 7. Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2. Payne’s Farm November 27. Duty near Brandy Station until May, 1864. Demonstration on the Rapidan February 6-7. Rapidan Campaign May 3-20. Battles of the Wilderness May 5 7; Spottsylvania May 8-12; Spottsylvania Court House May 12-21. Assault on the Salient at Spottsylvania Court House May 12. Harris Farm or Fredericksburg Road May 19. Ordered home for muster out May 20 Veterans and Recruits transferred to 11th Massachussetts Infantry May 20. Mustered out May 25, 1864. Expiration of term.

Regiment lost during service 8 Officers and 134 En listed men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 78 Enlisted men by disease. Total 221. 1st Massachusetts Infantry

By the date of this image and the information from the above article it is safe to assume these men were either of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment of militia, and part of the 90 day call for volunteers, or the 1st Massachusetts Infantry prior to leaving Camp Cameron for Washington DC. (See comments section, there was apparently more than one Camp Cameron and these men may not be from Massachusetts but posed at a location in Georgetown, DC and from a NY militia unit, thank you Rob Gray for pointing this out)The 1st was the first three year regiment organized in Mass. The timing of this image and the muster of the 1st Mass. would indicate to me a probability that they are part of that muster and still decked out in their state issued militia uniforms or, as with many of the states who sent volunteers to Washington DC in the early days of the war, issued militia equipment to put some semblance of uniformity to their new units. At this stage in the war, these men have seen little of active service and the age range for enlisted men is also remarkable. For officers, depending on the rank, age was mitigated by an easier lifestyle. They were allowed more comforts, more baggage, a horse, and did little in the way of fatigue duty. There is an air of cockiness in their poses and expressions, of martial spirit that is not seen much in later images.

These uniforms will have been discarded by the time of the battle of First Bull Run or shortly thereafter (though units on both sides answered the call equipped with a dazzling array of state militia colors including militia grey, a popular overall color for state militias prior to the war) and these men, if they stayed in long enough to have seen action at 1st Bull Run (1st Manasass for all of my southern brethren) they may have already turned in their state issued clothing for federal issue.

The negro boy in the front is an interesting add to the image. Plenty of images taken of federal units in the southern states show contraband slaves performing various duties about the camp, but this is Massachusetts, this is where the one of the North’s largest free black population lives, where the African Methodist Episcopal Church started, where there had been a population of free blacks since before the revolution. So, it is hard to tell what the photographer (Brady by the left corner) was intending. Could very well have been in the camp shining boots for two bits. It is a fitting topic to be in the image; Massachusetts would be one of the first northern state to raise regiments of all black troops (they were not the first to raise black regiments but the first northern state). The boy was a free black (assumption by virtue of location of image and of the time) and is wearing all civilian attire and looks rather put out that he has to hold a brush and a boot!

Again, I look at each face and wonder what they did in the months to come. How many survived the war and how many continued to serve. Who succumbed to disease (the biggest killer by far than battle wounds) or who was discharged for ill health (many do not look like they would have lasted long under the rigors of campaign life). As far as I have been able to turn up, these men are unidentified. They did have a history and for one brief moment they posed for a photograph and we are fortunate enough today to have that image, displayed here on fading paper stock.

These men had no inkling of what was ahead of them, only that there was a call for volunteers to put down the rebellion. These men cut a fine appearance in their militia grey, posed with their bayonets fixed and ready to take on the nearest rebel horde. The first battle has not yet been fought at the time of this image. The war at this point is still an adventure, something exciting. Young and old were caught up in patriotic fervor and the thought of death was far from every mind. Battles where thousands would would fall are fantasy; the enemy will melt away before the marching columns. Few believe the war will last but a few months. These men are ready for that vision of war, a vision that faded fast after 1st Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek, two battles that showed both sides that neither was going to back down from their goals. The real serious battles are a year away yet, where casualties at Shiloh April 6/7 1862: Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing) and Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured) would become common place leading to the single bloodiest day of combat at Antietam in September of the same year: Union casualties (12,401 wounded, captured, missing with 2,108 dead) and Confederate casualties (10,318 wounded, captured, missing with 1,546 dead).

These men cannot fathom what lies ahead for their cause. They are caught up instead in the martial adventure that all hope lays ahead.

Hey there, sailor.

Crew of the USS Monitor in the James River, 1862
(click image to enlarge)
Crew of the USS Monitor in the James River, 1862
(click image to enlarge)

I’m not sure I’ve seen an image that captured billowing steam like this before, but the ghosting along the image partially obscuring the men in the background is probably steam from the cook stove at left. These images were taken of the USS Monitor on station in the James River in 1862 after she was sent to respond to the CS Merrimack’s incursion into Hampton Roads to attack the Union blockading fleet on March 8 and 9, 1862. As a keen eyed reader pointed out, you can clearly see a dent in the turret in the second image. The Monitor would sail up the James after the Merrimack was scuttled on May 11th, 1862 when the Confederates abandoned Norfolk (the Merrimack’s base) and it was too deep of draft to make it up the James River so it was destroyed. These two images would have been taken some time between the loss of Norfolk and the destruction of the Merrimack and the Monitor’s participating in the bombardment of the Confederate Batteries on Drewry’s Bluff on the James River in support of General George B. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign on May 16th, 1862.

The above image is strikingly clear and show some great detail of federal sailor uniforms. The man in the foreground is the cook in the top image and the man in the turret top of both images is the same. There is also a uniformity of dress absent from most images of infantry and cavalry units in the civil war. The navy was federal whereas the overwhelming majority of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units used in the land war were state volunteers. The navy on the other hand was all federal. One did not volunteer for a state navy (the states did not maintain a navy)but enlisted in the Navy whose adherence to dress and code was much more strict than that of the volunteer ranks. Of the regular infantry regiments that saw service one would have seen similar discipline and uniformity of dress as her officers were all West Point graduates and not appointed or elected. Same for the Navy, whose officers would all have come from Annapolis and seen service before the war.

By contrast with the other armed services, the uniform is simple and looks to be comfortable. In the iron Standard Federal Woolen Sailor's Frockclads, the new entry into naval warfare, the mode of dress needed to be light as the steam powered engines produced an internal heat that was at times unbearable. Lightweight wool frocks and trousers and light shoes being standard enlisted uniform. The standard Frock for northern climes was, as pictured above, the woolen variety.

Federal Sailor's Muslin Frock
Muslin Enlisted Frock

There were also Frock’s of Canvass and of Muslin depending on the area of duty and need for personal comfort in heat and tropical areas.

Federal enlisted canvass Frock
Canvass Enlisted Frock

By contrast with the army, the navy (with a previously established lax attitude towards questions of white and black co-service or integrated crews) had allowed blacks to serve in enlisted capacities before the war. In the below excerpt from Sec. of the Navy Wells, a more formalized process to enlist blacks more wholeheartedly was acted upon.

It is not the policy of this Government to invite or encourage this kind of desertion and yet, under the circumstances, no other course…could be adopted without violating every principle of humanity. To return them would be impolitic as well as cruel…you will do well to employ them.”

Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy July 22, 1861

Black seaman in fatigue dress
George Commodore

for more detail, click here: Black Sailors in the Union Navy

There are several postulates for this incongruity of racial preference between the Army and the Navy. Enlisted men’s duties on a ship could be varied and for the vast majority of sailors in the war time was spent on blockade duty, anchored off of the coastline and river outlets doing little but keeping their ship afloat and on occasion pursuing anything headed in or out. These would be moments of punctuation in a seemingly endless procession of days. Crews of a boat have their specialties and for the enlisted men one job was just as onerous as another. Manning a cannon or trimming a sail are jobs to be done and the navy did not have any qualms using black men as to white men for any duty save for that of officer rank. It should also be noted that the Marines of this time were strictly white, so a disparity of what one expected of the races (like in the Army) in the war fighting duty they performed seems to be the overall guiding principal. By war’s end, the Navy would have some 15% of its enlisted sailors being free blacks from the north and southern born free and former slaves.

There was no attempt to have segregated crews and even when the Army was still grouping black volunteers and enlistees in its ranks through World War II, Navy crews were still integrated. I believe this speaks more to the early mindset that the former and current slave populations were not cultured for organized combat nor trustworthy enough to be given weapons. The typical seaman would rarely touch a weapon but for a cutlass or a cannon and only when needed. The Marine’s, however, were always under arms and were expected to fight as infantry while on land and as defenders on the ships assigned to while at sea. The naval tradition spoke more for the ability to integrate the races even in combat situations than was previously given proper merit. Whites and blacks could work together aboard ship without issue as all ranks are equally the same.

20 pound Parrot Rifles at drill, Ringgold Ga 1864

20 pound Parrot Rifles drill in Georgia, 1864

(click image to enlarge)

I like this image; it has a great view of the crew requirements for a battery of artillery to function. Pictured here are 20 pound Parrot rifled cannon, distinctive for their rifle like design, heavy reinforced 20 pound Parrot rifled cannonwrought iron band at the breach and narrow muzzle. The image above is of a battery drill outside of Ringgold, GA by men of Sherman’s army. If you enlarge the image you will get a taste of the dress and manner of the western soldier. In many paintings and movies, artillerists are oft depicted wearing the short shell jacket trimmed with red piping. The men above are all clad in the infantry fatigue or “Sack Coat”. There could be several reasons for this. Quarter Master supply for replacement uniforms, the men were volunteers from infantry regiments, the battery was always issued the base federal infantry uniform.

Atypical for western troops are the kepi and forage caps in evidence. Western infantry regiments liked to be as individualistic as eastern ones tended to be for pomp and polish. The western soldier’s headgear was often a civilian black hat or what came to be known as a “bummer” or “slouch” hat, an army issue dress or Hardee hat without the trim (brass bugle, ostrich plume, branch of service cord, cockade that held the left brim to the side of the hat). The hats were cooler and offered better sun protection and were more akin to what was worn on the farm on a daily basis.

The gun crews, arrayed in their positions each had a specific role to play in the service of the weapon.

Gunner: the man usually directly behind the tail of each gun. His responsibility is the aiming and giving the command to fire each his piece.

Cannoneers: there are four cannoneers, numbered left to right whose posts are at each wheel edge, so 1 on the left wheel with the sponge/rammer, 2 directly opposite, 3 behind 1 and 4 behind 2. These men do the loading, firing, and cleaning of the gun.

Cannoneer 5: this is the poor chap who gets to run back and forth to fetch each new load. The leather pouch worn by each number 5 is used to hold the round. In this image the limbers are a little closer than they would be if the battery were being engaged in real fire. The images of stacks of cannon balls by a cannon make good displays but a cannon being serviced does not want live ammunition anywhere near it. While it may be the pride of its own forces, it is also the target of every artillery battery opposite and infantry near enough to fire on it. Each round is carried singly from the limber chest to the number 4 man who loads it into the barrel, and the number 1 man who rams the charge home. Between each fire the number 1 man douses the barrel with the sponge killing any live spark.

Cannoneer 6 and 7: these men are stationed at the limber cutting fuses and prepping rounds for fire.

American Civil War Artillery

We can also see on the limbers the men who are charged with driving the teams on each limber and from each caisson. Not everyone on a horse is an officer and often the two cannoneers 6 and 7 would ride the rear of the limber and two others on the rear of the caisson. (The caissons are shown behind each limber) Brass Artillery Friction PrimerThe number 4 man of each team wears a pouch on his belt with the friction primers for the touch hole of each piece. The primer contained a mercury filament that ignited when the lanyard (attached to the primer) was pulled igniting the powder that was loaded before the round, the touch hole being wide at the top and then narrow at the bottom to direct the spark. One primer, one shot.

Take out one of these men and the rest have to double duty as there is always a man with the teams to bring them up to limber up the gun to be moved. Take out a horse and the same follows, the efficiency of the whole group is diminished. You can see from this image (above) how many horses were required to move a battery about. Images like the one below from the Gettysburg battlefield shows the cost in horses during a battle, this being of the Trostle farmyard where they 9th Massachusetts Battery was posted.

Trostle Farmyard showing dead artillery horses after Gettsyburg

Send in the clowns! 114th Penn. “Zouaves” Petersburg, VA 1864

114th Pennsylvania
(click image to enlarge)

I am reminded of the scene from “Gettysburg” where General Reynolds has just been shot and has fallen from his horse. He’s surrounded by men of the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves and as he lays dead, head cradled by one of his staff, and my friend says (as Reynolds) “Ahhh, there’s clowns in heaven!”

Meet one of the Civil War’s most colorful units, the Zouave. Patterned after the French military French Zouavesthe Zouave uniforms cut such a martial appearance they were a popular uniform for militia companies. Zouave units were not limited to the North.
The South also had several regiments of zouaves the Louisiana or “Wheat’s” Tigers being the most famous.

The men pictured above had their genesis as just such a company. Formed in 1861 by Charles Collis who became Colonel of the regiment when it was sworn into federal service. What is of particular interest is that this remained a Zouave unit this late in the war. Just a cursory look at their uniforms tells you they were not easily donned nor easily maintained. The beginning of the war saw many Zouave regiments enter federal service but after a year or so of campaigning the differentiated dress disappeared as the uniforms required replacement and had to be done at the expense of the regiment itself. Finding numerous items impractical for long term campaigning the regiments would adopt a more federal dress out of necessity.

Personal or corporate purchase of certain items was not unusual for the volunteer regiments. Prior to the Tullahoma Campaign and the battle of Chickamauga, the entire brigade of Colonel John T. Wilder purchased, with private money (his own and that of every soldier in his regiments), the spencer repeating rifle. The War Department was fearful of adopting this rifle in quantity as it required a different style of ammunition (copper jacketed) and there was dispute that the soldiers themselves would be too careless with ammunition causing a waste. Wilder also mounted his infantrymen on mules or horses and turned his foot regiments into mounted infantry.
Spencer Repeating Rifle

These men here paid for the privilege of wearing the distinctive garb on their own (or from a fund established to ensure uniforms were replaced when worn out) and this probably explains why these men establish a uniformity of dress seldom seen in other federal units. I can only imagine how long it takes for these men to get into principle uniform, even just for these images to be taken. The number of items each is wearing means that the expense of keeping a Zouave unit in the field was also hefty as these items were not on the federal quartermaster’s list of supply.

Zouave units designed their own uniforms and hence we have taken to calling them by the Colonels of the various regiments as means to describe the patterns. These men were called Collis Zouaves for their colonel and this also describes the pattern of the tunic, trousers, and headgear.

a dark blue zouave jacket with sky blue cuffs and red trimmings and tombeux, a sky blue sash, madder red trousers, white gaiters, leather jamberies, and a red zouave fez with a yellow tassel that was often worn with a white turban.

The man with the kepi and sword, far left of the image is in some dispute, in my opinion, as to his rank. None of the officers are in full kit and are only holding the image of their office, that of the sword. Shoulder straps and a sword were the visible titles of rank. I’ve seen this image and the caption described this man as an officer but I can only assume it was because he is holding a sword. Yet, a company 1st Sgt or Sgt Major would have as part of his uniform a sword denoting his command. The man does not have shoulder straps in evidence on his tunic (not a given but a little odd for an eastern unit) and if he has NCO stripes they are hard to discern from the image if they are of a darker material (possibly a darker blue). His belt would be another giveaway but both upper NCO and officers belt buckles were rectangular and not oblong like the enlisted men shown here.

Civil War original Zouave uniform

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Musics, beat off! Oh, grow up!

93rd NY Drum Corps, Bealton VA 1863
(click image to enlarge)

Drum Corps, 93rd NY Volunteer Infantry, Bealeton VA, 1863

Sorry, not to be crude, but that is the official command once a tune has been given prior to marching to the beat, is to beat off. It never fails at a reenactment to hear titters of laughter in the background and it may have elicited like responses back then.

The command sequence going something like this: prior to parade and assembly of the companies in the company streets the Adjutant or the Colonel would give the command for the start of parade and trooping the colors (color guard with national and regimental standards assembled to give honors) whereas the drum corps would follow “Musicians, beat off!” and begin the drum and fife to morning parade. For a nice discussion of the use of these calls see The Authentic Campaigner: Drill vs Assembly.

Civil War Musicians dress uniformNote the lack of uniformity. We put more emphasis on being uniform today than the volunteer units did in the war; perhaps less than the regular army did at the same time. Only a few of these men and boys are wearing the regulation musicians uniform for whatever reason; original issue was disposed of and only thing on hand at the quarter master was the regulation sack coat (according to regulations, musicians were relieved from fatigue duty save for normal mess duty), regulation uniform coat is lost and only the sack coat is available, the soldier was mustered as an infantryman but is able to play a fife or the drums and is assigned to the drum corps, any one of these could be a valid reason for the disparity of uniformness.

These are men from the 93rd NY, (see earlier post of the 93rd NY) and a few of these drummers are wearing the frock coat that I surmised was a hold over or part of clothing issued by the State of New York to its volunteers. It is hard for us sometimes to get out of our heads as we evaluate living history displays and look at uniforms and not make judgements based on modern military doctrine and discipline. But, there are areas of study that are so esoteric, as in the quarter master returns for specific units, to give us an operating idea of why federal regiments had so much variety in uniform use that they are seldom if ever brought to light. We are used to seeing this in the Confederate ranks. As images like these come to light we can get a better glimpse of daily life of the Federal soldier.

There is also a stereotype of the drummer boy and here we see several younger boys but they are the minority as there are also grown men in evidence. It is no easy feat to drum a cadence call and these men would have been doing plenty of it on a daily basis. The need for a regimented life driven by drum rolls and bugle calls meant these men were constantly in use. Every military call required a drum cadence and bugle: sick call, morning formation, parade, drill, fatigue, etc. These men were professionals at what they did and the requirement to have some skill at it would mean a selection process that demanded skill. As a reenactor, I’ve witnessed poor cadence performed by someone’s son who is dressed up in uniform and given a drum. If you’ve ever tried marching to two or more who aren’t keeping the cadence very well it is maddening. These boys who are present aren’t just there because father or brothers are there, they have skill.

The last thing I wanted to point out was the drum major, who looks not so much older than some of his Drum Major's Macedrummers. His uniform is not regulation for musicians but looks to be a bit more tailored for his role, something only seen with officers who were allowed to purchase their own uniforms. The shell jacket is a nice touch, cut with a sash and a belt and buckle that looks like a standard NCO buckle (rectangular instead of oblong) but it is a little hard to discern. The thing in his hand is called a Mace and the design of it hasn’t changed at all in the last 150 years. The drum major uses the mace for two things: for command and control and for flourishes while on parade and the march. The drum corps proceeds the regiment when on parade and while on the march with the drum major in the front of it leading the way. The Mace is used to communicate starts and stops in the music, positions of attention, starts and stops while on the march, and while the group is playing to give martial flourishes. A really good drum major will put on quite a show when on parade. Using the Mace is another skill that is enhanced by the ability of the drum major and no two will use it exactly alike in the flourishes. All commands, when used with the Mace, are unspoken and a good drum corps does not need verbal commands to execute any movement. Watch this YouTube video to see how the Mace is used for both command and for music direction.

191st Army Band at change of command ceremony

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Band box, paper collar soldiers; literally.

10th Veteran Reserve Corps Drum Corps

(click image to enlarge)

Pictured here are the 10th Veteran Reserve Corp’s Drum Corp in Washington, DC June 1865. The Veteran Reserve Corps used to be designated the Invalid Corps, made up of convalescing soldiers who were too disabled for active service but not so severely that they were discharged. Wikipedia article on the Veteran Reserve Corps.

What I find interesting is the presence of the orchestra instruments in this image and it is a little hard to see a drum corps with a string section, but there is also a level of goofing around in some of these images that these musicians also see the humor in grabbing another instrument to “play”. It is also very possible that this group is actually several sub groups together who play a variety of instruments. An army band is full of individuals who play multiple instruments. I spent 15 years in the 44th Army Band in the New Mexico National Guard and we played multiple roles depending on our talents and sub groups that might be formed for a variety of venues. It is also likely that these men with the stringed instruments only play those instruments and were utilized for small ensemble occasions along with a ceremonial role.

The style of dress is unique to military bands. The base uniform was probably the sky blue Kersey trousers with stripe (no NCOs are evident in this from those still wearing their sack coats.) This is not unusual as the civil war uniform in the regular army was a frock coat of dark blue and dark blue trousers for dress parade and sack coat for fatigue detail. All volunteer organizations were issued the basic fatigue blouse (sack coat) and sky blue trousers as the base uniform for regular and fatigue duty and the frock and dress trousers for official functions. Army bands today spend most of their time in dress greens and an almost equal amount of time in dress blues as the role is ceremonial for most of the duty.

The other item that is in preponderance is the kepi and most seem to be trimmed in gold much like what isTrimmed CS Officer's Kepi commonly seen of higher officer’s choice of dress. The infantry bugle can be seen adorning the top part of some of the kepi’s and only one man has a forage cap on. Uniformity, even with this unit, seems to have been something of a latter day marshall insistence by the military of today, even in the same regiment a variety of dress and styles can be seen in any image. Some of this was due to differences in what the Quarter Master drew for uniforms and equipment and what the men may have been able to purchase for themselves. The crisp uniformity of dress became more of a staple with the rise of the larger and larger permanent army. The regular army during the civil war was still relatively small, volunteers making up the majority of those who served and this would explain a lot of why we fail to see the uniformity we often expect from our military today.

Civil War era paper collarsThe last thing I wish to point out are the paper collars evidenced here. The 19th century shirt was dual purpose. It was long (down to the knees) had a short button down front (down to the naval) and did not have a collar (at least not a traditional collar but a short, high collar). The paper collar was donned for ceremonial purposes and parade, even as late as the Petersburg Campaign as highlighted by diary entries and letters by men of the 57th Mass. Volunteers in Mother May you Never see the Sights I’ve Seen by Warren Wilkinson.

There was an insult in the war that soldiers used to describe other regiments or those who only saw garrison duty. Band box or paper collar soldiers as explained by Billings in “Hardtack and Coffee“. Band Box referred to gentleman such as these whose duty in the war was strictly ceremonial and who played in a band box, a small stage or contained area for giving concerts or playing for parades and official reviews.

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Federal Soldiers in winter camp

Winter Camp, Union soldiers outside of kitchen
(click image to enlarge)

This would seem to be an atypical view of camp life as we’ve come to know it from living history displays and popular paintings. Though images of winter camps, like those along the Rappahannock River where the Union Army of the Potomac wintered after the disaster of the Battle of Fredericksburg, are common this one was a treat to break down into details about what we know of the men and the times.

This image was not attributed to a particular location or unit, but the corduroy pathways speak of a muddy spring or winter time. The corduroy planking was utilized over rough or winter roads and terrain. When Sherman’s army marched through Georgia, he split it into three columns at times and each would sometimes go through the most impassable wooded areas to avoid and confound attempts to block it along common roadways. Engineering regiments felled a swatch of trees ahead of the marching columns and those behind them stripped the limbs and laid the trunks down in contiguous roadways for the wagon and artillery units thus making their own roads. The road was not pleasant to march on, but as the logs sank they settled and made a passable road for wheeled vehicles.

Late 19th century of dress in polite company was that men wore a coat when out and usually with a vest for to appear in public in ones undershirt was improper. Army life being what it was has obviously trained these men not to bother much with polite decorum. Army regulation was the soldier was to always have his sack or frock coat on and a hat when out of doors (a fact of military life even today) and when on fatigue duty one was permitted to take off the coat if needed. Further regulation was that the top button was to be fixed at all times when wearing the coat as the man to the far right is showing. Fully buttoned was to the discretion of the soldier. It is possible that the two men without their sack coats are on kitchen detail, but it is mostly the exception to find men posing for images without their uniform coats on.

Another aspect, clearly seen here by the man 4th from the left is the 19th century waistline. The trousers are worn well above the hips as they are long in the crotch. With his trouser cuffs turned up there are other parts of this camp that are extensively muddy. Another way of dealing with this was to blouse ones trouser cuffs into ones socks. This is something more often seen in period lithographs like this one. Prang Lithograph of assuant during the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi

This appears to be primarily a personal style choice of the soldier. The following is from reenactor discussions on the Authentic Campaigner forums: Blousing of trousers there are images of soldiers likewise accoutered and of period woodcuts, and other artist renditions. Interestingly, like other fashions it was not universal but not just a Federal or Confederate thing. It could also be that these representations became something of an marshall image that had a visual appeal to both individual soldiers and to artists depicting scenes. At the 135th Shiloh event with the incessant rain and mud, one did find that the trouser cuffs became caked with mud, making them heavy. Often some of these questions about did they or didn’t they are answered by simply experiencing something of the soldier life and seeing what happens when one tramps through brambles.

Beards, like styles in dress, were a cultural variety as seen here. The shaggy looking mountain man look as is sometimes seen (or used to be) at reenactments is not so much supported by both the decorum of the age, military discipline, and image records.

Finally, the contraband slave in the picture, though fully uniformed in union kit, is more than likely a camp servant. Scenes like this are common in camp images and say a lot about the relationship between white soldiers and black servants. It is a point of acknowledgement that whites and white soldiers were more apt to appear with blacks in images when the relationships were of unequals, what is a sad thing to say today but a common enough thing for the time period. Even though he is in a uniform he is not a soldier judging by the attitudes of the men in the image and knowing that a scene like this, if a black regiment, would have been uni-racial. First Negro Commissioned officer from the Civil War, 54th Mass. VolunteersIf any whites were in the image they would have been officers given the organization of the USCT units. NCOs would have been from the ranks of the black volunteers but the officers were one hundred precent whites. It would not be until the end of the war that the first Lieutenant was commissioned from the 54th Mass. Volunteers, Stephen A. Swails. Swails was a veteran  of all of the 54th’s major battles, twice wounded, and for his leadership was commissioned 2nd Lt. in 1865 and was further promoted to 1st Lt. prior to the 54th being mustered out of service.

Winter camps were long term, where active campaigning was minimal. Civil War armies, depending on the area of the country, were immobile from December through February or March due to the problems of weather on the logistical needs of supply. Snow and rain, the things that produced mud on non-macadamized roads which would have been most. The longevity of a camp being based on the frequency of being moved about (even in winter quarters there was no guarantee that the hut one constructed would be the hut one was able to move into) produced such structures as seen here.

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