Famous last words

Civil War battle of Shiloh chromo-lithograph by Thulstrup

War of the Rebellion, dispatch from Grant to Halleck April 3, 1862

(click image to go to other pages of the text)

I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack …

Not exactly the most famous of famous last words, but significant nonetheless regarding what was to happen a few days later.

Grant’s entry to Halleck and the preceding reports chronicle a scene in my upcoming novel, release for later this year, where the 1st Alabama Cavalry becomes inadvertently embroiled in a running fire fight with Federal infantry and cavalry as they reconnoiter forward from Michie’s cross roads tavern, up the Corinth Road, dangerously close to the federal camp at Pittsburg Landing. The action is limited and small, but one of those missed opportunities to take in all available data. The Confederate Army of the Mississippi has marched out of Corinth and though it has been fraught with tension, poor logistical planning, rain, and inexperienced soldering at all levels they succeed in creeping forward undetected up until this point.

That the 72nd Ohio Infantry and 5th Ohio Cavalry scrapped with a combined force of cavalry, artillery, and infantry so close to their camps was alarm enough, but the incident was chalked up to aggressive patrolling by Grant. A costly error.

In this skirmish, the Colonel of the 1st Alabama would lose his horse, saddle, and equipments and the 72nd Ohio a few prisoners.

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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They Met At Shiloh

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93rd New York in camp, 1863 contrast of uniforms

Civil War Federal NCOs enjoying a repast

(click image to enlarge, 93rd NY Volunteer Infantry Bealton, VA 1863)

The first thing that stands out in the image is that this is a long term camp or the term being long enough to afford some common comfort as these chairs and folding table. A constant argument in reenacting today is what level of camp presence do you portray when at a battle event. This image is proof that this level of equipage was used in camps, but what was common for a campaign? There are two camps (pardon the pun), one that wishes to portray as much of the comfort (for themselves) by using implements such as this table and chairs, tents, cooking and eating utensils etc. The common reply is “if they used them, why can’t I”. The problem is that they would not travel well requiring a large baggage train. The other camp are those who wish to portray a campaigner impression. My own reenacting battalion, The Army of the Pacific – a western reenactor group, does a campaign impression whenever possible. A motto is use only what you can carry on your back as being representative of what the common infantryman was allowed to carry with him. NCOs and officers were allowed more baggage, but an infantryman was only allowed what he could stuff into his knapsack. Tents such as what are in the background were cumbersome and necessitated a long and vulnerable baggage train to transport, meaning more animals to feed and more wagons to haul stuff around in.

I find it interesting that the photographer chose to arrange the men in rank order, the Corporals being in the middle flanked by the two Sergeants. Also note the booze on the table, at least what I’m guessing is probably alcohol. This was not uncommon to purchase from sutlers or from civilian sources. The army did allot a whiskey ration to their quartermasters, the higher the rank the more you were allotted and there are stories of soldiers breaking into Sutlers tents or pilfering the Officer’s allotment of whiskey at times, but for the enlisted men this would amount to barely a mouthful per man per day. This would have been a regulated allotment and kept under tight control.

From the uniforms, the federal Sack Coat or fatigue blouse is what is in evidence. This was a four button coat that is obsequious with the view of the common federal soldier.Original Sack Coat image This fatigue blouse was what the soldier wore for all normal duties as opposed to dress format for parade and other official functions. Volunteer units when raised were issued state level equipments and uniforms and once federalized would then often be issued federal kit that would have included the Sack Coats. But, this was not a universal issue as Ohio and New York in particular issued state militia jackets, a shorter waist and many more buttons on the front.

Another feature of this image is the forage cap dangling from one of the support legs of the foldable table. For the federal armies, this was the most common head ware used. Deriving its name from the deep, pocket like top of the hat that falls down unto the brim, the hat was used for gathering forage when sent out on such patrols where the goal was to by hook or by crook gather in as much food stuffs as the men could carry. Original Federal Forage CapForage caps were common issue as opposed to the head gear being worn by the sergeant to the far left of the image. He is wearing a Kepi, a shorter crown cap that is probably more synonymous with civil war headgear but less often worn by the enlisted men and NCOs. Kepis were most often worn by private purchase. Officers in the Federal army were given a clothing allowance as part of their pay and not issued uniforms, having the freedom to make their own. The most famous example of this is George Armstrong Custer whose uniforms were hyper customized. To this day it is the prerogative of Generals in the army to customize their own uniform wear. It is probable that this sergeant has privately purchased this Kepi for his own use. A close look at the Corporal second to the right shows the common look of a forage cap.

Another view of some of the variety evinced in this image is the wide NCO stripe down the trouser legs of the sergeant to the left of the table. NCOs were allowed to wear a distinction to their trousers denoting rank, a thinner stripe for corporals. The sergeant to the far right has not affixed any to his trousers.

The corporal third from the right is wearing, as near as I can tell from the research of other images for this unit, his NY militia frock coat and black rank. This is not the federal issue Frock coat as can be see here:
93rd NY, Bleaton VA 1863

The difference here can be clearly seen by the man standing second from the left. He is wearing the Federal Frock, high standing collar and infantry piping on the cuffs. There are other NY Frocks evident in this image as well sporting a traditional collar. The black chevrons on the above image on the man in question are of militia vintage for NY pre-war units. At the date that this these images were taken, the preponderance of militia uniforms is interesting as three years of campaigning had either not worn them out or that the state of New York was still suppling her regiments with materials.

If there are other items of interest I’ve missed or tidbits I’ve gotten wrong, please pitch in and let’s mine these images for what they tell us.

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Deadly Teepee: Musket stack in Petersburg, VA 1865

Musket Stack with accouterments

(click image to enlarge)

Image is from Petersburg, 1865 after the city was finally in Federal hands by April 3rd, after ten months of siege.

One can see the devastation the siege wrought on the city by the rubble and buildings in the background. The image was taken in a residential area with a gas lamp to the far left of the frame. It is still cold and the leaves have yet to return on the trees. Oringinal Federal Greatcoat Another indication of time of year is the great coat slung over the musket stack in the foreground. A big indicator of this is the arm with its french cuff visible as pictured here. Greatcoats sported a long rear cape and a high collar made of thick kersey blue wool. The wearer obviously did not need it at this moment and chose to disrobe.

I have found that the cape works well for a face covering when sleeping out if one needs an additional layer. Enlisted men were allowed limited baggage and would often mail home such articles of clothing once campaign season returned as they would have to carry everything with them otherwise, greatcoats being heavy and cumbersome to pack in the two compartment knapsack. Or, they would simply discard the extra impediments once winter weather was over hoping to draw new by next winter.

The rifle stacks themselves are another facet of soldier life. Formed of three central muskets whose bayonets have been intertwined to form a teepee, the formation was devised as a way of keeping soldiers from losing their weapons while halted and on rest, for allowing a formation of four men, two in front and two in back, to intertwine and remove their pieces while in company front (two files), and for quick breaking down of the stack when ready to move on. These stacks are made whenever a unit is at rest after a halt and when in camp but on other duties and a musket is not required. You can see the ghost of a soldier on the upper left side of the frame and several others barely visible on the hillside.

Another common feature of the musket stack is the hanging of a soldier’s basic kit or “traps” as they were called by the soldiers. Original Federal Cartridge Box w/SlingA soldier’s traps would consist of his leathers: cartridge box with sling, belt and brass buckle, haversack, water bottle, and bayonet and frog. You can see that several leathers have been wrapped over the stacks. These would belong to the individuals who would line up behind that stack in the company formation. On the ground are several bundles of blankets and other personal gear. If this were a permanent movement, the privates would also have grounded their knapsacks in front of the rifle stacks or some distance beyond also in formation or if they expected to be in close contact with the enemy. What is more probable, is that this is not a permanent movement of troops but a patrol into the city 9though the blanket rolls do indicate a possible anticipation of a longer sojourn). The length of the stacks width wise indicates a company sized unit. A regiment or battalion sized stack would have extended much further down the street and would have been broken down into companies with the center or left most having the regimental flag rolled up and laid across the stacks lengthwise. None is clearly visible.

The stacks of rifles out in front of the formation would be those of the non commissioned officers who would act as file closers when in company front (two files standing shoulder to shoulder) and whose position in line of march is to the right flank of the marching column or in company front are in the rear of the formation. It is probable that we are looking at the rear elements of the stack and the soldiers would have faced to the right when in company front to stack their muskets and then been released from formation by which most have found a place to sit or lie on the hillside behind them. One can barely make out men in the upper right quadrant of the image by a house with a fence, possibly officers.

If you attend any civil war reenactments, these stacks are as ubiquitous as tents, but know that they served a specific purpose in the life of the soldier and not just for spectator show.

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Confederate POWs in Federal Camp, 1862

civil war Union soldiers guarding Confederate prisoners, Shenandoah Valley, 1862

I would normally crop or resize a photo, but wanted to keep this one full size so you could get an idea of the many little details it holds. This is taken in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. (click photo for closer view).

Several things pop out at me. One, this is early war as evidenced by the tentage. The tall canonical tents are called Sibley tents, designed by a regular army Colonel by the name of Henry Hopkins Sibley in 1856 . Sibley would resign his commission and be commissioned a Brigadier General of Volunteers in the Confederacy and lead a failed invasion of the New Mexico territory. The Sibley tent was a mainstay of the Federal Army until the introduction of the shelter half, a canvass sheet that could be combined with two others to form a low lying pup or dog tent and would save on much needed transportation space.

Another interesting note is the Trooper at the lower right corner with his single shot carbine resting on the ground.Sharps Carbine, 1859

Carbines were issued primarily to the cavalry arm for their portability but were not accurate or as powerful as a single shot musket, so cavalry typically fought dismounted and acted as pickets and skirmishers where they’re mobility could come to bare. Cavalry also did not fight in tight formation as the short barreled carbines did not allow for two ranks with the rear rank firing of the right shoulder of the front.

The square tents are called Wall Tents, an obvious descriptive point in that the tent was constructed like a little house. These were usually officer or quartermaster tents. Enlisted men slept in the Sibley tents. There are several lean to’s visible, constructed of just two canvass halves, but these are too big to be the smaller shelter halves that would later see exclusive use in all branches of the army. Each enlisted man would carry they’re own shelter half further reducing transportation space. Civil War Shelter Half

In front of the long line of men in the background are another group of Union soldiers with their rifles in a stack. This teepee like structure is the default method of releasing ones rifle when not on individual slewing arrangements or on picket and camp guard. Whenever soldiers are at rest, as these are, the rifles are stacked so that three muskets with fixed bayonets intertwine the angles of the bayonet into a free standing structure that the leathers and other gear are then draped over.

The last thing is the old infantryman’s mantra: why stand when you can sit, why sit when you can lie down, why lie down when you can sleep.

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Women of the American Civil War Soldiers and Nurses

AGO records also reveal that on August 3, 1862, a nineteen-year-old Irish immigrant named Albert D. J. Cashier, described as having a light complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair, enlisted in the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry. Cashier served steadily until August 17, 1865, when the regiment was mustered out of the Federal army. Cashier participated in approximately forty battles and skirmishes in those long, hard four years.

After the war, Cashier worked as a laborer, eventually drew a pension, and finally went to live in the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers’ Home. In 1913 a surgeon at the home discovered that Albert D. J. Cashier was a woman. A public disclosure of the finding touched off a storm of sensational newspaper stories, for Cashier had lived her entire adult life as a man. None of Cashier’s former comrades-in-arms ever suspected that he was a she. Apparently, neither did the commandant at the Soldiers’ Home. She died October 11, 1914, in an insane asylum.(12) [A deposition from a fellow soldier taken in 1915 revealed that her deception was quite complete.]

via Women of the American Civil War Soldiers and Nurses.
I ran across this and the following, leaving good meaning to those wives, daughters, girl friends who want to join their husbands, boyfriends, brothers out in the field for reenacting, if you can’t do the above, then don’t do this:

from the TV show Warehouse 13

My first thought was, he’d better hope that dueling pistol aint loaded. My second was, they should fire their costume and prop guy. I’ve been on a movie set before as I was a german reenactor for the Malmedy Massacre scenes in the Indie film Saints and Soldiers, but they had their act together authenticity wise, so I can imagine the reenactors here having a grumble about how these two look.

Contraband of War: Runaway slaves and the Union Army

Look closely at this image. What is notable are the two servants. They are not in uniform but look to be wearing Union kersey blue trousers. The tents also suggest the three other men are officers as well as some of the equipage. Enlisted men would not have had privilege, pay, or baggage to have a table, chairs, and servants.

I am currently reading about the 21st Ohio Volunteers for my next novel and the man charged with writing the unit history describes a period of time where the regiment was on garrison duty in Alabama around the Huntsville area. It was quite common for them to shelter and retain contraband negroes as servants. An officer was given a ration allowance and expected to see to his own mess. Many a runaway slave was sheltered in the Union camps in this manner as officers and men alike saw it as their duty to both deprive the southern owners of the labor and to help a fellow human being out.

Captain Canfield of the 21st describes a point where near mutiny existed over the coddling of southern civilian slave owners and the forcible return of negroes being employed as servants. The history of the 21st Ohio can be found on Google Books for free.

History of the 21st Regiment, Canfield pg. 54-55

On the 23d a planter came near camp, and meeting Captain Canfield, said he heard his servant was in his (Canfield’s) camp, and asked the captain if he had any objection to his going to see. “Oh, no,” said the captain, “not in the least;” but seeing several groups of men casting significant glances toward the stranger , he added, “You will not consider me responsible for anything that happens.”

Hearing this the stranger turned back. Shortly after the Lieutenant Colonel’s orderly came with an order dated and directed to Captain Canfield, saying:

Negro boy Pat, in your company is the property of —-. You will deliver him outside of camp lines to his master. Signed J.M.Neibling, Lt. Col Comdg Rgt.

Captain Canfield wrote in answer, acknowledging the receipt of the order, and added “I respectfully decline to obey it,” signed it officially, as Captain Commanding Company, and kept a copy of the correspondence. Nothing further was said or done about this, however.

Matters were in this condition, when for the first time in two months I was detailed as officer of the day, a duty I should often have performed before. I received my order in the evening, and that night I made up my mind that when I went on duty the next morning, I would break up the slave trade in the regiment for twenty four hours at least; and my success surprised me. The county jail was full of prisoners, chiefly fugitive slaves, who were not turned over to me, but one of my sentinels was posted there, and I assumed whatever authority I lacked to investigate the resin of their detention. I knew very well there were no charges against these black men. After my guard was fully posted and every duty performed I took a non-commission officer and file of men for escort, and reported to Lieutenant Colonel Neibling for any orders he might be pleased to give me. I found him sitting in the shade of a public house near the depot, surrounded by a number of gentleman of the town. After informing me that there were no new orders for me, I was turning away to leave him, when he called out to me, “Where are you going with that guard?” to which I answered, “I am going down to release the prisoners int he jail, against whom there are no charges.” He answered me, “Sir, I order you not to do it.” I then said with deference of manner, “Colonel, will you be so good as to have charges preferred against them.” He replied in a towering rage its as none of my damned business, and that I should go to my quarters in arrest. Of course I obeyed the order of arrest, and quite crestfallen, went to my tent, followed by the boisterous laughter and jeers of Colonel Neibling’s companions, who were sitting about him and heard all that was said.

I had up to this time been considered a severe disciplinarian, and had incurred the displeasure of many officers and mend of the regiment on that account, and their judgement at first as, that I was served right. But before sundown hat day, all of the slaves were relieved by Colonel Neibling himself, and the regiment was in rebellion against its commanding officer, and my arrest was the pretext of the mutiny.

An interesting and oft unknown look into the inner workings of civil war Union regiments in the field.

Civil War News News Briefs

Historic Checks

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A box found during a bank vaults inventory turned up 70 checks signed by 24 U.S. presidents. The treasure trove was acquired by Huntington Bancshares during a 1983 hostile takeover of Union Commerce Corp.

Wall Street Journal writer David Benoit said the box included what perhaps was the last check Abraham Lincoln wrote — to “self” for $800 on April 13, 1865.

Prof. Richard Sylla of New York University, chairman of the Museum of American Finance, said, “This is a classic example of one bank acquiring another and coming up with some old records as a result.” He worries that many such records are thrown away.

The Huntington had the documents appraised and exhibited them in Pittsburgh before a planned auction. However, public response caused the bank to cancel the sale. The check collection was donated by a former director of Union Commerce and was displayed during the U.S. Bicentennial.

via Civil War News News Briefs.

This Day in the American Civil War for January 25

Saturday, Jan. 25, 1862


The storm that had been battering the fleet off Cape Hatteras abated somewhat today, and efforts were redoubled to move the ships over the Hatteras sandbars into Pimlico Sound. The work was purely physical, as opposed to military, as there was insufficient Confederate manpower on either land or sea to seriously threaten the project.

via This Day in the American Civil War for January 25.

This Day in the American Civil War for January 22

Wednesday, Jan. 22 1862


The USS “Lexington” set forth to perform reconnaissance in advance of the planned attack on Ft. Henry, Tenn., with Brig. Gen. Charles F. Smith in charge of the project and Lt. Shirk assisting him. It was a hard winter, with much snow in the mountains and rain in the lowlands; the river was very high, and still rising. This hampered the effort, but not so much that the “Lexington” and the other union gunboats were prevented from firing a few mortar rounds at Ft. Henry. In other Naval action, Lt. Worden reported to his superiors that construction of the radical new gunboat “Monitor” was progressing on schedule. The only delay was caused by late delivery of the 11-inch guns with which the ship would be armed.

via This Day in the American Civil War for January 22.

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