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XIX. Army wagon-trains.

That every man who swears once drove a mule
Is not believed by any but a fool;
But whosoe'er drove mules and did not swear
Can be relied on for an honest prayer.
Before giving a history of the wagon-trains which formed a part, and a necessary part, of every army, I will briefly refer to what was known as k “Grant's military Railroad,” which was really a railroad built for the army, and used solely by it. When the Army of the Potomac appeared before Petersburg, City Point, on the James River, was made army headquarters and the “base of supplies,” that is, the place to which supplies were brought from the North, and from which they were distributed to the various portions of the army. The Lynchburg or Southside Railroad enters Petersburg from the west, and a short railroad, known as the City Point Railroad, connects it with City Point, ten miles eastward. The greater portion of this ten miles fell within the Union lines after our army appeared before Petersburg, and, as these lines were extended westward after the siege was determined upon, Grant conceived the plan of [351] running a railroad inside our fortifications to save both time and mule-flesh in distributing supplies along the line. It was soon done. About five miles of the City Point road were used, from which the new road extended to the southwest, perhaps ten miles, striking the Weldon Railroad, which had been wrested from the enemy. Down this the trains ran three miles; then a new branch of about two miles more to the west took them to the left of the Union lines.

Of course, there were stations along this road at which supplies were left for those troops near by. These stations were named after different generals of the army. Meade and Patrick stations are two names which yet linger in my memory, near each of which my company was at some time located. The trains on this road were visible to the enemy for a time as they crossed an open plain in their trips, and brought upon themselves quite a lively shelling, resulting in no damage, I believe, but still making railroading so uncomfortable that a high embankment of earth was thrown up, which completely covered the engine and cars as they rolled along, and which still stands as a monument to the labors of the pick-and-shovel brigade. This railroad was what is known as a surface road, by which is meant that there were no cuts made, the track being laid on the natural surface of the ground. When a marsh was met with, instead of filling, the engineers built a trestling. The effect of such railroading to the eye was quite picturesque, as a train wound its serpentine course along the country, up hill and down dale, appearing much as if it had jumped the track, and was going across lots to its destination.

But the trains of the army were wagon-trains, and so little has been written about them in histories of the war that a limited sketch in this volume will have interest for many readers.

The trains belong to what is known in French as the materiel of the army, in distinction from the personnel, the [352] men employed. In Roman history we frequently find the baggage-trains of the army alluded to as the impedimenta. The materiel, then, or impedimenta, of our armies has, very naturally, been ignored by the historian; for the personnel, the actors, are of so much more consequence, they have absorbed the interest of both writers and readers. I say the persons are of much more consequence, but I must not be understood as belittling the importance of the trains. An army without its varied supplies, which the trains care for and provide, would soon be neither useful nor ornamental. In fact, an army is like a piece of machinery, each part of which is indispensable to every other part.

I presume every one of mature years has an idea of what army wagons look like. They were heavy, lumbering

A mule driver.

affairs at best, built for hard service, all, apparently, after the same pattern, each one having its tool-box in front, its feed trough behind, which, in camp, was placed lengthwise of the pole; its spare pole suspended at the side; its wooden bucket for water, and iron “slush-bucket” for grease, hanging from the hind axle; and its canvas cover, which when closely drawn in front and rear, as it always was on the march, made quite a satisfactory “close carriage.” As a pleasure carriage, however, they were not considered a success. When the Third Corps was wintering at Brandy Station in 1863-4 the concert troupe, which my company boasted was engaged to give a week of evening [353] entertainments not far from Culpeper, in a large hexagonal stockade, which would seat six or seven hundred persons, and which had been erected for the purpose by one Lieutenant Lee, then on either General French's or General Birney's staff — I cannot now say which. To convey us thither over the intervening distance of four or five miles, as I now remember, we hired a mule-driver with his army wagon. More than twenty-three years have since elapsed, but those twelve or fourteen rides, after dark, across the rough country and frozen ground around Brandy Station were so thoroughly jolted into my memory that I shall never forget them. The seven dollars apiece per night which we received for our services was but a trifling compensation for the battering and mellowing we endured en route, and no more than paid for wear and tear. No harder vehicle can be found to take a ride in than an army wagon.

By some stroke of good luck, or, perhaps, good management, many of the regiments from New England took their transportation along with them. It consisted, in many cases, of twenty-five wagons, two for each company, and five for regimental headquarters. These were drawn at first by four horses, but afterwards by six mules. A light battery had three such wagons. They were designed to carry the baggage of the troops, and when a march was ordered they were filled with tents, stoves, kettles, pans, chairs, desks, trunks, valises, knapsacks, boards,--in fact, whatever conveniences had accumulated about the camps.

General Sherman, in his Memoirs (vol. i. p. 178), describes very graphically the troops he saw about Washington in ‘61, as follows:--

“ Their uniforms were as various as the states and cities from which they came their arms were also of every pattern and calibre; and they were so loaded down with overcoats, haversacks, knapsacks, tents, and baggage, that it took from twenty-five to fifty wagons to move the camp of a regiment [354] from one place to another, and some of the camps had bakeries and cooking establishments that would have done credit to Delmonico.”

General Sherman might have seen much the same situation near Washington even in ‘62 and ‘63. Every company in a regiment located in the defences of the capital city had one or more large cook-stoves with other appointments to match, and when they moved only a few miles they took all their lares and penates with them. This could then be done without detriment to the service. It was only when they attempted to carry everything along in active campaigning that trouble ensued.

In October, 1861, McClellan issued an order which contained the following provisions:--

  • 1. No soldiers shall ride in loaded baggage-wagons under any circumstances, nor in empty wagons unless by special instructions to that effect.
  • 2. Knapsacks shall not be carried in the wagons except on the written recommendation of the surgeon, which shall be given in case of sickness.
  • 3. Tent-floors shall not be transported in public wagons, and hereafter no lumber shall be issued for tent-floors except upon the recommendation of the medical director for hospital purposes.

This order was issued before the corps were organized, while the wagons were yet with their regiments, and while the men yet had their big knapsacks, which they were always ready to ride with or toss into a wagon when the regiment moved. This was the time of transporting tentfloors, the luxurious fault-finding period before carpets, feather-beds, and roast beef had entirely lost their charm; when each man was, in his own way and belief, fully the size of a major-general; when the medical director of the army had time, unaided as yet by subordinates, to decide the question of tent-floors versus no tent-floors for individuals. Ah, the freshness and flavor of those early war days come back [355] to me as I write — each day big with importance, as our letters, yet preserved to us, so faithfully record.

Not many months elapsed before it became apparent that the necessities of stern warfare would not permit and should not have so many of the equipments of civil life, when the shelter tent, already described, took the place of the larger varieties; when camp-fires superseded the stoves, and many other comfortable but unnecessary furnishings disappeared from the baggage. Not how little but how much could be dispensed with then became the question of the hour. The trains must be reduced in size, and they must be moved in a manner not to hamper the troops, if possible; but the war was more than half finished before they were brought into a satisfactory system of operation.

The greater number of the three-years regiments that arrived in Washington in 1861 brought no transportation of any kind. After McClellan assumed command, a depot of transportation was established at Perryville on the Susquehanna; by this is meant a station where wagons and ambulances were kept, and from which they were supplied.

From there Captain Sawtell, now colonel and brevet brigadier general U. S. A., fitted out regiments as rapidly as he could, giving each six wagons instead of twenty-five, one of which was for medical supplies. Some regiments, however, by influence or favor at court, got more than that. A few wagons were supplied from the quartermaster's depot at Washington. A quartermaster is an officer whose duty it is to provide quarters, provisions, clothing, fuel, storage, and transportation for an army. The chief officer in the quartermaster's department is known as the quartermastergeneral. There was a chief quartermaster of the army, and a chief quartermaster to each corps and division; then, there were brigade and regimental quartermasters, and finally the quartermaster-sergeants, all attending in their appropriate spheres to the special duties of this department. [356]

During the march of the army up the Peninsula in 1862, the fighting force advanced by brigades, each of which was followed by its long columns of transportation. But this plan was very unsatisfactory, for thereby the army was extended along forest paths over an immense extent of country, and great delays and difficulties ensued in keeping the column closed up; for such was the nature of the roads that after the first few wagons had passed over them they were rendered impassable in places for those behind. At least a quarter of each regiment was occupied in escorting its wagons, piled up with ammunition, provisions, tents, etc.; and long after the head of the column had settled in bivouac could be heard the loud shouting of the teamsters to their jaded and mire-bedraggled brutes, the clatter of wagon and artillery wheels, the lowing of the driven herds, the rattling of sabres, canteens, and other equipments, as the men strode along in the darkness, anxious to reach the spot selected for their uncertain quantity of rest.

At times in this campaign it was necessary for the wagontrains to be massed and move together, but, for some reason, no order of march was issued, so that the most dire confusion ensued. A struggle for the lead would naturally set in, each division wanting it and fighting for it. Profanity, threats, and the flourishing of revolvers were sure to be prominent in the settling of the question, but the train which could run over the highest stumps and pull through the deepest mud-holes was likely to come out ahead.

The verdancy which remained after the first fall of the Union army at Bull Run was to be utterly overshadowed by the baptism of woe which was to follow in the Peninsular Campaign; and on arriving at Harrison's Landing, on the James, McClellan issued the following order, which paved the way for better things:-- [357]

Allowance of transportation, tents, and baggage.

Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. Camp near Harrison's Landing, Va., August 10, 1862.
General Orders, No. 153.

I. The following allowance of wagons is authorized:

For the Headquarters of an Army CorpsFour
For the Headquarters of a Division or BrigadeThree
For a Battery of Light Artillery, or Squadron of CavalryThree
For a full regiment of InfantrySix

This allowance will in no case be exceeded, but will be reduced to correspond as nearly as practicable with the number of officers and men actually present. All means of transportation in excess of the prescribed standard will be immediately turned in to the depot, with the exception of the authorized supply trains, which will be under the direction of the Chief Quartermasters of Corps. The Chief Quartermaster of this Army will direct the organization of the supply trains.

II. The Army must be prepared to bivouac when on marches away from the depots. The allowance of tents will therefore be immediately reduced to the following standard, and no other accommodations must be expected until a permanent depot is established:

For the Headquarters of an Army Corps, Division, or Brigade, one wall tent for the General Commanding, and one to every two officers of his staff.

To each full regiment, for the Colonel, Field and Staff officers, three wall tents.

For all other commissioned officers, one shelter tent each.

For every two non-commissioned officers, soldiers, officers' servants, and camp followers, as far as they can be supplied, one shelter tent. One hospital tent will be allowed for office purposes at Corps Head-Quarters, and one wall tent at Division and Brigade Headquarters.

All tents in excess of this allowance will be immediately turned in to the depots.

Tents of other patterns required to be exchanged for shelter tents will be turned in as soon as the latter can be obtained from the Quartermaster's department. Under no circumstances will they be allowed to be carried when the Army moves.

III. The allowance of officers' baggage will be limited to blankets, a small valise or carpet bag, and a reasonable mess-kit. All officers will at once reduce their baggage to this standard. The men will carry no baggage except blankets and shelter tents. The Chief Quartermaster will provide storage on the transports for the knapsacks of the men and for the officers' surplus baggage. [358]

IV. Hospital tents must not be diverted from their legitimate use, except for offices, as authorized in paragraph II.

V. The wagons allowed to a regiment or battery must carry nothing but forage for the teams, cooking utensils for the men, hospital stores, small rations, and officers' baggage. One of the wagons allowed for a regiment will be used exclusively for hospital stores, under the direction of the regimental surgeon. The wagon for regimental Headquarters will carry grain for the officers' horses. At least one and a half of the wagons allowed to a battery or squadron will carry grain.

VI. Hospital stores, ammunition, Quartermaster's Stores, and subsistence stores in bulk will be transported in special trains.

VII. Commanding officers will be held responsible that the reduction above ordered, especially of officers' baggage, is carried into effect at once, and Corps commanders are specially charged to see that this responsibility is enforced.

VIII. On all marches, Quartermasters will accompany and conduct their trains, under the orders of their commanding officers, so as never to obstruct the movement of troops.

IX. All Quartermasters and Commissaries of Subsistence will attend in person to the receipt and issue of supplies for their commands, and will keep themselves constantly informed of the situation of the depots, roads, etc.

by command of Major General McCLELLAN: S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant General. Official: Aide-de-Camp.

This order quite distinctly shows some of the valuable lessons taught by that eventful campaign before Richmond, more especially the necessity of limiting the amount of camp equipage and the transportation to be used for that purpose. But it further outlines the beginnings of the Supply Trains, and to these I wish to direct special attention.

I have thus far only referred to the transportation provided for the camp equipage; but subsistence for man and beast must be taken along; clothing, to replace the wear and tear of service, must be provided; ammunition in quantity and variety must be at ready command; intrenching tools were indispensable in an active campaign,--all of which [359] was most forcibly demonstrated on the Peninsula. Some effort, I believe, was made to establish these trains before that campaign began, but everything was confusion when compared with the system which was now inaugurated by Colonel (now General) Rufus Ingalls, when he became Chief Quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac. Through his persevering zeal, trains for the above purposes were organized. All strife for the lead on the march vanished, for every movement was governed by orders from army headquarters under the direction of the chief quartermaster. He prescribed the roads to be travelled over, which corps trains should lead and which should bring up the rear, where more than one took the same roads. All of the corps trains were massed before a march, and the chief quartermaster of some corps was selected and put in charge of this consolidated train. The other corps quartermasters had charge of their

Wagon-train crossing the Rappahannock on a pontoon bridge. From a Photograph.

respective trains, each in turn having his division and brigade quartermasters, subject to his orders. “There never was a corps better organized than was the quartermaster's corps with the Army of the Potomac in 1864,” says Grant in his Memoirs.

Let us see a little more clearly what a corps train included. I can do no better than to incorporate here the following order of General Meade:-- [360]

General Orders, no. 83.

Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. August 21, 1863.
In order that the amount of transportation in this Army shall not in any instance exceed the maximum allowance prescribed in General Order, No. 274, of August 7, 1863, from the War Department, and to further modify and reduce baggage and supply trains, heretofore authorized, the following allowances are established and will be strictly conformed to, viz.: 1. The following is the maximum amount of transportation to be allowed to this Army in the field:

To the Headquarters of an Army Corps, 2 wagons or 8 pack mules.

To the Headquarters of a Division or Brigade, 1 wagon or 5 pack mules.

To every three company officers, when detached or serving without wagons, 1 pack mule.

To every 12 company officers, when detached, 1 wagon or 4 pack mules.

To every 2 staff officers not attached to any Headquarters, 1 pack mule.

To every 10 staff officers serving similarly, 1 wagon or 4 pack mules.

The above will include transportation for all personal baggage, mess chests, cooking utensils, desks, papers, &c. The weight of officers' baggage in the field, specified in the Army Regulations, will be reduced so as to bring it within the foregoing schedule. All excess of transportation now with Army Corps, Divisions, Brigades, and Regiments, or Batteries, over the allowances herein prescribed, will be immediately turned in to the Quartermaster's Department, to be used in the trains.

Commanding officers of Corps, Divisions, &c., will immediately cause inspections to be made, and will be held responsible for the strict execution of this order.

Commissary stores and forage will be transported by the trains. Where these are not conveniemt of access, and where troops act in detachments, the Quartermaster's Department will assign wagons or pack animals for that purpose; but the baggage of officers, or of troops, or camp equipage, will not be permitted to be carried in the wagons or on the pack animals so assigned. The assignment for transportation for ammunition, hospital stores, subsistence, and forage will be made in proportion to the amount ordered to be carried. The number of wagons is hereinafter prescribed.

The allowance of spring wagons and saddle horses for contingent wants, and of camp and garrison equipage, will remain as established by circular, dated July 17, 1863. 2. For each full regiment of infantry and cavalry, of 1000 men, for baggage, camp equipage, &c., 6 wagons.

For each regiment of infantry less than 700 men and more than 500 men, 5 wagons.

For each regiment of infantry less than 500 men and more than 300 men, 4 wagons.

For each regiment of infantry less than 300 men, 3 wagons. [361] 3. For each battery of 4 and 6 guns — for personal baggage, mess chests, cooking utensils, desks, papers, &c., 1 and 2 wagons respectively.

For ammunition trains the number of wagons will be determined and assigned upon the following rules: 1st. Multiply each 12 pdr. gun by 122 and divide by 112. 2d. Multiply each rifle gun by 50 and divide by 140. 3d. For each 20 pdr. gun, 1 1/2 wagons. 4th. For each siege gun, 2 1/2 wagons. 5th. For the general supply train of reserve ammunition of 20 rounds to each gun in the Army, to be kept habitually with Artillery Reserve, 54 wagons.

For each battery, to carry its proportion of subsistence, forage, &c., 2 wagons. 4. The supply train for forage, subsistence, quartermaster's stores, &c., to each 1000 men, cavalry and infantry, 7 wagons.

To every 1000 men, cavalry and infantry, for small arm ammunition, 5 wagons.

To each 1500 men, cavalry and infantry, for hospital supplies, 3 wagons.

To each Army Corps, except the Cavalry, for entrenching tools, &c., 6 wagons.

To each Corps Headquarters for the carrying of subsistence, forage and other stores not provided for herein, 3 wagons.

To each Division Headquarters for similar purpose as above, 2 wagons.

To each Brigade Headquarters for similar purpose as above, 1 wagon.

To each Brigade, cavalry and infantry, for commissary stores for sales to officers, 1 wagon.

To each Division, cavalry and infantry, for hauling forage for ambulance animals, portable forges, &c., 1 wagon.

To each Division, cavalry and infantry, for carrying armorer's tools, parts of muskets, extra arms and accoutrements, 1 wagon.

It is expected that each ambulance, and each wagon, whether in the baggage, supply or ammunition train, will carry the necessary forage for its own team.

by command of Major General Meade: S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant General. official: Ass't Adj't Gen'l.

As the transportation was reduced in quantity, the capacity of what remained was put to a severer test. For example, when the Army of the Potomac went into the Wilderness in 1864, each wagon was required to carry five days forage for its animals (600 pounds), and if its other freight was rations it might be six barrels of salt pork and four [362] barrels of coffee, or ten barrels of sugar. Forty boxes of hardtack was a load, not so much because of its weight as because a wagon would hold no more. It even excluded the forage to carry this number. In the final campaign against Lee, Grant allowed for baggage and camp equipage three wagons to a regiment of over seven hundred men, two wagons to a regiment of less than seven hundred and more than three hundred, and one wagon to less than three hundred. One wagon was allowed to a field battery. But, notwithstanding the reductions ordered at different times, extra wagons were often smuggled along. One captain, in charge of a train, tells of keeping a wagon and six mules of his own more than orders allowed, and whenever the inspecting officer was announced as coming, the wagon, in charge of his man, Mike, was driven off under cover and not returned till the inspection was completed. This enabled him to take along quite a personal outfit for himself and friends. But his experience was not unique. There were many other “contraband” mule-teams smuggled along in the same way for the same object.

In leaving Chattanooga to advance into Georgia, General Sherman reduced his transportation to one baggage-wagon and one ambulance for a regiment, and a pack-horse or mule for the officers of each company. His supply trains were limited in their loads to food, ammunition, and clothing; and wall tents were forbidden to be taken along, barring one for each headquarters, the gallant old veteran setting the example, by taking only a tent-fly, which was pitched over saplings or fence rails. The general has recorded in his “Memoirs” that his orders were not strictly obeyed in this respect, Thomas being the most noted exception, who could not give up his tent, and “had a big wagon, which could be converted into an office, and this we used to call “Thomas's circus.”” In starting on his “march to the sea,” Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 120; paragraph 3 of this order reads as follows:-- [363]

“ There will be no general train of supplies, but each corps will have its ammunition train and provision train distributed habitually as follows: Behind each regiment should follow one wagon and one ambulance; behind each brigade should follow a due proportion of ammunition-wagons, provision-wagons and ambulances. In case of danger each corps commander should change this order of march, by having his advance and rear brigades unencumbered by wheels. The separate columns will start habitually at 7 A. M., and make about fifteen miles per day, unless otherwise fixed in orders.”

I presume the allowance remained about the same for the Wilderness Campaign as that given in Orders No. 83. General Hancock says that he started into the Wilderness with 27,000 men. Now, using this fact in connection with the general order, a little rough reckoning will give an approximate idea of the size of the train of this corps. Without going into details, I may say that the total train of the Second Corps, not including the ambulances, could not have been far from 800 wagons, of which about 600 carried the various supplies, and the remainder the baggage — the camp equipage of the corps.

When the army was in settled camp, the supply trains went into park by themselves, but the baggage-wagons were retained with their corps, division, brigade, or regimental headquarters. When a march was ordered, however, these wagons waited only long enough to receive their freight of camp equipage, when away they went in charge of their respective quartermasters to join the corps supply train.

I have alluded to the strength of a single corps train. But the Second Corps comprised only about one-fifth of the Union army in the Wilderness, from which a little arithmetic will enable one to get a tolerably definite idea of the impedimenta of this one army, even after a great reduction in the original amount had been made. There were probably over 4000 wagons following the Army of the Potomac into the Wilderness. An idea of the ground such a train would cover may be obtained by knowing that a six-mule [364] team took up on the road, say, forty feet, but of course they did not travel at close intervals. The nature of the country determined, in some degree, their distance apart. In going up or down hill a liberal allowance was made for balky or headstrong mules. Colonel Wilson, the chief commissary of the army, in an interesting article to the United Service magazine (1880), has stated that could the train which was requisite to accompany the army on the Wilderness Campaign have been extended in a straight line it would have spanned the distance between Washington and Richmond, being about one hundred and thirty miles. I presume this estimate includes the ambulance-train also. On the basis of three to a regiment, there must have been as many as one hundred and fifty to a corps. These, on ordinary marches, followed immediately in the rear of their respective divisions.

When General Sherman started for the sea, his army of sixty thousand men was accompanied by about twenty-five hundred wagons and six hundred ambulances. These were divided nearly equally between his four corps, each corps commander managing his own train. In this campaign the transportation had the roads, while the infantry plodded along by the roadside.

The supply trains, it will now be understood, were the travelling depot or reservoir from which the army replenished its needs. When these wagons were emptied, they were at once sent back to the base of supplies, to be reloaded with precisely the same kind of material as before; and empty wagons had always to leave the road clear for loaded ones. Unless under a pressure of circumstances, all issues except of ammunition were made at night. By this plan the animals of the supply consumed their forage at the base of supplies, and thus saved hauling it.

It was a welcome sight to the soldiers when rations drew low, or were exhausted, to see these wagons drive up to the lines. They were not impedimenta to the army just then. [365]

It has sometimes been thought that the wagon-train was a glorious refuge from the dangers and hard labors endured at the front, but such was not the case. It was one of the

Commissary depot at cedar level.--from a Photograph.

most wearing departments of the service. The officers in immediate charge were especially burdened with responsibility, as the statement above illustrates. They were charged to have their trains at a given point at or before a specified time. It must be there. There was no “if convenient” or “if possible” attached to the order. The troops must have their rations, or, more important still, the ammunition must be at hand in case of need. Sometimes they would accomplish the task assigned without difficulty, but it was the exception. Of course, they could not start until the army had got out of the way. Then, the roads, already cut up somewhat by the artillery, were soon rendered next to impassable by the moving trains. The quartermaster in charge of a train would be called upon to extricate a wagon here that was blocking the way, to supply the place of a worn-out horse or mule there; to have a stalled wagon unloaded and its contents distributed among other wagons; to keep the train well closed up; to keep the right road even by night, when, of necessity, much of their travelling was done. And if, with a series of such misfortunes befalling [366] him, the quartermaster reached his destination a few hours late, his chances were very good for being roundly sworn at by his superior officers for his delinquency.

During the progress of the train, it may be said, the quartermaster would ease his nervous and troubled spirit by swearing at careless or unfortunate mule-drivers, who, in turn, would make the air blue with profanity addressed to their mules, individually or collectively, so that the anxiety to get through was felt by all the moving forces in the train. A large number of these drivers were civilians early in the war, but owing to the lack of subordination which many of them showed, their places were largely supplied later by enlisted men, upon whom Uncle Sam had his grip, and who could not resign or “swear back” without penalty.

The place of the trains on an advance was in the rear of the army; on the retreat, in front, as a rule. If they were passing through a dangerous section of country, they were attended by a guard, sometimes of infantry, sometimes cavalry. The strength of the guard varied with the nature of the danger expected. Sometimes a regiment, sometimes a brigade or division, was detailed from a corps for the duty. The nature of Sherman's march was such that trains and troops went side by side, as already referred to. The colored division of the Ninth Corps served as trainguard for the transportation of the Army of the Potomac from the Rapidan to the James in 1864.

When ammunition was wanted by a battery or a regiment in the line of battle, a wagon was sent forward from the train to supply it, the train remaining at a safe distance in the rear. The nearness of the wagon's approach was governed somewhat by the nature of the ground. If there was cover to screen it from the enemy, like a hill or a piece of woods, it would come pretty near, but if exposed it would keep farther away. When it was possible to do so, supplies both of subsistence and ammunition were brought [367] up by night when the army was in line of battle, for, as I have said elsewhere, a mule-team or a mule-train under fire was a diverting spectacle to every one but the mule-drivers.

A mule-team under fire.

One of the most striking reminiscences of the wagon-train which I remember relates to a scene enacted in the fall of ‘63, in that campaign of manoeuvres between Meade and Lee. My own corps (Third) reached Centreville Heights before sunset — in fact, was, I think, the first corps to arrive. At all events, we had anticipated the most of the trains. At that hour General Warren was having a lively row with the enemy at Bristoe Station, eight or nine miles away. As the twilight deepened, the flash of his artillery and the smoke of the conflict were distinctly visible in the horizon. The landscape between this stirring scene and our standpoint presented one of the most animated spectacles that I ever saw in the service. Its most attractive feature was the numerous wagon-trains, whose long lines, stretching away for miles over the open plain, were hastening forward to a place of refuge, all converging towards a common centre — the high ground lying along the hither side of Bull Run. The officers in charge of the trains, made somewhat nervous by the sounds of conflict reaching them from [368] the rear, impatiently urged on the drivers, who, in turn, with lusty lungs uttered vigorous oaths at the mules, punctuated by blows or cracks of the black snake that equalled in volume the intonations of a rifle; and these jumped into their harnesses and took the wagons along over stumps and through gullies with as great alacrity as if the chief strain and responsibility of the campaign centred in themselves. An additional feature of animation was presented by the columns of infantry from the other corps, which alternated in the landscape with the lines of wagons, winding along into camp tired and footsore, but without apparent concern. I do not now remember any other time in my experience when so large a portion of the materiel and personnel of the army could have been covered by a single glance as I saw in the gathering twilight of that October afternoon.

The system of designating the troops by corps badges was extended to the transportation, and every wagon was marked on the side of the canvas covering with the corps badge, perhaps eighteen inches in diameter, and of the appropriate color to designate the division to which it belonged. In addition to this, the number of its division, brigade, and the nature of its contents, whether rations, forage, clothing, or ammunition,--and, if the latter, the kind, whether artillery or musket, and the calibre,--were plainly stencilled in large letters on the cover. All this and much more went to indicate as perfect organization in the trains as in the army itself, and to these men, who were usually farthest from the fray, for whom few words of appreciation have been uttered by distinguished writers on the war, I gladly put on record my humble opinion that the country is as much indebted as for the work of the soldiers in line. They acted well their part, and all honor to them for it.

A regular army officer, who had a large experience in charge of trains, has suggested that a bugler for each brigade or division train would have been a valuable auxiliary [369] for starting or halting the trains, or for regulating the camp duties as in artillery and cavalry. It seems strange that so commendable a proposition was not thought of at the time.

In 1863, while the army was lying at Belle Plain after the memorable Mud March, large numbers of colored refugees came into camp. Every day saw some old cart or antiquated wagon, the relic of better days in the Old Dominion, unloading its freight of contrabands, who had thus made their entrance into the lines of Uncle Sam and Freedom. As a large number of these vehicles had accumulated near his headquarters, General Wadsworth, then commanding the first division of the First Corps, conceived the novel idea of forming a supply train of them, using as draft steers, to be selected from the corps cattle herd, and broken for that purpose. His plan, more in detail, was to load the carts at

The “Bull train.”

the base of supplies with what rations they would safely carry, despatch them to the troops wherever they might be, issue the rations, slaughter the oxen for fresh beef, and use the wagons for fuel to cook it. A very practical scheme, at first view, surely. A detail of mechanics was made to [370] put the wagons in order, a requisition was drawn for yokes, and Captain Ford of a Wisconsin regiment, who had had experience in such work, was detailed to break in the steers to yoke and draft.

The captain spent all winter and the following spring in perfecting the “Bull train,” as it was called. The first serious set-back the plan received resulted from feeding the steers with unsoaked hard bread, causing several of them to swell up and die; but the general was not yet ready to give up the idea, and so continued the organization. Chancellorsville battle came when all the trains remained in camp. But the day of trial was near. When the army started on the Gettysburg campaign, Captain Ford put his train in rear of the corps wagon-train, and started, with the inevitable result.

The mules and horses walked right away from the oxen, in spite of the goading and lashing and yelling of their drivers. By nightfall they were doomed to be two or three miles behind the main train — an easy prey for Mosby's guerilla band. At last the labor of keeping it up and the anxiety for its safety were so intense that before the Potomac was reached the animals were returned to the herd, the supplies were transferred or issued, the wagons were burned, and the pet scheme of General Wadsworth was abandoned as impracticable.

Quite nearly akin to this Bull Train was the train organized by Grant after the battle of Port Gibson. His army was east of the Mississippi, his ammunition train was west of it. Wagon transportation for ammunition must be had. Provisions could be taken from the country. He says: “I directed, therefore, immediately on landing, that all the vehicles and draft animals, whether horses, mules, or oxen, in the vicinity should be collected and loaded to their capacity with ammunition. Quite a train was collected during the 30th, and a motley train it was. In it could be found fine carriages, loaded nearly to the top with boxes of cartridges [371] that had been pitched in promiscuously, drawn by mules with plough-harness, straw collars, rope lines, etc.; longcoupled wagons with racks for carrying cotton-bales, drawn by oxen, and everything that could be found in the way of transportation on a plantation, either for use or pleasure.” [Vol. i., p. 488.] Here is another incident which will well illustrate the trials of a train quartermaster. At the opening of the campaign in 1864, Wilson's cavalry division joined the Army of the Potomac. Captain Ludington (now lieutenantcolo-nel, U. S. A.) was chief quartermaster of its supply train. It is a settled rule guiding the movement of trains that the cavalry supplies shall take precedence in a move, as the cavalry itself is wont to precede the rest of the army. Through some oversight of the chief quartermaster of the army, General Ingalls, the captain had received no order of march, and after waiting until the head of the infantry supply trains appeared, well understanding that his place was ahead of them on the march, he moved out of park into the road. At once he encountered the chief quartermaster of the corps train, and a hot and wordy contest ensued, in which vehement language found ready expression. While this dispute for place was at white heat, General Meade and his staff rode by, and saw the altercation in progress without halting to inquire into its cause. After he had passed some distance up the road, Meade sent back an aid, with his compliments, to ascertain what train that was struggling for the road, who was in charge of it, and with what it was loaded. Captain Ludington informed him that it was Wilson's cavalry supply train, loaded with forage and rations. These facts the aid reported faithfully to Meade, who sent him back again to inquire particularly if that really was Wilson's cavalry train. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, he again carried the same to General Meade, who immediately turned back in his tracks, and came furiously back to Ludington. Uttering a volley of oaths, he asked him what he meant by [372] throwing all the trains into confusion. “You ought to have been out of here hours ago!” he continued. “I have a great mind to hang you to the nearest tree. You are not fit to be a quartermaster.” In this manner General Meade rated the innocent captain for a few moments, and then rode away. When he had gone, General Ingalls dropped back from the staff a moment, with a laugh at the interview, and, on learning the captain's case, told him to remain where he was until he received an order from him. Thereupon Ludington withdrew to a house that stood not far away from the road, and, taking a seat on the veranda, entered into conversation with two young ladies who resided there. Soon after he had thus comfortably disposed himself, who should appear upon the highway but Sheridan, who was in command of all the cavalry with the army. On discovering the train at a standstill, he rode up and asked:--

“What train is this?”

“The supply train of Wilson's cavalry Division,” was the reply of a teamster.

“ Who's in charge of it?”

Captain Ludington.”

“Where is he?”

“There he sits yonder, talking to those ladies.”

“Give him my compliments and tell him I want to see him,” said Sheridan, much wrought up at the situation, apparently thinking that the train was being delayed that its quartermaster might spend further time “in gentle dalliance” with the ladies. As soon as the captain approached, the general charged forward impetuously, as if he would ride the captain down, and, with one of those “terrible oaths” for which he was famous, demanded to know what he was there for, why he was not out at daylight, and on after his division. As Ludington attempted to explain, Sheridan cut him off by opening his battery of abuse again, threatening to have him shot for his incompetency and delay, and ordering him to take the road at once with his train. Hav- [373] [374] [375] ing exhausted all the strong language in the vocabulary, he rode away, leaving the poor captain in a state of distress that can be only partially imagined. When he had finally got somewhat settled after this rough stirring-up, he took a review of the situation, and, having weighed the threatened hanging by General Meade, the request to await his orders from General Ingalls, the threatened shooting of General Sheridan, and the original order of General Wilson, which. was to be on hand with the supplies at a certain specified time and place, Ludington decided to await orders from General Ingalls, and resumed the company of the ladies. At last the orders came, and the captain moved his train, spending the night on the road in the Wilderness, and when morning dawned had reached a creek over which it was necessary for him to throw a bridge before it could be crossed. So he set his teamsters at work to build a bridge. Hardly had they begun felling trees before up rode the chief quartermaster of the Sixth Corps train, anxious to cross. An agreement was entered into, however, that they should build the bridge together; and the corps quartermaster set his pioneers at work with Ludington's men, and the bridge was soon finished. Recognizing the necessity for the cavalry train to take the lead, the corps quartermaster had assented that it should pass the bridge first when it was completed, and on the arrival of that moment the train was put in motion, but just then a prompt and determined chief quartermaster of a Sixth Corps division train, unaware of the understanding had between his superior, the corps quartermaster, and Captain Ludington, rode forward and insisted on crossing first. A struggle for precedence immediately set in. The contest waxed warm, and language more forcible than polite was waking the woodland echoes when who should appear on the scene again but General Meade. On seeing Ludington engaged as he saw him the day before, it aroused his wrath most unreasonably, and, riding up to him, he shouted, with an oath: “What! Are you here again!” [376] Then shaking his fist in his face, he continued: “I am sorry now that I did not hang you yesterday, as I threatened.” The captain, exhausted and out of patience with the trials which he had encountered, replied that he sincerely wished he had, and was sorry that he was not already dead. The arrival of the chief quartermaster of the Sixth Corps, at this time, ended the dispute for precedence, and Ludington went his way without further vexatious delays to overtake his cavalry division.

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