- Organization of the Army
-- what an Army is
-- infantry, artillery, cavalry, engineer troops
-- the staff and its departments
-- details of the creation of the Army of the Potomac.
The organized armies of modern times consist of two well-defined parts: the fighting force, or “line,” and “the staff,” which directs, inspects, and supplies the former.
The line is made up of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and engineer troops.
As infantry can move wherever a man can set his foot, can fight on all kinds of ground, gives the most destructive fire of all the arms, and is the least expensive and most easily instructed, it constitutes the great bulk of all large armies, and is decidedly the most important.
With equally good generals, that army which has the best infantry is pretty sure to win, for no reasonable superiority in the other arms of service can compensate for marked inferiority in the infantry.
The essential qualities of good infantry are: the ability to make long marches, with their full equipment, without straggling; accuracy of fire; confidence in their ability to use the bayonet — for this will prevent their breaking upon the very near approach of a hostile line — coolness, intelligence, determination, and mutual confidence in attacking or receiving an attack; the ability to reform rapidly after a successful attack, and to rally when driven back, either after a repulsed attack or when obliged to retreat from a defensive position; the power of enduring fatigue, exposure, and hunger.
Next in importance is the artillery, whose work it is to open the way for, and cover the movements of, the other arms by destroying the enemy's defences at long range, silencing his artillery, and demoralizing his infantry; or, at short ranges, to crush them by a rapid fire of case and shrapnel.
It is also a part of its duty to cover the retreat of beaten infantry, and to assist in the operations of detached bodies of cavalry.
There is thus heavy artillery, whose business it is to handle siege-guns and those used in permanent defences, and field-artillery, who accompany an army in the field.
Field-artillery is made up of three kinds — viz., the mounted batteries, whose cannoneers usually march on foot, but during rapid movements ride upon the carriages and caissons, and which serve with the regiment, division, and army corps; the horse-batteries, whose cannoneers are provided with saddle-horses, and which are especially intended for service with the cavalry; and the batteries of position, consisting of the heaviest field-guns, intended especially for action against the enemy's material defences.
The field-guns, at the period of which I write, were generally provided in the ratio of at least two and a half guns to each thousand infantry, and three or four guns to each thousand cavalry, the exact proportion depending somewhat on the nature of the field of war and the quality of the troops.
With raw troops a somewhat larger proportion is necessary than with veterans.
The technical information necessary for the artillery officers and men renders it difficult to improvise thoroughly efficient artillery.
The cavalry is an indispensable part of every army.
It not only takes part, as occasion demands, in general battles, but, with a due proportion of horse-artillery, is capable of independent action, even at long distances from the main body of the army.
Upon it devolves to a great extent the duty of observing and discovering the positions, movements, and strength of the enemy, as well as masking those of its own army.
It is capable of making extensive inroads into the enemy's country, and is usually employed to threaten and attack his communications, supply-trains, etc. The modern improvements in firearms have certainly affected the employment of cavalry on the field of battle against infantry and artillery, but have not lessened the importance of its other duties.
Nor is it probable that the number of these arms will in the future be materially diminished.
The employment of breech-loading small arms has added very much to the strength of cavalry, and it is certain that in future wars large bodies of cavalry will be employed as mounted infantry.
That is, they will use their horses to move rapidly to the point of action, and fight on foot.
Under ordinary circumstances it has usually been regarded
as advisable to furnish cavalry to the extent of one-sixth to one-eighth of the infantry force.
To render cavalry efficient it is necessary that the officers and men should be of a superior order of intelligence, and that they should fully understand the care of their horses, which should be active and enduring.
Officers and men should be excellent horsemen, skilful in the use of their weapons, and thoroughly instructed in the work of reconnoissance.
It is really much more difficult to form reliable cavalry at short notice than to instruct artillery and infantry.
It is the duty of engineer troops to conduct siege operations; to supervise and construct temporary defences and the works for their attack; to construct, repair, and destroy bridges of all kinds, fords, roads, etc. The repair and destruction of railways should also be under their direction.
The performance of these duties requires a superior order of men, skilled in some mechanical trade, and needs careful instruction.
In ordinary cases the engineer troops should number about one-fortieth of the infantry.
To direct the movements and supply the wants of the combatants is the business of the staff which in modern armies is a complicated and extensive organization.
In large armies, with numerous staff corps charged with such manifold and important duties, it has been found necessary to establish the position of chief of staff, who might supervise and co-ordinate the various branches, and thus relieve the commanding general
from a multiplicity of detail.
This office, found in all European
armies, had never been established in our own. I soon found it necessary for the Army of the Potomac.
The officer holding such a confidential relation with his commander should always be a man possessing the latter's entire confidence.
I therefore selected for this place Col. R. B. Marcy
of the army, whose rank was also superior to that of all the staff officers on duty with the Army of the Potomac.
My orders for the movements and fighting of the troops were generally issued through the chief of staff
One of my earliest measures was the formation of permanent brigades of infantry.
The new levies of infantry, upon their arrival in Washington
, were formed into provisional brigades and placed in camps in the suburbs on the Maryland
side of the river, for equipment, instruction, and discipline.
As soon as regiments were in fit condition for transfer to the forces across the Potomac
they were assigned to the brigades serving there.
Brig.-Gen. F. J. Porter
was at first assigned to the charge of the provisional brigades.
Brig.-Gen. A. E. Burnside
was the next officer assigned this duty, from which, however, he was soon relieved by Brig.-Gen. Casey
, who continued in charge of the newly arriving regiments until the Army of the Potomac departed for the Peninsula
, in March, 1862.
The newly arriving artillery troops reported to Brig.-Gen. William F. Barry
, the chief of artillery
, and the cavalry to Brig.-Gen. George Stoneman
, the chief of cavalry
, and were also retained on the Maryland
side until their equipment and armament were essentially completed and some rudimentary instruction obtained.
A few days after reaching Washington Gen. Scott
asked me what I intended to do in the way of organization.
I replied that I wished the force under my command to be organized as and denominated an army instead of a geographical division; that I should first form brigades, then divisions, and, when in the field, army corps.
My reason for postponing the formation of the latter was that with untried general officers it would be too dangerous an experiment to appoint any to such high and important commands without first proving them in actual campaign and in battle.
He objected to all I proposed, save the brigade formation, saying that under our system and regulations it would be impossible to administer the affairs of an “army,” and that the retention of the system and nomenclature of geographical divisions and departments was an absolute necessity; he also objected to the formation of divisions as unnecessary, for the reason that in Mexico
he had only brigades.
I called to his attention the fact that, all the world over, fighting forces were organized as armies; that I had done so in West Virginia
; and that his force in Mexico
was a very small affair in comparison with that soon to be collected in front of Washington
He did not change his views.
So I quietly went to work in my own way. The result was that on the 20th of Aug. the order constituting the Army of the Potomac was issued; and in addition to the two departments originally under my command, the troops in the Shenandoah
, Maryland, and Delaware
were also included in the Army of the Potomac, the old departments being broken up and merged in the newly created army.
Thus I had command of all the troops on the line of the Potomac
and as far to the rear as Baltimore
and Fort Delaware
During the first days of August I procured the passage of an act authorizing the appointment of additional aides-de-camp to general officers; these might be taken from civil life or from the army, and were to be of no higher grade than that of colonel.
I used this lam not only to furnish the requisite number of actual aides-de-camp, but also to give additional pay and rank in the regular army to officers whose duty made such a step necessary.
For instance, I gave to Maj. Barry
, chief of artillery
, and to Maj. H. J. Hunt
, commanding the reserve artillery, the grade of colonel; to Van Vliet
When the organization of the brigades was well established, and the troops somewhat disciplined and instructed, divisions of three brigades each were gradually formed.
I intended to compose each division of three infantry brigades of four regiments each, four batteries, and one regiment of cavalry, which would have given a nominal strength of 12,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 24 guns, or an effective of about 10,000 infantry, 700 cavalry, and 24 guns.
It was determined to collect whatever regular infantry could be obtained to form the nucleus of a reserve.
The measures taken for recruiting these regiments were so insufficient and the results so meagre that as late as the 30th of April, 1862, there were only 4,600 men in the 71 companies, regular infantry, on duty with the Army of the Potomac.
These, together with the 5th and 10th N. Y. Volunteers, finally formed part of the 5th corps as a division under Brig.-Gen. Sykes
, 3d U. S. Infantry.
The creation of an adequate artillery establishment for an army of so large proportions was a formidable undertaking; and had it not been that the country possessed in the regular service a body of accomplished and energetic artillery officers, the task would have been almost hopeless.
The charge of organizing this most important arm was confided to Maj.
) William F. Barry
, chief of artillery
, whose industry and zeal achieved the best results The following principles were adopted as the basis of organization:
1. That the proportion of artillery should be in the proportion of at least two and one-half pieces to 1,000 men, to be expanded, if possible, to three pieces to 1,000 men.
2. That the proportion of rifled guns should be restricted to the system of the United States
ordnance department; and of Parrott
and the “smooth-bores” (with the exception of a few howitzers for special service) to be exclusively the 12-pounder gun, of the model of 1857, variously called the “gun-howitzer,” the “light twelve-pounder,” or the “Napoleon
3. That each field-battery should, if practicable, be composed of six guns, and none to be less than four guns, and in all cases the guns of each battery should be of uniform calibre.
4. That the field-batteries were to be assigned to divisions, and not to brigades, and in the proportion of four to each division, of which one was to be a battery of regulars, the remainder of volunteers, the captain of the regular battery to be the commandant of artillery of the division.
In the event of several divisions constituting an army corps, at least one-half of the divisional artillery was to constitute the reserve artillery of the corps.
5. That the artillery reserve of the whole army should consist of 100 guns, and should comprise, besides a sufficient number of light “mounted batteries,” all the guns of position, and, until the cavalry were massed, all the horse-artillery.
6. That the amount of ammunition to accompany field-batteries was not to be less than 400 rounds per gun.
7. A siege-train of 50 pieces.
This was subsequently expanded, for special service at the siege of Yorktown
, to very nearly 100 pieces, and comprised the unusual calibres and enormously heavy weight of metal of two 200-pounders, five 100-pounders, and ten 13-inch sea-coast mortars.
As has been before stated, the whole of the field-artillery of the Army of the Potomac, July 28, 1861, was comprised of 9 imperfectly equipped batteries of 30 guns, 650 men, and 400 horses.
In March, 1862, when the whole army took the field, it consisted of 92 batteries of 520 guns, 12,500 men, and 11,000 horses, fully equipped and in readiness for active field service; of the whole force 30 batteries were regulars and 62 batteries volunteers.
During the short period of seven months all of this immense amount of material was manufactured or purchased, and issued by the ordnance department and placed in the hands of the artillery
troops after their arrival in Washington
About one-fourth of all the volunteer batteries brought with them from their respective States a few guns and carriages, but they were nearly all of such peculiar calibre as to lack uniformity with the more modern and more serviceable ordnance with which the other batteries were armed, and they therefore had to be withdrawn and replaced by more suitable material.
While about one-sixth came supplied with horses and harness, less than one-tenth were apparently fully equipped for service when they reported; and every one even of these required the supply of many deficiencies of material, and very extensive instruction in the theory and practice of their special arm.
The operations on the Peninsula
by the Army of the Potomac commenced with a full field-artillery force of 49 batteries of 274 guns.
To this must be added the field-artillery of Franklin
's division of McDowell
's corps, which joined a few days before the capture of Yorktown
, but was not disembarked from its transports for service until after the battle of Williamsburg
, and the field-artillery of McCall
's division of McDowell
's corps (4 batteries, 22 guns), which joined in June, a few days before the battle of Mechanicsville
(June 26, 1862), making a grand total of field-artillery at any time with the army of the peninsula of 57 batteries of 318 guns.
When there were so many newly organized volunteer field-batteries, many of whom received their first and only instruction in the entrenched camps covering Washington
during the three or four inclement months of the winter of 1861-62, there was, of course, much to be improved.
Many of the volunteer batteries, however, evinced such zeal and intelligence, and availed themselves so industriously of the instructions of the regular officers, their commanders, and the example of the regular batteries, their associates, that they made rapid progress and attained a degree of proficiency highly creditable.
served as chief of artillery with the Army of the Potomac until the close of the Peninsular campaign
; he performed his duties with great zeal, patience, and ability.
The artillery reserve was originally commanded by Col. H. J. Hunt
, who gave up the command only when appointed chief of artillery in place of Gen. Barry
The artillery reserve was then commanded by Col. George W. Getty
, an excellent officer.
retained the position of chief of artillery until the close of the war. I regarded him as the best living commander of field-artillery.
He was a man of the utmost coolness in danger, thoroughly versed in his profession, an admirable organizer, a soldier of a very high order.
As I write this (July, 1882) Hunt
is likely to be retired as a colonel — a man whose services in any other army would have been rewarded by titles, high rank, and ample pension.
He is one of the most marked instances within my knowledge of the highest merit and services passed over unacknowledged and unrewarded.
's merits consisted not only in organizing his command to the best advantage, but in using it on the field of battle with the utmost skill and power.
The services of this most distinguished officer in reorganizing and refitting the batteries prior to and after Antietam
, his gallant and skilful conduct on that field, at Malvern
, and in fact during the whole Peninsular campaign
, merit the highest encomiums in my power to bestow.
The country in which operations were to be conducted was so obstructed by forests as to present few favorable opportunities for the employment of long-range artillery.
I therefore desired to compose the artillery two-thirds of the Napoleon
gun — a light 12-pounder-and one-third of rifled guns.
But the facilities for the construction of army guns were so limited, while those for iron guns were comparatively so great, that in the first armament it was impossible to observe these proportions, so that when the army took the field less than one-third were Napoleon guns, and it was only during the reorganization for the Antietam
campaign that it was possible to approach the proportions originally fixed upon.
Our experience in battle proved the correctness of these views.
The shrapnel and canister from the Napoleons was always most destructive to the hostile infantry at close range.
We seldom saw the enemy at long range in large bodies.
On the 20th of Aug., 1861, I had 80 guns.
The returns of Oct. 15 show that there were 27 batteries of divisional artillery.
Of these 17 were regulars and 10 volunteers, and, as several had only 4 guns, there were not more than 140 guns in all, and of these the rifled guns composed a good deal more than two-thirds.
, there were 33 batteries, of which 19 regulars and 14 volunteers, making not over 168 guns in all, to a force of 143,647 present on Oct. 15, and out of these guns must
be provided those required for the garrisons of Washington
, and the defences of the line of the Potomac
In regard to the 140 guns, they belonged to a force of about 120,000 men, and out of the number would come those required for the garrison of Washington and the defences of the Potomac
It was not until after this date that artillery material and equipment flowed in with any considerable rapidity, so that, even disregarding the question of instruction, it was not until after the season for active operations had passed that a sufficient number of equipped batteries were disposable to finish the requisite reserve and divisional artillery.
The mass of the artillery was not in condition to move until the following April, and even then several of the volunteer batteries were deficient in instruction.
The difficulties attending the organization of a suitable cavalry force were very great, and it cannot be said that they were ever satisfactorily overcome.
The newly arriving regiments reported to Gen. Stoneman
, the chief of cavalry
, and, as with the artillery and infantry, were, as far as circumstances would permit, retained for a certain time on the north bank of the Potomac
There was at first a total lack of equipment for the cavalry, and it was very long before this difficulty was removed.
So great was the lack of cavalry arms that I was obliged to organize Rush
's regiment (6th Penn.) as lancers, it being impossible to provide other weapons.
Many of the officers and men were quite ignorant of the management of horses, and could not even ride well.
Moreover, there was too little appreciation on the part of the government of the necessity and advantages of that arm of service.
With the cavalry, as with the other arms of service, every effort was made to weed out inefficient and incompetent officers by means of courts-martial and boards of examination.
As rapidly as possible every cavalry soldier was armed with a sabre and revolver, and at least two squadrons in each regiment with the carbine.1
It was intended to assign at least one regiment of cavalry to each infantry division so long as the division organization was the highest, and, when army corps should be formed, to attach
a strong brigade of cavalry to its headquarters, leaving with the division only enough for the necessary duty; also to form a general cavalry reserve.
On the 15th of Oct. there were serving with the Army of the Potomac, including General Banks
's command, one regiment and two companies of regular cavalry, and eleven regiments of volunteer cavalry.
When the army took the field there were on its rolls four regiments and two companies of regular cavalry, eighteen regiments and five companies of volunteer cavalry, besides four regiments yet unprovided with horses.
Of these there went to the Peninsula
the regulars and four regiments and five companies of volunteers, making eight regiments and seven companies; and there remained with Gen. Banks
and at Washington
twenty-one regiments, besides the four unprovided with horses.
Circumstances beyond my control rendered it impossible for me to carry out my views as to the cavalry, and it was entirely against my wishes and judgment that I was left in the field with so small a force of this arm. Of the field force one regiment of regulars were necessarily employed on provost duty, and two companies of regulars and one of volunteers at headquarters, leaving only three regiments of regulars and four regiments and four companies of volunteers, certainly not over four thousand men at most, to do all the cavalry and mounted orderly duty for the army of eleven divisions — a force so ridiculously insufficient, less than one-fourth of what it should have been, as to render it strange that the enemy contented themselves with riding around our lines only once on the Peninsula
As there were but three weak companies of engineer troops available, I did the best in my power to supply the deficiency by detailing as volunteer engineer troops the 15th and 50th N. Y. Volunteers, which comprised an unusual number of sailors and mechanics in their ranks.
These were formed into an engineer brigade, and placed under the command, first of Col. E. S. Alexander
, U. S. Corps of Engineers, and finally under that of Col. D. V. Woodbury
, of the same corps.
These regiments rendered good service as engineer troops, and at length became admirable pontoniers, as their services under fire more than once testified.
We had no bridge trains whatever, for the remains of the India-rubber pontoon trains constructed for the Mexican
war were of no possible use. Therefore I gave directions for the construction of trains on the model of the latest French bridge.
, commanding the battalion of regular engineer troops, was charged with this duty, as well as the preparation of the other engineer trains.
performed this duty, as he did all that was assigned to him, in the most satisfactory manner.
He on all occasions proved himself an admirable soldier and most excellent engineer.
As already stated, I found it necessary to create the office of chief of staff, and selected Col. R. B. Marcy
for the place.
One of the greatest defects in our military system is the lack of a thoroughly instructed staff corps, from which should be furnished chief of staff of armies, army corps and divisions, adjutant-general, and aides-de-camp and recruiting officers.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty that I encountered in the work of creating the Army of the Potomac arose from the scarcity of thoroughly instructed staff officers, and I must frankly state that every day I myself felt the disadvantages under which I personally labored from the want of that thorough theoretical and practical education received by the officers of the German general staff
Under our system of government, and in the circumstances which surround us, it is perhaps impossible, certainly very improbable, that this most vital point can ever be satisfactorily covered.
Political and personal considerations now control so completely the appointment to places in the various branches of the staff that the chances are against their being filled by the most competent men. In fact, judging from the experience of the past few years, it is almost a certainty that incompetent men will be selected for these most important positions.
Inefficiency and waste must surely result from our present system, even in times of peace; but in the event of our being thrown into collision with a well-organized European
army, the results will be disastrous.
Should we ever have a Secretary of War
who understands his business and possesses the full support of the administration and of Congress, the work may be done.
But even if commenced in the right way, the danger would be that in the course of time presidents would appoint to the corps political or personal favorites, unless the law so hedged in the corps that appointments could only be made upon the recommendation of the chief of the corps and a board of its officers after a proper test of their qualifications.
I am very sure that every general officer who served in the late war will agree with me that his
labors would have been immensely lightened and the efficiency of his command very much increased if he could have had a competent staff at his disposal.
In comparison with the difficulties of the work that fell to my lot the task of a general officer of the German army seems mere child's play.
None of the officers at my disposal had ever seen large armies or the operations of war on a grand scale.
Those who came from West Point
had a good education, so far as the theory of war was concerned.
That was a great advantage, but by no means all that was required.
Those whom I selected were usually comparatively young men, and, under my direction, soon grasped the situation; but one very great obstacle arose from the incompetence of many of the permanent heads of departments, who found it very difficult to get out of the ruts in which they had been accustomed to move.
To pass suddenly from the small scale on which the affairs of an army of 10,000 men in time of peace had been conducted, to that required for an army of half a million in the midst of a desperate war, was no easy task.
I have dwelt somewhat at length on this subject in order to accentuate the difficulties of the position, and to show that the time consumed in organizing the Army of the Potomac was far from unreasonable.
During the war many improvements were made in the details of the administration of the staff corps; but unfortunately no change whatever has been made in the organization of the various departments, and their only gain by the war is in the personal experience of the officers who served therein.
When they have passed away there will be little or no trace left of the experience of the war.
Our own experience, and that of other armies, agree in determining the necessity for an efficient and able staff.
To obtain this our staff establishment should be based on correct principles, and extended to be adequate to the necessities of the service, and should include a system of staff and line education.
Moreover, the officers of the staff should be required occasionally to serve with troops as officers of the line, and when the turn of each comes for promotion it should be determined not only whether he is fit for promotion, but whether he is fit to remain in the corps.
[The following memorandum by Gen. McClellan
was found lying among his manuscript at this point:]
General Staff Corps
.--Abolish the adjutant-general
and inspector-general's departments, and merge their functions in those of the general staff
Make the chief of the general staff
a maior-general, and let the corps be composed somewhat as follows, viz:
|2.||One brigadier-general, to perform the present duties of adjutant-general.|
|One brigadier-general, to perform the present duties of inspector-general, etc.|
|8.||One colonel, assistant to the chief.|
|One colonel, in charge of the department of military inspection (maps), statistics, etc.|
|Two colonels, inspection duty.|
|Two colonels, assistant adjutant-generals.|
|Two colonels, aides-de-camp.|
|11.||One lieutenant-colonel, assistant to chief.|
|One lieutenant-colonel, military statistics.|
|Two lieutenant-colonels, inspection duty.|
|Four lieutenant-colonels, assistant adjutant-generals.|
|Three lieutenant-colonels, aides-de-camp.|
|19.||Four majors, inspection duty.|
|Eight majors, assistant adjutant-generals.|
|One major, statistics.|
|Six majors, aides-de-camp.|
|30.||Four captains, assistant to chief.|
|Four captains, military statistics.|
|Eight captains, military inspection.|
|Eight captains, assistant adjutant-generals.|
|Six aides, general duty.|
The affairs of the adjutant-general
's Department, while I commanded the Army of the Potomac, were conducted by Brig.-Gen. S. Williams
, assisted by Lieut.-Col. James A. Hardie
Their management of the department during the organization of the army in the fall
of 1861 and during its subsequent operations in the field was excellent.
They were, during the entire period, assisted by Capt. Richard B. Irwin
, and during the organization of the army by the following-named officers: Capts. Joseph Kirkland
, Arthur McClellan
, M. T. McMahon
, William P. Mason
, and William F. Biddle
My personal staff, when we embarked for the Peninsula
, consisted of Col. Thomas M. Key
, additional aide-de-camp
; Col. E. H. Wright
, additional aide-de-camp
and major 6th U. S. Cavalry; Col. T. T. Gantt
, additional aide-de-camp
; Col. J. J. Astor, Jr.
, volunteer aide-de-camp; Lieut.-Col. A. V. Colburn
, additional aide-de-camp
and captain adjutant-general's department; Lieut.-Col. N. B. Sweitzer
, additional aide-de-camp
and captain 1st U. S. Cavalry; Lieut.-Col. Edward McK
, additional aide-de-camp
and captain 14th U. S. Infantry; Lieut.-Col. Paul Von Radowitz
, additional aide-de-camp
; Maj. H. Von Hammerstein
, additional aide-de-camp
; Maj. W. W. Russell
, U. S. Marine Corps; Maj. F. Le Compte
, of the Swiss army, volunteer aide-de-camp; Capts. Joseph Kirkland
, Arthur McClellan
, L. P. d'orleans, R. d'orleans, M. T. McMahon
, William P. Mason, Jr.
, William F. Biddle
, and E. A. Raymond
, additional aides-de-camp
Of these officers, Col. Gantt
performed the duty of judge-advocate-general; Maj. Le Compte
was a spectator; Capts. Kirkland
, and Biddle
were on duty in the adjutant-general
's office; Capt. Raymond
with the chief of staff
; Capt. McMahon
was assigned to the personal staff of Brig.-Gen. Franklin
, and Capts. Kirkland
to that of Brig.-Gen. F. J. Porter
, during the siege of Yorktown
They remained subsequently with those general officers.
Maj. Le Compte
left the army during the siege of Yorktown
; Cols. Gantt
, Maj. Russell
L. P. d'orleans, R. d'orleans, and Raymond
at the close of the Peninsular campaign
To this number I am tempted to add the Prince de Joinville
, who constantly accompanied me through the trying campaign of the Peninsula
, and frequently rendered important services.
Soon after we reached the Chickahominy
I took as one of my aides Lieut. G. A. Custer
, 5th U. S. Cavalry, as a reward for an act of daring gallantry.
This was the beginning of the distinguished career of one of the most gallant soldiers of the army and an admirable cavalry leader.
Before the termination of the Peninsular campaign Capts. W. S. Abert
and Charles R. Lowell
, of the 6th U. S. Cavalry, joined my staff as aides-de-camp, and remained with me until I was relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac.
All of these officers served me with great
gallantry and devotion; they were ever ready to execute any service, no matter how dangerous, difficult, or fatiguing.
The duties of the inspector-general
's Department, during the whole period of my command of the Army of the Potomac, were performed by Col. D. B. Sackett
, assisted by Majs
N. H. Davis
and Roger Jones
, of the inspector-general
The value of the services rendered by these officers merits all the commendation that I can bestow.
No duty was ever slighted by them and no labor too great for them.
Their reports were always full, satisfactory, and thoroughly to be relied upon.
Nor did they confine themselves to the mere routine work of their duties, but on the field of battle rendered most valuable services as aides-de-camp under heavy fire.
When I assumed command of the Division of the Potomac I found Maj. J. G. Barnard
, U. S. Engineers--subsequently brigadier-general of volunteers-occupying the position of chief-engineer of McDowell
I continued him in the same office, and at once gave the necessary instructions for the completion of the defences of the capital and for the entire reorganization of the department.
Under his direction the entire system of defences was carried into execution.
This was completed before the army departed for Fort Monroe
, and is a sufficient evidence of the skill of the engineers and the diligent labor of the troops.
The engineer Department presented the following organization when the army moved for the Peninsula
Brig.-Gen. J. G. Barnard
; First Lieut. H. C. Abbott
, topographical engineers
. Brigade volunteer engineers, Brig.-Gen. Woodbury
commanding: 15th N. Y. Volunteers, Col. McLeod Murphy
; 50th N. Y. Volunteers, Col. C. B. Stewart
Battalion, three companies U. S. Engineers, Capt. J. C. Duane
commanding; companies respectively commanded by First Lieuts. C. B. Reese
, C. E. Cross
, and O. E. Babcock
, U. S. Engineers.
was ably assisted in his duties by Lieut-Col. B. S. Alexander
and First Lieuts. C. R. Comstock
, M. D. McAlester
, and Merrill
, U. S. Engineers. Capt. C. S. Stuart
and Second Lieut. F. U. Farquhar
, U. S. Engineers, joined after the army arrived at Fort Monroe
The necessary bridge equipage for the operations of a large army had been collected, consisting of bateaux, with the anchors
and flooring material (French model), trestles, and engineers' tools, with the necessary wagons for their transportation.
The small number of officers of this corps available rendered it impracticable to detail engineers permanently at the headquarters of corps and divisions.
The companies of regular engineers never had their proper number of officers, and it was necessary, as a rule, to follow the principle of detailing engineer officers temporarily whenever their services were required.
Constantly during the construction of the defences of Washington
, and during the subsequent campaigns, we suffered great inconvenience and delay from the want of a sufficient number of officers of engineers.
To the corps of topographical engineers was entrusted the collection of topographical information and the preparation of campaign maps.
Until a short time previous to the departure of the army for Fort Monroe
, Lieut-Col. John W. Macomb
was in charge of this department and prepared a large amount of valuable material.
He was succeeded by Brig.-Gen. A. A. Humphreys
, who retained the position throughout the Peninsular campaign
These officers were assisted by Lieuts. O. G. Wagner
, N. Bowen
, John M. Wilson
, and James H. Wilson
, topographical engineers
This number, although the greatest available, was so small that much of the duty of the department devolved upon parties furnished by Prof. Bache
of the Coast Survey, and other gentlemen from civil life.
Owing to the entire absence of reliable topographical maps, the labors of this corps were difficult and arduous in the extreme.
Notwithstanding the energy and ability displayed by Gen. Humphreys
, Lieut.-Col. Macomb
, and their subordinates, who frequently obtained the necessary information under fire, the movements of the army were sometimes unavoidably delayed by the difficulty of obtaining knowledge of the country in advance.
The result of their labors was the preparation of an excellent series of maps, which were invaluable to the armies afterwards traversing the same ground.
During the campaign it was impossible to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the duties of the two corps of engineers, so that the labors of reconnoissances of roads, of lines of entrenchments, of fields for battle, and of the position of the enemy, as well as the construction of siege and defensive works,
were habitually performed by details from either corps, as the convenience of the service demanded.
I desire to express my high appreciation of the skill, gallantry, and devotion displayed by the officers of both corps of engineers under the most trying circumstances.
During the Maryland campaign
I united the two corps under Capt. J. C. Duane
, U. S. Engineers, and found great advantages from the arrangement.
The permanent union of the two corps, since made, was no doubt a wise measure.
Surgeon Charles S. Tripler
and Surgeon Jonathan Letterman
in turn performed the duties of medical director of the Army of the Potomac, the former from Aug. 12, 1861, until July 1, 1862, and the latter after that date.
The difficulties to be overcome in organizing and making effective the medical Department were very great, arising principally from the inexperience of the regimental medical officers
, many of whom were physicians taken suddenly from civil life, who, according to Surgeon Tripler
, “had to be instructed in their duties from the very alphabet,” and from the ignorance of the line officers as to their relations with the medical officers
, which gave rise to confusion and conflict of authority.
Boards of examination were instituted, by which many ignorant officers were removed; and by the successive exertions of Surgeons Tripler
the medical corps was brought to a very high degree of efficiency.
With regard to the sanitary condition of the army while on the Potomac
, Dr. Tripler
said that the records showed a constantly increasing immunity from disease.
“In Oct. and Nov., 1861, with an army averaging 130,000 men, we had 7,932 cases of fever of all sorts; of these about 1,000 were reported as cases of typhoid fever.
I know that errors of diagnosis were frequently committed, and therefore this must be considered as the limit of typhoid cases.
If any army in the world can show such a record as this I do not know when or where it was assembled.”
From Sept., 1861, to Feb., 1862, while the army was increasing, the number of sick decreased from 7 per cent. to 6.18 per cent. Of these the men sick in the regimental and general hospitals were less than one-half; the remainder were slight cases, under treatment in quarters.
“During this time, so far as rumor was concerned, the army was being decimated by disease every month.”
Of the sanitary
condition of the army during the Peninsular campaign
, up to its arrival at Harrison's Landing
, Dr. Tripler
says: “During this campaign the army was favored with excellent health.
No epidemic disease appeared.
Those scourges of modern armies, dysentery, typhus, cholera, were almost unknown.
We had some typhoid fever and more malarial fevers, but even these never prevailed to such an extent as to create any alarm.
The sick-reports were sometimes larger than we cared to have them; but the great majority of the cases reported were such as did not threaten life or permanent disability.
I regret that I have not before me the retained copies of the monthly reports, so that I might give accurate statistics.
I have endeavored to recover them, but have been unsuccessful.
My recollection is that the whole sick-report never exceeded eight per cent. of the force, and this including all sorts of cases, the trivial as well as the severe.
The Army of the Potomac must be conceded to have been the most healthy army in the service of the United States
The service, labors, and privations of the troops during the Seven Days Battles had, of course, a great effect on the health of the army after it reached Harrison's Landing
, increasing the number of sick to about twenty per cent. of the whole force.
The nature of the military operations had also unavoidably placed the medical department in a very unsatisfactory condition.
Supplies had been almost entirely exhausted or necessarily abandoned; hospital tents abandoned or destroyed; and the medical officers
were deficient in numbers and broken down by fatigue.
All the remarkable energy and ability of Surgeon Letterman
were required to restore the efficiency of his department; but before we left Harrison's Landing
he had succeeded in fitting it out thoroughly with the supplies it required, and the health of the army was vastly improved by the sanitary measures which were enforced at his suggestion.
The great haste with which the army was removed from the Peninsula
made it necessary to leave at Fort Monroe
, to be forwarded afterwards, nearly all the baggage and transportation, including medical stores and ambulances, all the vessels being required to transport the troops themselves and their ammunition.
When the Army of the Potomac returned to Washington
after Gen. Pope
's campaign, and the medical department came once more under Surgeon Letterman
's control, he found it in a deplorable condition.
The officers were worn out by the labors they had performed, and the few supplies that had been brought from the Peninsula
had been exhausted or abandoned, so that the work of reorganization and resupplying had to be again performed, and this while the army was moving rapidly and almost in the face of the enemy.
That it was successfully accomplished is shown by the care and attention which the wounded received after the battles of South Mountain
Among the improvements introduced into his department by Surgeon Letterman
, the principal are the organization of an ambulance corps, the system of field-hospitals, and the method of supplying by brigades, all of which were instituted during the Maryland campaign
, and found so efficient that they remained unchanged until the close of the war, and were to a great extent adopted by the other armies of the United States
On assuming command of the troops in and around Washington
I appointed Capt. S. Van Vliet
, assistant quartermaster
(afterwards brigadier-general), chief quartermaster
to my command, and gave him the necessary instructions for organizing his department and collecting the supplies requisite for the large army then called for.
The disaster at Manassas
had but recently occurred, and the army was quite destitute of quartermaster's stores.
Gen. Van Vliet
, with great energy and zeal, set himself about the task of furnishing the supplies immediately necessary, and preparing to obtain the still larger amounts which would be required by the new troops which were moving in large numbers towards the capital.
The principal depot for supplies in the city of Washington
was under charge of Col. D. H. Rucker
, assistant quartermaster
, who ably performed his duties.
Lieut.-Col. R. Ingalls
, assistant quartermaster
, was placed in charge of the department on the south side of the Potomac
I directed a large depot for transportation to be established at Perryville
, on the left bank of the Susquehanna
, a point equally accessible by rail and water.
Capt. C. G. Sawtelle
, assistant quartermaster
, was detailed to organize the camp, and performed his duties to my entire satisfaction.
Capt. J. J. Dana
, assistant quartermaster
, had immediate charge of the transportation in and about Washington
well as of the large number of horses purchased for the use of the artillery and cavalry.
The principal difficulties which Gen. Van Vliet
had to encounter arose from the inexperience of the majority of the officers of his department in the new regiments and brigades.
The necessity of attending personally to minor details rendered his duties arduous and harassing in the extreme.
All obstacles, however, were surmounted by the untiring industry of the chief quartermaster
and his immediate subordinates, and when the army was prepared to move the organization of the department was found to be admirable.
When it was determined to move the army to the Peninsula
the duties of providing water transportation were devolved by the Secretary of War
upon his assistant, the Hon. John Tucker
The vessels were ordered to Alexandria
, and Lieut-Col. Ingalls
was placed in immediate charge of the embarkation of the troops, transportation, and material of every description.
Operations of this nature, on so extensive a scale, had no parallel in the history of our country.
The arrangements of Lieut-Col. Ingalls
were perfected with remarkable skill and energy, and the army and its material were embarked and transported to Fortress Monroe
in a very short space of time and entirely without loss.
During the operations on the Peninsula
, until the arrival of troops at Harrison's Landing
, Gen. Van Vliet
retained the position of chief quartermaster, and maintained the thorough organization and efficiency of his department.
The principal depots of supplies were under the immediate charge of Lieut.-Cols. Ingalls
On the 10th of July, 1862, Gen. Van Vliet
having requested to be relieved from duty with the Army of the Potomac, I appointed Lieut.-Col. Ingalls chief quartermaster
, and he continued to discharge the duties of that office during the remainder of the Peninsular and the Maryland
campaigns in a manner which fully sustained the high reputation he had previously acquired.
The immense amount of labor accomplished often under the most difficult circumstances, the admirable system under which the duties of the department were performed, and the entire success which attended the efforts to supply so large an army, reflect
the highest credit upon the officers upon whom these onerous duties devolved.
On the 1st of Aug., 1861, Col. H. F. Clarke
, commissary of subsistence
, joined my staff, and at once entered upon his duties as chief commissary of the Army of the Potomac.
In order to realize the responsibilities pertaining, to this office, as well as to form a proper estimate of the vast amount of labor which must necessarily devolve upon its occupant, it is only necessary to consider the unprepared state of the country to engage in a war of such magnitude, and the lack of practical knowledge on the part of the officers with reference to supplying and subsisting a large, and at that time unorganized, army.
Yet, notwithstanding the existence of these great obstacles, the manner in which the duties of the commissary department were discharged was such as to merit and call forth the commendation of the entire army.
During the stay of the Army of the Potomac in the vicinity of Washington
, prior to the Peninsular campaign
, its subsistence was drawn chiefly from the depots which had been established by the commissary department at Washington
, Forts Corcoran and Runyon.
In the important task of designating and establishing depots of supplies Col. Clarke
was ably seconded by his assistants, Col. Amos Beckwith
, C. S., U. S. A.
; Lieut.-Col. George Bell
, C. S., U. S. A.
; Lieut-Col. A. P. Porter
, C. S., U. S. A.
; Capt. Thomas Wilson
, C. S., U. S. A.
; Capt. Brownell Granger
, C. S., U. S. Volunteers; Capt. W. H. Bell
, C. S., U. S. A.
; Capt. J. H. Woodward
, C. S., U. S. Volunteers; and Capt. W. R. Murphy
, C. S., U. S. Volunteers.
A full knowledge of the highly creditable manner in which each and all of the above-mentioned officers discharged their duties was given in the detailed report of Col. Clarke
The remarks and suggestions contained in his report afford valuable rules for the future guidance of the subsistence department in supplying armies in the field.
The success of the subsistence department of the Army of the Potomac was in a great measure attributable to the fact that the subsistence department at Washington
made ample provision for sending supplies to the Peninsula
, and that it always exercised the most intelligent foresight.
It moreover gave its advice and countenance to the officers charged with its duties and reputation in the field, and those officers, I am happy to say, worked with it and together in perfect
harmony for the public good.
During the entire period that I was in command of the Army of the Potomac there was no instance within my knowledge where the troops were without their rations from any fault of the officers of this department.
I am quite within bounds when I say that no one could have performed his vitally important duties more satisfactorily than did Gen. Clarke
He never caused me the slightest anxiety, and I soon learned that he would always carry out my wishes, were it in the power of man to do so. A stranger to all petty intrigue, a brave and able officer, a modest man intent only upon the proper performance of his duty, he has never received the reward and appreciation his invaluable services merited.
He held the post of chief-commissary of the Army of the Potomac until the close of the war, discharging his duty to the entire satisfaction of its successive commanders.
Yet he was overslaughed in favor of an inferior who had never held a post of great importance, and whose only claim was the personal friendship of the President
who committed the injustice.
As I write (Sept., 1882) he has just received the grade of colonel in the ordinary course of promotion, and will ere long be retired with that grade, his only reward having been the empty brevet of major-general.
The Ordance Department, that very important branch of the service, was placed under the charge of Capt. C. P. Kingsbury
, ordnance corps, colonel and aide-de-camp.
Great difficulty existed in the proper organization of the department for the want of a sufficient number of suitable officers to perform the duties at the various headquarters and depots of supply.
But far greater obstacles had to be surmounted, from the fact that the supply of small arms was totally inadequate to the demands of a large army, and a vast proportion of those furnished were of such inferior quality as to be unsatisfactory to the troops and condemned by their officers.
The supply of artillery was more abundant, but of great variety.
Rifled ordnance was just coming into use for the first time in this country, and the description of gun and kind of projectile which would prove most effective, and should, therefore, be adopted, was a mere matter of theory.
To obviate these difficulties large quantities of small arms of foreign manufacture were contracted for; private enterprise in the construction of arms and ammunition was encouraged; and by
the time the army was ordered to move to the Peninsula
the amount of ordnance and ordnance stores was ample.
But it was not until the close of 1861, too late for active operations, that the infantry were reasonably well provided with serviceable arms; and even after that the calibres were too numerous, and many arms really unfit for service.
The artillery material, likewise, arrived in insufficient quantities until the early part of 1862.
I mention these facts, not as in any way reflecting upon the ordnance department, which accomplished all that was in the power of men to do, but as showing the actual difficulties of the situation.
Much also had been done to bring the quality, both of arms and ammunition, up to the proper standard.
Boards of officers were in session continually during the autumn
of 1861 to test the relative merits of new arms and projectiles.
The reports of these boards, confirmed by subsequent experience in the field, have done much to establish the respective claims of different inventors and manufacturers.
During the campaigns of the Peninsula
the officers connected with the department were zealous and energetic, and kept the troops well supplied, notwithstanding the perplexing and arduous nature of their duties.
One great source of perplexity was the fact that it had been necessary to issue arms of all varieties and calibres, giving an equal diversity in the kinds of ammunition required.
Untiring watchfulness was therefore incumbent upon the officers in charge to prevent confusion and improper distribution of cartridges.
discharged the duties of his office with great efficiency until July, 1862, when his health required that he should be relieved.
First Lieut. Thomas G. Baylor
, ordnance corps, succeeded him, and performed his duty during the remainder of the Peninsular and Maryland
campaigns with marked ability and success.
Immediately after I was placed in command of the Division of the Potomac I appointed Col. Andrew Porter
, 16th Regiment Infantry, provost-Marshall of Washington
All the available regular infantry, a battery, and a squadron of cavalry were placed under his command, and by his energetic action he soon corrected the serious evils which existed, and restored order in the city.
When the army was about to take the field Gen. Porter
was appointed provost-marshal-general of the Army of the Potomac,
and held that most important position until the end of the Peninsular campaign
, when sickness, contracted in the untiring discharge of his duties, compelled him to ask to be relieved from the position he had so ably and energetically filled.
The provost marshal-general
's department had the charge of a class of duties which had not before, in our service, been defined and grouped under the management of a special department.
The following subjects indicate the sphere of this department:
Suppression of marauding and depredations, and of all brawls and disturbances, preservation of good order, and suppression of disturbances beyond the limits of the camps.
Prevention of straggling on the march.
Suppression of gambling-houses, drinking-houses or bar-rooms, and brothels.
Regulation of hotels, taverns, markets, and places of public amusement.
Searches, seizures, and arrests.
Execution of sentences of general courts-martial involving imprisonment or capital punishment.
Enforcement of orders prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors whether by tradesmen or sutlers, and of orders respecting passes.
Deserters from the enemy.
Prisoners of war taken from the enemy.
Passes to citizens within the lines and for purposes of trade.
Complaints of citizens as to the conduct of the soldiers.
was assisted by the following named officers:
Maj. W. H. Wood
, 17th U. S. Infantry; Capt. James McMillan
, acting assistant adjutant-general
, 2d U. S. Infantry; Capt. W. T. Gentry
, 17th U. S. Infantry; Capt. J. W. Forsyth
, 18th U. S. Infantry; Lieut. J. W. Jones
, 12th U. S. Infantry; Lieut. C. F. Trowbridge
, 16th U. S. Infantry; and Lieut. C. D. Mehaffey
, 1st U. S. Infantry.
The provost-guard was composed of the 2d U. S. Cavalry, Maj. Pleasonton
, and a battalion of the 8th and 17th U. S. Infantry, Maj. Willard
After Gen. Porter
was relieved Maj. Wood
was in charge of this department until after the battle of Antietam
, when Brig.-Gen. Patrick
was appointed provost-marshal-general.
When the army took the field, for the purpose of securing
order and regularity in the camp of headquarters, and facilitating its movements the office of commandant of general Headquarters was created, and assigned to Maj. G. O. Haller
, 7th U. S. Infantry. Six companies of infantry were placed under his orders for guard and police duty.
From Aug., 1861, the position of Judge-Advocate
was held by Col. Thomas T. Gantt
, until compelled by ill-health to retire, at Harrison's Landing
, in Aug., 1862.
His reviews of the decisions of courts-martial during this period were of great utility in correcting the practice in military courts, diffusing true notions of discipline and subordination, and setting before the army a high standard of soldierly honor.
Upon the retirement of Col. Gantt
the duties of judge-advocate were ably performed by Col. Thomas M. Key
The method of conveying intelligence and orders invented and introduced into the service by Maj. Albert J. Myer
, signal officer
U. S. Army, was first practically tested in large operations during the organization of the Army of the Potomac.
Under the direction of Maj. Myer
a signal corps was formed by detailing officers and men from the different regiments of volunteers, and instructing them in the use of the flags by day and torches by night.
The chief signal officer
was indefatigable in his exertions to render his corps effective, and it soon became available for service in every division of the army.
In addition to the flags and torches Maj. Myer
introduced a portable insulated telegraph-wire, which could be readily laid from point to point, and which could be used under the same general system.
In front of Washington
and on the lower Potomac, at any point within our lines not reached by the military telegraph, the great usefulness of this system of signals was made manifest.
But it was not until after the arrival of the army upon the Peninsula
, and during the siege and battles of that and the Maryland
campaigns, that the great benefits to be derived from it on the field and under fire were fully appreciated.
There was scarcely any action or skirmish in which the signal corps did not render important services.
Often under heavy fire of artillery, and not unfrequently while exposed to musketry, the officers and men of this corps gave information of the movements of the enemy, and transmitted directions for the evolutions
of our own troops.
The weak point in the signal corps as then constituted was that its officers were not trained soldiers, and therefore their judgment could not always be relied upon.
The telegraphic operations of the Army of the Potomac were superintended by Maj. Thomas J. Eckert
, and under the immediate direction of Mr. Caldwell
, who was, with a corps of operators, attached to my headquarters during the entire campaigns upon the Peninsula
and in Maryland
The services of this corps were arduous and efficient.
Under the admirable arrangements of Maj. Eckert
they were constantly provided with all the material for constructing new lines, which were rapidly established whenever the army changed position, and it was not unfrequently the case that the operatives worked under fire from the enemy's guns; yet they invariably performed all the duties required of them with great alacrity and cheerfulness, and it was seldom that I was without the means of direct telegraphic communication with the War Department and with the corps commanders.
From the organization of the Army of the Potomac up to Nov. 1, 1862, including the Peninsular and Maryland
campaigns, upwards of twelve hundred (1,200) miles of military telegraph line had been constructed in connection with the operations of the army, and the number of operatives and builders employed was about two hundred (200).
To Prof. Lowe
, the intelligent and enterprising aeronaut, who had the management of the balloons, I was indebted for information obtained during his ascensions.
In a clear atmosphere, and in a country not too much obstructed by woods, balloon reconnoissances made by intelligent officers are often of considerable value.
I more than once took occasion to recommend the members of my staff, both general and personal, for promotion and reward.
I once more record their names in the history of the Army of the Potomac as gallant soldiers, to whom their country owes a debt of gratitude, still unpaid, for the courage, ability, and untiring zeal they displayed during the eventful campaigns in which they bore so prominent a part.