Military information and supply
Charles King, Brigadier-General, United States Volunteers
One of the gravest difficulties with which the Union
generals had to contend throughout the war was that of obtaining reliable information as to the strength and position of the foe. Except for Lee
's two invasions, Bragg
's advance into Kentucky
, and an occasional minor essay, such as Morgan
's raids in Indiana
, and Ohio
, and Early
's dash at Washington
, in 1864, the seat of war was on Southern ground, where the populace was hostile, and the only inhabitants, as a rule, who would furnish information were deserters or else the so-called ‘intelligent contrabands,’ whose reports were in many cases utterly unreliable.
Renegade or ‘refugee’ natives many a time came into the Northern
lines cocked, primed, and paid to tell fabulous tales of the numbers and movements of the Southern
armies, all to the end that the Union
leaders were often utterly misled and bewildered.
It may have been the fact that they were fooled once too often that made some of these generals so skeptical they would not believe their own officers, eye-witnesses to the presence of the foe in force, as when Jackson
and dashed upon his communications at Manassas
; when Longstreet
loomed up against his left at Second Bull Run
, and when Jackson
again circled Hooker
and crushed the exposed right flank at Chancellorsville
Be that as it may, there is no doubt that from the very dawn of the war until its lurid and dramatic close, the Southern
leaders had infinitely the advantage in the matter of information.
The Southern people were practically united, devoted to
Scouts and guides of the army of the Potomac, 1862
The scouts and guides of the Army of the Potomac were attached to the secret-service department conducted by Major A. Pinkerton.
it was more than difficult for the Union generals to obtain reliable information as to the strength and position of the enemy.
The Southern people were practically united, devoted to their cause and all that it comprised.
The only inhabitants, as a rule, who would furnish information were deserters or else the so-called ‘intelligent contrabands,’ whose reports were in many cases utterly untrustworthy.
Therefore it became necessary for these men of indomitable courage to brave the halter in order to obtain information.
During the campaign of the army in front of Fredericksburg, they proved of incalculable value.
Each man was provided with a pass from the commanding general, written with a chemical preparation that became visible only when exposed to solar rays.
On the back was penciled some unimportant memoranda, to deceive the adversaries, should the scout fall into their hands.
If captured, he could drop this paper, apparently by accident, without exciting suspicion; and if successful in his expedition, the pass, after a moment's exposure to the heat, enabled the bearer to re-enter his own lines and proceed without delay to headquarters.
The scouts generally passed as foragers within their own lines, always coming in with vegetables, poultry, and the like, to preserve their incognito,|
their cause and all that it comprised.
was filled with spies, special correspondents, paid agents, Southern sympathizers by the score, ‘copperheads’ innumerable, and among the border States and in Louisiana
, whither Union armies had penetrated in force, the blue lines enclosed hundreds of homesteads of Southern families whose men were with their regiments in Virginia
, leaving the women and the faithful blacks, the household servants, to look after what was left of their once fertile and productive fields and the hospitable old mansions of their forefathers.
It followed that the South
often knew pretty much everything worth knowing of the disposition and preparations of the Union
forces—often, indeed, of their carefully guarded plans.
It followed that, on the other hand, the Northern
generals had as often to guess at the opposing conditions, since so very much of the information paid for proved utterly worthless.
With an overwhelming force at his back, well organized and equipped, better disciplined than were the Southern
troops late in 1861, and their equal at least in experience, McClellan
's splendid divisions, fully one hundred and forty thousand strong, were held up in front of Washington
by not more than forty-seven thousand Confederates, all because agents induced the overcautious commander to believe he was confronted by fully two hundred thousand men. Again, on the Peninsula
, when McClellan
could have smashed through to Richmond
by simple weight of numbers—such had been the casualties of battle in the Southern
lines—the specter of Southern superiority in numbers unnerved the young leader, and the story of thousands of Southern reenforcements drove him to the change of base and the shelter of the gunboats on the James
A few weeks later and the same tactics told on Pope
and his subordinates.
‘Old Jack’ was at their heels or on their flanks, with sixty thousand men—‘the flower of the Southern
infantry,’ said prisoners who had ridden, apparently accidentally, into the Federal
Again, after Antietam
, what tremendous tales of Southern strength must have held McClellan
an entire month along the north bank of the Potomac
, while Stuart
, with less than two thousand troopers, rode jauntily round about him unscathed.
It was not until well along in 1863, when the Federals
began to wake up to the use of cavalry, that fairy tales gave way to facts, and Hooker
could estimate the actual force to be encountered, so that by the time Grant
came to the Army of the Potomac in 1864, he well knew that whatsoever advantage Lee
might have in fighting on his own ground, and along interior lines, and with the most devoted and brilliantly led army at his back, the Union
legions far outnumbered him. Then, with Grant
's grim, invincible determination, there were no more footsteps backward.
Yet even Grant
had very much to contend with in this very matter.
Southern families abounded in Washington
; Southern messengers of both sexes rode the Maryland lanes
to Port Tobacco
; Southern skiffs ferried Southern missives in the black hours of midnight under the very muzzles of the anchored guns in the broad reaches of the Potomac
; Virginia farm boys, or girls—born riders all—bore all manner of messages from river to river and so to the Southern
lines southeast of Fredericksburg
, and thus around to Gordonsville
and the Confederate army.
The Northern newspapers, under the inspiration of professional rivalry, kept the Southern
cabinet remarkably well informed of everything going on within the Union
lines, and not infrequently prepared the Confederate
generals for the next move of the Union
It was this that finally led the vehement Sherman
to seek to eliminate the newspaper men from his military bailiwick, about as hopeless a task as the very worst assigned to Hercules
, with his accustomed stoicism, accepted their presence in his army as something inseparable from American methods of warfare, adding to the problems and perplexities of the generals commanding,
Map photographing for the army in the field the process that took Gardner into the Secret service
Alexander Gardner's usefulness to the Secret Service lay in the copying of maps by the methods shown above—and keeping quiet about it. A great admirer of Gardner's was young William A. Pinkerton, son of Allan Pinkerton, then head of the Secret Service.
Forty-seven years later Mr. Pinkerton furnished for the Photographic history some reminiscences of Gardner's work: ‘It was during the winter of 1861-1862 that Gardner became attached to the Secret Service Corps, then under my father.
I was then a boy, ranging from seventeen to twenty-one years of age, during all of which time I was in intimate contact with Gardner, as he was at our headquarters and was utilized by the Government for photographing maps and other articles of that kind which were prepared by the Secret Service.
I have quite a number of his views which were made at that time.’
These negatives, more than a thousand in number, are among the collection so long buried in obscurity before becoming represented in these volumes.
Mr. Pinkerton adds: ‘I used to travel around with Gardner a good deal while he was taking these views and saw many of them made.’|
heralding their movements, as did the Virginia
maids and matrons, and impeding them, as did the Virginia
Other writers have described the ‘Intelligence Bureau’ of the rank and file, by means of which the troops seemed well supplied with tidings of every Union move of consequence—tidings only too quickly carried by daring and devoted sons of the South
, who courted instant death by accepting duty in the Secret Service
, and lived the lonely life, and in many an instance died the lonely, unhallowed death of the spy. Men who sought that calling must have had illimitable love for and faith in the cause for which they accepted the ignominy that, justly or unjustly, attaches to the name.
Men like Major Andre
and Nathan Hale
had succeeded in throwing about their hapless fate the glamour of romance and martyrdom, but such halos seem to have hovered over the head of few, if ally, who, in either army during the bitter four years war, were condemned to die, by the felon's rope, the death of the spy.
The Old Capitol Prison
was long the abiding place of men and women confined by order of our ‘Iron Secretary
’ on well-founded suspicion of being connected with the Southern
system, and in the Camp of the Army of the Cumberland, two sons of the Confederacy
, men with gentle blood in their veins and reckless daring in their hearts, were stripped of the uniforms of officers of the Union
cavalry, in which they had been masquerading for who can say what purpose, tried by court martial, and summarily executed.
at best was a perilous and ill-requited duty.
In spite of high pay it was held in low estimation, first on general principles, and later because it was soon suspected, and presently known, that many men most useful as purveyors of information had been shrewd enough to gain the confidence, accept the pay, and become the informants of both sides.
Even Secretary Stanton
was sometimes hoodwinked, as in the case of the ‘confidential adviser’ he recommended to Sheridan
in the fall of 1864.
The photographers who followed the army
In the early years of the war the soldiers were so mystified by the peculiar-looking wagon in which Brady kept his traveling dark-room that they nicknamed it the ‘Whatis-it?’
wagon, a name which clung to the photographer's outfit all through the war. The upper photograph, with the two bashful-looking horses huddling together before the camera, shows Brady's outfit going to the front, in 1861.
The lowest photograph demonstrates that even the busy photographer occasionally slept in his Camp with the army.
The lefthand of the three center pictures shows the ‘What-is-it?’
again, on the Bull Run battlefield; in the next appears the developing tent of Barnard, Colonel O. M. Poe's engineer-corps photographer, before one of the captured Atlanta forts, in September, 1864; and in the last stands Cooley, photographer to the Army of the Tennessee, with his camera, on the battered parapet of Sumter in 1865.
In spite of these elaborate preparations of the enterprising photographers, among the million men in the field few knew that any photographs were being taken.
These volumes will be the first introduction of many a veteran to the photography of fifty years before.|
had the born soldier's contempt for such characters, and though setting the man to work, as suggested, he had him watched by soldier scouts who had been organized under Colonel Young
of Rhode Island
, and when later there was brought to him at midnight, in complete disguise, a young Southerner, dark, slender, handsome, soft-voiced, and fascinating in manner—a man who ‘had had a tiff with Mosby
,’ they said, and now wished to be of service to the Union
and act in concert with Stanton
's earlier emissary, ‘Mr. Lomas
's suspicions were redoubled.
The newcomer gave the name of Renfrew
—that under which the Prince
) had visited the States in the summer of 1860—and was an artist in the matter of make — up and disguise.
kept his own counsel, had the pair ‘shadowed,’ and speedily found they were sending far more information to the foe than they were bringing to him. They were arrested and ordered to Fort Warren
, but in most mysterious fashion they escaped at Baltimore
A few weeks later and Stanton
found reason to believe that his friend Lomas
was closely allied with the conspirators later hanged for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln
, and then it dawned upon Sheridan
was probably none other than John Wilkes Booth
At best, therefore, the information derived from such sources could never be relied upon, at least by Union generals, and Sheridan
's scout system was probably the most successful of all those essayed during the war. It was also most daring and hazardous, for the men took their lives in their hands, and the chance of immediate and ignominious death when they donned, as they had to, the Confederate
uniform and penetrated the Confederate
There, if suspected and arrested, their fate was sealed.
Yet it was one of these who successfully bore to General Grant
's urgent ‘I wish you were here,’ when, on the 5th of April, 1865, the latter saw slipping away the chance of penning Lee
's harassed and panting army
The army photographer ahead of the wrecking-train
When the Confederate cavalry made life a burden for the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps in the vicinity of Washington, the enterprising photographers on their part were not idle.
This photograph shows the engine ‘Commodore’ derailed and lying on its side.
Even before the wrecking crew could be rushed to the scene, the photographer had arrived, as is attested by the bottle of chemicals, the developing tray, and the negative rack in the right foreground, as well as the photograph itself.
Every negative had to be developed within five minutes after the exposure, a fact which makes all the more marvellous the brilliant work that was accomplished.
In the buggy and wagon shown in the lower picture, Brady safely transported glass plates wherever an army could march.|
Headquarters of the New York Herald in the field, August 1863.|
at Amelia Court House
The courier had to ride southward across a dozen miles of dubious country.
It was nip and tuck whether ‘Yank
’ or ‘Reb
’ first laid hands on him, and when he finally reached the wearied leader, and, rousing to the occasion, Grant
decided to ride at once through the darkness to Sheridan
's side, and set forth with only a little escort and the scout as guide, two staff-officers, thoroughly suspicious, strapped the latter to his saddle, linked his horse with theirs, and cocked their revolvers at his back.
That scout rode those long miles back to Jetersville
with these words occasionally murmured into his ears, ‘At the first sight or sound of treachery, you die.’
Not until they reached Sheridan
at midnight were they sure it was not a device of the desperate foe. Volumes could be written of the Secret Service
of the Union
armies—what it cost and what it was really worth-but the South
, it is believed, could more than match every exploit.
Serious as was this problem, there were others beyond that of the strategy of a campaign of even greater moment— problems the Union
generals, especially in the West
, were compelled to study and consider with the utmost care.
said, ‘An army crawls upon its belly.’
Soldiers to march and fight their best must be well fed. Given sound food and shoe leather, and the average army can outdo one far above the average, unfed and unshod.
East and West, the armies of the Union
suffered at the start at the hands of the contractors, because of ‘shoddy’ coats and blankets and ‘pasteboard’ shoes, but in the matter of supplies the Army of the Potomac had generally the advantage of the armies of the West
—it was never far removed from its base.
From the farms, granaries, mills, and manufactories of the Eastern
and Middle States, in vast quantities, bacon, flour, coffee, sugar, and hardtack for the inner man; blankets, caps, coats, shirts, socks, shoes, and trousers for his outer self were shipped by canal and river to the sea and then floated up the Potomac
to the great depots of Aquia and Washington
later in the war up the James
to City Point
, thence by mule wagon or military railway to the neighboring camps.
The entire army could always be freshly clothed and newly shod before it set forth on a campaign, to the end that the wagon train had little to carry but food and ammunition.
The seasoned soldier bore with him none of the white tentage that looked so picturesque among the green hills around Washington
The little tente d'abri
of the French
service, speedily dubbed the ‘pup tent’ by our soldier humorists, was all he needed in the field, and generally all he had. So, too, with his kitchen and its appliances.
The huge pots, pans, kettles, and coffee-boilers seen about the winter cantonments were left behind when the army took the field, and ‘every man his own cook’ became the rule.
Each man had speedily learned how to prepare his own coffee in his own battered tin mug, season it with brown sugar
, and swallow it hot. Each man knew the practical use of a bayonet or ramrod as bread or bacon toaster.
It was only in the matter of beans that community of cooking became necessary, and the old plains-bred regulars could teach the volunteers—ready pupils that they were—famous devices for reducing these stubborn but most sustaining pellets to digestible form.
There never was a time when the Eastern
army, after the first few months, was not well fed and warmly, if clumsily, clothed.
But in the West
it was far different, far more difficult.
Almost from the start the armies of the Ohio
, the Cumberland
, the Tennessee
, and the forces beyond the Mississippi
, setting forth from such bases as Louisville
, and St. Louis
, pushed far southward through hostile territory, spinning behind them, spiderlike, a thin thread of steel, along which, box by box, car by car, were to roll to them the vast quantities of supplies without which no army can exist.
The men of Grant
, trudging on to Shiloh
, had the Tennessee
for a barge and steamboat route, and so fared well upon their hostile mission; but the men who later marched with ‘Old
’ to Tullahoma
and then beyond the Tennessee
, well-nigh starved to death in their Bragg-beleaguered camps about Chattanooga
, until Hooker
came to their relief and established the famous ‘cracker line’ beyond reach of shot and shell.
Then came long weeks in which, day by day, the freight trains, squirming slowly down that long, sinuous, single-track road from the Ohio River
, reached the wide supply camps at Chattanooga
, dumped their huge crates of bacon and hardtack, or the big boxes of clothing, accouterments, and ammunition, and went rumbling and whistling back, laden with sick or wounded soldiery, creeping to the sidings every thirty miles or so to give the troop and ‘cracker’ trains right of way. Nearly four long months it took Sherman
, newly commanding in the West
, to accumulate the vast supplies he would need for his big army of one hundred thousand men, ere again he started forth another two hundred miles into the bowels of the land, and every mile he marched took his men further from the bakeries, the butcher-shops, the commissary and quartermaster's stores from which the ‘boys’ had received their daily bread or monthly socks, shoes, and tobacco.
Another long, sinuous, slender thread of railway, guarded at every bridge, siding, and trestle, was reeled off as fast as Sherman
fought on southward, until at last he reached the prize and paused again to draw breath, rations, and clothing at Atlanta
before determining the next move.
And then, as in the Eastern
armies, there loomed up still another factor in the problems of the campaign—a factor that European
writers and critics seem rarely to take into account.
From the days of the Roman Empire
, and even England
were seamed with admirable highways.
The campaigns of Turenne
, of Frederick
, of Napoleon
were planned and marched over the best of roads, firm and hard, high and dry. The campaigns of Grant
, and Jackson
were ploughed at times
‘Letters from home’—the army mail wagon|
How the soldiers got their letters from home|
Letters from home were a great factor in keeping up the morale
of the army.
Wheresoever the armies might be located, however far removed from railroads or from the ordinary means of communication, the soldier boy always expected to receive his mails.
The carrying of letters from his tent to his beloved ones was also a vital necessity.
Each regiment in the field had a special postmaster, generally appointed by the colonel, who received all mail and saw to its proper distribution among the men, also receiving all mail forwarded to the home address.
He sold stamps to the men, received their letters, and at stated periods made trips to what would be established as a sort of main post-office.
The man designated as the postmaster of the regiment was generally relieved from all other duties.
Each regiment in the Army of the Potomac had a post-boy, who carried the letters of his command to the brigade headquarters.
There the mails of the different regiments were placed in one pouch and went up to division headquarters, and thence to corps headquarters, where mail-agents received them and delivered them at the principal depot of the army to the agent from general headquarters.
At times it was an arduous task for the mail wagons to transport the accumulated mail over bad roads, and several trips might have to be made for the purpose of securing all that was lying at some distant depot.
through seas of mud, through swamp, morass, and tangled wildwood.
Southern country roads, except perhaps the limestone pikes of Kentucky
and northern Tennessee
, were roads only in name, and being soft, undrained, and unpaved, were forever washed out by rains or cut into deep ruts by gun and wagon wheels.
Then there were quicksands in which the mule teams stalled and floundered; there were flimsy bridges forever being fired or flooded; scrap-iron
railways that could be wrecked in an hour and rebuilt only with infinite pains and labor and vast expenditure of time and money.
Just what Frederick, or Napoleon
, or Turenne
would have done with the best of armies, but on the worst of roads, with American woods and weather to deal with, is a military problem that would baffle the critics of all Christendom.
It is something for the American
people to remember that when Grant
and Sheridan cut loose from their base for the last week's grapple with the exhausted but indomitable remnant of Lee
's gallant gray army, it rained torrents for nearly three entire days, the country was knee-deep in mud and water, the roads were utterly out of sight.
It was the marvelous concentration march of Meade
's scattered army corps, however, that made possible the victory of Gettysburg
It was when they struck the hard, white roads of Pennsylvania
that the men of the Army of the Potomac trudged unflinchingly their thirty miles or more a day, and matched the records of Napoleon
It was ‘Stonewall
's unequaled ‘foot cavalry’ that could tramp their twenty-four hours through Virginia mountain trails, cover their forty miles from sun to sun, and be off again for another flank attack while yet their adversary slept.
said the armies of the great Civil War
were ‘two armed mobs,’ but Moltke
failed to realize that in the matters of information and logistics, the Union
generals had, from first to last, to deal with problems and conditions the best of his or Frederick's field-marshals never had met nor dreamed of.
The business side of the war departments
Embarking troops ninth army corps leaving Acquia creek in February 1863|
Groups at the quartermaster-general's office in Washington|| |
Groups at the quartermaster-general's office in Washington|
Groups at the quartermaster-general's office in Washington|
Employees, transportation office|| |
Assistant quartermaster's office|