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The business side of war-making

William B. Shaw
It is one of the purposes of this ‘Photographic History’ to show more clearly than has been shown before what the Civil War meant to the common man, on either side of Mason and Dixon's Line, whether volunteer or non-combatant. It must be remembered that thousands of men and women, North and South, rendered loyal service to their respective Governments throughout the four years of strife, without so much as lifting a musket. This series of photographs shows not only how battles were fought, but how the armies were made fit to fight them, how campaigns were conducted, how soldiers were made out of raw recruits, how railroads and bridges were destroyed and rebuilt, how rivers were dammed and their channels deflected, how blockades were maintained and eluded—in short, how the business of war went on in America for four full years of three hundred and sixty-five days each, practically without interruption.

Clearly, there would have been no wisdom in recruiting and organizing great armies without making provision for feeding and clothing them. Even more futile would have been an attempt to use such armies in aggressive movements without suitable equipment. The essential requisite to every army's success on the march or on the field of battle is good nourishment; yet so lacking in the picturesque was the machinery for feeding the armies in the Civil War, that historians have given it but slight attention. To equip, clothe, shelter, and transport a million men in arms at once was the task that confronted the Washington Government in the second year of the war. The country's long period of peace had not prepared it [43]

‘Home on furlough’—aboard the army transport

After McClellan's Peninsula campaign in 1862, thousands of Northern soldiers were debilitated by swamp miasma. It was necessary that all the men who had been attacked by typhoid and various forms of intermittent fever should be taken from the environment of the Virginia camps to their homes in the North for recuperation. The photograph is that of a transport on the River James carrying a number of these furloughed men, most of whom had become convalescent in the hospitals and so were able to make the homeward journey. The lower photograph shows a transport steamer crowded with troops for Grant's concentration of the army at City Point.

Transport steamer on the River James carrying a number of these furloughed men, most of whom had become convalescent in the hospitals.

Transport steamer.

[44] for such an undertaking. A wholly new military establishment had to be created. The supply departments of the old army organization were fitted for the work of provisioning and equipping a dozen regiments; they were suddenly called upon to provide for a thousand. The fact that department and bureau chiefs rose to the situation and responded to these new and unprecedented demands is usually regarded quite as a matter of course.

Every American schoolboy knows the names of the men who led the armies, whether to victory or to defeat, but who saw that the soldiers were clothed and fed? Hundreds of faithful officers were engaged in that duty throughout the four weary years of war; without their services the battles that brought enduring fame to victorious generals could never have been fought, much less won. The feats that these men performed were largely unknown to the public and even to the armies themselves. Frequently in the face of appalling difficulties, we are told, a whole army corps was saved from starvation and defeat by the ready resourcefulness of a commissary. More than once the intelligent cooperation of the Quartermaster's Department made possible a rapid movement of troops, crowning with success the brilliant plans of a commander to whom history has awarded all the credit for skilful execution.

At the outbreak of the war the army's two great supply departments were directed by the quartermaster-general and the commissary-general of subsistence, respectively. The Quartermaster's Department was charged with the duty of providing means of transportation, by land and water, for all the troops and all materials of war; it furnished the horses for artillery and cavalry, and for the supply trains; supplied tents, Camp and garrison equipage, forage, lumber, and all materials for camps; it built barracks, hospitals, wagons, and ambulances; provided harness, except for artillery and cavalry horses; built or chartered ships and steamships, docks and [45]

Transport by ship.

Army transports represented all types of river craft and sea-going vessels. Steamboats, propellers, tugs, barges, and canal boats were all utilized for this important service. The vessels shown upon this page were used for moving regiments, brigades, divisions, and even entire corps from point to point along the rivers and up and down the Atlantic coast-line. The Arago had been one of the great sidewheel ocean-liners plying between New York and Liverpool in the days preceding the war. She was especially desirable for the transportation of large bodies of troops along the Southern coast. The Washington Irving in the lower picture was a North River passenger-boat loaned or leased to the Federal Government.

Transport on the Tennessee

An ocean-liner transport

Ocean transport at Charleston

The deck of the ‘Arago

Transport on the Appomattox

[46] wharves; constructed and repaired roads, bridges, and even railroads; clothed the soldiers, and supervised the payment of all expenses attending military operations which were not regularly assigned by law or regulation to some other department.

Upon the Subsistence Department fell the duty of securing food for the army. During a great part of the war, the Washington Government was expending approximately one million dollars a day upon the maintenance and equipment of troops, and the prosecution of campaigns. The greater part of this expenditure was made through these two departments, the Quartermaster's and the Subsistence.

The matter of railroad transportation concerned both of these intimately. The total railroad mileage of the United States at the outbreak of the war was 30,635—about one-eighth of what it was in 1910. The railroads of 1861 connected the Mississippi valley with the seaboard, it is true, but they had not yet been welded into systems, and as a means of transportation for either men or materials they were sadly inadequate when judged by twentieth-century standards. Deficient as they were, however, they had reached the Mississippi River some years in advance of the traffic demands of the country, and in the exigencies of war their facilities for moving the wheat and corn of the Mississippi valley were to be taxed to their limit for the first time, although the country's total yield of wheat was less than one-fourth, and of corn less than onethird of the corresponding crops in 1910.

In tapping the rich grain fields of the interior, the Government at Washington had decidedly the advantage over that at Richmond, for the Confederate authorities were served by transportation lines that were even less efficient than those of the North, and, moreover, a large proportion of their tillable land was devoted to cotton growing, and the home-grown food products of the South were unequal to the demands of home consumption. In January, 1862, the Confederate quartermaster- [47]

Federal army wagons from the Potomac to the Mississippi

At Belle Plain, at Centerville, Virginia, and at Baton Rouge appear the omnipresent army wagons, which followed the armies from Washington to the Gulf. The dimensions of the box of these useful vehicles were as follows: Length (inside), 120 inches; width (inside), 43 inches; height, 22 inches. Such a wagon could carry a load weighing about 2536 pounds, or 1500 rations of hard bread, coffee, sugar, and salt. Each wagon was drawn by a team of four horses or six mules.

Federal army wagons from the Potomac to the Mississippi

Federal army wagons from the Potomac to the Mississippi

Federal army wagons from the Potomac to the Mississippi

The bivouac—wagon-train at Cumberland landing, Pamunkey river

[48] general complained that the railroad lines on which his Government was dependent for transportation, were operating only two trains a day each way, at an average speed of six miles an hour. Before the war, the railroads of the South had been dependent for most of their equipment on the car-shops and locomotive-works of the Northern States. The South had only limited facilities for producing rolling-stock. After communication with the North had ceased, most of the Southern railroads deteriorated rapidly. Quite apart from the ruin caused by the war itself, many of the railroads soon became comparatively useless for lack of equipment and repairs, and the familiar expression ‘two streaks of rust and a right of way’ was applied with peculiar fitness to some of them.

Yet the railroads played an important part in the war from the beginning. This was indeed the first great war in history in which railroads entered, to any important extent, into the plans of campaigns and battles. The Federal quartermaster-general, not being harassed by hostile movements within the territory from which his supplies were drawn, perfected the system of railroad transportation for both troops and supplies, until he had it working with smoothness and a high degree of efficiency. The railroad corporations that remained loyal to the Government at Washington, came together in the early days of the war and agreed on a schedule of rates for army transportation. This was probably the earliest instance of a general railroad agreement in the history of the country. These rates were adhered to throughout the war, and while the prices of almost all commodities rose far above the price-level of 1861, transportation rates, so far as the Government was concerned, remained uniform and constant. The railroads, for the most part, prospered under this arrangement. Never before had their rolling-stock been so steadily employed, and the yearly volume of business, both passenger and freight, was unprecedented. The Government soon found that in the transportation of troops, the two thousand dollars which was paid [49]

Bread for the Union Army.

The counting of every pound of flour was one of the essentials required of the quartermaster's department. Each pan of baked bread must be weighed. This was systematically done by the commissary-sergeant especially detailed for that purpose. In this photograph the scales stand in front of him, while a colored boy has placed a batch of loaves from the pyramid of bread upon the scales. A soldier is handing out another batch of loaves ready to be weighed. When the Army of the Potomac lay in front of Petersburg in 1864 and 1865, there were a great many inventions brought to the fore for the benefit of the men serving at the front. Among them was the army bake-oven, a regular baker's oven placed on wheels. In the second picture the bakers are shoving the bread just kneaded into the oven to bake. The bearded man in the foreground at the left is the fireman who keeps the fires going. From this bakery the loaves went out, after each batch was duly weighed, to the various regiments according to the amount requisitioned by their several commissaries. It was always a happy moment for the soldiers when ‘fresh-bread day’ came around. It varied the monotony of ‘hardtack,’ and formed quite a. luxury after the hard campaign through the Wilderness and across the James. River. Soft bread was obtainable only in permanent camp. There was no time for it on the march.

Weighing bread for the Union army, 1864

A government oven on wheels

[50] for moving one thousand men one hundred miles by rail was far less than the cost of marching the same number of men an equivalent distance over the roads of the country.

Unfortunately, however, campaign plans, more frequently than otherwise, called for long marches between points not connected by rail. Water transportation was used by General McClellan to good advantage in beginning the Peninsula campaign; after that, the Army of the Potomac, once having made the acquaintance of Virginia mud, retained it to the end. The wagon roads of the Old Dominion were tested in all seasons and by every known form of conveyance. A familiar accompaniment of the marching troops was the inevitable wagon train, carrying subsistence, ammunition, and clothing. Twelve wagons to every thousand men had been Napoleon's rule on the march, but the highways of Europe undoubtedly permitted relatively heavier loads. For the Army of the Potomac, twenty-five wagons per thousand men was not considered an excessive allowance. No wonder these well-laden supply trains aroused the interest of daring bands of Confederate scouts! Such prizes were well worth trying for.

When General Meade, with his army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, left Brandy Station, Virginia, in May, 1864, on his march to Petersburg, each soldier carried six days rations of hardtack, coffee, sugar, and salt. The supply trains carried ten days rations of the same articles, and one day's ration of salt pork. For the remainder of the meat ration, a supply of beef cattle on the hoof for thirteen days rations was driven along with the troops, but over separate roads. General Thomas Wilson, who was Meade's chief commissary, directed the movements of this great herd of beef cattle by brigades and divisions.

The Federal service required an immense number of draft animals. The Quartermaster's Department bought horses for the cavalry and artillery, and horses and mules for the trains. In 1862, the Government owned approximately [51]

Guarding lumber for the government

Vast quantities of lumber were used by the Union armies during the war. The Federal Government was at that time the largest builder in the world. The Engineer Corps carried interchangeable parts to replace destroyed railroad bridges, and lumber was needed for pontoons, flooring, hospital buildings, and construction of every kind necessary to the welfare of the armies. Often, when no lumber was at hand, neighboring houses had to be wrecked in order to repair a railroad bridge or furnish flooring for the pontoon-bridges. The first photograph shows a sentry guarding the Government's lumber-yard at Washington. Much of this lumber was doubtless used in repairing the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, so frequently destroyed by both armies as they operated between Richmond and Washington. In the lower photograph a sentry is guarding a Government mill in the field.

Guarding lumber for the government

Sentry at government mill

[52] one hundred and fifty thousand horses and one hundred thousand mules. The forage for these animals was no inconsiderable item, and the shoeing, stabling, and driving of the teams gave employment to a small army of men.

The Confederate authorities were never compelled to make such extensive purchases of animals either for transportation or for strictly military uses. Under the system adopted in the Confederate army, the cavalry horses were furnished by the officers and enlisted men themselves; the Quartermaster's Department made no purchases on that account. Furthermore, since the operations were very largely conducted in the home territory, there was less demand for supply-train transportation than in the case of the Federal armies, which repeatedly made expeditions into hostile country and had to be fully provisioned for the march.

The Federal forces seem never to have been for any length of time without abundant food supplies. In the fall of 1863, while the fighting around Chattanooga was in progress, supplies were deficient, but the shortage was soon made up, and the railroads brought great quantities of meat from the West, to feed Sherman's army during its long Atlanta campaign. These commissary stores were obtained at convenient shipping-points, by contracts let after due advertisement by the commissary officers. They were apportioned by the commissarygeneral at Washington to the respective army commissaries and by them in turn to the corps-, division-, brigade-, and finally the regimental commissaries, who dealt out the rations to the individual soldiers, each officer being held to account for a given quota. Prices fluctuated during the war, but the market for foodstuffs in the North can hardly be said to have been in a condition of panic at any time. The Government had no difficulty in buying all the supplies it needed at prevailing prices.

In the Confederacy, the situation was different. The general system of purchasing supplies that the Richmond Government attempted to follow was essentially the same as that [53]

Supply and transportation facilities of the North.

The immense supply and transportation facilities of the North in 1864, contrasted with the situation of the Southern soldiery, recalls Bonaparte's terse speech to his army in Italy: ‘Soldiers! You need everything—the enemy has everything.’ The Confederates often acted upon the same principle. At City Point, Virginia, Grant's wagon-trains received the army supplies landed from the ships.

Loading supply-wagons from transports for Grant's army—City Point, 1864

Pork, hard-tack, sugar, and coffee for the regimental commissary at Cedar level

[54] established at Washington, but, from the very outset, the seceding State Governments were active in provisioning the Confederate armies, and in some instances there was an apparent jealousy of authority, as when Confederate officers began the impressment of needed articles. The inflated currency and soaring prices made such action imperative, in the judgment of the Davis cabinet.

The blockade did not wholly cut off the importation of supplies from abroad. Indeed, considerable quantities were bought in England by the Confederate Subsistence Department and paid for in cotton. Early in the war the South found that its meat supply was short, and the Richmond Government went into the pork-packing business on a rather extensive scale in Tennessee. The Secretary of War made no secret of the fact that, in spite of these expedients, it was still impossible to provision the Confederate army as the Government desired, although it was said that the troops in the field were supplied with coffee long after that luxury had disappeared from the breakfast tables of the ‘home folks.’

In the matter of clothing, the armies of both the Federal and Confederate Governments were relieved of no slight embarrassment at the beginning of the war by the prompt action of States and communities. the Quartermaster's Department at Washington was quite unequal to the task of uniforming the ‘three-months' men’ who responded to Lincoln's first call for volunteers. This work was done by the State Governments. Wisconsin sent its first regiments to the front clad in cadet gray, but the uniforms, apart from the confusion in color, were said to have been of excellent quality, and the men discarded them with regret, after a few weeks' wear, for the flimsy blue that the enterprising contractors foisted on the Washington Government in its mad haste to secure equipment. Those were the days when fortunes were made from shoddy— an era of wholesale cheating that ended only with the accession of Stanton, Lincoln's great war secretary, who numbered [55]

Provisioning Burnside's army—Belle plain landing on the Potomac

Provisioning Burnside's army—Belle plain landing on the Potomac

Closer view of Belle plain landing, late in November, 1862

Closer view of Belle plain landing, late in November, 1862

Nearer still—arrival of the wagon-trains at Belle plain landing

Nearer still—arrival of the wagon-trains at Belle plain landing

[56] among the special objects of his hatred the dishonest army contractor.

After the work of the Quartermaster's Department had been systematized and some effort had been made to analyze costs, it appeared that the expense incurred for each soldier's equipment, exclusive of arms, amounted to fifty dollars.

For the purchase and manufacture of clothing for the Federal army, it was necessary to maintain great depots in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, and Springfield, Illinois. Confederate depots for similar purposes were established at Richmond, New Orleans, Memphis, Charleston, Savannah, San Antonio, and Fort Smith. The Confederacy was obliged to import most of its shoes and many articles of clothing. Wool was brought from Texas and Mexico to mills in the service of the Confederate Quartermaster's Department. Harness, tents, and Camp and garrison equipage were manufactured for the department in Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi. The department's estimate to cover contracts made in England for supplies to run the blockade during a single six-months' period amounted to £ 570,000.

It is the conclusion of James Ford Rhodes, the historian of the Civil War period, that ‘never had an army been so well equipped will food and clothing as was that of the North; never before were the comfort and welfare of the men so well looked after.’ The appropriations for the Quartermaster's Department alone, during the war, aggregated more than a billion dollars. Extensive frauds were perpetrated on the Government, not only in the clothing contracts of the first year, to which reference has been made, but in the transport service and in various transactions which were not properly checked under a system of audit and disbursement that broke down altogether in the emergency of real war. In the opinion of Mr. Rhodes, the administrators of the War Department were not only efficient, but aggressively honest public servants.


Marshalling the Federal volunteers

Officer and sergeant in 1861 men of the sixth Vermont near Washington


A hollow-square maneuver for the new soldiers This regiment was organized at Bangor, Me., for three months service, and left the State for Willett's Point, N. Y., May 14, 1861. Such was the enthusiasm of the moment that it was mustered into the United States service, part for two and part for three years, May 28, 1861. It moved to Washington on May 30th. The first Camp of the regiment was on Meridian till, near Washington, till July 1st. The live-long days were spent in constant ‘drill, drill, drill’ during this period. McClellan was fashioning the new levies into an army. The total population of the Northern States in 1860 was 21,184,305. New England's population was 3,135,283, or about one-seventh of the whole. New England's troops numbered 363,162, over one-tenth of its population, practically one-seventh the total muster of forces raised in the North during the war, namely, 2,778,304. The New England population was distributed as follows: Maine, 628,279; Massachusetts, 1,231,066; Vermont, 315,098; New Hampshire, 326,073; Connecticut, 460,147, and [59] Rhode Island, 174,620. The number of troops that these States respectively furnished and the losses they incurred were: Maine, 70,107—loss, 9,398; Massachusetts, 146,730—loss, 13,942; Vermont, 33,288—loss, 5,224; New Hampshire, 33,937—loss, 4,882; Connecticut, 55,864—loss, 5,354; and Rhode Island, 23,236— loss, 1,321. The total loss was thus 40,121. Maine's contribution of more than 11 per cent. of its population took the form of two regiments of cavalry, one regiment of heavy artillery, seven batteries of light artillery, one battalion and a company of sharpshooters, with thirty-three regiments, one battalion, and seven companies of infantry. The Second Maine fought with the Army of the Potomac until the battle of Chancellorsville, May 1 to 5, 1863. The regiment was ordered home on the 20th of that month, and the three-years men were transferred to the Twentieth Maine Infantry. The regiment was mustered out June 9, 1863, having lost four officers and 135 enlisted men, killed or mortally wounded, and by disease.


The first Rhode Island infantry leaving providence April 20, 1861. The sidewalks were filled with cheering throngs, and unbounded enthusiasm greeted the volunteers, as the first division of the First Regiment of Detached Rhode Island Militia left Providence for Washington April 20, 1861. At 10:30 in the morning Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside, in command had ordered the men of the first division to assemble upon Exchange Place. The band was followed by the National Cadets and the first division was led by Colonel Burnside himself. It contained practically half of each of the ten companies, six of which were recruited in Providence and one each in Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Newport, and Westerly. The second division left four days later. The men in this photograph marched through Exchange Street to Market Square, up North Main Street and through Meeting to Benefit, and down Benefit to Fox Point.


Burnside and his boys of the first Rhode Island after Bull Run The officers of the First Rhode Island Volunteers looked quite martial in their pleated blue blouses and gauntlets at the outset of the war. Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside sits in the center, with folded arms in front of the tree. Above his head to the right is the rude sign: ‘Welcome home.’ The little State of Rhode Island contributed three regiments and a battalion of cavalry, three regiments of heavy artillery, ten batteries of light artillery, twelve regiments of infantry, and an independent company of hospital guards to the Union cause. The first Rhode Island was a three-months regiment which was mustered out August 2, 1861. This photograph shows the young officers after the Union disaster at Bull Run. From April, 1861, to August, the regiment lost one officer and sixteen enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and eight enlisted men by disease.


Third Connecticut infantry, Camp Douglas, 1861 Only one day after the First Regiment of Connecticut Infantry started from Hartford—May 18, 1861—the Second and Third left New Haven for the great camps that encircled Washington. All three of these threemonths regiments took part in the battle of Bull Run, and all three were mustered out by the middle of August. This was one of the first steps by which the fighting men of the North were finding themselves. Connecticut sent a regiment of cavalry, two regiments of heavy artillery, three batteries of light artillery, and thirty regiments of infantry to the front in the course of the war. Two of the latter, the Twenty-ninth and the Thirtieth, were colored regiments. The company of the Third in the photograph looks quite natty in its dark blue uniforms. These men have not yet heard the crash of a Confederate volley, but they are soon to do so on the disastrous field of Bull Run. They served almost three months, being mustered in on May 14, 1861, and mustered out August 12th.


Officers of the ninth Massachusetts infantry at Camp Cass, 1861 A little over two months before this regiment left Boston for Washington, the Sixth Massachusetts had been defending itself against the mob in the streets of Baltimore, April 19, 1861. Massachusetts poured regiment after regiment to the front until seventy-one regiments had answered President Lincoln's calls. Besides the infantry, Massachusetts sent five regiments and three battalions of cavalry, four regiments, a battalion, and thirty unassigned companies of heavy artillery, eighteen batteries of light artillery, and two companies of sharpshooters. The Ninth Massachusetts left Boston for Washington on June 27, 1861. At the first and second Bull Run, on the Peninsula, at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor this regiment fought bravely and well. When it was finally mustered out June 21, 1864, it had lost 15 officers, 194 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and 3 officers and 66 enlisted men by disease.


Green Mountain boys: Sixth Vermont Infantry

From October 19 and 22, 1861, when the Sixth Vermont Infantry left Montpelier for Washington, until its final corps-review June 8, 1865, nearly two months after Appomattox, this regiment served with the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah. These hardy mountain boys shown in the photograph are drilling in full accouterment, carrying their knapsacks on their sturdy backs. Clad in gray turned up with emerald, as befitted ‘the Green Mountain Boys,’ they added one more note of color to the kaleidoscope of uniforms that gathered in Washington that summer and fall. Vermont sent one regiment of cavalry, a regiment and a company of heavy artillery, three batteries of light artillery, and eighteen regiments of infantry to the front. The Sixth Vermont fought at Yorktown, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, at Opequon, in the Shenandoah Valley, and at Petersburg, and formed part of the Sixth Corps sent to the relief of Washington when Early threatened it in July, 1864. When mustered out June 26, 1865, the Sixth had lost 12 officers and 191 enlisted men killed and wounded, and 3 officers and 212 men by disease.


Green mountain boys’ at drill, 1861: ‘I’ and ‘D’ companies of the sixth Vermont

Green mountain boys’ at drill, 1861: ‘I’ and ‘D’ companies of the sixth Vermont

Green mountain boys’ at drill, 1861: ‘I’ and ‘D’ companies of the sixth Vermont


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