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The Confederate of 1861

Bugler in a Confederate camp—1861


The Confederate of 1861

Allen C. Redwood, Fifty-fifth Virginia Regiment, Confederate States Army
The ill-fated attempt of John Brown at Harper's Ferry was significant in more directions than the one voiced in the popular lyric in the Southern States. The militia system had fallen into a condition little less than farcical, but the effect of Brown's undertaking was to awaken the public sense to an appreciation of the defenseless condition of the community, in the event of better planned and more comprehensive demonstrations of the kind in the future.

Rural populations do not tend readily to organization, and the Southerner was essentially rural, but under the impetus above indicated, and with no immediate thought of ulterior service, the people, of the border States especially, began to form military companies in almost every county, and to uniform, arm, and drill them.

The habit and temper of the men, no less than the putative intent of these organizations, gave a strong bias toward the cavalry arm. In the cities and larger towns the other branches were also represented, though by no means in the usual proportion in any regular establishment. In Virginia the mounted troops probably outnumbered the infantry and artillery combined. All were imperfectly armed or equipped for anything like actual campaigning, but at the beginning of hostilities a fair degree of drill and some approach to discipline had been attained, and these bodies formed a nucleus about which the hastily assembled levies, brought into the field by the call to arms, formed themselves, and doubtless received a degree of ‘stiffening’ from such contact. [139]

Confederates of 1861: the clinch rifles on May 10th next day they joined a regiment destined to fame On the day before they were mustered in as Company A, Fifth Regiment of Georgia Volunteer Infantry, the Clinch Rifles of Augusta were photographed at their home town. A. K. Clark, the boy in the center with the drum, fortunately preserved a copy of the picture. Just half a century later, he wrote: ‘I weighed only ninety-five pounds, and was so small that they would only take me as a drummer. Of the seventeen men in this picture, I am the only one living.’ Hardly two are dressed alike; they did not become ‘uniform’ for many months. With the hard campaigning in the West and East, the weights of the men also became more uniform. The drummer-boy filled out and became a real soldier, and the stout man lying down in front lost much of his superfluous avoirdupois in the furious engagements where it earned its title as a ‘fighting regiment.’ The Confederate armies were not clad in the uniform gray till the second year of the war. So variegated were the costumes on both sides at the first battle of Bull Run that both Confederates and Federals frequently fired upon their own men. There are instances recorded where the colonel of a regiment notified his supports to which side he belonged before daring to advance in front of them.


In the beginning, each of these companies bore some designation instead of a company letter; there were various ‘Guards,’ ‘Grays,’ ‘Rifles’—the last a ludicrous misnomer —the ‘rifles’ being mostly represented by flint-lock muskets, dating from the War of 1812, brought to light from State arsenals, only serviceable as issued, and carrying the old ‘buckand-ball’ ammunition, ‘Cal. .69.’

Even this rudimentary armament was not always attainable. When the writer's company was first called into camp, requisition was made upon all the shotguns in the vicinity, these ranging all the way from a piece of ordnance quite six feet long and which chambered four buckshot, through various gages of double-barrels, down to a small single-barrel squirrel-gun. Powder, balls, and buckshot were served out to us in bulk, and each man made cartridges to fit the arm he bore, using a stick whittled to its caliber as a ‘former.’

As the next step in the armament the obsolete flintlocks were converted into percussion as rapidly as the arsenals could turn them out. These difficulties were supplemented, however, by certain formidable weapons of war privately contributed— revolvers, and a most truculent species of double-edged cutlass, fashioned by blacksmiths from farrier's rasps, and carried in wooden scabbards bound with wire, like those affected by the Filipino volunteer. They proved very useful later on for cutting brush, but, so far as known, were quite guiltless of bloodshed, and soon went to the rear when the stress of active campaign developed the need of every possible reduction of impedimenta. One or two marches sufficed to convince the soldier that his authorized weapon and other equipment were quite as much as he cared to transport.

The old-pattern musket alone weighed in the neighborhood of ten pounds, which had a way of increasing in direct ratio with the miles covered, until every screw and bolt seemed to weigh a pound at least.

But I anticipate somewhat—we were really in our [141]

Company D, first Georgia—Oglethorpe infantry The photograph shows sixty-one Southerners who on March 16, 1861, became Company D of the First Georgia. Glowing in their hearts was that rare courage which impelled them to the defense of their homes, and the withstanding through four long years of terrible blows from the better equipped and no less determined Northern armies, which finally outnumbered them hopelessly. As Company D, First Georgia, they served at Pensacola, Fla., in April and May, 1861. The Fifth was then transferred to Western Virginia, serving under Gen. R. E. Lee in the summer and fall of that year, and under ‘StonewallJackson, in his winter campaign. Mustered out in March, 1862, the men of Company D, organized as Company B, Twelfth Georgia Batt., served for a time in Eastern Tennessee, then on the coast of Georgia and last with the Army of Tennessee under Johnston and Hood in the Dalton and Atlanta campaign, and Hood's dash to Nashville in the winter of 1864. Again transferred with the remnant of that army, they fought at Bentonville, N. C., and surrendered with Johnston's army, April 26, 1865, at Greensboro, N. C. Some significant figures pertaining to Georgia volunteers appear in a pamphlet compiled by Captain J. M. Folsom, printed at Macon, in 1864, ‘Heroes and Martyrs of Georgia.’ Among 16,000 men considered, 11,000 were original members of the organizations in which they served, and 5,000 were recruits who joined from time to time between 1861 and 1864. Only 100 were conscripts. Of the total number treated of by Captain Folsom, 5,000 died in service during the first three years of the war, 2,000 were permanently disabled by wounds, and 5,000 who were wounded, recovered. These figures represent the individuals wounded, some of them two or three times. It would be quite fair to assume that 11,000 of the Georgians were hit, and that the hits totalled 16,000, or one for every man in the ranks.

[142] novitiate according to the dictum of Napoleon, who rightly believed that the proper school of war is war. By a species of lucus a non lucendo mode of designation, the uniforming of this inchoate force was not so irregular early in the war. Gray had been adopted as the color most serviceable, but the supply of cloth of that hue was soon exhausted under the influence of the blockade, and so numerous varieties came into use and were accepted as complying with the requirements of the service. Thus, in the writer's regiment, the companies were garbed from dark gray to almost white-kersey ‘nigger cloth.’ The facings varied from black, through various shades of blue and rifle-green, to artillery-red.

To revert to the matter of equipment, there was no official attempt in the beginning to do more than to arm the troops and to provide the purely warlike accouterments of cartridge-boxes, belts, and haversacks. Canteens and the like were provided quite as a matter of course, and, in default of blankets and waterproof coverings, requisition was made upon the household stock of the individual and duly honored—bed-quilts and homespun ‘spreads’ were freely contributed, also buggy lap-robes, and pianos and tables were despoiled of their oilcloth covers to fend the rain from the men gone from the homes to do battle for the Cause, which was even dearer to the women left behind, who were steadfast to the end.

The minor courtesies and observances of military life were not readily inculcated in this mass of civilians as yet in process of conversion into soldiers, and this difficulty was present in a peculiar degree, perhaps, in the Confederate ranks. The mode of life, the whole ritual of his civilization, tendered to foster in the Southerner an individuality and independence of character to which the idea of subordination to authority was entirely foreign. He had come to war to fight, and could see no sense in any such ‘tomfoolery’ as saluting his officer, lately ‘Tom’ or ‘Jack,’ and his associate on terms of equality, especially when the elevation to the title had been, as it was in [143]

A militia company in Louisiana at drill before its armory 1861 During its half-century of oblivion, damage came to this unique photograph of a militia company in Louisiana hopefully drilling in front of its armory as the war began. In many sections, the notions of the hastily organized companies in regard to military discipline and etiquette were crude in the extreme. A certain Virginia regiment, for the first time in its service, held a dress-parade. At the stage of the ceremony when the first-sergeants of the respective companies announce the result of the evening roll-call, one reported thus: ‘All present in the Rifles, except Captain Jones, who is not feeling well this evening, but hopes to be feeling better to-morrow.’ Of like tenor was the response of a militia field-officer in the late autumn of 1861, when challenged by a sentry who demanded: ‘Who comes there?’ ‘We kem from over the river, gwine the grand rounds,’ was the response of him who presumptuously sported the insignia of a colonel. From such raw material was developed the magnificent Confederate army which supplied the ‘matchless infantry’ of Lee.

[144] the lower grades, at least, procured by the exercise of his own suffrage. For the officers of the volunteers up to and including company commands, were purely elective, and were distinguished more by personal popularity or local prominence than by any consideration of fitness for the position under the use of actual service, yet to be applied. In view of this circumstance, it is fortunate that the early contestants were enlisted generally for the period of one year, that being estimated at the outset as the probable duration of the war.

When the time came for reenlistment ‘for three years or the war,’ the experience of that first year had begun to bear fruit, and the reelection showed better discrimination as to the quality of the officers chosen. The soldier had begun to learn his trade and to recognize that the ‘good fellow’ or the county magistrate was by no means therefore the best officer, when it got down to the real business in hand. But all this required time, a test not even yet grasped by the American people, who are prone to confound good raw—excessively ‘raw’—material with an efficient fighting force, and to ignore the waste of blood and treasure pending the conversion of one into the other.

Naturally, the evolving of an army from this crude personnel, and its organization into an effective body capable of being handled in the field, were matters requiring time and much consideration of the peculiar conditions of the situation—a problem further complicated by the fact that an overwhelming proportion of the officers of the force were quite as devoid of any military experience as the men they commanded, or of any right appreciation of their shortcomings in this regard—all were untrained. The political aspect had to be taken into account—the popular sentiment underlying and sustaining the enterprise. A very large percentage of the force, amounting to a majority perhaps, had been but little in sympathy with secession in the beginning; had only given in their adherence to the movement when actually at the parting [145]

A lieutenant of the fourth Georgia, in 1861 The ornateness of the uniform of Lieutenant R. A. Mizell, Company A, Fourth Georgia Regiment, would be sufficient proof that his ambrotype was taken early in the war. The epaulets, the towering shako, and the three rows of buttons are all more indicative of pomp and glory than of actual work. Two years later, even the buttons became so rare that the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia were driven to sew one or two tough berries on their tunics to serve as fastenings. The war career of this hopeful and earnest-looking young soldier was traced through a clue afforded by the letters ‘S. R.’ visible on his shako. This suggested ‘Southern Rifles,’ which was found to be the original title of Company A, Fourth Georgia Regiment. From its muster roll it was learned that Robert A. Mizell enlisted as a private April 26, 1861. He was promoted to second-lieutenant in April, 1862. He was wounded in the Wilderness, and at Winchester, Va.; resigned, but re-enlisted in Company A, Second Kentucky Cavalry, of Morgan's command.

[146] of the ways and constrained to make a choice between staying in the Union their ancestors had helped to establish and to which they were bound by the traditions of a lifetime, and taking arms against their fellow countrymen whose institutions and political creed accorded with their own.

It is to be remembered that Virginia steadfastly declined in its conversion to sever its connection with the Government of which it had formed so large and so significant a part from its formation, until called upon to furnish its quota of troops for the army of invasion, and the final decision was made with full recognition of what the choice implied, of the devastation and bitter misery to be visited upon the territory thus predestined to become the main battle-ground of the contending forces.

And so those wiser in the ways of war had, perforce, to proceed cautiously, to feel their way in the undertaking of welding these heterogeneous elements into a tempered weapon capable of dealing effective and intelligently directed blows, when the time should arrive for confronting the formidable adversary assembling his forces just across the border. The primary policy of the Confederate Government of attempting to defend its entire frontier, mistaken as it was soon proved to be, in the purely military sense, was possibly influenced in large degree by this consideration.

The deficiency of transportation may have also wielded its influence; indeed, the entire staff administration was, for quite a year or more, scarcely organized, and any movement of even a small body of troops could only be effected by the impressment of teams and wagons from the adjacent country, if leading away from the railway lines, and these last were neither numerous nor very efficient in the South at that period.

Yet, in spite of the many incongruities and deficiencies already indicated, the Southern volunteer was perhaps more prompt to acquire the ways of war than was his Northern opponent. The latter indisputably outclassed him in point of [147]

South Carolina soldiers in 1861 A group of Charleston Zouave Cadets—militia organized before the war, hence among the few that had swords and guns to start with in 1861. The Zouave Cadets, under command of Captain C. E. Chichester, formed part of the First Regiment of Rifles, Fourth Brigade, South Carolina, at the outset of the war. The Fourth Brigade was the largest organized body of State militia. It was commanded by Brigadier-General James Simons, was well-organized, well-drilled and armed, and was in active service from December 27, 1860, to May, 1861. Some of its companies continued in service until the Confederate regiments, battalions, and batteries were organized and finally absorbed all the effective material of the brigade. One of the first duties of these companies was to guard some of the prisoners from New York regiments who were captured at the first battle of Bull Run, sent to Charleston harbor, and incarcerated at Castle Pinckney.

[148] material, and was, in general, more amenable to discipline, for reasons heretofore stated—having been recruited, in large part, in the cities and large industrial centers. The Northern soldier had already formed the habit of subordination. The company or regimental commander simply replaced the general manager or the ‘boss’—it was merely a new job, and in one case as in the other what the superior said ‘went.’ The country-bred Southerner, on the other hand, was accustomed to the exercise of almost absolute authority over his slaves, few or many, according to his estate. But the simple and more primitive habit of his rural mode of life stood him in good stead when he came into the field. A gun was by no means an unfamiliar implement in his hands; he had known its use from boyhood and could usually hit what he aimed at. And in the mounted service his efficiency in action was in no wise impaired by preoccupation with his mount. He could no more remember when he learned to ride than when he learned to walk, and had graduated from the ‘school of the trooper’ long before he brought himself and his best saddle-horse into the field.

It was in this arm of the service peculiarly that the Southerner, at the outset, held a long lead in advance of his adversary. As has been already stated, there were many organized bodies of horse in existence before the beginning of hostilities, and finer cavalry material has rarely, if ever, been assembled. The service had naturally tended to attract, for the most part, young men of wealth, leisure, and intelligence, forming a species of corps daelite, and the equine part of the force could boast the best blood of Virginia and Kentucky stables. A few battlefields served to make good all deficiencies of equipment, so that by the time the war was well under way there was no distinction between the opposing forces in this respect: arms, saddlery, accouterment, down to blankets, haversacks, and canteens—all bore the stamp of some United States arsenal— ‘requisition on the spot,’ without process of Ordnance or [149]

Supper with soldiers of the ninth Mississippi—1861 Ignorance of military conventionalities was of course the rule among Confederate volunteers of 1861. In the matter of meals especially many amusing instances arose. There was the reply of a soldier of Dreux's Louisiana battalion of Magruder's division, when that force was holding the lines of Yorktown. ‘Prince John,’ who was noted for ‘putting on side,’ had bespoken dinner for himself and staff at a nearby farmhouse. Meanwhile the ‘full private’ put in a petition to be fed. The good lady of the house, who was no respector of official rank, so long as one wore a gray jacket, and confident of the abundance of her provision, readily acceded to his request. When the somewhat belated staff entered the dining-room, the general was scandalized to find a bob-tail private already putting away the good cheer upon which he considered he held a prior claim. ‘This dinner was engaged, sir,’ he said haughtily, in his peculiar lisp. ‘That's all right,’ rejoined the private. ‘Sit down; there's plenty for all of us, I daresay.’ ‘Perhaps, young man, you don't know whom you are talking to,’ said the general, with increased hauteur. ‘I haven't the honor, but that doesn't matter,’ was the reply; ‘sit right down and help yourself.’ ‘I'm General Magruder, sir—your commanding officer.’ ‘Don't worry about that, general,’ said the imperturbable youngster; ‘I used to be particular who I ate with before this war, but now I don't care, so long as the victuals are clean.’ The Ninth Mississippi men in this photograph appear equally careless in preparing their evening meal. When it came to fighting, however, they could hold up their heads with the ‘smartest’ European troops. Not long after this photograph, their regiment was especially mentioned for conspicuous gallantry at the attack of Price and Van Dorn on Corinth, October 3-4, 1862. The soldiers awaiting their evening meal above, from left to right, are James Pequio, Kinlock Falconer, and John Fennel.

[150] Quartermaster's Department. The discriminating eye could discern from a glance at its equipment whether or not a regiment or brigade had been so engaged. It might, indeed, without straining the point unduly, be asserted that long before the close of the war the Federal Government had fitted out both armies.

The artillery arm was less fortunate, and for obvious reasons. This branch of the service is not so readily improvised as either of the other fighting forces. From start to finish it was under handicap by reason of its lack of trained officers, no less than from the marked inferiority of its material, ordnance, and ammunition. The batteries of the regular establishment were, of course, all in the United States service, commanded and served by trained gunners, and were easily distributed among the volunteer brigades by way of ‘stiffening’ to the latter. This disparity was fully recognized by the Confederates and had its influence in the selection of more than one battle-ground, in order that it might be neutralized by local conditions, yet the service was very popular in the Southern army, and it was pervaded by a strong esprit de corps.

The young men of the cities and towns very generally chose it for enlistment; thus, New Orleans sent a battalion of five batteries, fully equipped, into the field—the famous Washington Artillery—besides some other batteries, and the city of Richmond, which furnished but one regiment of infantry and a few separate companies, contributed no less than eight or ten full batteries. Few of the minor towns but claimed at least one. The grade of intelligence of the personnel was rather exceptionally high, so that in the school of war, already referred to, these came in time to attain quite a respectable degree of efficiency, especially after the abolition of the system under which each battery was attached to an infantry brigade, subject to the orders of its commander, and the battery units became organized into battalions and corps commanded by officers of their own arm. [151]

Motley Confederate uniforms—company B, ninth Mississippi, in 1861Falstaff's regiment could hardly have exhibited a more motley appearance than did ours at “dress parade,” at which the feature of ‘dress’ was progressively and conspicuously absent.’ This reminiscence is furnished by Allen C. Redwood, of the Fifty-fifth Virginia, from whom other contributions appear in the following pages. ‘There was no official attempt in the beginning to do more than to arm the troops and to provide the purely warlike accouterments of cartridge-box and belts and haversacks. Canteens and the like were provided quite as a matter of course, and in default of blankets and waterproof coverings, requisition was made upon the household stock of the individual and duly honored—bed-quilts and homespun ‘spreads’ were freely contributed, and buggy lap-robes and pianos and tables were despoiled of their oilcloth covers to fend the rain from the men gone from the homes to do battle for the cause, which was even dearer to the women left behind, who were steadfast to the end.’ These conditions applied also in States farther south, as the Mississippi photograph above witnesses. Standing at the left is James Cunningham; on the camp-stool is Thomas W, Falconer, and to his left are James Sims and John I. Smith.


Some of the early organizations were quite erratic; for a while, ‘legions’ were a good deal in favor—mixed bodies comprising the several arms of the service under one command. These were speedily abandoned as unwieldy and inoperative. They probably had their origin in tradition, dating back to the days of Marion and Sumter and ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee, and may possibly have been effective in the partisan operations of that period. Otherwise, the regiments hurried to the front were thrown together into brigades in the hap-chance order of their arrival; gradually those hailing from the same State were brigaded together as far as practicable, an arrangement significant in its recognition of the State feeling, of the issue pending between the sections. This feature was not generally prevalent in the Federal ranks. As a result, the unit of the brigade persistently maintained its prominence in the estimation of the Confederate soldier throughout the whole term of his service; when vaunting his prowess he was apt to speak of his ‘brigade’; with his antagonist it was usually the ‘corps.’ The rivalry between the respective States had probably no small influence in stimulating his zeal; the men from Georgia or the Carolinas could not hold back when the Alabamans or Texans on right or left were going ahead. It was but the repetition of Butler's rallying cry at Cherabusco, ‘Palmettos! stand your ground; remember where you came from!’ when Bee, at Manassas, pointing to the Virginians, ‘standing like a stone wall,’ restored his wavering line.

The Confederate soldier of the ranks may be said to have been sui generis. In the mass he was almost devoid of military spirit, as the term is popularly applied, and quite indifferent—antagonistic, even—to the ‘pomp and circumstance of glorious war.’ As to devotion to his flag, he had scarcely time to cultivate the sentiment which figured so largely in the patriotic fervor of his opponents. No one of the ‘motley many’ national ensigns ever entirely received his approval. [153]

Two members of the McClellan Zouaves in 1861

Ellis Green of the McClellan Zouaves in 1861.

Member of the McClellan Zouaves in 1861.

The host of ornately uniformed and armed companies which sprang up at the outset of the war was ultimately merged into the gray monotone of the respective regiments into which they were incorporated. The Confederate soldier on the left is Ellis Green, of the McClellan Zouaves, and his companion on the right belonged to the same company. The photographs were taken at Charleston, S. C., and the spruce appearance and spotless uniforms make it unnecessary to add that they were taken early in the war. The Southern volunteer was perhaps more prompt to acquire the ways of war than was his Northern opponent. The latter was more amenable to discipline, having been recruited, in large part, in the cities and large industrial centers. He had already formed the habit of subordination. The country-bred Southerner, on the other hand, was accustomed to the exercise of almost absolute authority over his slaves, but the simple and more primitive habits of his rural mode of life stood him in good stead when he came into the field.

[154] The original ‘Stars and Bars’ he regarded as a sort of offspring of the discarded ‘gridiron’—of this abandonment he often expressed himself in terms of regret, by the way—and its successors he was wont to describe irreverently as ‘shirttails.’ He did, in time, come to develop respect and affection for his battle-flag, the little red square charged with the star-studded blue saltire, but even that his eminently practical mind conceived mainly as a convenient object upon which to dress up a line of battle or to serve as a rallying-point in the event of that line being broken. It was essentially his, the soldier's flag, and was never at any stage the national flag; its traditions were all of his own creation and he had baptized it with his blood. In the main, he regarded his service in the light of an unpleasant duty, and he went at it much as he would have undertaken any other disagreeable job.

General Lord Wolseley—then Colonel Wolseley—relates an interview he had with General Lee, during a visit to the headquarters of the latter, just after the Maryland campaign of 1862. Having intimated a desire to see the troops of whose performance he had heard so much, General Lee took him for a ride through the lines, and upon their return remarked to his distinguished guest:

‘Well, Colonel, you have seen my army—how does it impress you, on the whole?’

‘They seem a hardy, serviceable looking lot of fellows,’ Wolseley replied, ‘but, to be quite frank, General, I must say that one misses the smartness which we in Europe are accustomed to associate with a military establishment—but perhaps it would not be reasonable to look for that so soon after the hard campaign they had just gone through.’

‘Ho!’ replied ‘Marse Robert,’ ‘my men don't show to advantage in camp, and to tell the truth, I am a little ashamed to show them to visitors. But, sir, you should see them when they are fighting—then I would not mind if the whole world were looking on!’


The Confederate in the field

Washing dishes: real soldiering for a Confederate of 1863


Where uniforms were lacking, but resolution was firm: a Confederate drill in Fort McRee, Pensacola harbor. The Confederates who stood in this well-formed line saw active service from the earliest period of the war. The day that Florida seceded from the Union, First-Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer withdrew with Company G of the First United States Artillery from the shore to Fort Pickens, on the western extremity of Santa Rosa Island. Colonel W. H. Chase was in command of the Southerners and demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens January 13, 1861. It is recorded that his voice shook and his eyes filled with tears when he attempted to read his formal demand for the surrender; he realized, with all true and far-sighted Americans, how terrible a [157] blow was impending in the form of fratricidal strife. Lieutenant Slemmer refused the demand. Colonel Chase had an insufficient force at the time to take the Fort by storm. November 22d and 23d, the United States vessels Niagara and Richmond, together with Fort Pickens and the adjoining batteries, bombarded the Confederate lines. Although Fort McRee was so badly damaged that General Bragg thought of abandoning it, the garrison held firm, and the plan of the Union commanders to ‘take and destroy it’ did not succeed. Forts McRee and Barrancas were bombarded again by the Union warships and batteries January 1, 1862.

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