Sunday, April 1, 2007

Why Novice Regular Recruiters?

Last week’s post about Charles Russell Lowell’s trials as a recruiter in Ohio piqued my curiosity about recruiting for regulars. Why on earth would Lowell, someone who was a civilian a mere three weeks before and a “Regular” in name only, be sent to raise a company for a regiment of regulars?

‘Why’ was the question, not how. How is easy, since it was basically the same way that the volunteer regiments were raised. For the raising of the new cavalry regiment in 1861 (and Companies L and M for each of the other five regiments in 1862), the primary difference in the mechanics of raising a unit between regulars and volunteers was that the officers had already been determined. Units were assigned a city location for the headquarters of the forming unit, then surrounding counties or states from which to recruit their personnel. As the 6th Cavalry formed, for example, the regimental headquarters was Pittsburgh, and recruiting was authorized in the states adjoining Pennsylvania.

A bit of investigating turned up the following section from War Department General Orders No. 48, dated July 21, 1861.

“That the enlistments for the regiments authorized by this act shall be in the charge of the officers detailed for that purpose who are appointed to said regiments from civil life; and that in the meantime the officers appointed to the same from the regular army, shall be detailed by the commanding general to such service in the volunteer regiments now in the field, as will, in his judgment, give them the greatest military instruction and efficiency; and that the commanding general may, in his discretion, employ said officers with any part of the regular forces now in the field until the regiments authorized by this act shall have been fully recruited, and detail any of the officers now in the regular army to service with the volunteer regiments now in the field, or which may hereafter be called out, with such rank as may be offered them in said volunteer regiments, for the purpose of imparting to them military instruction and efficiency.”

This, then, is how a gentleman from Massachusetts with neither military experience nor even a horse to his name finds himself dwelling in a tavern in Ohio recruiting cavalrymen. It would seem to be a matter of simple military efficiency. Newly-appointed, inexperienced officers recruited while more experienced officers focused on training volunteer units already in the field. Once units were filled and available to train and fight, these officers returned to duties with their assigned regiment.

In Lowell’s defense, he went on to serve very well with the 6th Cavalry on the Peninsula. Despite his relative youth and inexperience, he led a squadron with distinction before his appointment as Colonel of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. And ironically he was back with the regulars in command of the Reserve Brigade as well as his volunteer regiment when he was killed in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864.

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