Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Review: Common Soldier, Uncommon War

One of the most interesting and entertaining of Civil War books that I've read recently is Common Soldier, Uncommon War, by Sidney Morris Davis. Davis was a private in Company F, 6th US Cavalry, and his memoirs cover his service from his enlistment as the regiment was forming until the end of the war.

Sidney takes the reader on an almost day by day adventure through the war in the boots of a common soldier. As a result, it's one of the most comprehensive looks at life in the Union cavalry during the Civil War that I've ever seen. Nothing escapes Morris' mention. From how new horses were assigned to soldiers and how new soldiers were taught to ride them to the hijinks of 'foraging' to opinions on the effectiveness of various officers, Morris has an opinion.

His modest yet tongue in cheek writing style and plethora of amusing anecdotes make this memoir a very easy read. Every page seemingly has a new story or incident worth noting. the editor, Charles F. Cooney, did an excellent job of not intruding overly much in the narrative, merely adding the occasional footnote to clarify a location or individual.

In addition to the multitude of details that this book provides on life in the cavalry in the Civil War, it also has a vivid section on the experiences of Union soldiers in Belle Isle prison late in the war. Morris was captured during the Battle of Fairfield in July 1863, as were many in his regiment, and he chronicles their experiences on the long march back to Richmond from Pennsylvania and their subsequent experiences with prison life.

One drawback to this work is that it is very difficult to find. Affordable used copies can occasionally be found on Amazon and Alibris, and Eric was kind enough to send a note recently of a reprinted edition.

Lest everyone think that I love every book that I read, the next review will note be quite so positive. While I believe if one doesn't have anything good to say they should stay quiet, it is fair to warn others of books' contents before they spend money to buy them so long as the comments are fair and factual.

Back in the Saddle

Okay, enough already, back to posting. A nerve-wracking week and a half of jaundice, eye infections, doctor visits and job interviews later, there's finally a little time for relaxation. I fly back to Virginia tomorrow, and will spend the next week or so visiting as many Civil War battlefields as possible. I have to be fairly close to the flagpole, and hopefully it will distract me from the wife and young'un at home.

I plan to start with Gettysburg over the weekend. Probably not my smartest idea since it's the anniversary, but it's one of my few remaining opportunities to do so in the near future. A first visit to Antietam will have to be either on the way up or the way back.

Is there a favorite single source for Gettysburg out there, either single volume or series? Given all that's been written about it and the attention it draws, surely there are some opinions out there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Early Arrival

My sincere apologies for the continued lack of posts, but I have a pretty good excuse this time. My son decided to arrive yesterday, a few weeks early. Connor Anthony weighed 5# 3 oz., and was 18.5" long. So there may eventually be another generation of cavalrymen in the family if he so desires. Mom and baby are both fine, but needless to say there hasn't been a lot of keyboard time. I'll try to get a post out by the weekend, as there have been several posts brewing during the hiatus.

So that this doesn't stray completely off topic, Connor's birthday is the same day that Cumberland Gap was captured by Union forces under General George W. Morgan in 1862. It was also the day in 1864 when Grant conceded he was not going to be able to take Petersburg by direct assault. Had I made it home before midnight I would have been able to see which Civil War types he shares a birthday with.

Now, if I could only find the box with the camera download cable in it....

Monday, June 11, 2007

The 6th Cavalry on the Eve of the Gettysburg Campaign

After reading JD's article on the battle of Fairfield in this month's ACW, a persistent question kept nagging at me. Why were the 6th Cavalry's numbers so low at the beginning of the battle?

A cavalry regiment at full strength was authorized 1063 troopers and horses by this point in the war. The campaign year had been relatively light on the 6th up to June 1863. They hadn't participated in the battle of Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863, and their personnel losses during Stoneman's Raid were relatively light. They were engaged at Brandy Station (total losses 67) and Aldie (total losses 9), but not Middletown (Middleburg? I'm on the road without references other than my notes, my apologies) or Upperville. So where did everybody go?

The May 1863 muster rolls, compiled and signed on June 5, 1863, just four days before Brandy Station, offer some answers and insight into the regiment's performance during the Gettysburg campaign. Personnel strength should not have been an issue. The rolls show 1072 personnel assigned to the regiment on June 5th, including a full complement of 42 officers. At full strength, even a lone Union regiment should have had a fighting chance against the Laurel Brigade at Fairfield if properly led.

The true question is actually, where did everyone's horses go? While the regiment was assigned over 1,000 soldiers, it had only 500 serviceable mounts. More telling, it had only 26 unserviceable mounts. Just over half the regiment, 546 personnel, were dismounted. They missed the June and July battles, remaining in the Reserve Brigade's "straggler camp" in Dumfries, Virginia with the rest of the dismounted troopers.

So the 6th Cavalry arrived at Fairfield with a strength of 500 mounted men, minus losses at Brandy Station, minus losses at Aldie, minus losses in stragglers and injured horses from the long march into Pennsylvania. Instead of over a thousand men, about a third of that went into battle at Fairfield.

Also, due to the same lack of healthy mounts, losses in the previous battles were more serious than they initially appear on paper. The 6th U.S. Cavalry lost only 67 personnel at Brandy Station, apparently only a small percentage of its total strength. In fact, however, those losses are from 12 officers and 254 enlisted men who marched to the battle in five squadrons, according to Captain Cram's report after the battle. The losses for the regiment were more than 25% of those engaged. Worse, four of the twelve officers present were casualties of one sort or another. Only nine personnel were lost at Aldie, but one of the severely wounded was 2nd Lt. Henry McQuiston, another officer.

I believe the availability of officers was also a factor in the battle of Fairfield. Although assigned its full complement of officers, only 17 were present with the regiment at the beginning of the campaign. Of these, four were lost at Brandy Station and one at Aldie. Two of the officers present, 2nd Lt Chaffee and 2nd Lt Irwin, were commissioned only the month before.

There were a few officer gains between Stoneman's Raid and the battle of Fairfield. Two, 1st Lt Balk and 2nd Lt Chaffee, rejoined the regiment from duty at the dismount camp. Major Starr also joined the regiment from recruiting duty.

Where are the other officers? Three were serving as generals of volunteers. Three more were leading volunteer regiments, and one, David McM. Gregg, was leading another brigade in the same division. Seven other officers were on the staffs of various general officers. Over half of the regiment's 12 companies were led by lieutenants. One of them, Company G, had no assigned officers present and was led by a lieutenant from Company A.

I can't help but feel that this absence of so many key leaders affected the regiment's performance during the campaign. M ajors who should have been present with battalions and captains who should have been present with companies weren't there. A regiment wasn't intended to be fought by captains and lieutenants.

This is not to say that those leaders present were not competent. Many performed at or even beyond the level that could reasonably be expected of them. Fortunately, many of the lieutenants had been sergeants and first sergeants of companies only months (in some cases weeks) before. But the organization of a regiment's leadership was developed that way for a reason.

I've long been curious why the Reserve Brigade was the first one sent through the Cavalry Depot at Giesboro Point when it opened in the late summer of 1863. If these numbers are any indicator, and the June returns for the 2nd Cavalry are similar, there may have been little choice.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

I just wanted to warn my loyal readers (okay, and the not so loyal ones as well) that there won't be much here this week. The great trek westward starts in the morning, so the pregnant lady, the puppy and I will be on the road this week.

I'm working on a post about the state of the 6th Cavalry on the eve of the Gettysburg campaign, but it's not quite done yet. Maybe I can get it finished by St Louis.

As much as I'd love to jump into the discussion going on about Gary Gallagher's comments in this month's CWT, there simply isn't time at the moment. For those curious, check here and here.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Army Registers for 1862 and 1863?

If anyone out there has a copy or knows where to find a copy of the 1862 and 1863 Army Registers, I'd dearly love to hear from them. Or ideas on where to look, for that matter. I have 1861, 1864 and 1865, but haven't been able to locate the other two.

The regular cavalry officer database project rolls along, albeit slowly. Using the above listed registers, I've accumulated 300 names. These, of course, will have to be fleshed out, but I'm still missing a few. Possibly a West Pointer or two, but more likely soldiers promoted from the ranks and killed before the 1864 register, like Lieutenant Balder of the 6th Cavalry, for example. More on the database once it's more then a list of names. As I said before, I'll start with the 6th and go from there.

Volunteer Reinforcements, Part II

It appears that I mis-titled the first part of this series. Closer reading of JD's initial post brought the realization that he didn't say Starr's men went with him to the 6th Cavalry, he said they came back to service in the Regular Army with him.

I've had a lot of fun chasing this particular thread down. I was able to find a copy of the classic New Jersey in the Civil War online (misplaced the website, will post the link tomorrow), which contains the muster rolls for the 5th New Jersey. Starr was recalled to regular service in October 1862 (the entry, of course, doesn't say why. From Everglade to Canyon says he resigned, but also doesn't say why.). That same month, 90 members of his regiment were "discharged to join the Regular Army." The majority of them probably thought they were following Starr back to his old regiment, the 2nd Cavalry, as did he.

Of the 90, 50 enlisted in the 2nd Cavalry, in Companies A, B and D. Five enlisted in the 14th US Infantry, and two in the 2nd US Artillery. One each enlisted in the 1st and 6th Cavalry regiments, and three are listed for both the 2nd and the 6th US Cavalry in the CWSS. The remaining 27 names had no record or had names so common that they couldn't be reliably attributed to a unit without the gaining unit's muster rolls (lots of John Browns and William Smiths out there).

Companies A, B and D of the 2nd Cavalry were broken up in July 1862, their privates sent elsewhere in the regiment and the officers, noncommissioned officers and buglers detached for recruiting duty. Apparently some of them found a welcome home recruiting in Starr's regiment. I'll check in the morning, but I believe Starr was assigned to one of these companies before he came to the volunteers.

At least some of this had to be due to his popularity. A quick check of another regiment in his brigade, the 6th New Jersey, showed only four men leaving for regular service in October 1862, and seven over the course of the war. Three of the first four went to the 2nd Cavalry, and there was no record of the fourth person. One of the remaining three went to the 2nd Cavalry, one to the 16th Infantry, and one had no record. As time permits, I'll check the other two regiments in the brigade (7th and 8th NJ).

Starr was promoted and transferred to the 6th Cavalry in the spring of 1863. I haven't as yet had time to check the muster rolls of the regiment, but I'm willing to bet at least three of the men (John Murphy, George C. Curtis, and James Campbell) transferred from the 2nd to the 6th with him. Apparently strict disciplinarians are quite popular in some quarters during time of war, and the regiment had performed very well under his leadership.

Where, then, did the 6th Cavalry's reinforcements come from? I don't know yet, but at least I have an idea or two fo where to look.

Private Sidney Davis, of F Company, 6th Cavalry, had this to say of the War Department orders mentioned in the last post: "In consequence of this curious order there was a terrific rush from the volunteer infantry to the regular cavalry and artillery -- two branches of service then popularly believed to be a sort of sinecure, if there be such a thing as sinecure in a common soldier's life. [break[ The strength of the regiment was about doubled under this order, being reiforced by some five hundred and fifty men. However, no actual benefit was derived from them for several months afterward, as they had yet to be mounted and drilled. When the next campaign began they were sent to Washington by rail, where they went into camp." (Common Soldier, Uncommon War, pg 235)

I'll just keep pulling on this thread and see where it goes. If time permits, I'll print the October and November 1862 returns this week, but free time's a bit short with the movers coming on Thursday.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Volunteer Reinforcements for the 6th US Cavalry, Part I

JD's excellent 'Faded Hoofbeats' post on Samuel Starr a couple of days ago on his blog Hoofbeats and Cold Steel touched off a discussion about the volunteers joining regular regiments. When Starr relinquished commanded of the 5th New Jersey to return to regular service with the 6th US Cavalry in the spring of 1863, 100 soldiers of his volunteer regiment apparently came with him.

I printed the muster rolls for the 6th from January to April 1863 yesterday, and didn't initially see them mentioned (it's a lot of paper) specifically. I'll go through them more thoroughly this weekend. What I did find was the War Department orders authorizing recruiting from volunteer units to bring regular regiments up to strength.

General Orders No. 154, October 9, 1862, orders each Regular Army regiment, battalion and battery commander to "appoint one or more recruiting officers, who are hereby authorized to enlist, with their own consent, the requisite number of efficient volunteers to fill the ranks of their command to the legal standard." Later in the order, it is pointed out that "as an inducement to volunteers to enlist in the Regular Army, it will be remembered that promotion to commissions therein is open by law to its meritorious and distinguished non-commissioned officers; and that many have already been promoted."

So there was additional inspiration to join the regiment besides Starr's scintillating personality. Still 100 soldiers is a lot of folks, especially to follow someone with a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. I haven't checked to see if any of these people commissioned when or after they made the move to the regiment, will check on that next week.

General Orders No. 162, October 21, 1862, provides additional guidance on the recruiting of volunteers. "Enlistments into the Regular Army, under General Orders No. 154, may be made either in the field or in the several States. But not more than ten volunteers will be enlisted from any one company."

I'll have to check whether the 5th New Jersey had ten or twelve companies, but Starr either max'ed this out or came very close.

Early 1863 might be too late. Starr was recalled to the regulars in October 1862, so I probably should have printed the fall 1862 rosters as well (sigh). I found a couple of good websites on New Jersey in the Civil War here and here, so we'll see what turns up. With a little luck I might even turn up the names.