Thursday, October 18, 2018

Becoming a Confederate soldier

The title of this post seems to have a simple answer: join the Confederate army, or, as the song says, "Jine the Cavalry." But it is a little more complicated. There were certain steps that had to be taken for a person to be recognized as a Confederate soldier. He had to enlist, be sworn in or take an Oath, and be read the Articles of War.

Confederate recruiting poster 
Several years ago, I was reading through the Federal pension applications for William M. "Keith" Blalock. Yep. That Blalock. He enlisted in the Confederate army (Company F, 26th North Carolina Troops) on March 20, 1862, and discharged by reason of "hernia" and "poison from sumac" on April 20, 1862. In that month, he had time to get from his home in the mountains of western North Carolina, all the way to Kinston, down toward the coast. In his pension application, Blalock states that he was never officially enrolled in the Confederate army. Now, Blalock might have been lying (he certainly stretched the truth regarding his war-time wounds, at least in the eyes of the pension board), but his statement regarding his enrollment shows that there was a process that had to be followed for an individual to be considered a Confederate soldier.

Step one in that process was to enlist or enroll. Early in the war, this was in a local company. Often, a member of the community would get permission to raise a company. When the company neared the number of required men, there were elections for officers. Usually (but not always), the person who had permission to raise the regiment was elected. Local men in the community volunteered to serve, or enlisted in the company. Usually, some type of sheet was signed, the volunteer agreeing to serve for a certain amount of days - six months, or a year. The man was then enrolled.

Step two was being mustered into service. When a new company had enough men, the captain wrote a letter to the governor or state adjutant general, stating that there were enough men present for the company, and offering their services to the state. Soon a letter would arrive, ordering the company to one of the training camps. The new soldiers would load up and march to the nearest railroad depot, then embark for a training camp. (Usually, but there are always exceptions). Once there were 10 companies at one of these camps, the company officers were authorized to get together and elect a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major. The regiment was created and then men mustered into service. A company could spend two or three months in a camp before enough companies were present to create a regiment. Once this was finalized, the regiment was mustered into Confederate service.

During the mustering process, when the regiment was actually formed and then given to the Confederate States Army, the soldiers swore an Oath to the Confederacy. (Confederate regulation states the Oath had to be taken within six days of enlisting in Confederate service. Before this time, they still belonged to the state.) The Oath went:

The way the Northern Press viewed Confederate enlistment.
   "I ____ _____, do solemnly swear or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the Confederate States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the Confederate States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for government of the armies of the Confederate States." (From Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States, 1863, 386.)

Step three  involved being read the Articles of War. The Confederate (and Union) army was governed by the 101 Articles of War. These rules governed the soldier and meted out punishments for those who broke these rules. These articles were supposed to be read to new recruits and to regular soldiers every month, "after the inspection." Parts of the articles that dealt with "the duties of non-commissioned officers and soldiers will be read to them every week." (From Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States, 1863, 364.)

Once these three steps were completed, the new recruit was considered as having been "duly enlisted and sworn" into Confederate service. Information about the actual process, documented in the writings of Confederate soldiers, seems to be rather slim.  (From Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States, 1863, 408.)

Back to old Keith Blalock. He wrote in his pension files that he was never officially enrolled in the Confederate army. He obviously volunteered and enlisted, but maybe he never swore that oath or was never read the Articles of War. While I do not think we can ever be sure, he obviously made that distinction. He did join the Confederate army, but he was never properly enrolled in the Confederate service.

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