Thursday, May 30, 2019

Another type of courier

For the past several months, I posted several times on the role of couriers, mounted couriers, within the Army of Northern Virginia. Of course, this has coincided with my work on Lee's Body Guard, my new history of the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Recently, while reading a set of letters from William C. McClellan, a member of the 9th Alabama Infantry, I found another reference to couriers, a different type of courier.

Pamplin Historical Park
McClellan and the 5th Alabama were stationed near "Louis House" in January 1862. In a letter home to his father that month, McClellan talks about being on guard duty. Usually, every morning, several details were made from the troops in camp. Some were detailed to work on fortifications, others to gather wood, and yet others for guarding various structures. McClellan writes on January 22 that "we have 30 guards every day, guard mountain [mounting] at 8, o'clock. there is 2 orderlies selected from the guard who have the cleanest guns and present the most Soldierly appearance. one of the orderlies waits on the Col. the other reports to The Adjutant. I am almost certain to be one of the orderlies. I have nothing to do but sit by old [Col. Samuel] Henrys fire and chat [with] him during the day and make one trip to Wilcoxs head quarters a half mile off to carry the daily report." (John C. Carter, ed., Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama, 130)

A few notes about guards, gleaned from the Confederate Regulations, are useful. Camp or garrison guards were to serve for twenty-four hours. They were often notified the evening before that they had been selected for guard duty. That morning, the fell in and were inspected by their company's first sergeant, then marched to the regimental parade ground. The guard detail was formed by the sergeant major, inspected, and then turned over to the adjutant. It is not just privates serving in this detail, but an officer and NCO's as well. The men are then inspected a second time, and the musicians paraded. The old officer of the guard then passes along old or standing orders to the new officer of the day. Then comes the process of visiting each post and replacing the old guard with the new guard. Guards are supposed to be replaced every two hours.

There are a few things to unpack from McClellan's letter. McClellan was on guard detail, probably the men who guarded the camp stockade or jail. This is different from being on picket detail, although the formation of the picket detail was probably done at the same time. As the war progressed, entire companies, or at times regiments, were detailed as pickets for several days at a time. McClellan tells us that out of the thirty guards, two are selected to serve as orderlies. He does not elaborate on further responsibilities (probably anything the colonel or adjutant needed them to do). McClellan's letter does not mention being rotated every two hours. After delivering the daily report to the general's headquarters (Cadmus Wilcox, in this case), McClellan simply sat by the colonel's fire and chatted with the colonel (and presumably, whoever else came along).

Regimental commanders do not typically have aides or couriers who are appointed to their staffs. Generals, on the other hand, do. Brig. Gen. James H. Lane used two of his younger brothers in this role during the war. I imagine that if the army was active, but still in camp, say preparing for a march, that the daily orderly could get tired trotting back and forth between regimental and brigade headquarters.

McClellan's story is just one more little piece of the story.

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