Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Confederate Coffee

   I think we can all agree that coffee played a crucial role in the lives of Confederate soldiers. And, as it has become apparent to me recently, in reading articles and watching podcasts, some scholars really don’t grasp the usage of coffee in the Army of Northern Virginia. We hear the stories about how the Confederates in Virginia had to make do with no coffee and relied on plenty of coffee substitutes, like chicory, acorns, sweet potatoes, etc. But my research into Confederate foodstuffs while working on Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia over the past two years has led to some different conclusions. (The following is based upon 200 sets of letters and diaries, with a few reminiscences added in.)

   Coffee was a staple of life in the Old South. It was imported from Central and South America. In the early days of the war, it was issued to Confederate soldiers in Virginia. It was mentioned in letters home from Portsmouth and Ashland in May 1861. It was also issued green. “You would see much to amuse you especially about cooktime. Just imagine Charly Palmore standing over a hot fire parching coffee in a pan stirring with a big camp knife,” chronicled a soldier in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry in June 1862, from Ashland.[1] Coffee continued to be issued through August. However, many soldiers speculated that this “treat” might be coming to an end. From Vienna, Virginia, a soldier in the 2nd South Carolina Infantry wrote on August 3 that "We soldiers still get coffee for night and morning, but I do not doubt but that this luxury will soon be denied us. I say luxury. Coffee is the luxury in a soldier's life. A cup of hot coffee can be better appreciated in camp than anywhere else...”[2] By September 1, an Alabama soldier stationed near Fairfax Court House reported that they were out of coffee and sugar, yet reported on September 10 that they had coffee, but no sugar.[3] A member of the 4th Georgia reported in October that they were drawing whiskey in leu of coffee.[4] This continued through October, although some soldiers who did not drink would sell their whiskey rations to soldiers who did, leaving a few tipsy men in the ranks.  On November 28 came the first mention of rye coffee. A Virginia soldier stationed near Huntersville, wrote home that "We are living well at present on venison, beef, corn and wheat bread, rye coffee & sweetened with maple sugar.”[5] Considering the soldier was stationed in present-day West Virginia, it could simply have been a problem of getting coffee that great distance.

   Coffee was being issued in early 1862. A Tarheel Heel soldier reported small issues of coffee and sugar at camp near Union Mills on January 18, and an Alabama soldier stationed at Louisa Court House wrote of a weekly coffee ration, without sugar.[6] Coffee then disappears from the letters. A member of the 3rd South Carolina wrote at the end of April, while stationed on the Peninsula, that they never saw coffee being issued.[7] This holds true through May and the spring campaigns. There are sporadic mentions of coffee through October. Some soldiers reported having coffee, but it is unclear if they were being issued, or captured. (This is another topic for a future post.) Coffee was available for purchase. A Tar Heel officer, near Winchester in mid-November 1862, wrote that coffee was selling for $3.00 a pound.[8]

   By early 1863, coffee seemed to be in short supply. A member of the 45th Georgia wrote of wheat coffee in January, while a Virginia officer made mention of “rye coffee well sugared.”[9] In March, a South Carolinian mentioned living on nothing but coffee and bread: “We buy the coffee from sutlers in one pound papers already ground for one dollar. It is Confederate coffee made of I dont know what. It is a rather poor substitute , but we make out very well with it.”[10] There are other mentions of “coffee” in various letters through the spring of 1863, but it is unclear if it was real coffee, or Confederate coffee. One Georgia soldier did make note in April 1863, while stationed near Hamilton Crossing, that “pure Rio coffee” was selling for $6.00 per pound.”[11] There are more mentions of rye coffee following the battle of Gettysburg. Charles Blackford, serving on James Longstreet’s staff, mentions rye coffee in letters dated July 16 from Bunker Hill, and July 30 from Culpeper.[12] This seems to carry true through the end of 1864. Capt. R. E. Park, 12th Alabama, makes mentions of a sutler selling Confederate coffee for $1.00 per pound. The coffee was made of rye.[13]

   The coffee shortage changed in early January 1864 (maybe even late December). Thomas Lupton, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, wrote that that were drawing coffee “real coffee, none of your confederate compounds with rice, potatoes and lard..."[14] Coffee was coming through the blockade, mostly through the port of Wilmington. While the Commissary General wanted this coffee reserved for sick and wounded men in the hospitals, coffee was making its way to the men in winter camps. A member of the 7th Virginia Cavalry wrote on February 6 that they were being issued “a little real coffee and sugar.”[15] A member of the 44th Georgia wrote on February 17: “We get genuine coffee occasionally.”[16] An officer in the 44th North Carolina wrote of “genuine coffee” on February 19, and a member of the 48th North Carolina mentioned “good old Rio coffee” on February 20.[17] This issue of real coffee continues through march and April, 1864.[18]

   Coffee rations (real coffee), seem to continue at a regular pace into mid-1864. A soldier in the 53rd Georgia wrote from Petersburg on July 4 that he was drawing coffee and sugar. “We draw plenty of coffee. I am getting so I can't drink more than three or four cups of coffee for breakfast."[19] From the trenches, the same month, a member of the 27th North Carolina thanked his family back home for not sending any coffee: “I am now and have been for the last 3 or 4 weeks having as much as I can use.”[20] This continued into early August, but by mid-August, there started to be mentions in the letter that they were not drawing any coffee and sugar.[21] Yet in October, a member of the 45th Georgia wrote from Petersburg that they were getting “some coffee.”[22] Also from Petersburg on October 14, a member of the 18th North Carolina wrote of receiving “pure coffee well sweetened.”[23] Likewise, a member of the 54th North Carolina wrote in December that they were getting “pure coffee.”[24]

   There are sporadic mentions of coffee into 1865. Of course, by this time, a lot of soldiers were gone, either dead, deserted, or prisoners. Sources are limited. A soldier in the 5th Alabama wrote of being issued sugar and coffee on February 26, and on March 2, and April 1. He does not indicate if it is real coffee, or Confederate coffee.[25]

   This is a topic that really seems to be misunderstood, and really needs some deeper scholarship. Was the issue of coffee the same for soldiers in the Army of Tennessee? Was it ever an issue for soldiers on garrison duty in Wilmington, or Mobile? How about the issue of coffee in hospitals? And then there is the issue of swapping Southern tobacco for yankee coffee in the many informal truces that occurred during the war. Did Southern tobacco rise in “price” during the trading when the North went through its tobacco crunch? Was coffee, or caffeine withdrawal, an impediment during battle? It seems that many times it is easier to fall back on the oft-repeated anecdotes that all Confederates were cut off from imported coffee for the duration of the war. That is simply not true. It is also interesting to note that Confederate soldiers, in the 200 or so letter and diary sets that I am using to write Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia, never mention making coffee from chicory, burnt corn, peas, or sweet potatoes. I’m not going to say that it did not happen, but the members of my test group are not writing about it. Maybe it occurred primarily in the civilian population, and not in the Army of Northern Virginia. Once again, this topic, on the Confederate side, needs much more research. 

[1] Corson, My Dear Jennie, 2, 10; Wiggins, My Dearest Friend, 3-4.
[2] Wyckoff, The Civil War Letters of Alexander McNeill, 77-78.
[4] Allen and Bohannon, "Campaigning with 'Old Stonewall',"  28.
[5] Driver, 1st Battalion Virginia Infantry, 6-7.
[6] Monroe, “The Road to Gettysburg,” NCHR, 489; Carter, Welcome the Hour of Conflict, 130.
[7] Everson, Far, Far from Home, 117-118.
[8] Taylor, The Cry is War, War, War, 128.
[9]  McCrea, Red Dirt and Isinglass, 392; Welsh "A House Divided," 410.
[10] Wyckoff, The Civil War Letters of Alexander McNeill, 249.
[11] Allen and Bohannon, "Campaigning with 'Old Stonewall', 228.
[12] Blackford, Letters from Lee's Army, 198.
[14] Driver, 1st Battalion Virginia Infantry, 62.
[16]  Burnett, “Letters of a Confederate Surgeon, McGarity,” 2:187.
[17] Wright, The Confederate Letters of Benjamin H. Freeman, 34; Dear Aunt, February 21, 1864, "Taking Care of Madison W. Richardson," 42.
[18] Hancok, Four Brothers in Gray, 253; McCrea, Red Dirt and Isinglass, 469; Hubbs, Voices from Company D, 232; Mellon, "A Florida Soldier," 270; Wright, The Confederate Letters of Benjamin H. Freeman, 35.
[19] Ronald, ed. The Stilwell Letters, 272
[20] Wagstaff, “Letters of Thomas Jackson Strayhorn,” NCHR, 323.
[21] Blackford, Letters from Lee's Army, 272; Wiggins, My Dearest Friend, 147.
[22] McCrea, Red Dirt and Isinglass, 518.
[23] Hancock, Four Brothers in Gray, 283.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Original Confederate Museum in Richmond.

Edmund DeWitt Patterson, an enlisted man in the 9th Alabama Infantry, was wounded during the battle of Frayser’s Farm, June 30, 1862. One musket ball struck his shoulder, another his left leg, and a third his right leg. Patterson was transported to Richmond and entered a private home to heal and recover.

   By late August, he was well enough to visit sessions of the Confederate Congress. Soon, Patterson had discovered a great pleasure: visiting the Virginia State Library. The library was founded by the Virginia General Assembly in 1823. By 1851, the Library had 14,000 volumes, most housed in the loft of the State Capitol building in Richmond. Patterson visited on August 29, recording his experience.

Virginia State Capitol, April 1865 (National Archives) 
   “I have found another place to spend my leisure hours, viz: in the state library, which is in the capitol building. There, besides books of all kinds, I find a good many trophies of war. Various kinds of shells, thrown from those water monsters, the “Monitors.” There is also Gen’l Pope’s coat, which he forgot in his great hurry when Stuart called on him. Stretched overhead is a tremendous flag, the ‘glorious old flag’ so called, one presented to Gen’l. McClellan by the ladies of New York City to be hoisted over our capitol. His troops left Gain’s Mill in such a hurry that they forgot it and instead of floating over the capitol, it hangs in the capitol. I suppose that does just as well though. There are a great many curiosities scattered over the room, things that give a body some very slight idea of war or a battle, but one knows in reality nothing at all about it until he has participated in it.” (43-44, Barrett, ed., Confederate Yankee.)

   There are a couple of references in period newspapers to the collection of “trophies of war” at the State Library. The Richmond Enquirer reported on August 29, 1862, that that Pope’s uniform “has been hung up amidst the numerous trophies that adorn and disfigure the galleries of the State Library.” On February 17, 1863, the Staunton Spectator reported that one of the trophies was the “white silken banner captured from a Philadelphia Turn Veteran Regiment, on one side of which is the motto to “Gut Heil.” The translation of these words is said to be “Good Luck,’ but the majority of visitors give them a phonetic signification, readily believing that the regiment to which the banner belonged gut heil on the occasion of the capture.”

   Patterson does not mention if Confederate artifacts were also included, but there were many items he did not describe in detail.

   It is not really clear what happened to the uniform or flags. We know that five boxes of captured Federal flags were sent with other items from the War Department to Charlotte as the Confederacy collapsed. You can read my previous blog on that topic here. But what became of Pope’s uniform? Was it secreted away? Or maybe consigned to the flames that engulfed Richmond the night after the Federal breakthrough of Richmond on April 2, 1865? If anyone has more information, I would love to hear from you.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Floridians in the Sunken Road: The 8th Florida at Sharpsburg.

     Slowly the little band of twenty-eight enlisted men and four officers sloshed through the mud over the top of a hill and down into the hamlet of Appomattox Court House. On orders, they halted, front faced, fixed bayonets, and for a final time, stacked their rifled-muskets. Cartridge boxes were removed and placed beside the weapons. Some of their comrades placed their beloved banners across the stacks, but this stalwart band had lost that flag in battle a few days earlier. With the surrender over, the former soldiers made their way back to camp to await their paroles. Later, with prized papers in hand, they started back to their homes.
      Three-and-a-half years had passed since the once 1,122-man-strong regiment had made its way from the piney woods and swamps of Florida to the battlefields of Virginia. Companies from all over the state, including men from Orange, Hillsboro, Duval, and Madison counties, had answered the call from the Confederate government for more volunteers. On May 16, 1862, the companies were mustered into service at Lake City, Florida, and given the designation 8th Florida Infantry Regiment. Richard F. Floyd, a fifty-two-year-old native of Georgia, was elected colonel.
     Like many units formed after the passage of the first Confederate conscription act, the regiment was almost immediately plagued by desertions. Company B, from Gadsden County and under the command of Captain Robert A. Walker, lost 16 men before the regiment could even leave the state.
     Despite the loss of unwilling soldiers, by early July, the regiment was in Virginia and soon assigned to Roger Pryor’s brigade. Their first taste of combat came during the battle of Second Manassas. Pryor’s brigade was assigned to Wilcox’s division, under the command of Longstreet, and made the march through Thoroughfare Gap to help save the embattled Jackson. During mid-afternoon on August 30, an opportunity arose on Wilcox’s front to destroy a portion of the exposed Federal flank. Wilcox ordered Brigadier General Winfield Featherston to take his own brigade, and Pryor’s, and attack. Much to the dismay of Wilcox, Featherston was slow in moving the two brigades, and nothing came of the action. Later that afternoon, events fell into place and Longstreet attacked.
     Pryor’s men, the 8th Florida included, were subjected to a severe artillery fire from Dogan Ridge. At 6:00 pm, the brigades of Featherston (on the left), then Archer, Pender, and Pryor, formed for an assault. Pryor placed the 8th Florida in the front, along with the 3rd Virginia and 14th Alabama. Featherston attacked the batteries in the flank while Pryor charged them head on. Many of the Federal gunners fled, and nine cannons were captured. The “Eighth Florida, though never under fire before, exhibited the cool and collective courage of veterans,” Pryor wrote in his official report.
Sunken Road, Sharpsburg 
     Little rest would follow for the men of the 8th Florida. After participating in the investment of Harper’s Ferry, the regiment marched toward the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The regiment, still in Pryor’s brigade but now in Richard Anderson’s division, arrived just after sunrise on September 17, went into a reserve position, and was ordered to rest. Instead of an all-out assault by the Federals on the thin Confederate lines, the battle of Antietam was a series of disjointed attacks. The first had come early that morning on the Confederate left. The Southerners were able to hold, and during mid-morning, the second phase of the battle began, this one aimed at the center of the Confederate line. In this sector, the Confederate defensive line was located in an old sunken road. The area in front of the line was cleared and gradually rose. Behind the sunken road, the ground, planted in corn followed by an orchard, rose steeply. Occupying the old farm lane were regiments from D. H. Hill’s division.
     It is estimated that there were 2,500 men in the sunken lane, being attacked by 7,500 Federal soldiers. The Confederates were soon hard pressed, and General Robert E. Lee committed his only reserves: R. H. Anderson’s division. Anderson brought 3,400 men to the fight. The 8th Florida was barely in any shape to participate. One officer estimated that there were only 120 men present. Colonel Floyd was seriously ill and had been left behind. Lieutenant Colonel John N. Pons was also out sick, and Major William I. Turner had resigned. Just prior to the battle, General Pryor had placed Lieutenant Colonel Georges Augustus Gaston de Coppens in charge of the 8th Florida. At the beginning of the war, Coppens had organized a battalion of Zouaves. At Sharpsburg, this Zouave battalion was under the command of his brother, and Georges, being supernumerary, was placed in command of the 8th Florida.
     Just as Anderson was receiving the orders to advance toward D. H. Hill’s position in the sunken lane, Anderson was wounded in the thigh, and Pryor assumed command of the division. Pryor was unaware of Anderson’s orders. Robert Rhodes, in command of one of the brigades in the sunken road, was at a loss as to the disposition of his reinforcements. He went back to find Pryor and when advised of the situation, Pryor ordered his own brigade, which was positioned on the crest of the hill, to advance. The brigade quickly formed. The 2nd Florida was on the left, followed by the 8th Florida, 5th Florida, 3rd Virginia, and 14th Alabama. Colonel John C. Hately of the 5th Florida was in command of the brigade.
8th Florida
     Pryor’s brigade advanced into the Piper orchard and beyond. As soon as the Confederates became visible targets, the Federals, not having much luck against the Confederates in the lane, turned their fire upon the reinforcements. Federal artillery across the creek did likewise, causing considerable damage. Finding the trees of the orchard and cornstalks did little to stop the combined artillery and small arms fire, the brigade pushed ahead. The color guard of the 8th Florida was quickly struck down and the flag staff shot in two. Captain Richard A. Waller of Company B took the colors and wrapped them around his body. Lieutenant Colonel Coppens was killed, and Waller assumed command of the regiment, only to be “almost immediately” killed, the regimental banner still draped across his shoulders. Captain William Baya, of Company D, then assumed command of the regiment.
     Even with such a small number of men, growing smaller each moment due to the destructive Union fire, the 8th Florida surged ahead. The Florida soldiers came in behind the 14th North Carolina, of George B. Anderson’s brigade. Some of the 8th Florida fell in with the North Carolinians. Other members of the regiment surged past the sunken lane and engaged the Federals, but “were quickly driven back with great loss...” These brave men joined their comrades in the farm lane.
     Featherston’s brigade came in next, ordered by Pryor to support the three brigades already in the lane. The Mississippians came in behind Pryor and Anderson, but they did not stop in the lane. Colonel Carnot Posey took the Mississippians past the road and engaged the Irish Brigade. They advanced 30 to 40 yards, but after five minutes, were “driven back with great loss.” Fresh Federal troops began arriving. Colonel Posey tried to extract his brigade from the lane in an attempt to alleviate some of the overcrowding. Many men mistook this action as a call for the retreat, and the Confederate line began to collapse.
     Colonel Floyd, who had been left sick with chronic fever and diarrhea in Winchester, arrived on the field as the action of the 8th Florida was drawing to a close. On September 22, he wrote to Gov. John Milton in Florida of the conditions that he found on the field: “Finally I met several of our poor fellows, coming [off] wounded, some mortally; and asking them for our Regt. they piteously replied [‘]They are all killed, wounded or dispersed[...’ The] remnant of the 8th Regt... was in the thickest of the fight and were almost annihilated... The next day it was difficult to find any men at all of these Regts except the wounded who were brought off. All our dead remain there unburied.” 
      Casualties for the 8th Florida during their struggle in the orchard and fields of the Piper farm and in the Bloody Lane are unknown. For the overall Maryland campaign, the regiment had suffered 12 killed and 56 wounded, the highest of the regiments in Pryor’s brigade. If Colonel Floyd was correct about the 120 men present, then the 8th Florida suffered fifty-seven percent casualties.
     Following the fight at Sharpsburg, Pryor was relieved of brigade command and sent to Richmond. Governor Milton, worried about the condition of the three Florida regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia, asked that they be returned to the Sunshine State to rest and recruit. The petition was denied. However, Lee chose to place the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida regiments into their own brigade, and promoted Colonel Edward A. Perry of the 2nd to command. The new Florida brigade remained in Richard H. Anderson’s division, Longstreet’s corps. Perry, a Massachusetts native, graduate of Yale University, and a lawyer, had moved to Florida in 1857. David Lang, Captain of Company C, was promoted to colonel on September 17 and took command of the 8th regiment.
     The small regiment continued to render gallant service. At Fredericksburg, on December 11, 1862, the 8th Florida went to the support of two Mississippi regiments from Barksdale’s command. Fighting in the streets of the town, the regiment, probably numbering 200 men, lost 7 killed, 24 wounded, and 20 captured. Once again they were thrown into the fray at Chancellorsville and earned the praise of General Anderson, who wrote that “Brigadier-General Perry and his heroic little band of Floridians...showed a courage as intrepid as that of any others in their assault upon the enemy in his entrenchments on the third and in their subsequent advances on Chancellorsville.”
      When Lee reorganized his army following Chancellorsville, Anderson’s division became a part of the new Third Corps, commanded by A. P. Hill. Gettysburg followed, with Colonel Lang leading the brigade for an ailing Perry. During the action on July 2 along the Emmitsburg Road, the 8th Florida’s color bearer, “made himself conspicuous advancing to the front and waving his flag.” The color bearer soon fell, along with his guard, consisting of two corporals. When the 8th Florida fell back, the flag was not missed, and Sergeant Thomas Horan, of the 72nd New York, picked the banner up “by the dead color-bearer.”  The 8th Florida had lost 17 killed and 76 wounded during the fight. After the battle, Lang was only able to report “22 line officers and 233 enlisted men” in his entire brigade.
     The regiment continued to add laurels to its fame, fighting at battles now synonymous with the history of the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Wilderness campaign, General Perry was among the wounded and forced to retire. Colonel Lang commanded the brigade until June 1864, when Perry’s old brigade was consolidated with three new Florida regiments and placed under the command of Olustee hero Joseph Finegan. Finegan’s brigade, now composed of the 2nd, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th regiments, was in Mahone’s division of Hill’s corps. The fighting continued, and the 8th Florida saw action along the Weldon Railroad, at Reams’s Station, and Hatcher’s Run. Finegan was relieved of command on March 20, 1865, at the request of the Florida governor. Colonel Lang resumed command of the brigade. On April 2, the line of breastworks surrounding Petersburg collapsed, and the 8th Florida began making its way west with the rest of the once-mighty Army of Northern Virginia. After seeing action at Sailor’s Creek on April 6, where the 8th Florida’s battle flag was captured by First Sergeant Albert A. Clapp of Company G, 2nd Ohio Cavalry, the remnants of the regiment moved toward Appomattox Court House and the conclusion of their war.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Robert E. Lee and a piece of Alabama bacon.

   Charles Marshall served on the staff of Robert E. Lee. He was a part of that small military family that surrounded the general. In 1927, Frederick Maurice published the papers of Marshall in a tome entitled An Aide-De-Camp of Lee. In the introduction of this book, is a story of a Confederate soldier writing to Lee regarding rations. According to Marshall, “While the army was on the Rapidan, in the winter of 1863-4, it became necessary, as was often the case, to put the men upon very short rations. Their duty was hard, not only on the outpost during the winter, but in the construction of roads to facilitate communication between the different parts of the army. One day general Lee received a letter from a private soldier informing him of the work he had to do and saying that his rations were hardly sufficient to enable him to undergo the fatigue. He said that if it was absolutely necessary to put him upon such allowance he would make the best of it, but that he and his comrades wanted to know if General Lee was aware that his men were getting so little to eat; he was sure there must be some necessity for it. General Lee did not reply directly to the letter, but issued a general order, in which he informed the soldiers of his efforts on their behalf, and that he could not relieve their privations, but assured them that he was making every exertion to procure sufficient supplies.” (xxiii-xxiv)

   Lee turned around and issued General Order No. 9 on January 22, 1864, saying that he understood everyone was hungry, and he was doing everything in his power to increase rations. Then came the pep talk: “Soldiers! You tread with no unequal step the road by which your fathers marched through suffering, privations, and blood, to independence. Continue to imitate in the future, as you have in the past, their valor in arms, their patient endurance of hardships, their resolve to be free, which no trial could shake, no bribe seduce, no danger appall; and be assured that the just God who rewarded their efforts with success will in His own good time send down His blessings upon yours.” (Official Records 33, 1117)

   But what about that letter? Did some private in the ranks actually write Lee, saying they were hungry? Maybe… On January 24, 1864, Samuel Pickens, 5th Alabama Infantry, possibly gives us a glimpse of this very story in his diary. An order of thanks from the Confederate Congress was read at dress parade that day, along with a communication from Lee. The latter said that “a man in this Brig. Sent him an anonymous letter with a slice of beef which he said was a days ration for 3 men and asking Gen to keep it till it grew to the proper size… Gen. Battle expressed deep mortification at its being in his Brig. It was evidently some poor dissatisfied fellow.” (Hubbs, Voices from Company D, 213)

   Brigadier General Cullen A Battle’s brigade was composed of five Alabama regiments: 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, and 26th Alabama Infantry. We’ll probably never know just who sent the letter, but at least we can narrow it down.

Friday, April 03, 2020

A Brigade Commissary and his Wagon Train.

   Federal general Henry Halleck, in November 1862, told Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that the Confederates had an advantage over the Federal armies. Due to the lack of wagons in the Confederate army, Confederate soldiers “exhibited much more mobility and activity than our own… Once accustomed to a certain amount of transportation, an army is unwilling to do without the luxuries which it supplies in the field.” (Official Records, vol. 19, pt. 1, 6) I’m sure that Lee, at any part of the war, would have liked to have better amounts of transportation.

   At some point prior to October 1, 1862, Lee had set the number of wagons for his army: three wagons for division headquarters, two for brigade headquarters, and one for regimental baggage. Each regiment also had one wagon for hospital stores, one for medical stores, one regimental ordnance wagon, and one wagon for every one hundred men in the regiment.

   Lee, in this October 1, 1862, letter to Jackson, tells us that D. H. Hill’s Division also contained a division ordnance train of 22 wagons, division commissary train of 20 wagons, and division forage train of 10 wagons. (Official Records vol. 19, pt. 2, 641) At the time of the battle of Sharpsburg, the Confederate army contained nine infantry divisions. If the other infantry divisions were so equipped, then division trains would have been composed of 198 ordnance wagons, 180 commissary wagons, and 90 forage wagons. Lee believed that each infantry regiment averaged 300 men, so, that is 6 wagons per regiment. At Sharpsburg, there were 183 infantry regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. That is 1,098 wagons, plus 94 more for brigade headquarters, 27 for division headquarter. That comes to 1,687 wagons, just for the infantry.

US Army wagon. (Library of Congress) 
   On July 16, 1863, Lee issued a general order reducing the army’s wagon train. Now, Division headquarters had two wagons, and brigade headquarters, one wagon, plus one wagon for medical stores. Regimental headquarters had one wagon for headquarters, which included the surgeon, quartermaster, and commissary. If a regiment had 300 men or less, one wagon, and over 300 men two wagons. (Official Records vol. 27, pt. 3, p. 2015) As Lee was preparing for active campaigning in April 1864, new guidance was being issued by army headquarters. Division headquarters were authorized three wagons, plus three wagons for forage, and one for medical supplies; brigade headquarters one wagon, plus three wagons for forage, and one for medical supplies. Each regiment received one wagon for headquarters and one wagon to haul cooking utensils. (Official Records Vol. 33, 1263)

   While these numbers do not give us an exact number of wagons, they do supply us with an idea of the numbers involved.

   When the army was in camp, a wagon would have visited the nearest depot to pick up rations for the regiment or brigade. In the winter of 1862-63, it appears that the Army of Northern Virginia was only issuing rations once a week. So a wagon would have gone and picked up their week’s allotment, regimental and commissary sergeants would have divided up the rations issued to the regiments, which would have been further divided up and issued to the companies.

   There is really not a lot of information from the men who drove these wagons. One interesting account comes from Nicholas B. Gibbon. Gibbon grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, served in the 1st North Carolina Volunteers, and from October 1861 to September 1863, as assistant commissary of subsistence in the 28th North Carolina Troops. (At times it appears he was on brigade staff as well.) Most readers might be more familiar with Gibbon’s older brother, Federal Maj. Gen. John Gibbon. Nicholas Gibbon’s diary/memoirs survives and is interesting in his details about being with the wagons.

      During the Seven Days battles, Gibbon writes that “each regimental commissary was ordered to report at Division Headquarters with sufficient transportation for two days rations and await orders, so that the part I took in the fight around Richmond was to deliver rations of hard bread and bacon to my Regt but always waiting orders before moving up. The Brigade train was altogether and generally moved at night after the men had stopped fighting so that it was my luck to travel nearly all night and arise early in the mornings.”

   On August 6, Gibbon was assigned as temporary brigade commissary, Branch’s brigade. They went into camp that night near Madison Court House. “I assisted in driving my beef cattle with the wagons and came up with the Infantry after they had gone into camp.” Gibbon built a temporary pen for the cattle. The next morning, some of the cattle were slaughtered and issued to the brigade. Gibbon was with the wagon train for the next few days, missing the battle of Cedar Mountain. The day after the battle, Gibbon found Branch and made arrangements to issue food to the brigade. Since the men were not  allowed a fire, Gibbon selected a point behind the lines, and as the brigade moved by the next morning, issued them fresh beef.

   Right before the battle of Second Manassas, Gibbon writes that the brigade was crossing the Hazel River. The wagon train and beef on hoof “had to be driven higher up the river and crossed over” at a different point, taking a roundabout way to reach the camp. Once there, the brigade marched into the woods near the wagon park, “and though the night was very dark I fed the men with flour and fresh beef.” Gibbon moved with the troops to Maryland and back. While back at Hedgesville, charged with destroying the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Gibbon reported that he “had to subsist the Brigade from the surrounding country which had been drained of nearly everything like commissary stores. But by constant riding and empressing cattle and flour I managed to keep the men supplied with flour, beef, and salt.”

   Gibbon returned to the 28th North Carolina after five months detached duty. In April 1863, the position of Assistant Commissary of Subsistence on the regimental level was abolished by Congress. Gibbon would serve as assistant Commissary of Subsistence to Cadmus Wilcox for the rest of the war.

   If anyone is aware of a diary or letters or reminisces by other Confederate commissaries, I’d love to hear from them.

(Nicholas Gibbon's Diary is at UNC-Charlotte.)