Posts Tagged ‘military organization’

The Library of Congress catalog record for this 1863 pencil drawing by Edwin Forbes includes this note “”Sutler’s tent, near Stoneman’s Switch, Falmouth, Va.”

Here’s an excerpt from Claire Prechtel-Kluskens’s article “Sutlers of the Civil War,” NGS Magazine, April-June 2014, p. 39

“Civil War sutlers were the 19th century equivalent of the modoern US Army’s post exchaned (PX) or commissary. Soldiers in the field patronized these traeveling storekeepers to purchase needed goods and desired luxuries that were not provided by the US government.

“If your ancestor was a sutler, there are records and publications that may provide insight on his activities and store inventory. Even if your ancestor wasn’t a sutler, knowing more about his regimental sutler (or sutlers in general) will broaden your understanding of your Civil War soldiers’ experiences by learning about what items soldiers purchased to enhance their every day lives in the field.”

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“New rifle musket ball caliber 0.58-inch. This final version of the Minie bullet resulted from experiments conducted by James H. Burton at the Harpers Ferry Armory during the early 1850s.”
Year: 1855. Image Credit: Smithsonian Neg. No. 91-10712; Harpers Ferry NHP Cat. No. 13645.

The Minie ball, invented by French Army officer Claude-Etienne Minie, was modified by James H. Burton who began his career as a machinist at Harpers Ferry Armory. The bullets delivered devastating injuries. A Minie ball flattened on impact shattering bone which caused splinters and further muscle and tissue damage.

Civil War Tech: The Minie Ball (9:51) YouTube, January 24, 2016
This video clip includes animations of how the Minie ball functioned, battlefield re-enactments and comments from James Meigs, Editor-in-Chief, Popular Mechanics, Brian Williams, “NBC Nightly News,” and General Colin L. Powell.

Warning! This content is graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.

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“Union cavalry and mounted artillery soldiers were issued greatcoats to be worn over their uniforms during the winter months.”

See the complete entry for “Union Mounted Greatcoat” at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, accessed May 3, 2021.

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The Soldier in Our Civil War includes hundreds of drawings that were published in Frank Leslie’s Weekly Magazine as single-page illustrations and double-page spreads. Images that appeared alongside “Govrnt Blacksmiths’ Shop” included “Building Roads,” “In the Trenches,” “Scouts,” “On Picket,” “Battle of Milliken’s Bend,” “Teamster of the Army, “Cooking in Camp,” “Unloading Govt. Stores,” “Driving Govt Cattle,” and “Washing in Camp.” Artists under contract to Frank Leslie’s (and other magazines of the period) drew African American troops at camp and in battle, male and female workers engaged in various occupations, life on the home front, country sides and cityscapes, maps, and military action on land and sea.

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“In 1859, the U.S. War Department adopted the McClellan Saddle. They remained the standard issue throughout the history of the horse cavalry. The saddle was simple and less expensive than most. It was light enough not to weigh down the horse, yet it was sturdy and gave good support to the rider and his gear.”

See the complete entry at “McClellan Saddle,” at Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, accessed April 11, 2021.

Saddlers made, repaired, and restored saddles, bridles, harnesses and other leather goods. Some had experience with leatherwork before joining the military; others became cobblers after their service.

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“From his time with the troops in Virginia, Homer became intrigued with the African American laborers who helped support the Union effort, particularly the men who loaded, maintained and  drove those large supply wagons. Here a couple of teamsters are taking a break. They’ve hitched a ride on the back of a wagon: one’s lighting up a pipe while the other still clutches his whip, this long strip of braided leather that the drivers referred to as ‘the black snake.’  For the most part ,and there are some exceptions, Homer’s wartime imagery presented African Americans in a fairly direct manner without the kind of distorted stereotypes prevalent in popular illustration and literature.  At the front, his most accessible models were the black civilians who labored in the Union camps as general laborers and cooks, laundresses or teamsters — all generally referred to at the time as ‘contrabands’ …  and thousands of the so-called ‘contrabands’ flooded the Union camps seeking freedom and also work and whenever possible, the Army employed them, particularly the able-handed teamsters whose job it was to handle the thousands of horses and mules. With his several visits to the front, Homer well understood the crucial role that these drivers played in supplying food, water, equipment and munitions and moreover he would have appreciated the skill with which the men drove the famously obstinate mules through the brambles and the thick mud.”

Elizabeth O’Leary, “Winslow Homer’s Virginia,” Virginia Museum of History and Culture, April 18, 2013 (1:02:40) . O’Leary’s lecture considers Homer’s works that were inspired by his wartime visits to Virginia. Several sketches, illustrations, and painting featuring African Americans are included. The segment about “The Baggage Train” begins at 19:00.

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Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke authored the two-volume manual Cavalry Tactics, or, Regulations for the Instruction, Formations, and Movements of the Cavalry of the Army and Volunteers of the United States. It was revised several times during the 1860s.

The manual’s precise instructions for “all things cavalry” — including but not limited to care and treatment of the horse and equipment, drilling, skirmishing, handling the sabre — are enhanced by diagrams of troop formation and illustrations of soldiers on horseback and on foot.

This illustration accompanies “Position of the Trooper Mounted”:

“The seat natural, without drawing back the thigh; the legs hang vertically from the knees, and close the sides of the horse; the balls of the foot supported in the stirrup; the heels about an inch lower than the toes; these to the front; the stirrups supporting the weight of the legs in a natural position.
“The head erect and square to the front; the shoulders square; the carriage of the body erect, but free and unconstrained.”

This image from Cavalry Tactics, Volume 1, p. 76 [frame 115/276] was published in the 1862 edition at HathiTrust. 
A handy table of contents for Volume 1 (with links) is available at The Wayback Machine.

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This plate is from Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865.

“The War Department sought to systematize the selection of officers of colored troops on May 22, 1863, by establishing a Board of Examiners in Washington, and subsequently in Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans, Davenport, Iowa and Richmond. The officers selected by these boards had to pass tests of their loyalty, morality, health, intelligence, and knowledge of tactics for the units they expected to command. If the applicant failed the examination once, he was not re-examined. From the beginning this system worked well, but, as a result of its success, the War Department had difficulty finding persons capable of passing the exacting examinations. As a result, one Commander, Brigadier General J. C. Rice, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of the Potomac, ordered the formation of a school of instruction for interested troops in his command to prepare them to meet the stringent requirements of the boards.”
John T. Blassingame. “The Selection of Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of Negro Troops in the Union Troops, 1863-1865,” Negro History Bulletin,Vol. 30, No. 1 (January 1967), pp. 8-11.


Military Rank & Insignia: The Civil War in Four Minutes” (4:00) YouTube, August 25, 2019
“Kristopher White of the American Battlefield Trust details the rank of soldiers in the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War, and how those ranks were displayed on uniforms.”

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“Mail was a treasured link between Civil War camps and battlefields and “back home.” Recognizing its importance to morale, the armies assigned personnel to collect, distribute, and deliver soldiers’ mail; wagons and tents served as traveling Post Offices.”

The complete article “Mail Service and the Civil War” which includes photographs is on the U.S. Post Office website.


Belle Plain (sometimes known as Belle Plains) is on Potomac Creek off the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia. The settlement served as a landing space for Civil War vessels carrying supplies, troops, and prisoners.


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Click on the image to access “Figure 3. External Regions of the Horse” and “Nomenclature of the External Regions of the Horse” on page 14 of General Carter’s book.

“In purchasing thousands of horses to meet a great emergency conformation and soundness are the things to which attention is mainly directed, but there are some other requisites, however, which are absolute essentials in a saddle horse worthy of the name. The most important of these are a gentle disposition; a good mouth; regular and easy gaits, without stumbling, interfering or over-reaching; courage and ambition, without being nervous or fidgety; of proper size to carry the weight, which for cavalry service requires a horse about fifteen to fifteen and three-quarters hands high, and weighing from 900 to 1100 pounds.”
William H. Carter. Horses, Saddles and Bridles. Baltimore: The Lord Baltimore Press, The Friedenwald Company, 1906, page 9.

General Carter’s book, published several years after the Civil War, is comprehensive. Chapter I is called “The Cavalry Horse.” Some of the topics presented in the other fifteen chapters include: equipment, the horse’s age, its endurance, stable management, diseases and injuries, forage, and transporting horses “by rail and sea.” The book concludes with a glossary.

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