Most Important Army Structure?

Old Army Records began on the Bozeman Trail.  Rather, it began by transcribing and indexing all available documents issued by the U.S. Army at Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith.  Those documents included 1,189 general and special orders, 850 letters and telegrams, 592 endorsements, and over 80 boards of survey prepared by headquarters of the three posts, the Mountain District, and both the 18th and 27th Infantry regiments.  In addition, dozens of diaries/ journals and personal letters, relative to the military occupation of the trail, form the archive.

General Order 24, issued by Colonel Henry Carrington in October 1866 at Fort Phil Kearny, provided detailed construction and maintenance information for one structure.  The level of detail for this one structure is unprecedented in the Bozeman Trail dataset.

Important Post Buildings:  Fort Phil Kearny

The temporary structures meticulously considered by Carrington measured 16 feet long by 6½ feet wide with floors made from planks 2 inches thick.  Poles, covered with earth, formed the roof.  Doorways were located on the northeast end while the east wall had one 6-lite window.  In addition, Carrington described the proximity of each structure to the stockade and barracks.

Sketch of Fort Phil Kearny, 1867,
Sketch of Fort Phil Kearny attributed to a sergeant in the 27th Infantry, 1867. Can you identify the structures thoroughly described by Carrington?
Important Post Buildings:  Fort Assinniboine

Twenty years after Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned, Colonel Elwell S. Otis (20th Infantry) and commander of Fort Assinniboine, Montana wrote to his counterpart (Colonel Nathan A.M. Dudley, 1st Cavalry) at Fort Custer, Montana.  At first glance the letter (three full pages) written by Otis appears to be personal correspondence.  It was written on stationary provided by a local clothing and dry goods store (Lou Lucke Company in Havre, Montana).  Otis provided detailed construction details for structures similar to those referenced at Fort Phil Kearny.  Otis noted that the brick buildings, rather than wood used on the Bozeman Trail, measured 30 feet long by 8½ feet wide.

Excerpt from the first page of Colonel Elwell Otis’ handwritten letter to his counterpart at Fort Custer.

So, what structures warranted such detail and careful consideration by army officers?  Was it the magazine, temporary officer’s quarters, storehouses, or other buildings?  Click here to see if you answered correctly.

Old Army Punishment: Fort Adams Flogging

In a previous article I discussed the various types of military courts that tried soldiers for various infractions.  Punishment meted out by Old Army courts could be swift and severe.  Flogging ranked as one of the harshest sentences.  Long associated with a punishment meted out by navies, the U.S. Army used flogging during the first decade of the 19th century, although specific examples of the use of flogging for army punishment are rare.  Fortunately, the National Archives digitized an orderly book containing orders issued by Captain, and later major, Amos Stoddard.

Orders dealt with a variety of subjects, including summarizing the findings and punishments meted out by a court martial.  Information comes from 38 cases tried by garrison courts martial at Fort Adams, Mississippi between November 1807 and May 1808.  At the time, the garrison included companies from the Regiment of Artillerists and 1st Regiment of Infantry under the overall command of Stoddard.

Flogging, A Punishment For All Offenses

Of the 38 cases tried thirty included flogging.  Acquittals occurred for four defendants and punishment for the remaining four cases involved reduction in rank.  Offenses tried ranged from absence without leave to scaling the walls of the garrison.  The most common being neglect of duty, a catchall category covering a variety of infractions.  Significantly, the infliction of lashes was part of nearly every punishment.

The numbers of lashes imposed on an offender ranged from 25 to 50, the maximum number per Article 87 of the 1806 military code.  Courts imposed a total of 1,280 lashes upon enlisted men found guilty of various offenses; an average of about 42 lashes/ man.  However, in many instances Stoddard, the senior officer present and tasked with reviewing the findings of each court, remitted (reduced) the number of lashes.  Nevertheless, offenders received 875 lashes (also referred to as stripes).

sailor flogged onboard naval vessel with assembled ship's complement.
Although used for a short time by the U.S. Army flogging was commonly used by navies throughout the world into the late 19th century. (Source:,_tied_to_a_ladder_and_bein_Wellcome_V0041675.jpg)
Swift Execution of Punishment

Offenders often received lashes on the same day of their conviction.  On November 28, 1807, a court found Private John Meeke guilty of neglect of duty while serving on post during the night of the 22nd .  He was sentenced to receive “fifty lashes on his bare back with common cats.”  Following protocol, Stoddard instructed the sentence to occur at roll call on the 28th.  Meeke returned to duty immediately after receiving the stripes.

Meeke’s flogging sentence is typical of those meted out at Fort Adams.  In most instances, a soldier received lashes to his bare back.  Infantry private William Dunning pleaded guilty of neglect of duty as a sentinel.  The court affirmed the plea and sentenced the private to receive 50 lashes “on his bare posterious [sic].”  In a possible act of leniency, the lashes were applied to his bare back instead.  The common cat referred to likely consisted of nine strips of leather or cord attached to a handle and often referred to as “cat o’ nines”.  Often each strip included three knots.

In February 1808, a court found Private John Welch guilty of “speaking disrespectfully of his officer (Stoddard) and disorderly conduct” and sentenced him to receive 50 lashes with wired cats.  This particularly gruesome device included strands of wire attached to each cat.  According to one account, wired cats “flew and tore deep into quivering human flesh.”  Although the victim of the offense, Stoddard softened the punishment by ordering lashes by common cats instead.  The lashes occurred at one minute intervals.  The change in punishment device must have been little solace to Welch.  Unlike most wrongdoers who received their lashes once and returned to duty, Welch received 25 lashes two different times.  One can only imagine the mental and physical torture he felt.

“cat o’ nines”

How effective was flogging in deterring military infractions?   The answer to that question is unknown.  Nevertheless, the severity of flogging, both physically and mentally, raised ethical issues in the United States.  After years of debate, Congress determined flogging too harsh a punishment for the Army and repealed whipping or flogging in May 1812.  However, in 1833, regulations allowed officers the discretion to punish deserters with lashes.  Congress eventually permanently repealed the punishment in August 1861.

The forgoing information was derived from Stoddard’s orderly book digitized by the National Archives.  Although full of useful information of this little-known early period of U.S. Army history, the document is not indexed.  Gleaning the useful information from this documents, and thousands of others like it can be time consuming.  Nonetheless, Old Army Records continues to locate and index these type of documents.  Our unique indexing method identifies names, places, and events.  It also parses data for analytical purposes.  For instance, our data will allow researchers to compare how punishment for the same army offense varied throughout the 19th century.


Unpublished Source (indexed by Old Army Records)
Orderly Book for the Company of Captain Amos Staddard (Regiment of Artillerists), 11/1807 – 06/1808

Government Publication
Military Law by Lieutenant Colonel W. Winthrop (1886)

“Field Books of Anthony Wayne”  Army and Navy Journal (1909)

Pack Mules, Carts, or Travois: Survey Says….

For many Old Army researchers, myself included, sifting through primary documents for answers to questions is a thrill.  Nothing beats that eureka! moment when we find the desired information.  Occasionally gems are encountered in unexpected places.  These documents provide insight into topics or, more likely, pose more questions.  While on a recent data acquisition trip to the National Archives I came across a few unexpected documents.  They included a report on carbines used in the Middle Military Department and discussed in an earlier post.  While looking through quartermaster records, I also found a survey abstract of answers from officers relative to the use of carts, travois, and pack mules for transporting supplies on long and rapid marches.

Survey Respondents

The abstract summarizes the responses from 43 officers ranking from lieutenant to colonel. The document lists the name, rank, and unit of the replying officer and their recommended moving supplies (e.g. cart, mules, etc.).  Two officers, both with 8th Infantry, did not provide responses because of their limited field experience.  The survey includes familiar names, such as Wesley Merritt (5th Cavalry), Richard I. Dodge (23rd Infantry), and Nelson A. Miles (5th Infantry).  However, most Old Army researchers probably won’t recognize many of the names in the abstract.  They include individuals such as 1st Lieutenant William P. Hall (5th Cavalry), 1st Lieutenant Joshua W. Jacobs (7th Infantry), and Captain William M. Wallace (6th Cavalry).

Not surprisingly, most of the responses came from cavalry officers; all cavalry regiments, except the 1st Cavalry, are represented.  However, officers from eight infantry regiments, seven quartermaster department officers, and one surgeon also replied.

Excerpt from the abstract showing some of the names and suggestions of the respondents.
And the Winner Is

Most respondents overwhelmingly recommended the exclusive use of pack mules.  Four recommended carts exclusively and two, including Miles, suggested the use of travois.  A few respondents advocated the use of more than one method, depending upon circumstances.  For example, Lieutenant Colonel Eugene A. Carr, 5th Cavalry, noted that “[w]ith practicable roads 4 horse wagons with springs would be best; otherwise packmules [sic].”  Surgeon H. R. Tilton recommended “a conveyance which combines the features of the cart & travois, like the Cuban ‘volante’”.

Surgeon H. R. Tilton recommended that the Army use the Cuban volante, a combination cart/travois similar to the one shown here circa. 1900.
Aparejos and Pack Mules

Significantly, respondents advocated the use of experienced packers and aparejos (Spanish pack saddles) with pack mules.  Widely used by the Spanish in North America, the Old Army soon adopted aparejos.  Noted government chief packer Thomas Moore improved the technique.  Moore supervised pack mule trains, outfitted with aparejos, for numerous Indian campaigns in the Southwest and northern plains in the 1870s and 1880s.  Beginning in 1878, Moore published Instructions for Using the Aparejo or Spanish Pack Saddle a guide issued to government employees and military officers.  The same box, at the National Archives containing the abstract of answers regarding carts, travois, and pack mules held a letter report prepared by Moore in 1877.  The 1877 document includes more information into the specifications of aparejos and their use than what is included in Moore’s published guide.

Thomas Moore helped modify and perfect the use of aparejos and the pack mule system used by the Old Army. His influences lasted into the 20th century, as seen by this illustration from a 1917 U.S. Army manual on pack transportation.

Pack mules were integral to U.S. military operations throughout the later half of the 19th century through World War Two.  The use of pack mules was not a foregone conclusion in the late 19th century.

Feel free to contact us with any requests for obscure information regarding the Old Army.  We may not have the information, but may, inadvertently, come across it.  As always we appreciate all your requests and feedback.


Unpublished Sources (from the digital collection of Old Army Records)

“Abstract of answers received from different officers of the line & staff to circular of Dec. 12, 1877 calling for report as to the relative merits of Carts, Travois & Packmules as a means of transporting supplies on long & rapid marches in a rough & broken country.” Summary in U.S. Quartermaster General files, National Archives.

Instructions for Using the Aparejo or Spanish Pack Saddle by Thomas Moore (1878)

Letter report dated Camp Robinson, Nebraska by Thomas Moore (May 20, 1877)

Old Army Courts Martial: Overview

“The court, after mature consideration, finds the accused guilty.”  No soldier wished to hear those words.  However, courts martial were a frequent occurrence in the Old Army.  Enlisted men and officers alike often encountered army justice.  By the end of the 19th century roughly one-third of U.S army personnel were involved in a court martial.  Infractions ranged from the serious (rape, murder, desertion, etc.) to minor (missing roll call, sleeping out of quarters, etc.).  The severity of the infraction and make-up of the garrison determined the type court martial imposed on a soldier.

Composition of the Court

Military trials were similar to their civilian counterpart.  A typical court martial included the arraignment, witness testimony, deliberations, and sentencing.  However, key differences between military and civilian courts included the composition of the court.  A typical court martial consisted of the defendant, judge advocate, and court panel.

An 1895 courts martial manual states that the role of judge advocate is to “prosecute in the name of the United States, but when the prisoner has made his plea, he shall so far consider himself counsel for the prisoner as to object to any leading question to the many of the witnesses, and to any question to the prisoner, the answer to which might tend to criminate himself.”  Essentially the judge advocate served as the prosecutor, but also had the responsibility that the defendant received a fair trial.  He did not factor into determining a verdict or, in the case of a guilty finding, the punishment.

The court panel consisted of 1-13 officers.  The highest ranking officer of the court served as president.  The court president served “as the organ of the court, to keep order and conduct its business.  He speaks and acts for the court in each case where the rule has been prescribed by law, regulation, or its own resolution.”

The severity of the infraction and make-up of the unit determined the type of court martial imposed on a soldier: general, garrison, regimental, field officer, and summary.  Below are brief overviews of each type of court.

Group of 13 officers serving as a court martial panel in the Army of the Cumberland, circa 1865. Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes (National Archives).
General Court Martial

General, regimental, and garrison courts martial are among the oldest U.S. Army tribunals.  All three appear in all published regulations from 1814 on.  Initially, general courts martial covered a wide-range of crimes.  However, by the 1890s these panels tried mostly capital crimes (i.e. crimes punishable by death).

The panel of a general court martial included 5-13 commissioned officers plus a judge advocate.  Fewer than five court members were allowed if no more were available.  These courts tried officers, enlisted men, cadets, and civilian government contractors.  Punishments inflected by these courts ranged from a written censure to death by firing squad.

Inferior Courts

The other four main types of 19th century U.S. Army courts tried non-capital crimes and are known collectively as inferior courts.  All four courts had limited punishment jurisdiction: no more than one month of hard labor, forfeiture of no more than one month of pay, and/or reduction of a non-commissioned officer to the ranks. The limitations just referenced pertained to those punishments only.  Additional penalties, including flogging, carrying a weight, hair shaving, etc. were also imposed, especially during the first half of the 19th century.

Regimental and Garrison Court Martial

Regimental and garrison courts each consisted of three officers.  In both instances, the junior-most officer served as court recorder.  A Civil War-era military justice manual described the roles and responsibilities of a recorder.  “His duties as to preparation, conducting the  prosecution, and  keeping the record, are similar to those of the judge advocate.  But, unlike the judge advocate, he is a member of the court, and merely conducts the case with the aid and concurrence of the other members.  Regimental [and garrison] courts are good schools in which young officers may, while acting as recorders, learn the duties of judge advocates.”

Field Officer Court

The exigency of the Civil War and draw on available manpower, especially the officer corps, prompted Congress to establish the field officer court martial in 1862.  A single field officer, serving with the same regiment as the defendant, tried cases normally punishable by a regimental or garrison court martial.  In 1874, the Judge Advocate General determined that field officer courts were only legal during times of declared war.

Summary Court

On October 1, 1890, Congress passed an act adding summary courts to the military judicial system.  Summary courts streamlined due process for soldiers charged with minor infractions.  Rather than languishing in the guard house for weeks or months enlisted men appeared in court within 24 hours of their arrest, Monday-Saturday.  Like the field officer court, one commissioned officer, second in rank at the post or station or of the command of the accused, comprised the summary court.

Courts Martial Database

Old Army Records will shortly launch a searchable database on this website.  Our first dataset will include courts martial.  Since most U.S. soldiers served during the later half of the 19th century, the dataset is heavily weighted towards that time period.  However, we have general, garrison, regimental, and summary court proceedings from 1807-1900.  Please check back for detailed information and specific examples of each type of courts martial.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or research suggestions.


Field Manual for Courts-Martial (1864)
The Judge Advocate and Recorder’s Guide (1877)
Manual for Courts-Martial (1895)
Military Laws, and Rules and Regulations for the Army of the United States (1814)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Revised United States Army Regulations of 1861 (1863)




Old Army Libraries: Publications Overview

“When the sentinel on the rampart announced the arrival of the mail boat today, a happy feeling came over me…so that I found it difficult to restrain my impatience while anxiously waiting for the orderly with the mail.”  Penned by a lieutenant serving on recruiting duty at Fort Wood in New York Harbor, these words no doubt echoed the sentiments of many Old Army soldiers.  Officers and enlisted men in the 19th century welcomed letters from family and friends.  However, mail often included books and periodicals.  Together correspondence and published works offered a brief reprieve from onerous army duty.  By the end of the 19th century army libraries contained thousands of publications.

Old Army Libraries

From an early date, army regulations provided for reading material for U.S. soldiers.  Provisions for army libraries appeared in the 1821 army regulations.  Article 41, Paragraph 14, for example, stipulated that proceeds from the post fund could be used for the “ purchase of books, &c. for a library, one section of which, to be adapted to the wants of the enlisted men.”  Post funds supplied army libraries with reading material throughout most of the 19th century.  Revenue generated from sutler taxes or savings accrued by not using the daily flour ration subsidized the post fund.

Military installations large and small had libraries.  The library for Fort Preble, a small artillery garrison located on the Atlantic shore in Maine, was located in a small frame building also occupied by four staff officers.  In 1875, the Surgeon General reported that the Fort Duncan, Texas, “post library consists of about one hundred and seventy volumes of miscellaneous books, which are kept in two hospital tents situated on the parade-ground a short distance southeast of the hospital, and used as library and reading-room; the latter is open to the garrison from guard­ mount until tattoo. Semi-daily and weekly papers are received. There are also two literary societies at the post, composed of members of the two cavalry companies.”

In 1886, the Adjutant General decreed that these items became public property attached to the respective post.  However, a year later army headquarters specified that neither newspapers nor periodicals could be purchased with post funds.  Rather subscriptions for these publications could be made from an allotment made to each company by the Quartermaster Department. By 1897, the Secretary of War reported a cumulative number of 51,498 volumes of books in libraries at 74 military posts.

…a judicious selection of interesting and instructive books…

Numerous benevolent aide societies and fraternal organizations also contributed reading material to army libraries.  Many of those organizations were faith or temperance based and, accordingly, most of their reading material reflected those tenents.  These groups included the American Bible Society, National Temperance Society, YMCA, and the U.S. Military Post Library Association (USMPLA).  Established in 1861, the aim of the USMPLA was to “establish libraries and reading rooms in all military posts and stations, and it call[ed] upon all benevolent and philanthropic persons to aid it in th[e] free distribution of proper reading material.”  By 1876, the USMPLA provided military installations throughout the nation with 4,672 volumes, 80,000 religious papers, 178,000 secular papers, 9,875 magazines, and 7,000 publications of the association.  The organization also facilitated the establishment of 13 literary and debating societies and 19 reading clubs.

Newspapers and magazines were also common.  Not surprisingly, common periodicals, including Army and Navy Journal, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and Harper’s Weekly, were widely distributed.  However, other weekly papers including Puck, Harper’s Franklin Square Library, and the Cincinnati Graphic were also distributed.  Puck was a very popular magazine known for its satirical cartoons.  In 1882, the weekly ranked second to the Army and Navy Register for distribution to military posts.

So what publications were available at specific posts?  Numerous period documents list the publications, and occasionally who checked them out, at individual posts.  The following are two examples.

Puck was a weekly magazine characterized by satirical cartoons. Several Old Army libraries received subscriptions to the periodical.
Examples From Old Army Libraries

In October 1866, a post council of administration, convened at Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory, authorized 2nd Lieutenant John R. Eschenburg, 14th Infantry, to purchase 10 books and a one-year subscription to the Sacramento Weekly Union, all for $10.00.  Books purchased included The Works of Washington Irving, including the short story titled Wolfert’s Roost, Macaria, or the Altars of Sacrifice a novel by Augusta Jane Evans, and one volume of the three-volume history titled History of the Dominion of the Arabs in Spain translated into English by Mrs. Jonathon Foster.

A council of administration at Fort Fetterman in present Wyoming authorized the purchase of a wider selection of books.  They included:

History of Charles XII, King of Sweden
John Lothrop Motley’s History of the Rise of Dutch Republic (ca. 1858)
John Lothrop Motley’s History of the United Netherlands (ca. 1860)
George Bancroft’s History of the United States (ca. 1860)
David Hume’s History of England (ca. 1826)
Antoine Henri de Jomini’s The Art of War (ca. 1862)

“Shakespear’s Complete”, probably one of various editions of William Shakespeare’s poems titled The Complete Works of Shakespeare…
“Byron’s Complete”, probably one of various editions of Lord George Gordon Byron titled The Complete Works of Lord Byron…
“Scott’s Complete Peotical Works”, probably one of various editions titled The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott…
“Burns Complete Poetical Works”, probably one of various editions titled The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns…

“Shakespear and His Friends”, probably Shakespeare and His Friends or “The Golden Age” of Merry England by Robert Folkestone Williams (various editions)
“Sir Walter Scotts (complete)”, a set of novels written by Scott

A council of administration, convened at Fort Fetterman in 1868, authorized the purchase of several books, including History of the Netherlands, for the post library.
A Diverse and Worldly View?

Interestingly, the Fort Fetterman list includes several books related to Scandinavian history.  I wonder if these books reflect the high number of soldiers born in that region?  The few books listed in the Bowie and Fetterman libraries suggest that the Old Army attempted to offer a diverse and thoughtful view of world.  Whether the rank and file actually read and appreciated these works is a question worthy of further investigation.  What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment or contact us directly.


Published Sources
Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1882, 1883, 1888, 1897)
Annual Report of the U.S. Military Post Library Association, 1870-1871 (1871)
General Orders and Circulars, Adjutant General’s Office (1886, 1887)
General Regulations for the Army (1821)
Public Libraries in the United States of America, Part I (1876)
Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri Commanded by Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan (1876)
Outline Description of U.S. Military Posts and Stations in the Year 1871 (1872)
The Publisher’s Weekly, No. 230, June 10, 1876.
Report on the Hygiene of the United States Army (Billings 1875)

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Orders and other documents, Fort Fetterman, Dakota Territory and Camp/ Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory

Unpublished Sources
Isaac d’Isay letter to Alida d’Isay (dated Fort Wood, New York Harbor, July 3, 1867); author’s collection

Unique 19th Century Army Jobs (Odd Old Army Jobs)

What did you do in the army?  This is a question asked of countless army veterans through the ages.  Gauging the number of reminiscences published by soldiers, especially Civil War veterans, the question pervaded 19th century America.  These publications often provide general narratives of their author’s service.  Even some popular overviews of the period, namely The Life of Billy Yank (Bell Irvin Wiley 1952), Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay (Don Rickey Jr. 1963), and Regular Army O! (Douglas C. McChristian 2017), generalize the day-to-day life of a 19th century U.S. soldier.  However, they do not provide the unique service experienced by an individual soldier.  While indexing various sets of orders, Old Army Records, identified several enlisted men and officers assigned to duties not typically discussed in reminiscences and general histories.  The following are some of those unique 19th century army jobs.

Unique 19th Century Army Jobs for Enlisted Men

Private Charles Bullock, Co. F, 15th Infantry, received the assignment to drive the police cart at District of New Mexico headquarters.  The cart did not transport prisoners.  Rather, it hauled trash and debris removed from the installation.  Soldiers did not welcome all jobs.  One can imagine the reaction George Anderson, a private in Co. K, 7th Cavalry, to being detailed to daily duty in charge of the slop cart at Fort Abraham Lincoln.

In December 1871, Captain William Kelly, 8th Cavalry, suffered from chronic dysentery and received permission to convalesce at his Portland, Oregon home.  At the time Kelly’s unit served in the District of New Mexico.  A nurse/ attendant, detailed from the enlisted men of the regiment, accompanied the captain.  Company C private, Richard Archer, received the assignment.  Sadly, Kelly died in Denver, Colorado en route to his home.

Often senior noncommissioned officers performed multiple duties.  In 1873, Fort Abraham Lincoln Ordnance Sergeant Eugene Walsh epitomized multitasking.  The post commander increased his workload by adding the responsibilities of post librarian and “the culture and preservation of the trees at this Post” to his duties.

Unique 19th Century Army Jobs for Officers

As previously discussed, officers performed a multitude of administrative duties in the Old Army (e.g. boards of survey and councils of administration).  However, like their enlisted men, officers sometimes drew unique assignments.  For example, in October 1885, the Adjutant General detailed lieutenants Allyn Capron (1st Artillery), Charles G. Treat (5th Artillery), and Isaac N. Lewis (2nd Artillery) for torpedo coursework at Willets Point, New York.  The 1881 U.S. Army regulations made provisions for artillery regiments to send subalterns to New York for instruction in the torpedo service.  These weapons differed from those used by the navy in that they were meant for shore defense.

 Capt. Charles G. Treat _newspaper_portrait photo, ca. 1899.
In 1885, 2nd Lt. Charles G. Treat completed torpedo service course work at Willets Point, New York. Treat is shown here as a Captain in the 7th Artillery, circa. 1899.

U.S. Revised Statute 1225, amended on July 5, 1876, allowed the President to detail army officers to teach military science or similar subjects at schools across the country.  As a result, 1st Artillery lieutenant James M. Ingalls assumed the role of professor of military science and tactics at Houghton High School in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, beginning in early 1877.

Enlisted men and officers alike often had the opportunity to perform unique jobs.  These jobs no doubt provided welcome reprieve from the mundane daily activities.  Nineteenth century U.S. Army records are filled with information that provides a unique narrative of an individual soldier’s service history.  Continue to check back as Old Army Records extracts this information.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Adjutant General’s Office, Special Orders (1877, 1885)
District of New Mexico, Special Orders (1871, 1872)
Fort Abraham Lincoln, D.T., Special Orders (1876)

Government Document
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1881)

1 year Anniversary of

In honor of the one year anniversary of the launch of, we present this short news post.


First, we would like to thank the many people who have helped and encouraged us in pursuit of our dream of bringing the details contained in 19th century army records to  history buffs, genealogists, authors, reenactors, historic site managers and others interested in the Old Army.  The list of supporters includes the Wyoming Technical Business Center (WTBC) staff (past and present); judges and sponsors of the 2017 WTBC Sheridan Start-Up Challenge; the staff of Sheridan Programmers Guild (the people responsible for the design of the website); our contract Document Scanner Operators in Washington, D.C.; the Sheridan Press and Gillette Record for their articles on our endeavor, and 1st Northern Bank of Wyoming.  For a more detailed list please visit our previous news post.

What’s Next?

So what’s next? Besides the unique and entertaining bi-weekly articles we post (here is the latest); we are still on track to bring the first data set from our Records Inventory online by the end of 2018 or early 2019.  As you might suspect, the chore of digitizing and indexing the sheer quantity of documents generated by 100 years of military operations is a huge task.  Add developing a comprehensive database and application to seamlessly integrate it with our website and you get some idea of the gargantuan task we have taken on.  But we feel it is worth it to finally be able to bring the details of the day-to-day lives of the Old Army soldier to those who are interested in this period of our shared heritage.

Need Your Help!

Your input is critical to keeping the Old Army alive.  Please help us by answering the following questions:

  1. What Old Army topics interest you?
  2. What records would you like us to add to our Records Inventory?
  3. How would you purchase access to records within the database?
    • Would you prefer a monthly subscription?
    • Would you prefer a set price for a particular document?
    • Other suggestion?

Please leave us your comments and suggestions or, if you prefer, contact us directly.  Until our next news post, ENJOY.

Old Army Numbers: 19th Century Cavalry Costs

Defense spending is a major part of the Federal budget.  In the 2019 fiscal budget, for example, defense spending is projected to represent 22% of national expenditures.  Surprisingly, current defense spending pales compared to Federal funds spent on national protection in the 19th century.  In 1810 defense accounted for 47% of the Federal budget, 1830 (55%), 1850 (43%), 1870 (32%), and 1890 (45%).  In addition to paying and arming soldiers, expenditures covered day-to-day operational and maintenance costs.  The cavalry was one of the most expensive branches to maintain.  A short letter sent by the Chief of Ordnance to the Adjutant General, just two years after the Civil War, illustrates the point.

On July 11, 1867, Brigadier General Alexander B. Dyer, Chief of Ordnance, sent an estimate to fellow brigadier Thomas M. Vincent, Assistant Adjutant General for the cost of arming and equipping a regiment of cavalry (1200 strong) for one year.  The estimate came on the heels of the addition of four new cavalry units (7th-10th) organized in late 1866.  In mid-1867 these new regiments were still fitting out and completing organization.  Dyer’s estimates therefore provide insightful information on the costs of maintaining not only the new units, but the six older cavalry regiments.

Weapons and Ammunition

The Spencer Carbine is the only firearm specified in the estimate.  Senior military leadership made issuing the repeating weapon a priority to all cavalry regiments.   By 1867, the new .50 caliber model of the weapon was being issued.  Unfortunately, the estimate does not specify the manufacturer or model of revolver.  Numerous percussion pistols were available then.  However, various documents, contemporary with the period, suggest that the prevalent sidearms were manufactured by Colt and Remington (.44 caliber).

Cavalry Horse Equipment

Per the 1862 Ordnance Manual, the complete set of cavalry horse equipment consisted of:

Bridle                                      Spurs (pair)

Watering Bridle                     Curry Comb

Halter                                      Horse Brush

Saddle                                     Link

Saddle Bags (pair)                 Picket Pin

Saddle Blanket                       Lariat

Surcingle                                 Nose Bag

Cavalry Accouterments

The Ordnance Department also provided the accouterments carried by the cavalryman including; cartridge boxes (one each for carbine and revolver), a saber belt, saber belt plate, sword knot (attached to the saber hilt), and carbine sling.  If issued percussion firearms the cavalryman also carried a cap pouch and cone pick.

A mounted cavalry regiment made an impressive display. Fully equipped, a regiment in 1867 probably looked similar to this drawing made by Waud, Alfred R. in 1863.

Maintenance Costs

About 18% of the budget estimated by Dyer went towards maintaining arms and equipment.  Not surprisingly, the upkeep costs of the horse equipment alone was nearly the same as keeping firearms operational.  Leather constituted the material used most in horse equipment.  The 1862 Ordnance Manual stipulated that harness alone should be inspected and cleaned at least four times a year.  This included the application of grease, such as neat’s-foot oil, to keep the leather supple.  Day-to-day wear and tear left leather equipment in need of constant upkeep.

19th Century Cavalry Costs

Dyer’s costs of arming and equipping a cavalry regiment for one year are eye-opening.  However, the estimate just covers the expenses associated with his bureau.  Obviously, cavalry required horses and forage (supplied by the Quartermaster Department) and cavalrymen needed to be paid (Paymaster Department) and fed (Subsistence Department).

In an earlier article in the Old Army Numbers series, I discussed the cost of the purchase and feeding of Old Army horses.  On average, the Quartermaster Department spent $508,500/ year to provide horses and forage in the late 1860s.  In 1867, the annual payroll for the enlisted men of a cavalry regiment totaled $184,848.  It cost, on average, an additional $100,740 to feed those men.  These costs do not include the cost of transporting supplies, officer’s salaries and allowances, and replacement costs of horses, arms, and equipment.  In 1867, a U.S. Cavalry regiment cost around 1 million dollars to arm, equip, staff, and maintain.  That equals 17 million in today’s dollars.  Keep checking back for updates on our exploration of all facets of Old Army life.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Letters, Endorsements, and Circulars Sent (1867).

Government Documents (from the digital library of Old Army Records)
Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1867)

The Army Paymaster’s Manual or Collection of Official Rules, for the Information and Guidance of Officers of the Pay Department of the United States Army by J.H. Eaton (Revised to include June 30, 1867).

The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army (3rd Edition, 1862).

Internet Resource (Current and historic Federal budget numbers)

Old Army Property: Sundial

While indexing general orders and circulars for the Military Division of the Missouri we came across a circular providing instructions on the use of a sundial.  The circular, issued on May 26, 1870, stated

[t]he annexed instructions for the constriction and use of sun dials [sic], prepared by Brevet Colonel William E. Merrill, Corps of Engineers, and Chief Engineer at these Headquarters, being of great practical value, are published for the information of the officers of this command.  Commanders of posts where there are no sun dials, will immediately cause such to be made for their respective posts, and all sun dials will be carefully protected and kept in good order.

Later, we found a general order, issued by the Department of Dakota, referring to the earlier document.  The sentence [c]ommanders of posts where there are no sun dials, will immediately cause such to be made for their respective posts… intrigued me and prompted the question:  do any Old Army sundials still exist?  But, before answering that question, we may ask:  why were sundials so important to the Old Army?

Importance of a Sundial

Essentially, sundials consist of flat plates and a gnomon, a fin-shaped protrusion that casts a shadow on the dial.  The observer uses the shadow, relative to sun’s altitude and/or azimuth, to determine the time.  Accurate timekeeping was essential for the effective running of an 19th century U.S. Army post.  The adjutant often served as the official post timekeeper.  His watch determined when the various drum or bugle calls occurred and established when the important task of guard mounting occurred.  However, sundials provided an approximation of the time.  Timekeepers needed to further refine the information to determine the true time as described in General Order (G.O.) 102, dated December 11, 1871, issued by the Department of Dakota:

The time given by a sun dial is solar or apparent time.  But as the sun does not move uniformly in his path, it is impossible to make watches follow his movements exactly.  The device has therefore been resorted to of supposing a fictitious sun, called the mean sun, which in a year passes through the same space as the true sun, and has a uniform motion.  Watches and clocks all show mean time.  To get mean time from the apparent time, which is shown by a sun dial, it is necessary to use a correction called the equation of time.  This correction is given in all nautical almanacs…published by the Bureau of Navigation of the Navy Department. 

The raw data derived from the sundial required further refinement to achieve the accurate watch time through a process known as equation of time.  A circular, issued by the Division of the Missouri in May 1870, included an equation of time table.

The Fort Randall Sundial

While researching extant sundials, I came across one in the collections of the Center for Western Studies, Augustana University.  The artifact is a brass dial plate from Fort Randall in present day South Dakota.  Established by order of General William S. Harney in June 1856, Fort Randall occupied a flat on the west side of the Missouri River.  For the next 36 years the post served as river-based supply and troop station.

The Fort Randall dial plate is nearly 12” square.  Arrayed along three sides are Roman numerals denoting twelve hours.  The name of the post along with the date (1871) and latitude (43°00’) of the fort, is inscribed at the bottom center of the plate.  The center of the plate has two slots, which supported the gnomon.  Unfortunately, the gnomon is missing.  One edge of the plate features the embossed initials U.S. Q.M.D., denoting the United States Quartermaster Department; the sundial was government issue.

The Quartermaster Department issued the Fort Randall sundial in 1871. Photo by the author with permission from the Center for Western Studies, Augustana University.

Dial plate embossing detail. Photo by the author with permission from the Center for Western Studies, Augustana University.

Surprisingly, the sundial does not appear on a plan view of Fort Randall, prepared in 1873.  A slightly different plan, illustrated in the 1876 government publication Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri Commanded by Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan, also does not show the sundial.

With the exception of the stone chapel, built in 1875, no extant buildings remain at the post.  The United States Army Corps of Engineers administers the archaeological site as the Fort Randall Dam and Lake Francis Case.  Today, a modern sundial sits in the middle of the parade ground, adjacent to the flagpole.

This detailed 1873 view of Fort Randall shows most of natural and built environment. However, the plan does not show the sundial, issued in 1871. From Report on the Hygiene of the United States Army (Billings 1875).

Other Old Army Sundials

The 1876 publication Outline Description of the Posts includes plan views of most stations within the Military Division of the Missouri.  At the time of publication, the division consisted of five departments (Dakota, the Platte, the Missouri, Texas, and the Gulf).  Soldiers manned nearly 90 stations within the division.  A review of plan views of military stations compiled in Outline Description of the Posts located about 10 posts that either showed the location of a sundial or listed a sundial in the map legend.  These plan views cannot be considered true representations of built features.  The quartermaster issued the Fort Randall sundial in 1871, but the dial does not appear on two plans of the fort prepared in the 1870s.  Nevertheless, the few illustrated examples provide insight into where sundials were typically located:

Department of Dakota
Abercrombie, Fort (on parade ground in front of guardhouse)
Abraham Lincoln, Fort (behind the adjutant’s office)
Wadsworth, Fort (middle of parade ground)

Department of the Missouri
Sill, Fort (on parade ground)
Supply, Camp/ Fort (denoted on the legend, but location undetermined)
Wallace, Fort (on edge of parade ground near the adjutant’s office)

Department of the Platte
Bridger, Fort (in front of the headquarters building)

Department of Texas
Ringgold Barracks (on edge of parade ground between the guardhouse and headquarters building)
Stockton, Fort (on edge of parade ground in front of “offices”)

As already mentioned, accurate timekeeping was essential to the Old Army.

Instructions issued by both the Division of the Missouri and reiterated by the Department of Dakota stated that “[the time] should be taken daily, at noon, when the weather permits, by the sergeant of the guard, and the guard clock…regulated accordingly.”  Although representing a small data set, documents referring to sundials in the division clearly show that the military installed the devices near the guardhouse or adjutant’s office.

What Happened to the Sundials?

The sundial at Fort Union, New Mexico is still in place.  However, a simple internet search failed to identify any other extant sundials in the area known historically as the Military Division of the Missouri.  Several reasons likely account for their disappearance.  First, souvenir hunters likely collected some dials.  Second, other dials probably ended up in scrap piles during World War Two.  Finally, sundials, such as the one from Fort Randall, ended up in museums.  Do you know the whereabouts of an Old Army sundial?  If so, please share it with us.


I would like to thank Center for Western Studies, Augustana University, and especially Liz Cisar, for allowing me to examine and photograph the Fort Randall sundial plate.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Department of Dakota, General Orders, Circulars (1871)
Division of the Missouri, General Orders and Circulars (1870)

Government Documents
Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri Commanded by Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan (1876)
Report on the Hygiene of the United States Army (Billings 1875)

Old Army Records: Special Orders

This article is a continuation of the series describing the various orders issued in the Old Army.  Most orders fell into two categories:  general or special.  As previously discussed, general orders covered a broad range of subjects.  The Regulations for the Army of the United States (1881) summarizes the information contained in special orders:

Special Orders are such as do not concern the troops generally; such as relate to the march of some particular corps, the establishment of some temporary post, the detaching of individuals, the granting requests, and generally such matters as need not be published to the whole command.

This rather simple official definition belies the amount of information contained in special orders.  Special orders were, essentially, personnel management instructions.  They specified duties performed by all soldiers, officers and enlisted men alike.

Special Orders

Each order included the source (order number, date of issue, place of issue, and the name of the commander issuing the order).  Often orders also included the name of the adjutant.  As discussed in the previous post, orders emanated from a variety of Old Army commands and units, including the War Department through the Adjutant General of the Army (AG), division headquarters, military posts, regiments, or battalions.

Of all of the types of orders issued in the 19th century, special orders were the most numerous.  Special orders issued by the adjutant general totaled 268 in 1876, 302 in 1887, and 308 in 1898.  Obviously, in times of open conflict the number of orders issued rose dramatically.  In 1846, General Zachary Taylor, commander of the United States Army of Occupation, issued 142 special orders over an eight-month span.  Likewise, during the peak of the Civil War, the adjutant general issued nearly 600 special orders in 1863 alone.

Every special order typically included paragraphs, which could number 50 or more.  Each paragraph typically referred to a unique individual or circumstance.  The content of most special orders is summarized below.

Promotions and Demotions

Promotion was the goal of most Old Army officers.  Higher rank meant increased responsibility, pay, and social status.  The AGO issued orders regarding the promotion or, occasionally, demotions, of officers.  Whereas army headquarters dealt with the status of officers, the professional fate of enlisted men largely rested with their regiment.  Company commanders, who in theory observed the day-to-day interactions of the enlisted men under his command, recommended men for noncommissioned officer (NCO) positions to the regimental commander.  In turn, the regimental commander considered the request and, in most instances, approved the changes.

Surprisingly, promotions and demotions occurred frequently.  The expiration of service, disciplinary action, and a simple desire not to have the responsibility required periodic changes in NCO positions.  In rare instances battle losses resulted in mass-promotions.  In the weeks immediately following the Battle of the Little Big Horn, for example, Major Marcus A. Reno, field commander of the 7th Cavalry, issued several special orders promoting individuals to fill the ranks of noncommissioned officers killed in the engagement.  Special Order No. 59 (7th Cavalry), approving promotions in Company K, is a representative example:

Corporal George Hove to be sergeant (vice 1st Sgt. DeWitt Winnie killed)

Private Michael P. Madden to be sergeant (vice Sgt. Robert H. Hughes killed)

Duty Assignments (Officers)

Special orders convened a wide range of panels on which officers served.  Many, such as boards of survey, councils of administration, courts martial, occurred regularly.  These mundane duties consumed a large portion of a line officer’s duty.  Special orders also assigned officers to unique duty.  For instance, in April 1863, the AGO ordered Captain Cyrus B. Comstock, with the Corps of Engineers, to assume charge of the balloon establishment (also known as the Balloon Corps).  The order also empowered Comstock sole discretion for requisitions and accounts pertaining to the balloon organization.

In April 1863, the Adjutant General ordered Captain Cyrus B. Comstock to assume charge of the U.S. Army Balloon Corps.
Duty Assignments (Enlisted Men)

Old Army duty required extensive labor commitments.  Routine activities, such as erecting buildings, escorting supply trains, providing water and firewood to the garrison, more often than not required the labor of enlisted men.  For small escorts, such as transferring mail, orders specified, by name, the NCO in charge.  When there was a shortage of available men, privates often filled in, temporarily, as the NCO in charge.

Most special orders, especially at the regiment and post levels, assigned men to complete these onerous tasks.  Therefore, special orders are excellent sources for viewing the day-to-day life of an enlisted man in the 19th century army.  Special Order No. 182, issued at Fort Abraham Lincoln in September 1876 is typical of the “job” assignments.  In the order, Private Charles Banks, a Battle of the Little Big Horn survivor from Company L, 7th Cavalry, was detailed on daily duty as mail carrier for the post adjutant.

In March 1886, 6th Cavalryman, Private John H. Gaston got a brief reprieve from field duty with his company, then serving at a remote temporary camp.  He was ordered to “his station at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, to prepare [the] troop garden for the coming season.

Special orders also demonstrate that even lowly privates assumed, at least temporarily, heady responsibilities.  On March 7, 1885, District of New Mexico commander, Colonel Luther Bradley, issued Special Order 14 detailing Private Hugh Hartmann, then serving with a General Service detachment, to proceed to Fort Selden, New Mexico to verify and establish the boundaries of that military reservation.

Distributing Troops

Whether marching to a battle, shifting positions on the battlefield, or simply changing stations, Old Army soldiers were always moving.  Special orders conveyed detailed instructions regarding the moves.  Those orders outlined the time and place of marches, the unit or number of men required, the amount of ammunition and rations required, etc.  The following example is from Special Order No. 180 issued by headquarters of the 8th Army Corps on July 5, 1863:

Brigadier-General Briggs, U. S. Volunteers, will immediately proceed with the following named troops by railroad to Frederick City, Md.: The Ninth Maryland Volunteer Infantry; the Tenth Maryland Volunteer Infantry; the Eighth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the Forty-sixth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the Fifty-first Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the Seventh Regiment New York State Militia; detachment of the [First] Connecticut Cavalry; Battery B, First Maryland Volunteer Artillery; Battery C, First Pennsylvania Volunteer Artillery.

The command will go in light marching order.  They will carry with them their blankets, canteens, and haversacks; 40 rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes, and 20 rounds in their pockets.

Leaves of Absence

Serving at remote stations or under arduous field conditions took a strain on Old Army personnel.  Regulations afforded officers greater opportunity for rest.  Justifications for leaves included medical conditions, the desire to see wife and children, or simply a need to attend to “personal matters”.  In all instances, the AG reviewed and approved these applications.  If approved, the AG specified the length of time for sabbaticals in a special order.  Often, the order included an option to extend the break.

Although rare, enlisted men could apply for leaves of absence.  Time off for enlisted men depended upon the length of time they served, their character, and the severity of the request.  As with officers, the AG approved all requests by enlisted men for leaves of absence.  For example, in March 1833, the AG granted Sergeant Alexis St. Martin, with a detachment of orderlies “at the seat of Government”, a three-month furlough.

In August 1856, a general court martial panel found Private John Price, 8th Infantry, guilty of violating the 9th Article of War. His sentence included serving hard labor, with a ball and chain attached to his left leg, for 12 months. However, a portion of the punishment was remitted through Special Order No. 25.
Other Subjects

The topics discussed above typify what is in Old Army special orders.  However, these types of instructions often included information about other subjects such as the requisition and use of specific government property.  Special orders also addressed issues affecting specific units.  One such issue was the abuse of alcohol that persisted throughout the 19th century army.

Curbing Alcohol Use

In January 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, then commander of the Department of Tennessee, issued Special Order No. 26 directing that “[t]he Bars in Government service in this Department will be closed and no Spirituous, Vinous or Malt Liquors will be allowed to be sold on the boats or in the Camps.”

Alcohol remained an issue and commanders struggled to curb its abuse.  For example, Colonel Richard I. Dodge, commanding a battalion on the Powder River Expedition, issued Special Order No. 21 in December 1876:

[t]he Trader or Sutler at this camp is herby forbidden to sell intoxicating liquor either by the glass or quantity to enlisted men of this command.  Liquors will only be sold to Commd [commanding] officers, or on the presentation of written orders from the same; and officers are forbidden to sign orders for liquor for the personal use of enlisted men.  Company Commanders may purchase, in bulk, liquors for the use of men of their respective companies; and will see that it is properly distributed; and be held responsible for any cases of drunkenness which may occur therein. 

However, Dodge’s order did not resonate with the officers under his command, prompting him to issue Special Order No. 22 just one day later.

Company commanders having failed to respond to the desire of the Commanding Officer to allow their men to have liquor, & at the same time keep its sale under proper control Special Order No. 21 is hereby revoked.  The sutler is permitted to sell liquors by the drink to all enlisted men who are not at the time under its influence.  He will sell to enlisted men no liquor by the bottle or quantity, and in no case sell even a drink to any man who is already under the influence of liquor.

Service History Through Special Orders, An Example

Special orders provide a wealth of information on the routine life of an Old Army soldier, whether an officer or enlisted man.  In the last article, I summarized a report compiled by Captain Henry E. Noyes while serving as an assistant inspector general during the Civil War.  Noyes’ army career lasted into the early 20th century.  A query of random special order sets, digitized and indexed by Old Army Records, indicates Noyes’ post-Civil War experience was diverse:

The Value of Special Orders

As the above example illustrates, there is a wealth of information in special orders.  However, orders, like most Old Army records, are either not digitized and/or thoroughly indexed.  Old Army Records developed software and a process to quickly and efficiently digitize and index these significant documents for names, places, events, and subjects.  In the coming months, we will make some 19th century army records available.  While we continue to digitize and index documents, Old Army Records is accepting custom requests by individuals for information in orders (general and special), letters, reports, etc.  Feel free to contact us for information.