Old Army officers had numerous administrative and command duties. At the root of all these responsibilities was complete and accurate record keeping. One military position was responsible for the extant Old Army records: the adjutant.
The Adjutant General
Congress authorized the creation of Adjutant General’s Office (AGO) in 1813. Initially headed by a brigadier general, the AGO was tasked with issuing orders from army headquarters, detailing troops for specific movements and tasks, and the instruction of troops. The office also served as the repository of documents pertaining to army personnel. In times of conflict a small cadre of temporary adjutants, known as acting assistant adjutant generals, aided with the administrative duties. At the regiment and military post level, those administrative duties were completed by junior officers assigned the position simply known as adjutant.
Although written for regimental adjutants, the following statement, from the 1847 army regulations, equally applies to the position within all types of commands.
It is enjoined upon the adjutant to maintain a courteous and friendly understanding with his brother officers, avoiding all discussions upon the orders, or military conduct of the commander. He should inform himself upon all points of military usage and etiquette; and on proper occasions kindly aid, with his advice and experience, the younger subalterns of the regiment, especially those just entering the service. And he should, at all times, endeavor to exert the influence belonging to his station, in sustaining the reputation and discipline of the regiment.
Captains oversaw their respective companies. The role of post, regiment, and detachment adjutant therefore fell to the junior most officers, lieutenants. Like other staff positions, adjutants served at the discretion of the colonel or permanent commander. However, by the end of the 19th century army regulations stipulated that officers could only serve four years in the position. He was not eligible for a second tour in that capacity except to serve an unexpired term of four years.
Often detachments were assembled to complete temporary assignments. Officers completed ad-hoc positions for these units. For example, in the spring of 1875 a battalion of the 7th Cavalry took up post near Yankton, South Dakota to quell disturbances at the nearby Ponca Indian Agency. Second Lieutenant William Thomas Craycroft was detailed as adjutant as well as quartermaster and commissary of subsistence for the battalion.
Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
Whether using a small field desk under “an oak tree”, in tents, or dedicated office space an adjutant performed several tasks. Captain August V. Kautz in Customs of Service for the Officers of the Army summed up the role and responsibility of an adjutant.
The Adjutant is the official organ of the regimental commander through whom he communicates with the subordinates in the regiment. He has charge of the books, records, and papers pertaining to the regiment. He superintends the machinery and workings of the regiment. He communicates the orders of the commander, and sees that they are obeyed, and the regular returns and reports are made. He keeps the roster of the officers, makes the details that are called for from the regiment, and forms and marches on the guard at guard mounting.
In addition, the adjutant oversaw the regimental/ post band, often functioned as the official unit timekeeper, served as post treasurer, and issued non-commissioned officer warrants (official papers notifying soldiers of promotion to the rank of corporal or sergeant). Adjutants maintained a variety of books and documents. The types of documents varied throughout the 19th century. However, the following is a representative example:
General Order Book
Index to Letters Received
Letters Sent Book
Morning Report Book
Special Order Book
Each morning the adjutant prepared duty rosters which detailed officers and enlisted men to a variety of temporary assignments. These included officer of the day, fatigue and guard duty. The first sergeants in turn met with the adjutant to receive orders and assignments pertaining to their respective companies. Clerks, detailed from the enlisted ranks, often assisted adjutants with copying and organizing the various reports and papers. Not surprisingly, clerks received assignments based on their administrative ability and penmanship.
Adulation and Consternation
The position of adjutant was prestigious, but carried great responsibility. Post and regiment commanders often recognized the service provided by the military administrators. George M. Templeton, 27th U.S. Infantry is a typical example. Templeton’s promotion to Captain no longer allowed him to serve as adjutant at Fort C.F. Smith, Montana Territory (M.T.). In a January 1868 special order, post commander Luther P. Bradley announced the change and “to express his sense of the very faithful and able manner in which he has discharged the duties of Post Adjutant.” This sentiment is typical of the sentiments expressed by commanders for adjutants vacating their position.
Occasionally, an adjutant ran afoul of military protocol and answered to a court martial. In 1873, 2nd Lieutenant Charles Austin Booth, a 7th Infantry officer and adjutant at Fort Benton, M.T. found himself defending the charge of “conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.” In his staff capacity Booth “became acquainted with the contents of an official communication from the Commanding Officer of the Department of Dakota” and addressed to the commander of Fort Benton. The communication in question dealt with policy to prevent Indians from visiting the nearby town of Benton.
Booth informed several local citizens of the policy thereby violating one of the key tenants of adjutant: confidentiality. The court found Booth guilty and sentenced him to a written reprimand issued by general order from Brigadier General Alfred Terry, the department commander. However, Terry concluded that Booth completed the indiscretion inadvertently “rather than the intent to do wrong” and opted not to inflict upon him the “mortification of a reprimand.”
Often, Old Army researchers experience frustration with gaps in the original records for the period. However, considering the fact that 19th century army records slogged with the soldiers through wind, rain, snow, and mud, we are fortunate that we have as many records as we do. This is largely due to the unsung administrative warriors of the period, the adjutants. Check out our list of documents kept by adjutants and indexed by Old Army Records. In the next article I will discuss details from a superb regimental history prepared by an extremely capable adjutant.
Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
General Orders from the Headquarters of the Department of Dakota, 1873
Special and General Orders, Fort C.F. Smith
Special Orders, General Orders, and Circulars, Seventh Cavalry
General Regulations for the Army (1821)
General Regulations for the Army of the United States (1847)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Regulations of the Army of the United States (1881)
Revised U.S. Army Regulations (1863)
Legislative History of the General Staff of the Army of the United States (Its Organization, Duties, Pay, and Allowances), From 1775-1901 (1901)
Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1866)
Cornelius C. Platter Civil War Diary, 1864 – 1865, Hargerett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries