Old Army Ordnance Inventory: Fort Laramie (1877)

The one persistent theme of our articles is that paperwork and the 19th century U.S. Army went hand-in-hand.  Previous topics explored many types of records kept during that period, including orders, boards of survey, and lists of countersigns and paroles.  Lists provide a brief glimpse into the who, what, and where of the Old Army.  Army ordnance, for example, consistently made lists. 

Historic 1876 Fort Laramie plan view showing location of the army ordnance magazine, in red, taken from "Outline Descriptions of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri, 1876". oldarmyrecords.com
This plan view, dated 1876, shows how the size and extent of the Fort Laramie. Army ordnance of all ages was stored in the magazine located along officer’s row.

In the summer of 1877, the Department of the Platte inspector general (IG) submitted a report of military posts located in what is today Wyoming.  An IG scrutinized and reported upon a wide array of subjects pertaining to the efficiency of the army.  Significant topics coming under the purview of inspectors included the condition and serviceability of supplies, arms, and equipment.

In addition to providing brief discussions on the proficiency of the garrisons, the report included lists of ordnance and ordnance stores he deemed no longer of value and “should be transferred or sold.”  The IG report for Fort Laramie revealed a list of ordnance-related items. Magazines, buildings dedicated to the storage of arms and munitions, often became attics for various types of ordnance and ordnance stores.

Post on the North Platte

Established in 1849 in a run-down fur trade post, Fort Laramie became the center piece of army presence on the northern plains.  Over its 41-year history mounted riflemen, dragoons, cavalry, and infantry, passed through the fort.  Ordnance stored in the post magazine in 1877 was as diverse  as the fort’s history. 

Historic photo, 1942, of Fort Laramie magazine courtesy of Library of Congress. oldarmyrecords.com
View of the Fort Laramie magazine in 1942 years after the post was abandoned. Interestingly, the structure appears to have modified for use as a livestock shed. HABS WYO,8-FOLA,3I–1, Library of Congress.
Captured Army Ordnance

In October 1876, the army seized several firearms and related equipment from inhabitants at Red Cloud Agency.  At the time the agency, located 78 miles east of Fort Laramie, included 5,000 to 6,000 Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne Indians.  The list of confiscated weapons included the following, which were likely stored at Fort Laramie for safety concerns:

  • 1 old style horse pistol
  • 1 Harpers Ferry Rifle
  • 11 squirrel rifles (brass mounted, some barrels cut-down)
  • 1 English musket (cut-down)
  • 1 Sharps Carbine, caliber .50 (worn with a broken stock)
  • 4 Remington pistols
  • 7 Colt pistols (navy and army)
  • 8 Spencer Carbines (1 with a broken stock)

Some, if not all, of the weapons undoubtedly saw use by warriors in clashes with the army earlier in 1876.  Battles included Powder River, Rosebud, Little Big Horn, and Slim Buttes as well as numerous skirmishes.  However, the “squirrel rifles” probably represented small-animal hunting muzzle- loading firearms.  Many guns with that designation fired small caliber, roughly the size of a pellet, lead balls.

Other items taken from Indians included three bullet molds, three holsters, four field belts with cartridges, and about 100 rounds of caliber .44 ammunition for the Henry Rifle.  Unfortunately, the list does not elaborate on whether the Indians took the field belts and holsters from soldiers. 

Antiquated Arms 

The U.S. Army entered the Civil War woefully deficient in material, including firearms, to supply its soldiers.  As a result, the army purchased and issued guns of all different calibers and ammunition types.  Following the War, the ordnance department standardized the caliber of small arms.  As a result, the army adopted caliber .45 for its revolvers, rifles, and carbines.  Twelve years after the end the Civil War, the Fort Laramie magazine still contained antiquated ordnance of no use to the Regular Army. 

  • 19 Enflield Rifles
  • 14 American and English rifles
  • 5 Spencer Carbines
  • 11 Starr Carbines
  • 12 Smith Carbines
  • 1 Sharps Carbine
  • 2 Maynard Carbines
  • 1 Joslyn Carbine
  • 2 Springfield percussion carbines
  • 2 American-contract carbines

Significantly, the IG noted that the above property was “[a]ll broken, utterly unserviceable, and mostly fit for scrap.” 

Photo of Smith carbine, saw extensive service during the Civil War and at Fort Laramie and often showed up on army ordnance inventories.
The Smith Carbine, caliber .50, saw extensive service during the Civil War and at Fort Laramie.  By 1877, however, the Regular Army no longer needed the carbine and its foil-type cartridge.  Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.
Outdated Ammunition

The Fort Laramie magazine also contained outdated ammunition, representing various calibers and ignition systems.  This included, for example, over 10,000 rounds of caliber .44 linen and/or paper cartridges for cap and ball revolvers and the Colt revolving rifle.  The inventory also included over 9,300 percussion caps.  In addition, 1,000 rounds of caliber .52 Sharps ammunition and 3,000 rounds of Poultney’s brass foil cartridges (with a patent date of December 13, 1863) for the Smith Carbine made the inventory.  

Perhaps the most interesting type on ammunition on the list are 5,890 rounds of caliber .58 ball cartridges for the percussion carbine.  This ammunition likely fit the two Springfield percussion carbines listed above.  The carbines were actually pistols with an attachable shoulder stock better known as the Model 1855 Percussion Pistol-Carbine.

Photo of M1855 Springfield percussion horse-pistol often showed up on army ordnance inventories.
Interestingly, in 1877, the Fort Laramie still had M1855 Springfield pistol-carbines and associated ammunition. However, the condition of the weapons were poor compared to this example at the National Museum of American History and photographed by Ralph G. Packard.
Other Agencies Storage Facility

Fort Laramie was strategically located on main travel routes.  As a result, numerous government expeditions, military and otherwise, passed through the post.  Sometimes, those expeditions simply left government property there.  In 1877, the army ordnance list included; 22 firearms (8 Spencer Carbines and 9 Springfield muskets, caliber .50) and 7 infantry cartridge boxes, “reported belonging to [the] Interior Dept.”  The condition of the weapons used by the Interior Department is revealing.  The IG noted that the condition of the Spencers, for instance, as “worn, rusty or [with] locks out of order.”  The rifles also showed signs of heavy use, or misuse.  Many, for instance, featured broken ejectors; with at least one broken stock.  I wonder if the condition of the guns would have been as bad if the Interior Department retained ownership and responsibility for them.

A Simple, yet Revealing View of the Old Army

Lists offer a simple, albeit brief, view into what the 19th century army considered important.  Inventories provide an overview of the types and number of arms, equipment, and rations on hand or used by soldiers.  Likewise, rosters indicate duty assignments or casualties.  Lists are one of the dozens of types of documents that Old Army Records is actively digitizing and indexing.  Want to know more about the 1877 Fort Laramie ordnance inventory?  Contact us.

Sources

Army Regulations
Department of the Platte, Office of the Inspector, Letters Sent
Fort Laramie, D.T., Letters Sent

Government Publication
Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri (1876)

 

Sharpshooters: Ad-Hoc Duty at Petersburg (1864)

Most Civil War soldiers volunteered for federal service.  However, a few were draftees or substitutes (paid replacements for men drafted).  Regardless of how they entered service, all Union soldiers left a paper trail.  Compiled Military Service Records, often requested from the National Archives, include a synopsis of an individual’s stint in the Old Army.  Compiled Military Service Records usually list the dates the soldier was present for duty and provided general pay, death, hospitalization dates, and death or discharge dates.  However, much of the day-to-day or provisional duties performed by the soldier are often omitted from compiled service records.   

While completing a request for information from records generated by the U.S. 10th Army Corps, we came across General Order 14 assigning over 100 men for temporary duty.  Short-term duty assignments were common in the Old Army.  However, Order 14 is unique in that it formed a provisional unit of sharpshooters near Petersburg, Virginia. 

10th Army Corps (South Carolina to Pertserburg)

Organized in September 1862, the 10th Army Corps served mostly in South Carolina before joining the Army of the James in the winter of 1864.  In late May 1864 portions of the Corps were transferred to support the Army of the Potomac in Virginia.  The order, forming the ad-hoc sharpshooter detachment, came shortly after the 10th Corps arrived on the Petersburg front in June 1864.  

According to a history of the 48th New York Infantry (assigned to the 2nd Division, 10th Corps), “[o]n June 23d we finally reached the position in the forti­fications in front of Petersburg which we were destined to occupy for weeks; that position was in the immediate neighborhood of the Jerusalem Plank Road, and just to the left of where the fortifications crossed it. We were immediately on the right of Burnside’s Ninth Corps.  We were now confronted by Lee’s entire army, behind formidable lines of redans, redoubts, and infantry parapets, with skillfully contrived outer defences [sic] of abatis, stakes, and chevaux de-frise.”

Union troops often positioned themselves within yards of the fortified Confederates around Petersburg.  The proximity resulted in heavy casualties, especially from marksmen, inflicted upon Union soldiers.  The conditions prompted senior commanders to organize provisional units of marksmen to counter the Confederates.  Consequently, “[a] detail of sharp-shooters was made from the 97th P. V. [Pennsylvania Volunteers and other units in the 10th Corps] on June 27, the best marksmen of each company being selected for this arduous and dangerous service.”  Because they served under the 18th Corps, the sharpshooters were often referred to as belonging to that organization.

Three Historic photos of the fortifications & trenches outside Petersburg, Viginia, 1864 where sharpshooters fought. Images from page 542 of "The Civil War through the camera : hundreds of vivid photographs actually taken in Civil War times, together with Elson's new history" (1912)
In 1864, 10th Corps and Confederate troops fought in close proximity near Petersburg.  These images illustrate some of the fortifications near the city. Photos taken by Henry William Elson and Mathew Brady.
“The following…are hereby organized as Sharpshooters…”
1st Sergeant Herman Sixby, 112th New York Infantry and provisional 10th Corps sharpshooter, circa 1863. oldarmyrecords.com
Three veteran officers commanded the 10th Corps provisional sharpshooters. They included 1st Lieutenant Herman Sixby (112th New York Infantry) shown here as a 1st Sergeant. Photo courtesy of the Chautauqua County Historical Society, Westfield, NY.

General Order 14, issued by the 2nd Division, 10th Corps on June 27, 1864, lists 114 officers and enlisted men for duty as sharpshooters.  Captain True Sanborn, Jr. (4th New Hampshire Infantry) commanded the provisional unit.  Lieutenants Herman Sixby (112th New York Infantry) and John W. Filkins (115th New York Infantry) assisted Sanford.   Sanborn served as an officer with the 4th New Hampshire since 1861.  Sixby and Filkins both attained commissions after stints as enlisted men.  Sixby, for example, mustered in as a sergeant in Company E, 112th New York Infantry in August 1862.  Promotions to first sergeant and first lieutenant occurred by early 1863. 

Eight noncommissioned officers (NCO), four sergeants and four corporals, assisted Sanborn, Sixby, and Filkins.  The NCOs represented eight different regiments.  Jack Sheppard, from Company K, 117th New York Infantry, served as senior sergeant.  Sheppard enlisted in Remsen, New York in August 1862.  He served as sergeant since June 20, 1863.  Fittingly, he listed his civilian profession as hunter. 

Diverse Background of Privates

The 103 privates detailed as ad-hoc sharpshooters represented 13 different infantry regiments:

13th Indiana                                        112th New York

9th Maine                                            115th New York

4th New Hampshire                          117th New York

3rd New York                                      142nd New York

47th New York                                    169th New York

48th New York                                    76th Pennsylvania

                                    97th Pennsylvania

Just as importantly, the enlisted represented a wide-range of backgrounds.  For instance, Isaac Pawling (or Pauling) enlisted as a 21-year old blacksmith in August 1861.  Alfred Young was a 22-year old former printer from Chelsea, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  Significantly, his captain considered him a “brave, faithful and fearless soldier.”  Private George J. Switzer entered service in October 1863 as a draftee. 

Service Without Fanfare

The 10th Corps sharpshooters did not wait long before getting into action.  On June 30, 1864 the ad-hoc unit formed a critical component of an assault on Confederate positions, which yielded few gains.  One of the rare official instances that mentioned 10th Corps sharpshooters occurred in July 1864.  Brigadier General John W. Turner stated that “[d]uring the night of the 29th Colonel Bell [4th New Hampshire Infantry] dislodged the enemy’s pickets in a point of timber some 100 yards in front…and secured a position for forty sharpshooters, which partly enfiladed and with considerable command over the enemy’s line.  These men did good execution during the following day” (emphasis added by me).  

Unfortunately, available records fail to provide the complete operational history of the 10th Corps provisional sharpshooters.  Significantly, several of the histories of the regiments, from which the sharpshooters served, offer little narrative on their activities.  However, we know that several of the soldiers littered the casualty rolls shortly after being detailed as marksmen.

Temporary Yet Deadly Duty

Lieutenant Sixby, for example, received wounds on July 30th while engaged outside Petersburg causing him to resign early in 1865.  Former carpenter Robert M. Williams joined the 117th New York Infantry shortly after the war began.  Unfortunately, Williams received serious wounds about a month after being detailed as a sharpshooter.  He died, as a result of the wounds, in August 1864.  Additionally, privates Charles D. Hall (4th New Hampshire, killed in action July 2nd) and Alonzo Harrington (117th New York killed in action July 17th) did not survive the war.

Privates Charles Sauer and George A. Houghtaling, both detailed from the 115th New York Infantry, survived the war, but counted as casualties in late July 1864 at the Battle of Deep Bottom.  Sauer, from Company E, received two wounds while Confederates captured Houghtaling.

Sharpshooters 18th Corps. oldarmyrecords.com
An 1864 drawing by Alfred R. Waud depicting “Sharpshooters on the 18th Corps Front” outside Petersburg.   However, the 10th Corps served under the 18th Corps. Are these figures actually men from the 10th Corps detailed by General Order No. 14? Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Important Information Missing From Most Compiled Military Service Records

The military service for Civil War soldiers included a wide-array of duty.  However, Compiled Military Service Records often omit important assignments, such as messengers, clerks, aides, and even sharpshooters.  Are you getting the complete military service history of a 19th century soldier?  We can help!  Contact us for more information.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Chautauqua County Historical Society, Westfield, NY, and especially Shari Gollnitz permitting Old Army Records to publish the photograph of Herman Sixby.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
10th Army Corps, General Orders and Circulars (2/1864-7/1865)

Published Sources (in Old Army Records digital library)

The History of the Forty-Eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers, in the War for the Union, 1861-1865 (1885)

History of the Ninety-Seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry During the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (1875)

A History of the One Hundred and Seventeenth Regiment, N.Y. Volunteers, (Fourth Oneida,) from the Data of its Organization, August, 1862 Till That of its Muster Out, June, 1865 (1866)

The Iron Hearted Regiment:  Being an Account of the Battle, Marches and Gallant Deeds Performed by the 115th Regiment N.Y. Vols. (1865)

Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-5 (Fox 1889)

Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866 (1895)

Government Documents
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  Series 1, Volumes 40 and 42.

Other Sources

Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Year 1903 (Serial No. 34)

Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Year 1903 (Serial No. 35)

Army Horses: An Overview of Markings

Hardtack, muskets, and haversacks are synonymous with the 19th century U.S. Army.  Aside from being used by soldiers, what do these articles have in common?  Army horses and mules transported all three items, and hundreds more like them.  All government property included some form of labeling and unique identification.  Packages of provisions had the contents, and often the name of the supplier, stenciled on the outside.  Muskets included arsenal marks.  Rifles, which replaced muskets, were stamped with unique serial numbers.  Some soldiers labeled their haversacks with indelible ink.  Later versions often had unit information (company and regiment) stenciled on the outer flap.

As previously discussed, horses and mules represented a substantial financial investment and required more thorough tracking.  How were the army horses and mules identified and described?  The Old Army used several methods to characterize those important assets.

A Wide Color Spectrum
examples of leggings markings found on army horses.
Examples of horse and mule leg markings. Top (left-right):
stocking, sock, fetlock. Bottom (left-right): pastern, coronet, partial pastern. Illustration prepared by Sara Sander and courtesy wikimedia commons.

Army horses and mules came in a wide range of colors and color combinations.  Color, therefore, was the basic descriptor, of government livestock.  Hues included chestnut, bay, gray, flea-bitten gray, buckskin, strawberry roan, dun, and black, just to name a few.  Animals often had distinctive body markings with patterns on the face and leg markings being most prevalent.

Early in the 19th century, U.S. Army regulations stipulated that units maintain descriptive books for horses.  The 1821 regulations stated that the books should include the age, height, and color of the animals.  The registers provided a ready reference for animals lost, injured, or sold.  For example, in July 1868, Lieutenant Ephraim Tillotson desired to buy a public horse.  Department of Platte headquarters consented to sell the animal once a board of survey convened to determine the purchase price.  The three-member panel valued the light bay horse with black feet, mane and tail and “no other marks upon him” at $61.66⅔.  More often, colors and markings were used in conjunction with brands.

Hisroric photo, from the Civil War,  of a U.S, Army soldier holding an army horse. This animal has a star on its face.
Old Army horses often had unique descriptive markings. The horse shown in this frequently used photo has a star on its face. Photo from Francis Miller’s The photographic history of the Civil War (1911) and courtesy wikimedia commons.
Army Horse and Mule Brands

In addition to requiring units to maintain descriptive books of public horses, the 1821 Army Regulation also required that “horses and draft cattle, in the use of a regiment, or of individual officers, will each be branded with the letters “U. S.” on some conspicuous part.

Example of brand placement for army horses in the Department of the Platte.
Regulations detailed the size and placement of brands on army horses and mules. In 1867, for example, the Department of the Platte provided the following illustration for horse brands.  The top characters represented the regiment and branch ( cavalry or artillery). The bottom letter denoted the company or battery.

The 1895 edition of army regulations further specified that horses for cavalry and light artillery “will be branded ‘U. S.’ on the hoof of the left fore foot, other animals on the left shoulder. Cavalry and light artillery horses will also be branded under the mane with the number of regiment and letter of troop or battery [emphasis added by author].”  The War Department clarified the branding further in 1897 by issuing General Order No. 62.  The order provided detailed instructions of the size and placement of brands provided by the Quartermaster’s Department.  For example, soldiers branded the fore foot 1” below the coronet.  The fore foot marking also included the regiment and troop or battery.  Regulations called for the ” U. S.” brand to be 2 inches high.

Brands provided ready identification of government stock.  More importantly, brands identified former horses and mules deemed unworthy of federal service.  For example, an “I.C.” brand showed that an animal was inspected and condemned.  A “C” brand simply meant condemned while an “S” indicated that the animal was either sold or destined for sale.  Together, the three brands were meant to prevent unscrupulous horse contractors from reselling unserviceable livestock to the government.

Descriptions of Army Horses and Mules Direct From Old Army Records

Unfortunately, few descriptive books of army horses and mules are extant, for the eighty-year period ending in 1900.  However, Old Army Records recently found a record kept at Fort Custer from 1887 – 1896.  It includes about 1,200 animals, many with names assigned to the horses and mules.  We also found descriptive data of public animals in other, seemingly, unrelated record sets.  Here are few examples of animals described in the records.

Take, for instance, “Signal” a 15-year-old black cavalry horse stationed at Fort Custer, Montana Territory.  In addition to a blaze on the face and small patch of white on his right hind foot, Signal had an “S” branded on the right hip.  “Fox”, a 15-year old sorrel mule driven by a man named Archer at Fort Custer, had a white spot on the left side of his neck.  Descriptive data also listed scars and physical deformities.  For example, a black mule driven by a H. Brown was blind in its right eye.  A quartermaster employee or soldier sarcastically named her “Blinky”.

Scanned image of a portion of a page from "Company C, Indian Scouts, Animal Descriptive Book (1882)"  showing private brands used on army horses and mules.
Horses and mules used by Co. C, Indian Scouts in 1882 had several different brands. Does anyone recognize them?

In 1882, Company C, Indian Scouts served in Arizona.  The unit assembled an extensive herd of saddle horses and pack mules.  The small herd consisted of animals with wide-range of colors and private brands (see photo at left).  Does anyone recognize the marks?  Several of the Scouts’ animals also had distinctive marks left by collars and aparejos.

Interested in learning more about horses and any other 19th U.S. military topic?  Drop us a line to learn how you can connect with the Old Army.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Company C, Indian Scouts, Animal Descriptive Book (1882)
Fort Custer, M.T., Animal Descriptive Book
Proceedings of Boards of Survey, Fort Phil Kearny, D.T.

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1821)
Military Laws and Rules and Regulations for the Army of the United States (1814)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895, appended 1899)

Leavenworth Military Prison: Inmate Property

The military service record of 19th century U.S. soldiers frequently included brushes with army justice.  Enlisted men convicted of serious offenses faced imprisonment and their case proceedings often included the statement “the Leavenworth Military Prison, Kansas, is designated as the place of his confinement.”  Alcatraz Island held soldiers serving in the Division of the Pacific.  However, between 1875 and 1895, Leavenworth became the official prison for most military convicts.

Leavenworth Military Prison Inmate Reception

Upon entering the prison, the convicted soldiers received a unique number and relinquished all personal property.  The prison adjutant took responsibility for money.  Presumably, a safe held the money.  The remaining property, clothing, jewelry, personal grooming items, etc., were kept in a storehouse.  Upon completion of their sentence, the inmate received their property.  Entries for about 4,000 convicts are in the register kept by the adjutant at the Leavenworth Military Prison between March 1877 and December 1888.

The prison adjutant, detached from an active military unit, acknowledged each entry with his signature.  The prisoners also signed the entry, or left his mark.  The register, therefore, is a good indicator of the literacy of the inmates.

Historic photo of Leavenworth Military Prison, circa 1900
Leavenworth Military Prison, circa 1900. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Personal Items From Money To a “Citizen Hat”

Most prisoners had few, if any, personal possessions.  However, for those who turned over items the list was diverse.  For example, Private Patrick J. Rourke, member of the 22nd Infantry band, deserted from Fort Wayne, Michigan in May 1877.  He surrendered at Fort Porter, New York.  There he stood trial by general court martial.  Upon being received at Leavenworth on October 5th Rourke (Prisoner #457) brought with him 80¢ and a memo book.

On January 16, 1882, Charles Taphner, Company F, 1st Infantry deserted from Fort Davis, Texas.  He was apprehended two days later.  The private was found guilty in a subsequent general court martial and received a harsh sentence, which included a three-year prison term (later reduced to two years).  Taphner (Prisoner #442) arrived with three other prisoners at Leavenworth on May 29, 1880 with a gold ring and silver watch.

Other examples of personal property of inmates include:

  • John Rust (Prisoner #170) turned over 2¢ and a corn husker.
  • William McClain (Prisoner #209) turned over 60¢ and a Grand Army of the Republic Badge.
  • James Guy (Prisoner #282) turned over $14.75 and a “citizen hat”.
  • William Campbell (Prisoner #305) turned over $8.00 and a “Photo Diary”.
  • Edward Barton (Prisoner #509) turned over $3.50, a banjo, and a package of books.
  • John J. Miles (Prisoner #514) turned over 5¢ and an Indian pipe.

1880 $1 bill courtesy of Wikipedia, File:US-$1-LT-1880-Fr-29.jpg
Inmates entering Leavenworth military Prison frequently brought paper money or coins, such as this dollar bill issued in 1880. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

From Little Bighorn to Leavenworth Prison

Leavenworth Military Prison inmates frequently turned over watches.
Seventh Cavalry inmates Joshua S. Nicholas and Thomas Seayers both turned over watches when they arrived at Leavenworth Prison. Image from page 511 of “The American garden” (1873).

Several veteran 7th Cavalrymen and survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn served time at Leavenworth Military Prison.  On May 19, 1878, enlisted men Frank Howard (Prisoner #174) and Joshua S. Nicholas (Prisoner #343) turned over personal items at the prison.  Both men fought at the Little Bighorn.  Howard, formerly of Company F, turned over $1.25, while Nicholas, who served in Company H, had a watch and chain and $34.60.  In a previous article, I discussed Private Thomas Seayers (aka Sayers) from Company A.  Seayers worked at the Fort Abraham Lincoln bakery before and after the Custer Battle.  Seayers deserted in June 1878 and surrendered three months later.  In February 1879, he arrived at Leavenworth Military Prison, was assigned ID # 255 and turned over $2.03 and a watch.

As Private Seayers demonstrates, the military service record of 19th century soldiers was complex.  More importantly, the U.S. Army bureaucracy documented the service history.  Old Army Records is systematically identifying, digitizing, and indexing those documents.  What details do your U.S. military ancestors have?  Contact us to uncover their complete military service record.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Department of the Platte, General Orders (1877)
Department of Texas, General Orders (1882)
Division of the Atlantic, General Orders (1877)
Prisoner Book, Department of Texas (1872-1886)
Register of Prisoners Received, Leavenworth Military Prison

Army Regulations
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)

Other Source
Index of General Court-Martial Orders, Adjutant General’s Office, 1880 (GPO 1881)

Philip Henry Sheridan and My Irish Ancestors

History is full of ironic interactions with individuals.  The collective familial military past is no exception.  I learned this on a recent trip to Ireland to visit cousins and property once owned by my paternal ancestors.  The best I can tell, my grandmother’s side resided near Killenkere Parish, County Cavan at least from the early to mid-19th century.  Interestingly, Philip Henry Sheridan, one of the Old Army’s most famous and controversial leaders also has ancestral ties to the Killenkere area. 

Photo of General Philip Henry Sheridan may have been born in County Cavan, Ireland
Philip Henry Sheridan, shown here during the Civil War, had familial ties to County Cavan, Ireland.
Philip Henry Sheridan, Born in America?

Sheridan, in his memoirs published in 1888, stated that he was born in Albany, New York, a year after his parents arrival in the U.S.  Obviously, the author of an autobiography would know their nativity.  Yet, many biographies of Sheridan fail to agree on his birthplace.  For example, an 1865 biographer listed Massachusetts as his birthplace.  Another biographer stated that Sheridan “was born in Albany, New York, March 6, 1831, but a few weeks after arrival of the his Irish parents in the New World.”  If that is true then the future general was conceived in Ireland.  Other documents list Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York as Sheridan’s place of birth.  Complicating the issue further is a marker erected in 1969 by the Department of Irish Veterans of World War One near Killenkere identifying that parish as Sheridan’s birthplace. 

Modern photo of the monument near Killenkere, County Cavan claims Ireland as the birthplace of Philip Henry Sheridan.
In 1969, the Department of Irish Veterans of World War One erected this monument, near Killenkere, County Cavan, proclaiming Ireland as Philip Henry Sheridan’s birthplace. Photo by author.
Distancing Himself From His Irish Heritage

Modern researcher and writer Damian Shiels speculates that Sheridan intentionally downplayed his foreign heritage opting, instead, to embrace the country that made him famous.  Shiels’ contention is not without merit.  In his memoirs, Sheridan acknowledged that his parents, John and Mary, immigrated from County Cavan, Ireland to the U.S. around 1830, Sheridan does not delve into his Irish ancestry.

County Cavan Connection

Sheridan’s parents lived a short distance from some of my ancestors, the Cusacks (also spelled Cusick, Cussick, or Cussack).  Portions of both the Sheridan and Cusack families immigrated to the U.S., albeit a generation apart.  Some of the Cusack clan, including my paternal grandmother eventually settling down in the Wyoming city named for Philip Henry Sheridan.  Incidentally, Old Army Records is headquartered in the same city. 

Did Your Ancestor’s Have A Brush With Old Army Fame?

We will likely never know the true birthplace of the general.  Personally, the prospect that my ancestors interacted with Philip H. Sheridan’s family, and maybe the general himself, albeit briefly, is intriguing.  It’s these interactions and coincidences that fuels my desire to research the Old Army.  What connections do your ancestors have with the 19th century U.S. Army?  Let Old Army Records help uncover those historic relationships.  Contact us for more information. 

Sources

Fighting Phil:  The Life and Military Career of Philip Henry Sheridan, General of the Army of the United States by Reverend P.C. Headley.  Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston (1889)

Illustrated Life, Campaigns and Public Services of Philip H. Sheridan (Major-General Sheridan) the Hero of the “Shenandoah Valley,” “Battle of Five Forks,” etc. by C. W. Denison.  T.B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia (1865)

The Life of Philip Henry Sheridan by Joseph Faulkner.   Hurst & Co., New York (1888)

Philip Henry Sheridan by James Grant Wilson.   J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia (1892)

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan.  Jenkins & McCowan, New York (1888)

Military Service Hazards: Ordnance Testing

Combat aside, military service is dangerous in times of war and peace.  Disease and accidents claimed thousands of casualties in the 19th century army.  Additionally, implements of war meant to kill or maim also claimed casualties outside hostilities.  The testing, manufacture, and distribution of weapons, ammunition, and weapons-related equipment fell to small cadre known as the Ordnance Department. 

Annually, around 65 officers served in the Ordnance Department during the last quarter of the 19th century.  Despite being a small department, over 20 ordnance officers died over the same time span.  Upon the passing of an officer, the Ordnance Department issued an order eulogizing the deceased.  Admittedly, a handful, including Brevet Major General George A. Ramsay (1802-1882), died during retirement.  However, several were accidentally killed performing their duty. 

The obituaries were differentiated from other orders by a thick black page border.  While indexing these orders the words “killed by the bursting of a shell, on October 21, 1886, at the Proving Ground, Sandy Hook, N.J.” popped out.  What caused this accident?  While answering this question the names of other soldiers involved came to light.

“An officer of fine abilities and great professional zeal”

The subject of the memoriam mentioned above was 1st Lieutenant William Morgan Medcalfe.  Born in Maryland, Medcalfe entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1872.  In 1876 he was appointed a 2nd lieutenant in the 4th Artillery.  One of the many responsibilities of the Ordnance Department was defending the nation’s sea coast.  Mortars were an integral part of that defense system.  In the fall of 1886, Medcalfe was on duty at Sandy Hook, New Jersey supervising test firing of a 12-inch breech loaded mortar. 

Assisting Medcalfe were eight enlisted men belonging to the Ordnance Department and Allan G. Sinclair, a 62-year old civilian machinist.  The soldiers included 34-year old Sergeant John Abbott, corporals George Clark (aged 27), Walter Goodno (aged 34), and Ingram (aged 32), and privates Michael D. Burns (aged 24), Thomas Cramer (aged 39), Joseph Cunningham (aged 23), and Joseph King (age unknown); another source lists King’s first name as Henry. 

Scene of the Accident

At 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 1886 Medcalfe’s team prepared for another test fire.  What happened next was summarized in two articles written by otologist Dr. Samuel Sexton and contemporary newspaper accounts.  By the late 19th century Dr. Sexton was an aural surgeon who “devoted special attention to the study and treatment of diseases of the ear”.  His research on tear trauma caused by explosions led him to the Medcalfe incident.  Through eye witness accounts, Dr. Sexton reconstructed the accident.  The following drawings (profile and plan view) depict the positions of nine of the men just prior to the explosion.

The positions of the men at the time of the shell explosion on October 21, 1886. Modified from Figure 1 published by Dr. Sexton in his article published in Science.-Supplement (April 8, 1887).
Plan view showing the positions of the men at the time of the shell explosion on October 21, 1886. Modified from Figure 2 published by Dr. Sexton in his article published in Science.-Supplement (April 8, 1887).

Correspondents from the Washington, DC newspaper Evening Star spoke with senior Ordnance Department officers.  Those officers evidently spoke with eyewitnesses who presented the following account.  Private King was closing the plug at the base of the mortar shell.  The shell weighed 585 pounds and was just filled with 27 pounds of rifle powder.  The threaded plug did not turn properly and per protocol, King rapped it with a hammer.  The ordnance officers theorized that “one or two grains of powder probably caught in the thread of the screw plug, and that these ignited at the blow of the hammer.” 

The explosion blew Private King 55 feet away from the shell, killing him instantly.  Incredibly, Lieutenant Medcalfe, standing at the base of the shell, survived 30 minutes after being blown 22 feet away.  His injuries were quite severe.  The Fairfield News and Herald (South Carolina) reported that he lost his right leg and his left leg was shattered.  The explosion also blew Corporal Clark 15 feet, but he survived.  Abbott, Burns, Cramer, Cunningham, Ingram, and Sinclair all managed to stay on their feet during the explosion and also survived. 

Just an Accident While Performing Routine Duty?

Fittingly, Medcalfe’s body was transported from Sandy Hook to Brooklyn on the tug named Ordnance.  He was then buried in a family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery.  Whereas the Ordnance Department published a memorial for Medcalfe no such order was issued for the Swiss-born Private King.  And, surprisingly, the incident is not referenced in the annual report of the Chief of Ordnance.  Likewise, orders issued by the Ordnance Department did not convene a board or court of inquiry to investigate the explosion.  It appears that the military simply wrote the incident off as an accident incurred during routine, albeit dangerous, Ordnance Department duty. 

This article started out as a simple quest to learn more about the death of Lieutenant Medcalfe, whom, I thought, was the only casualty of the “shell burst.”  As it turned out the accident affected eight other individuals, including nine enlisted soldiers.  Further research identified the names of the people involved in the mishap.  Importantly, the accident illustrates the daily interactions of officers and enlisted men.  The Civil War was, arguably, the defining event in 19th century U.S. history.  Nearly everyone alive during that conflict had a connection with the Old Army.  Dr. Sexton, for example, briefly served as an assistant surgeon in the 8th Ohio Infantry between July 1861 and October 1862. 

Old Army Records’ comprehensive indexing strategy allows researchers to link people, places, events, and various other military subjects.  Our search capabilities comb various 19th century sources, generated by government and civilian organizations, to compile in-depth military service records of soldiers from that period.  As our indexing progresses we hope to uncover more about the individuals involved in the mortar shell explosion on October 21, 1886.  For instance, did the accident factor into the court martial of Private Burns just seven months after the accident?  We will update this story as new information comes to light.

Have a research request?    Contact us

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Orders Issued by the Ordnance Department (1876-1895)

Books

A Military History of the 8th Regiment Ohio Vol. Inf’y.: Its Battles, Marches and Army Movements by Franklin Sawyer (1881)

Biography of Eminent American Physicians and Surgeons by Dr. R. French Stone (1894)

Government Documents

Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1886, 1887)

Periodicals

“Blown to Atoms by a shell.” The Fairfield News and Herald, Winnsboro, SC (October 27, 1886)

“Effects of Explosions on the Ear.”  Science.-Supplement (April 8, 1887)

“Injury of the Ear Caused by the Blast of a Bursting Shell.” The Medical Record, (February 19, 1887)

“Killed by the Bursting of a Shell.” Evening Star, Washington, DC (October 22, 1886)

“Lieut. Medcalfe’s Funeral.” The New York Times (October 24, 1886)

Old Army Lingo: Countersign and Parole

One a.m., Monday, August 17, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel James W. Carr made his prescribed nightly guard post rounds as field officer of the day at Point Lookout, Maryland.  Carr and his escort approached the post manned by Private Martin A. Haynes, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry.

Photo portrait of Private Marin A. Haynes, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry
Private Martin A. Haynes, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry frequently referred to performing guard duty in dozens of letters written to his wife. Haynes, therefore, had to know the daily countersign on a regular basis.  Photograph courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library.

Upon seeing the unknown figures in the darkness, Haynes announced “Halt! Who goes there?”  Following regulations the sergeant escorting officer of the day announced the daily countersign “Glendale”, Carr then confirmed the parole “Cowdin”.

The scenario outlined above is largely based on fact.  We know from a letter written by Haynes that he was on guard duty that night.  Documents recently digitized by Old Army Records confirm that Carr served as field officer of the day and we know the countersign and parole used that day.  Countersigns and paroles were an integral part of an army service record.  Yet, until now little has been published on their specifics.

Definitions

The 1889 U.S. Army regulations succinctly define the two words used in the performance of guard duty.  “The ‘countersign’ is a word given daily to enable guards and sentinels to distinguish persons at night.  It is given to such persons as are entitled to pass and repass during the night, and to the officer, non-commissioned officers, and sentinels of the guard.  To officers com­manding guards a second word, called the ‘parole,’ will be given as a check upon the countersign, by which such officers as are entitled to make visits of inspection at night may be distinguished.”  In short, countersigns (or watchwords) and paroles helped ensure that authorized soldiers passed through the guard posts and prevented officers with ulterior motives from interfering with the guard.

Scanned image of paragraph 425 of the Revised United States Army Regulations of 1861 revised 1863 edition, concerning countersigns.
Army manuals regulated the conversation sentries had with people encountered at night. The above, for example, from the revised 1863 edition outlines such conversation related to countersigns.

Countersign and Parole Words Used in the Civil War

Based on lists obtained by Old Army Records, place names usually constituted the daily countersign.  Not surprisingly, sites of Civil War battles or significant cities, northern, southern, and foreign, dominated the list.

Paroles usually consisted of surnames with generals of the period predominating.  Not all names used during the Civil War period were of well-known officers.  Take, for example, the parole used on August 17th , 1863 at Point Lookout.  The general used that day was Robert Cowdin, whose appointment expired in March 1863.  Occasionally, paroles included foreign generals, such as Revolutionary War British commander Cornwallis.

Sometimes the dual watchword association left little to the imagination.  For instance, on March 13, 1863 the countersign/ parole combo was “Moscow” and “Napoleon.”  As early as 1834, army regulations required, for obvious reasons, that should a guard desert, the countersign be changed immediately.

Simple Words, Lots of Responsibility

Not surprisingly, safeguarding the countersign was of utmost importance.  Carelessness with the words often resulted in a dark spot in an army service record.  For example, Captain Pardon Mason, 3rd Rhode Island Artillery, stood a general court martial.  One charge read “Giving the wrong countersign or watchword, violation of the 53rd Article of War.”  While serving as field officer of the day on October 2, 1862 at Hilton Head, South Carolina, Mason allegedly issued the picket guard the wrong countersign,“Springbrook,” instead of “Crown Point.”  Found guilty, Mason’s punishment consisted of a public reprimand read to his brother officers by regimental commander, Colonel Nathaniel W Brown.

Knowingly disclosing the countersign or parole to any person not authorized to know the words could suffer death or other punishment imposed by a general court martial.  The case of 2nd Lieutenant William M. Crozier, Dubuque (Iowa) Light artillery Battery illustrates the importance of securing watchwords.  In December 1862, Crozier faced a general court martial on two charges, including violating the 53rd Article War.  The violation stemmed from the fact that the officer disclosed the daily countersign to one of the battery’s enlisted men, 1st Sergeant Otis G. Day.  Day evidently was not detailed for guard duty and therefore not in a position to know the watchword.  The indiscretion caused Crozier to be cashiered (dismissed) from army service.

Filling in the Details

Diaries, journals, and letters written by 19th century soldiers, like New Hampshire infantryman Haynes, frequently referred to performing guard duty.  However, these extant documents rarely provide details about the people encountered and specific instructions, including countersigns, relative to the security detail.  The 380+ countersign/ parole combinations recently discovered by Old Army Records will add rich detail to anyone (site administrator, living historian, author or genealogist) researching 19th century U.S. Army history.  Feel free to contact us with any research request, no matter how specific or mundane.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the staff in the Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, and especially Dale Valena, for providing the image of Martin A. Haynes.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Army of the Frontier, Paroles and Countersigns (1863)
Department of the Missouri, General Court Martial Orders
District of St. Mary’s, Paroles and Countersigns (July 1863- July 1864)
Division of the South, General Court Martial Orders

Government Documents
General Regulations for the Army (1834)
Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Heitman, 1903)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1889)
Revised United States Army Regulations of 1861 (1863)

Other Primary Documents
A Minor War History Compiled From A Soldier Boy’s Letters to “The Girl I Left Behind Me”, 1861-1864 (Haynes 1916)

Old Army Duty: Officer of the Day

As previously discussed, the military service record of 19th century U.S. Army officers included duty on various ad hoc panels.  Duty included temporary appointments to boards of survey and councils of administration.  Besides the daily administration and training soldiers, for junior officers no other duty was as frequent as officer of the day.  The position required the officer to serve as the on-call commander of a camp or military installation for a 24-hour period.  Although temporary, the position of officer of the day held great responsibility.

Unidentified soldier in Union Captain uniform with crimson sash denoting Officer of the Day holding cavalry saber. oldarmyrecords.com
A crimson sash, worn over the right shoulder, denoted an officer of the day. This unidentified captain wears the sash during the Civil War. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The adjutant of each station maintained a roster of available officers and established the rotation schedule for the temporary position.  Those serving in the position wore a crimson sash.  According to the Army Regulations (1863) the sash was “worn across the body, scarf fashion, from the right shoulder to the left side, instead of around the waist, tying behind the left hip as prescribed.”

“The Officer of the Day has charge of the camp or garrison…”

Kautz (1868) outlined the specific responsibilities of an officer of the day.  The officer detailed “…receives his orders and instructions from the Commanding Officer, and transmits them to his subordinates.  All the guards of the camp or post are under his general direction; all the police parties and fatigue parties, when on duty, within the line of the guards, and often fatigue parties sent beyond the lines receives their orders from the Officer of the Day.”  The 1834 edition of army regulations stated that “[n]o other officer except a general officer will interfere with or give any order on the parade to the staff officer on duty there.”  However, the officer of the day reported all significant events/ actions directly to the commanding officer of the installation.

In addition, the officer of the day ensured that the camp or garrison remained clean, exercised control of prisoners in the guardhouse, and had the discretion to detain or release prisoners.  Not surprisingly, some prisoners took exception to directives issued by the officers.  For instance, on June 23, 1868, 1st Lieutenant Theodore Kendall, 33rd Infantry, while serving as officer of the day at McPherson Barracks near Atlanta, Georgia, ordered a prisoner, Private Thomas McDonough (Company I, 16th Infantry) to “carry a log”.  Taking offense McDonough refused the order and physically and verbally assaulted the officer.  A general court martial panel found McDonough guilty of the crimes and imposed several punishments, including a 15-month incarceration in the Dry Tortugas.

In times of war, when larger military units were constituted, field officers of the day were also detailed.  Brigade (compromised of 2 or more regiments) adjutants maintained rosters of officers with the rank of captain to colonel to fulfill the responsibilities referenced above.

Officer of the day rosters. oldarmyrecords.com
Post adjutants maintained rosters of officers available for duty as officer of the day. Similar rosters were kept at the brigade level for field officer of the day. The top example was maintained at Fort Assinniboine, Montana (1893). The bottom roster dates to September 1863 for the Department of Missouri, Army of the Frontier. 1st Division. 1st Brigade.

Posting and Checking Guards

An officer of the day’s tour began at the daily guard mount which typically occurred in the morning.  The new officer of the day held a prominent position in front, and slightly off-center from the guard; the outgoing officer stood directly in front of the guard.  Perhaps the most important responsibility of the 24-hour job was ensuring that the guard was all present, outfitted, and properly posted.  To that end, the officer visited the guard posts, referred to as grand rounds, frequently during the day and at least once after midnight when arguably, the command was most susceptible to attack.  Proactive security measures required the officer of the day to issue daily code words (countersigns and paroles) to the guards.

The military service record of an Old Army officer included various duties, many performed simultaneously.  An 1867 diary entry by Captain Tenodor Ten Eyck typifies those various tasks performed in a day.  Ten Eyck attended guard mount at 9 a.m. as officer of the day on May 7th.  He then served as the president of a general court martial, trying two cases, before attending to company paperwork.  Before turning in for the night, Ten Eyck made his grand rounds at 12:30 a.m. on May 8th.

Photo of Pennsylvania, 114th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Guard Mount, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, reviewed by Officers of the Day. oldarmyrecords.com
Guard mount of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, ca. 1863. The outgoing officer the day (officer wearing the sash with his back turned on the right of center) stands next to his counterpart assuming the duty.

The Cost of being Inattentive

Inattention to guard duty was, for good reason, a very serious military crime punishable by death.  Not surprisingly, most infractions on guard duty occurred at night.  For that reason, officers of the day visited guard posts at least once at night and more frequently in times of hostilities.   Officers tending to the nightly grand rounds often found sentinels sleeping.  Court martial records from the 19th century contain frequent reference to those offenses.  For instance, in May 1870, 4th Cavalry private James Devine was posted as a guard at the post guardhouse in San Antonio, Texas.  The officer of the day discovered Devine sleeping in a chair between 3 and 4 a.m.  The respite cost the private $84 from his monthly pay and confinement at hard labor for six months.

Failure by an officer of the day to visit guards or pickets in the night was just as serious.  The case of Captain Henry Hase, 103rd New York Infantry, illustrates the point.  Hase joined the 103rd New York Infantry in 1861 as a sergeant and rose through the ranks.  On March 8, 1864, Hase, serving as field officer of the day, failed to obey written instructions to visit the brigade picket line on Folly River, South Carolina between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m.  The transgression found Hase defending against two charges (neglect of duty and disobedience of orders) at a general court martial.  The court panel found Hase guilty and abruptly dismissed him from the army; a permanent blemish to his military service record.

Although mundane, officer of the day assignments were critical in the 19th century U.S. Army.  As shown above, the duty factored into the service of officers and enlisted men.  Old Army Records continues to identify these details to complete the military service history of the soldiers who served during the period.  Check back in two weeks for an overview of duty affecting both officers and enlisted men:  countersigns and paroles.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or comments. 

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
General Court Martial Orders, Department of the South
General Court Martial Orders, Department of Texas
Lists Relating to Safeguards, Details, and Other Matters, Department of Missouri, Army of the Frontier, 1st Division, 1st Brigade
Rosters of Officers and Organizations, Fort Assinniboine (1893), Fort Assinniboine Records, Box 6, Folder 11, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives, Helena, Montana

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1834)
Revised U.S. Army Regulations (1863)

Published Source
Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1868)

Unpublished Source
Tenodor Ten Eyck Diaries (1860-1871), Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries, Tucson.  Digital copies in the possession of Kevin O’Dell.

Old Army By the Numbers: Union Artillery at Chancellorsville

Regular army sergeant Charles T. Bowen confessed the following in a letter to his wife.  “I think I should as soon be in action as not if there were no artillery used.  I dont [sic] fear musket balls a bit & a fellow has some chance with them for may only give slight wound, but if a shell strikes a man it is sure to carry away the part hit anyway & he has no chance.”  Perhaps no other 19th century weapon struck terror into soldiers more than artillery.  The military service record of nearly every Union Civil War soldier involved exposure to cannon.

The Civil War artillery branch was a complex organization.  In addition to the guns, artillerymen required a varied supply of ammunition and hundreds of pieces of equipment.  Horses, by the thousands, were required to move the guns impedimenta.  Old army Records recently digitized and indexed several detailed returns of artillery men and equipment lost and ammunition expended in the Army of the Potomac.  The following summarizes some of the data tabulated for the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863).

Complex Plan Foiled by a Bold Response

The winter of 1862-63, following yet another unsuccessful Union attempt to capture Richmond, found the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, well entrenched at Fredericksburg, Virginia.  In the spring of 1863, Major General Joseph Hooker, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, devised a bold plan to circumvent the Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg and capture Richmond.

Hooker’s plan was complex.  He sent about 10,000 cavalrymen on a raid towards Richmond in an attempt to sever Lee’s communications.  Simultaneously, Hooker deployed his infantry, supported by artillery, to spring a classic pincer movement.  Part of his forces attacked Fredericksburg from the east.  Meanwhile, Hooker and the rest of his command crossed the Rappahannock River swinging west and behind Lee’s troops.

By May 30, Hooker was in position behind Lee, beginning the Battle of Chancellorsville.  Hooker had the upper hand.  However, Lee made the bold and risky move to divide his smaller force to counter both Union wings at once.  Lee’s move, executed brilliantly by his number one subaltern, General Stonewall Jackson, stymied Hooker’s plan.  Over the next seven days the shaken Union commander struggled to regain the momentum only to lose ground.  The slugfest finally came to an end on May 6 when the Army of the Potomac crossed to the north side of the Rappahannock in yet another aborted attempt to capture the Confederate capitol.

Union artillery units were in the middle of fighting and suffered steep losses, both in equipment and personnel.  This article will not delve into the specifics of the battle.  Those wishing to read a detailed account of the battle should consult John Bigelow, Jr.’s The Campaign of Chancellorsville: A Strategic and Tactical Study.

Representative of Civil War Artillery (Light to Heavy Guns)

Photo of restored Union artillery piece 12-pound smoothbore gun (Napoleon).
12-pound smoothbore gun (Napoleon).

The Army of the Potomac artillery included 57 batteries assigned to seven army corps (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th).  Eleven additional batteries comprised the artillery reserve.  Regular army and volunteers from Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Maine, and other states manned the guns (the Union order of battle at Chancellorsville is available through the National Park Service).

The Army of the Potomac artillery at Chancellorsville included a wide range of light and heavy guns, both smoothbore and rifled.  The smoothbore workhorse was the bronze Light 12-pounder, known as the Napoleon.  Light rifled guns included the 3-Inch Ordnance (3-inch Rifled), and 10-pound Parrott.  Heavier cannon included the 20-pound Parrott and the 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifle.

Photo of restored Union artillery piece 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifle..
4.5-inch Ordnance Rifle.

Each gun fired a fired a variety of ammunition.  Each type had a specific purpose:

Shot or solid shot
Destroy opposing artillery carriages and support vehicles.  Antipersonnel capabilities by rolling or ricocheting off the ground or objects

Shell 
Heavy walls of the projectile explode dispersing shrapnel to personnel and equipment. Fused versions could detonate on time (aerial burst) or percussion (impact with the ground or object)

Spherical Case
Antipersonnel.  Filled with lead or iron balls that disperse on detonation.

Canister
Antipersonnel.  Filled with lead or iron balls that disperse on detonation much like a shotgun blast.  Typically used at short range.

Rifled ammunition had various designs and configurations.  At Chancellorsville, common designs included Schenkl and Hotchkiss.

“Their ammunition was soon exhausted…”

Artillery from three corps and the artillery reserve reported the amount of ammunition fired during the 6-day engagement.  The four units reported expending 15,491 rounds of various types.

Summary of artillery ammunition fired by the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

The fury of the battle is exemplified by the amount of ammunition expended by Battery A, Massachusetts Light Artillery (composed of six 12-pound Napoleon’s).  On May 3rd, the unit took up position to the left of Bowling Green Road.  Two of the guns “were engaged in driving back small bodies of the enemy’s infantry” while the remaining four guns of the battery fired at Confederate guns about 1,300 yards away.  In a few hours, the battery fired 299 solid shot rounds, 253 case shot rounds, 85 shells, and 48 rounds of canister; 685 total rounds!  Amazingly, most of the canister was fired within 75 yards of the battery demonstrating how close and intense the fighting was at times.

On May 6th, Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery moved north of the Rappahannock River and covered the Union retreat.  In just one hour, the battery’s four 3-Inch Ordnance Rifles, unleashed 73 rounds (10 Hotchkiss timed fuse, 12 Schenkl percussion shell, and 51 Hotchkiss case shot).

Artillery Impedimenta

Government property of all types and sizes was required to transport and service artillery guns.  Mobility was crucial and mobility meant horsepower.  Union artillery lost 438 horses, including 371 animals killed outright (a previous article discussed the monetary cost of purchasing horses).  That essentially rendered 24 guns, or 4 batteries, immobile.  In addition, hundreds of other items, ranging from axes to water buckets, formed an artillerist’s outfit.  The Battle of Chancellorsville was especially costly for government equipment.  According to a detailed inventory of losses incurred by Army of the Potomac artillery units lost nearly 5,000 items in the 7-day engagement.  Topping the list was horse-related equipment (nose bags, brushes, curry combs, and whips).

This photo, taken about 17 years after the battle, clearly shows the scars caused by artillery in May 1863.

The Human Cost

The loss of guns, horses, and equipment obviously paled in significance to loss and injury of artillerymen.  Chancellorsville was especially detrimental to the Army of the Potomac artillery personnel.  Fifty-six men were killed (6 officers and 50 enlisted men).

Those killed included First Lieutenant Frederic Dorries, Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery.  The 36-year old German native and former Stove Merchant died on May 3rd.  An artillery shell, presumably fired from a Confederate gun, broke both of Dorries’ hips and penetrated his chest.  He died instantly leaving behind a wife.  Six enlisted men from the 5th Maine Battery, including Corporal Benjamin F. Grover and Privates Timothy Sullivan and James P. Holt.

In addition to the dead, over 280 artillerymen sustained wounds during the Battle of Chancellorsville.  Injuries ranged from scrapes and bruises to severed limbs.  Three privates from the 5th Maine Battery, for example, suffered the latter:  Charles M. Kimball lost an arm, Edward A. Stuart a leg, and William N. Nason a hand.

Descriptions of battles often focus primarily on the main commanders and tactics.  Lost in these studies are the roles of the subalterns and enlisted men.  Thanks to Old Army recordkeeping, we can expand upon the roles of 19th century U.S. soldiers in key events and tie those experiences to the equipment, minute episodes, and comrades that complete a military service record.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (Old Army Records)
Approved Pension Application File for Charlotte Erth Dorries, Widow of Frederic Dorries (RG 15)
Consolidated Return of Losses and Ammunition Expended by the Army of the Potomac Artillery at Chancellorsville

Published Sources 
The Campaign of Chancellorsville: A Strategic and Tactical Study (Bigelow, Jr., 1910)
Dear Friends at Home:  The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Sergeant Charles T. Bowen, Twelfth United States Infantry, 1861-1864 (Cassedy, 2001).
Letter to the Members of the 5th Maine Battery Association (Stevens, 1890)

Government Documents
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  Series 1, Volume 25 (1889)

Absent Without Leave Army Officer: Lt. Josiah Sheetz

While indexing general orders for several military departments in the 1870s I was struck by several orders calling for the detainment of active duty regular officers absent without leave (AWOL).  The orders essentially served as all point bulletins notifying all military and civil authorities throughout the country to detain the officers so that offenders could justify their absence. For example, the Adjutant General issued orders to apprehend 2nd Lieutenant John Aspinwall, 7th Cavalry, in May 1874 and Captain William McClellan Netterville, 21st Infantry in March 1876.  Military authorities failed to catch up to those two officers.  They were eventually dropped from the Army list.  However, the case of 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, reported AWOL in 1875, is an intriguing story.

Brevet Brigadier General Josiah A. Sheetz, ca. 1865. Courtmatialed for being absent without leave.oldarmyrecords.com
Josiah A. Sheetz as a Brevet Brigadier General, ca. 1865.  Photo courtesy of MOLLUS-MASS Civil War Photo Collection RG667s, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, PA.

Meteoric Rise

The Civil War catapulted thousands of men into senior leadership roles.  One such person was Josiah Sheetz.  In the spring of 1861, Sheetz resided in Pekin, the county seat of Tazewell County, Illinois.  Responding to the call to arms, Sheetz helped organize Company F, 8th Illinois Infantry, mustering in as a 2nd Lieutenant.  The 8th Illinois served in the Western Theater, mostly along the Mississippi River.  He participated in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson.  By December 1864, Sheetz rose to the rank of colonel, commanding the same regiment he joined in 1861.  In March 1865, he received the honorary rank of brevet brigadier general of volunteers.

From Brigadier General to Private

Sheetz resigned his commission in February 1866.  However, he was back in the army less than three months later.  His return to service was less prestigious than when he first left.  He enlisted as a private in the 1st U.S. Infantry.  No doubt, Sheetz’s Civil War experience allowed him to advance through the noncommissioned ranks.  He soon served as 1st Sergeant, his previous service no doubt factored into the promotions.  Within a year of joining the regular army, Sheetz attained a commission as 1st lieutenant in the 30th Infantry; he transferred to the 4th Infantry in March 1869.

Doomed by Standard Military Service

As a regular army officer, Sheetz’s military service record is unremarkable.  His responsibilities included roles as adjutant and post treasurer (i.e. financially responsible for money used to fund post schools and funds used to purchase supplies for companies).   His downfall began innocently enough.  However, facts later proved that improprieties began months earlier and quickly spiraled out of control.  In April 1875, Sheetz served with his company at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming Territory.  About the middle of the month he was ordered to escort a soldier to the government insane home in Washington, DC.  His route took him to Fort Laramie.  On his way Sheetz also escorted 11 enlisted, including two defendants and nine witnesses, to Fort Laramie to appear before a general court martial.  His Fort Laramie mission would prove ironic.

Absent Without Leave

While in Washington, the Adjutant General approved Sheetz’s request to delay his return to Fort Fetterman by 20 days.  Sheetz then proceeded to his father’s home in Illinois, via Chicago.  By July neither the Adjutant General nor his post commander had heard from Sheetz.  With no information on his whereabouts, the Adjutant General listed Sheetz as AWOL and issued the instructions to military commands across the country to, if encountered, detain him.  The various military commands in turn reissued the instructions.

The Military Division of Atlantic, for instance, issued the following circular on July 29th.  “Should 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, 4th Infantry, appear at any post or station in this Division, the commanding officer will retain him and report the fact to these Headquarters.”  In the meantime, Sheetz became aware of the problems he was facing and made a feeble attempt to justify his absence, claiming to be ill and bedbound.  Nevertheless, the government, now aware of Sheetz’s location, ordered the rogue officer back to his station at Fort Fetterman.  A lengthy general court martial case was also being prepared.

General Court Martial

On October 18, 1875, the general court martial of 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz began in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory.  A panel of nine officers heard the case.  Captain William H. Bisbee prosecuted the case as judge advocate.  The case included 6 charges and 26 specifications.  In addition to being absent without leave, the facts of the government case included the following.

First, Sheetz claimed and knowingly received two salary payments for the month of April 1875 and three payments for May 1875 thereby defrauding the government of $450.00 (about $10,340 today).  Second, Sheetz failed to properly account for the post fund, under his accountability, in the amount of $502.54 (about $11,548 today).  Third, the lieutenant failed to properly compensate soldiers serving as post baker, assistant post baker, and schoolteacher.  Similarly, Sheetz failed to pay the appropriate money, from the post fund, to units that served at Fort Fetterman.

Under the charge of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” the government claimed that Sheetz received cash for his fraudulent pay vouchers from numerous banks and businesses at Fort Fetterman, Cheyenne, and Chicago.  Additionally, the government claimed that Sheetz failed to pay bills, incurred by him while serving as post treasurer, as well as failing to deposit money, given to him by one of his soldiers.

Sentence

Sheetz pleaded not guilty to five of the six charges.  He plead guilty to the charge which included specifications for being AWOL, not accounting for the post fund, failing to pay enlisted personnel from the post fund, and failing to pay for school supplies.  Sheetz represented himself and put up a feeble defense.  The most damning part of the prosecution’s case was the fact that Sheetz signed the three fraudulent pay vouchers.  At the end of the eighth day of trial the court panel briefly adjourned and rendered their findings.  They found the 1st lieutenant guilty of all charges and sentenced him to be cashiered, confined in prison for two years, and publish the crimes, place of confinement, and punishment in newspapers in Freeport, Illinois (where Sheetz’s father lived) and Laramie City, Wyoming Territory.

An Abrupt End to A Military Career

In view of Sheetz’s admirable Civil War record, the Secretary of War remitted the punishment to dismissal from the Army only.  Throughout Sheetz’s military service record documents, the curt word “cashiered” appears, an inglorious end to his army career.  Sheetz died on January 8, 1883.  What prompted the former brevet brigadier general to defraud the government and go AWOL?  Did the isolation of serving on the western frontier cause him distress?  Was he living a colonel’s lifestyle on a 1st lieutenant’s salary?  We may never know why this regular officer went rogue, but Old Army Records will continue to index documents in an attempt to answer those types of questions.

Sentence and Review section of GCMO for 1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, 4th Infantry for being absent without leave.
The published findings of the general court martial of Josiah A. Sheetz covered 12 pages. The sentence simply read, “1st Lieutenant Josiah A. Sheetz, 4th Infantry, ceases to be an officer of the Army from the date of this order.”

Sources

Unpublished Sources (Old Army Records collection)
Department of Dakota, General Orders, General Court Martial Records, and Circulars
Department of Texas, General Orders, General Court Martial Records, and Circulars
Division of the Atlantic, General Orders, General Court Martial Records, and Circulars
Josiah A. Sheetz, Consolidated Military Officer’s File (military service record)
Josiah A. Sheetz, General Court Martial Record

Government Documents
Historical register and dictionary of the United States Army: From its organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (Heitman, 1903)