7th Cavalry (U.S.) and Fort Pulaski Prison

The 7th Cavalry is synonymous with the Indian Wars.  Formed in Kansas in 1866, the regiment is best known for Plains warfare, including engagements at Washita, Little Big Horn, and Wounded Knee.  However, for a brief time in the early 1870s, the unit took duty postings in the southeast region of the country.  The regiment served about two years in the southeast.  At various times 7th Cavalrymen served in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  The 7th Cavalry, as well as regular infantry and artillerymen, aided civilian authorities in implementing federal law in the region.  Their tasks included destroying illicit distilleries, curtailing Ku Klux Klan activity, and assisting U.S. Marshall and revenue officers in the execution of their duties.

Aerial view photo of Fort Pulaski, GA. It held at least 25 7th Cavalry (U.S.) prisoners in the 1870s.
Fort Pulaski (1829-1873).

Unfortunately, duty in the region posed distractions for many of the cavalrymen.  As a result, many enlisted men ran afoul of military law.  Serious offenses typically meant a dishonorable discharge confinement at the regional military prison:  Fort Pulaski, Georgia.

Fort Pulaski

Strategically located on Cockspur Island, Fort Pulaski defended the mouth of the Savannah River. The fortification became part of the “Third System of Defense” which relied on masonry forts built along the coast. Construction of the fortification began in 1829 and continued for the next 18 years. Confederate forces briefly occupied the fort at the beginning of the Civil War. Ironically, U.S. troops, supported by well-placed rifled artillery, breached a wall of the fort. As a result, the Confederate commander surrendered the post in April 1862.

The use of the coastal fortification as a prison began during the Civil War. It housed several hundred captured Confederate Army officers in 1864 and 1865. Following the War, army engineers remodeled and updated the fortifications. Technology, however, required the construction of a whole new facility. As a result, a skeleton garrison occupied the historic fort, which was, for all intents and purposes, abandoned in October 1873. Although outdated as a coastal defense fortification, the brick structure was still useful. In 1871, for example, the facility housed 31 military convicts in the brick casements.

Historic cartagrphic map Fort Pulaski, GA, 1862. It held at least 25 7th Cavalry (U.S.) prisoners in the 1870s.
Fort Pulaski occupied Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River. It served as a U.S. military prison, first for Confederate officers, and later for former regular army soldiers, including several from the 7th Cavalry. Map of Siege of Fort Pulaski, Savannah River, Georgia (1862) by Robert Knox Sneden.
7th Cavalry Prisoners at Fort Pulaski

At least 25 former 7th Cavalrymen served prison time at Fort Pulaski.  Most were tried at Taylor Barracks, near Louisville, Kentucky, McPherson Barracks, Georgia, or Columbia, South Carolina.  Seventh cavalry inmates represented a wide-range of backgrounds.  They included former machinists William H. Clough and Frank Clark.

Unfortunately, we do not currently know the infractions that sent most of the 7th Cavalrymen to prison.  However, some of this information has come to light.  Privates Thomas Biernes and Frank Clark, both from Company G, for example, deserted together.  Detectives arrested both men, who were on their way to New York, near Charleston on the steamship appropriately named South Carolina.

At the end of their sentences most convicts were provided government-paid transportation to the city/ station they enlisted at.  Not all men left the facility alive.  For instance, Frederick Schalch, a 5’5½” tall Swiss-born farmer and former private in Company I, died of disease on July 20, 1872.  He is buried at the Fort Pulaski post cemetery.

Historic photo of Fort Pulaski, GA, 1907. It held at least 25 7th Cavalry (U.S.) prisoners in the 1870s.
Prisoners confined at Fort Pulaski, including at least 25 former 7th Cavalrymen, occupied the casements. This view of the casements was taken circa. 1907. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
From Prison to the Little Big Horn?

John Fay, a New York- born cabinet maker, enlisted in the regiment on July 5, 1867.  He rose to the rank of 1st Sergeant in Company A before running afoul of military law.  Fay served less than a year in prison and was released with an honorable discharge in September 13, 1871. The government provided his transportation and subsistence (food) costs from Georgia to Saint Louis.  Two years, almost to the day, later a John J. Fay enlisted.  He served with Company D, 7th Cavalry.

Interestingly, both enlistees had grey eyes and fair complexion.  However, the height of the former sergeant was listed as 5’6¼” while the other soldier was listed as 5’5”.  The biggest discrepancies were in the ages, birth city, and occupation, although all three demographic factors could have been fabricated.  Regardless, the 1873 enlistee fought at the Little Big Horn and was discharged for disability in 1877 with a “very good” character reference.  Was this the same individual or merely a coincidence?  Further research may reveal the answer.

Private James Conway

Twenty-six year old James Conway, a former laborer from Pittsburgh, enlisted in the regular army on March 11, 1871.  At 5’5” tall, Conway was the ideal height for mounted service and was assigned to Company H, 7th Cavalry.  Commanded by Captain Frederick Benteen, H Company was one of the last to move from the plains to the southeast.  Conway was likely one of 100 recruits who arrived in April.  However, military life must not have appealed to him because he deserted on August 7, 1871.  To make matters worse he also attempted to steal a government horse for which Captain Benteen was responsible.  A general court martial found Conway guilty.  Just months after joining the 7th Cavalry, Conway received a dishonorable discharge and began serving a 5-year prison sentence at Fort Pulaski.

However, Conway’s story soon became more complex.  Barely a month after arriving at Fort Pulaski, the commander of convicts requested a remittance of Conway’s sentence.  He stated  “and that he may be sent to the Government Hospital for the Insane at Washington, D.C. as I am convinced [that] the man is of unsound mind, he not having spoken a word since his arrival here (Dec. 9th 1871), and takes no notice of persons or things, besides generally giving evidences of insanity.”  Interestingly, Conway exhibited signs of mental distress during his trial.  According to trial documents, he “remained mute when called on” to enter a plea.

The request to transfer Conway to the Government Hospital quickly filtered through army command.  In February 1872, the adjutant general approved the request.  Sergeant Perry A. Ball, Battery H, 3rd Artillery, then a member of the small Fort Pulaski garrison, escorted Conway to the hospital.

Continuing the Old Army Story

What happened to James Conway at the Government Hospital for the Insane?  What infractions led to so many 7th Cavalrymen being sentenced to prison terms?  Keep checking back as Old Army Records gathers information on these, as well as various other, topics.   In the meantime, feel free to query us for specific research requests.


Unpublished Sources
Descriptive Books of Prisoners (1868-1873), Fort Pulaski.
Letters Received (1805-1889), The Adjutant General’s Office.
Registers of Enlistments in the United States Army, Adjutant General’s Office.

The Charleston News (1871)

Government Documents
Fort Pulaski National Monument Administrative History.  J. Faith Meader and Cameron Binkley (2003).
Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia.  National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps (1940).
Outline Description of U.S. Military Posts and Stations in the Year 1871.  U.S. War Department (1872).
Outline Description of the Posts and Stations of Troops in the Geographical Divisions and Departments of the United States.  U.S. War Department (1872).

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.


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)

Old Army Staff Position: Adjutant

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.

U.S. Army Adjutant General Shield.
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.

Staff Position

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:

Descriptive Book
Endorsement Book
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.

Assembled here, in front of tent, are the adjutant and first sergeants of the 22nd New York State Militia, holding an American flag and rifles.
Each morning regimental adjutants issued duty rosters to the first sergeants. Assembled here are the adjutant and first sergeants of the 22nd New York State Militia near Harpers Ferry, ca. 1862. (photo courtesy of Library of Congress).
Adulation and Consternation
Card de Vist portrait of Captain George M. Templeton, in uniform.
George M. Templeton capably served as post adjutant at Fort C. F. Smith. (photo courtesy of Newberry Library).

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.”

Closing Thoughts

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

Army Regulations
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)

Congressional Document
Legislative History of the General Staff of the Army of the United States (Its Organization, Duties, Pay, and Allowances), From 1775-1901 (1901)

Published Source
Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1866)

Unpublished Source
Cornelius C. Platter Civil War Diary, 1864 – 1865, Hargerett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries

Old Army Records: Circulars

In previous articles, I discussed general and special orders issued by the 19th century U.S. Army.  General and special orders regulated day-to-day operations of the army.  Often, officers required detailed instructions on how to complete army paperwork or comply with procedures.   Occasionally, line officers became lax in their administrative duties and needed gentle reminders to get them into compliance.  Policy changes or adjustments to soldier behavior sometimes required attention.  Directions for the composition of and behavior on expeditions needed clarification.  Finally, certain army business required specific documents.  For the instances referenced above, army commanders issued circulars.

All levels of command, ranging from the Adjutant General’s Office (AGO) to a battalion or detachment, issued circulars.  As with other types of orders, the issuing authority maintained books and/or files for circulars.  Unlike orders, which were typically numbered sequentially, circulars were often organized and referred to by the date of their publication.

Detailed Instructions

Not surprisingly, an army officer spent considerable time completing paperwork and complying with procedures.  Circulars notified officers of changes and helped guide officers through the bureaucratic jungle.  For example, in April 1871, the AGO issued a letter to all military divisions regarding reenlistment standards.  The headquarters of the Military Division of the Pacific incorporated the letter into a circular which they distributed throughout the division:

Only men who are up to the standard of height [5’6” and upwards and between 21 and 35 years old and concerning whose fitness for the service in other respects there exists no doubts], prescribed in letter of March 18th, 1871, from this Office will be enlisted.

No objection will be made to the re-enlistment of good men, who are below the standard height, in the companies from which they were discharged, provided they apply in person at the station or stations of said companies. 

Sometimes, circulars simply functioned as technical pamphlets. For example, in May 1870 the Military Division of the Missouri issued a 6-page circular detailing the construction and use of sundials.  Frequently, circulars outlined the process for requisitioning and disposing of arms, equipment, or other government property.  The following are examples.  First, instructions issued to 7th Cavalry company commanders for requisitioning Model 1873 Springfield Carbines and Colt revolvers.  Second, instructions from the Commissary General of Subsistence for the disposal of surplus desiccated vegetables.

Advertisement Circulars

The 19th century army, as with today, relied heavily on civilian contractors to complete their mission.  Contractors throughout the country provided a wide range of goods and services including freighting, building material, horses, and fuel.  In most instances, the government selected contractors based on competitive bids.  The army issued circulars detailing which newspapers procuring officers could advertise in.  Conversely, leaflets also listed which newspapers no longer warranted advertisements.  The following is a small sample of newspapers in which the War Department authorized the publication of ads in the 1870s:

Advocate (Huntsville, Alabama)
Daily Times (Jersey City, New Jersey)
Evening Call (Leavenworth, Kansas)
Grand Era (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinois)
National Republic (Selma, Alabama)
Our Mountain Home (Talladega, Alabama)
Pioneer (Asheville, North Carolina)
Republican (San Francisco, California)
Skandinavisk (New York, New York)


Circulars also functioned as interbranch memos.  Memorandum replaced circulars as a form of communication in the 20th century army.  Colonel John R. Brooke (3rd Infantry), commander of Fort Shaw, Montana Territory took issue with the behavior of some of his men at a post band concert.  As a result, Brooke issued the following:

During a band concert at Fort Shaw in 1880, soldiers spit tobacco juice on a mess room floor. Post commander, Col. Robert Brooke, deemed the behavior unacceptable and issued this circular.

Circulars condemning behavior also applied to officers.  The 1895 army regulations specifically listed one instance in which officers likely regretted inclusion in the memos:

The notice of stoppage of officers’ pay will be prepared in the form of a monthly circular to paymasters, advising them of stoppages outstanding at its date. This circular will be submitted to the Secretary of War for his approval prior to its publication. When an officer’s name is borne thereon, no payment of salary will be made to him which is not in accordance with the stoppage entry made against his name.

Although not as numerous as general and special orders, circulars contain a wealth of information regarding the administration of the Old Army.  They provide insight into what subjects army commanders deemed important throughout the 19th century.  Furthermore, the leaflets identify other documents, such as newspapers, that may contain other information pertaining to an Old Army topic.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
7th U.S. Cavalry, General Orders, Special Orders, and Circulars
Adjutant General’s Office, General Orders and Circulars
Atlantic (Division of), Orders
Fort Shaw, Montana Territory, General Orders, Garrison Court Martial Orders, and Circulars
Missouri (Division of), Orders
Office of the Commissary General of Subsistence, Circulars
Pacific (Division of), Orders
Texas (Department of), Orders

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

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.


Old Army Officer Duty: Council of Administration

As previously discussed, Old Army officers completed a variety of temporary assignments dealing with government property, funds, and activities.  This series continues with an overview of another of these duties:  Council of Administration.

Council of Administration Jurisdiction:  Laundresses and Sutlers

Councils of administration became part of army regulations early in the 19th century; they were included in 1821 regulations.  Originally, council duties dealt with two specific adjuncts of the army:  laundresses and sutlers.  Laundresses were women, often spouses of enlisted men, employed to wash the clothes of the troops.  Councils determined the price laundresses charged the soldiers.  For example, enlisted men stationed at Fort Shaw, Montana in 1878 paid $1.00/ month for laundry services.  Officers paid $3.00/month; children $1.00/month.

Sutlers (also known as post traders) provided consumer goods to soldiers.  The Secretary of War appointed sutlers.  By the 1890s, the Army assumed the role of sutler with establishments known as canteens or post exchanges.  However, councils determined the prices of items sold and sometimes they decided the types of goods sold by the sutler.   In 1873 at Fort Abraham Lincoln, for example, the sutler offered no less than 15 types of cigars and nearly 40 styles/types of boots and shoes (men, women, children, youth, and misses).

Councils of administration regularly audited the accounts of sutlers to ensure soldiers paid fair prices.  Councils also assessed a tax imposed on sutlers.  The tax formula being a set rate (e.g. 10¢) times the average number of officers and enlisted men present at a post for a specific period.

File:Abraham Lincoln and the battles of the Civil War (1886) (14576118288).jpg, oldarmyrecords.com
A Council of Administration regularly audited the accounts of sutlers to ensure that they did not bilk soldiers.

Council of Administration Jurisdiction:  Funds

By the end of the 19th century Army regulations and soldier responsibilities increased significantly.  This trend also applied to councils of administration.  Consequently, by 1895, councils convened to examine a wide range of topics including the post, regimental, company, bakery, and mess funds.  These funds provided goods and conveniences meant for the benefit of the garrison (funds will be discussed in detail in future articles).  Councils of administration periodically examined the accounts of each fund and identified any improprieties.

Council of Administration Jurisdiction:  Personal Effects

One of the somber responsibilities of councils was disposing of the personal property of dead soldiers.  Councils took an inventory of and sold at public auction personal effects of the deceased whether they died in combat or from disease, illness, or injury.  Councils convened for two 1st Cavalry enlisted men, Sergeant William H. Smith and Private Karl Schohe, who died in Arizona Territory in June 1869 serve as typical examples.  A former shoemaker from Boston, 25 year old Smith died at Camp Bowie on June 10th.  Schohe, a 23 year old former butcher from Germany, died from an aneurysm at Camp Goodwin.  The inventory and prices realized for the auctions of the personal effects are summarized below.  Interestingly, Schohe’s meager belongings included an item reflecting his life before joining the army, a butcher knife.

Proceedings of Councils of Administration

Typically, three officers on duty at the respective post made up a council of administration.  Not surprisingly, the junior officer of the council served as the recorder and transcribed the proceedings.  Both the council president and recorder signed the proceedings.

Once the council prepared its written decision, each member signed the proceedings and forwarded them to the commanding officer for review and approval.  Per the 1895 Army regulations, “should the post commander disapprove the proceedings, and the council, after reconsideration, adhere to its conclusion, a copy of the proceedings will be sent to the department commander, whose decision thereon upon all questions not involving pecuniary responsibility will be final.”   The Secretary of War served as the appellate for monetary disputes.

Councils of administration are a great resource regarding personal items and goods and services purchased by 19th century soldiers.  The documents also allow the 21st century observer an opportunity to look at the purchasing power of our military ancestors.  These are the types of documents Old Army Records digitizes and indexes (see the list here).  We appreciate the feedback from you regarding previous posts.  As always, feel free to suggest an Old Army topic for future posts.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Orders and other documents, Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, Fort Shaw, Montana Territory, and Camp Bowie, Arizona Territory

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1821)
Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895)
Regulations of the Army of the United States (1881)



7th Cavalry Duty Before and After Little Bighorn

Today marks the 142nd anniversary of perhaps the most famous event in Old Army history.    I am, of course, referring to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  This post is not meant to rehash the events of that day.  Scores of books and articles describe and debate, often in great detail, the 7th Cavalry personalities, arms, equipment, and tactics involved in the battle.  Rather, I would like to discuss the duty of 7th Cavalrymen immediately before and after the battle.  Old Army duty focused on performing mundane activities, occasionally punctuated by expeditions and combat.  Duties, for both officers and enlisted men, included drilling, attending inspections, performing guard duty, and performing jobs akin to modern professions.

Plan of Fort A. Lincoln, 1876. oldarmyrecords.com
Seventh Cavalrymen performed jobs at the various buildings at Fort Abraham Lincoln.  This 1876 plan view of the post shows some of the buildings referenced in this post.


In the spring of 1876 Fort Abraham Lincoln served as headquarters for the 7th Cavalry Regiment.  Not surprisingly, cavalry officers comprised several of the post staff positions.  First Lieutenant Algernon E. Smith served as post Assistant Commissary of Subsistence (A.C.S.).  Post commanders relieved 7th cavalrymen from duty so that they could fight in the upcoming expedition.  Post commander, Major Marcus A. Reno, relieved Smith of his A.C.S. duties, replacing him with 1st Lieutenant James M. Burns, 17th Infantry.  In addition to commanding Co. E (Grey Horse Troop), Smith also served as the expedition A.C.S.  Interestingly, Smith in April 1876 received authorization to purchase a grey horse, “provided that the horse is not the mount of a trooper” for his private use.  No doubt, Smith rode this horse into the June battle.

Sixteen officers, including surgeons, died at the Little Big Horn.  The casualties included two key regimental staff positions, field commander (Custer) and adjutant (1st Lt. William W. Cooke).  Despite the decimation regimental business proceeded.  On June 27th Marcus Reno assumed field command of the regiment and appointed 1st Lieutenant George D. Wallace adjutant.

Enlisted Men

Enlisted men had jobs as well.  On May 1st, Private Samuel S. Shade, Co. C, was relieved of duty as the post schoolmaster.  The former school teacher enlisted in 1875.   Immediately prior to the departure of the expedition Private George W. Hammon, Co. F, 7th Cavalry, served on extra duty as a nurse in the post dispensary.  Private Montreville A. Clark, 20th Infantry counterpart, replaced Hammon.  Both Shade and Hammon died with Custer on June 25th.

Campaigns offered as break from garrison work and was likely viewed as a vacation.  Like any vacation the respite ends and the people resume their normal jobs.  On May 14th, for example, Private Thomas Sayers (aka Seayers) was relieved from duty in the post bakery to participate in the expedition.  He resumed bakery duty in September shortly after returning from the summer campaign.

Caring for the 7th Cavalry Dead and Wounded

On May 13, just a few days before the regiment left Fort Abraham Lincoln, Custer issued final orders related to a variety of subjects.  For example, Special Order 92, Paragraph 6, stated that “[u]pon the return of the expedition Companies A, C, D, and F will occupy the quarters, barracks and stables recently vacated by them.  “E” Company will occupy the barracks recently vacated by “I” Co. and the south stable nearest the river.”  Not long after returning to Fort Abraham Lincoln, surviving 7th Cavalry officer 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Godfrey served on a board of survey convened to inventory of government property belonging to the five companies decimated at the Battle of Little Bighorn , including the property of companies referenced in SO 92.

Over 60 enlisted men received wounds during the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Many of the wounds were minor and did not interfere with duty.  Most of the severely wounded were immediately sent back to the hospital at Fort Abraham Lincoln.  Fittingly, several fellow battle survivors, detailed as nurses, attended comrades with serious injuries.  Seventh Cavalry nurses included privates Max Mielke (Co. K), Samuel Severs (Co. H), Francis M. Reeves (Co. A), and Henry Lang (Co. E).  Survivor guilt undoubtedly affected many 7th Cavalrymen after the battle and is discussed in an earlier post.

Closing Thoughts

Although combat was a pivotal event for any serviceman it represented only a small portion of the day-to-day life of an Old Army soldier.  Despite the tragic nature of these events, army duty, whether it be issuing orders, baking bread, accounting for government property, or tending the sick and wounded, continued.  These mundane tasks epitomized the service of a typical 19th century soldier.  Check back in two weeks for a discussion of one of the many duties performed by Old Army officers: councils of administration.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Fort Abraham Lincoln, Special Orders
Seventh Cavalry, General Orders
U.S. Army Register of Enlistments

Old Army Survivor Guilt (2nd & 7th Cavalry)?

One factor of combat that transcends military history is the randomness of casualties.  Accounting for why a soldier in combat survived unscathed while a comrade, a mere few feet away, died is difficult.  In some instances, soldiers survived an engagement through a simple reassignment or as a result of their spot on the duty roster.  Today, we call the struggle with coming to terms of surviving a traumatic event “survivor guilt.”  Nineteenth century army healthcare was focused on the physical rather than the metal well being of the patient.  Feelings now considered to be survivor guilt or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were simply termed “melancholy.”  It is likely that survivors may have struggled with their roles in or the fates of comrades killed in 19th century engagements.  Although it is impossible to be sure, it appears that survivors or comrades of soldiers killed in the Fetterman Fight (2nd Cavalry) and Battle of the Little Bighorn (7th Cavalry) may have experienced survivor guilt.

Wounded Soldiers in a Military Hospital (1860s); Old Army Records
The 19th century army medical treatment focused more on the physical rather than mental health of a soldier.

Fetterman Fight

On December 21, 1866, 79 soldiers and 2 civilians were killed in what is commonly referred to as the Fetterman Fight, just north of Fort Phil Kearny, Dakota Territory (current Wyoming).  One of the casualties was Sergeant (Sgt.) James Baker, Company C, 2nd Cavalry.  Records indicate that Baker died due to sheer happenstance.  At the time of battle the company had six sergeants, including 1st Sgt. George Aldrich.  Sgt. Aldrich was in the hospital recovering from wounds received 15 days earlier.  The company muster rolls lists, by seniority, five duty sergeants.  The first and fifth duty sergeants were both sick at Fort Sedgwick, Colorado Territory.  That left three sergeants available for duty (Baker, Charles Bender, and Herman Guenther).  Baker was the senior non-commissioned officer on duty with the company on the day of the fight.  His position on the duty roster sealed his fate while Aldrich, Bender, and Guenther completed their enlistments; each being discharged as sergeants.  Just three days before the battle, an escort, including 13 enlisted men, left Fort Phil Kearny.   This detail likely prevented more cavalrymen from dying with Fetterman.

Sgt. James Baker headstone at Custer National Cemetery. oldarmyrecords.com
Sgt. James Baker, Co. C, 2nd Cavalry is one of the few identified bodies of those killed at the Fetterman Fight.


Battle of the Little Bighorn

The march of the 7th Cavalry to the Little Bighorn River in 1876 required considerable labor.  Officers detailed men from the various companies to complete a variety of labor tasks.  Quartermaster duties consumed most labor.  For example, Private (Pvt.) Garrett Van Allen, Company C, 7th Cavalry worked in the Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory Quartermaster Department prior to the campaign.  Relieved from duty at the fort to join his unit on the subsequent campaign, Van Allen resumed his work with the 7th Cavalry Quartermaster on the march.  However, just two weeks before the battle Pvt. Robert Walker of the same company replaced Van Allen with quartermaster duty.  As a result this simple reassignment sealed Van Allen’s fate.  He died with 36 other company mates at the Little Big Horn.  Therefore, a simple stoke of the pen spared Walker the outcome of his comrades.

Garrett Van Allen at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. oldarmyrecords.com
A simple stroke of the pen sealed Pvt. Garrett Van Allen’s fate at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. As a result, he is listed with other comrades on the military mass burial monument on the battlefield.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn decimated the non-commissioned ranks of the Seventh Cavalry.  For example, two sergeants, including 1st Sgt. Frank Varden, from Company I were killed in the battle.  In the months following the battle the regimental commander approved several promotions.  Seventh Cavalry Special Order No. 64 (dated August 3, 1876) published the appointment of Milton J. DeLacy as the new 1st Sgt.  Fortunately for DeLacy he was detailed with the pack train during the engagement.

Disciplinary Problems

Just four days later the order authorizing the promotions was rescinded.  The canceling of the order no doubt prompted the arrest of Sgt. DeLacy for being absent without leave and conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.  The subsequent regimental court martial found DeLacy guilty and fined him $10.00 for one month.  However, “…in consideration of length of service and faithful discharge of duty on the part of accused Sgt. DeLacy…” , Major Marcus Reno remitted the sentence and restored the sergeant to duty.  A subsequent General Court Martial (GCM), convened in February 1877, reduced DeLacy to a private (this court martial will be discussed in a future blog).  He deserted the service soon after.

Sgt. DeLacy was not the only Little Bighorn survivor to face disciplinary action following the engagement.  One of the most dramatic episodes of the battle occurred during Major Reno’s retreat across the Little Bighorn River.  As result of the chaos Second Lieutenant (Lieut.) Benjamin Hodgson became unhorsed.  Trumpeter Charles Fisher (Company M) attempted to drag Lt. Hodgson across the river to safety.  However, the wounded lieutenant succumbed to his injuries at the river.  Artist Ralph Heinz captured the event in the painting titled Trumpeter Fisher and Lt. Hodgson.  Fisher survived the fight and returned to Fort Abraham Lincoln after the summer campaign.  In October 1876 a GCM found Fisher guilty of being absent without proper authority from his company on four consecutive days.


We will probably never know for sure if Sergeants Aldrich, Bender, DeLacy, Guenther, Trumpeter Fisher, and Private Walker suffered from survivor’s guilt.  Did the Battle of the Little Bighorn factor into the court martial offenses perpetrated by Sgt. DeLacy and Trumpeter Fisher?  To make the connection would be purely speculative with this limited information.  However, there is no doubt that these individuals reflected on how close they came to dying in two significant Old Army battles.

As Old Army Records continues to index 19th century U.S. Army records, we hope to delve deeper into all facets of the era.  Do you have information on an Old army veteran who suffered survivor guilt or PTSD?  If so, please contact us.


The information on Sergeant Baker comes from a monograph being prepared on the Fetterman Battle casualties.  A cursory analysis of the following records uncovered the information pertaining to Sergeant DeLacy, Trumpeter Fisher, and Privates Van Allen and Walker (Old Army Records is currently indexing these records, see the Records Inventory):

  • 7th Cavalry General Orders, General Field Orders
  • Special Orders, and Circulars, 1874-1877
  • Fort Abraham Lincoln Special Orders, April 1876-October 1877
  • Department of Dakota General Court Martial Orders, 1876 and 1877