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.

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)

Old Army Records Update

 

Jim and I are back from our most recent Old Army records acquisition trip.  As our journey through Old Army records continues, we always encounter new information that refines our knowledge on the daily operation of the 19th century U.S. Army.  For example, in 1864 the Adjutant General issued General Order No. 75, which clarified several personnel issues, including the designation of draftees and the transfer of soldiers to the U.S. Navy.  Last week we found a document that tabulated the number of copies and distribution of general orders in the 1860s.  The Adjutant General printed and distributed over 5,900 copies of G.O. 75 to various military commands, states, installations, and generals.  This example illustrates the civilian and military manpower required to maintain the War Department.  With that being said, we are excited to announce that soon thousands of names will be indexed related to the following Old Army topics:

  • Soldiers who qualified as marksman/ sharpshooters
  • Lists and assignments of army sutlers/ post traders
  • Charges and specifications against soldiers
  • Lists of soldiers fitted for artificial limbs
  • Lists and assignments of civilian nurses
  • Rosters of noncommissioned officers serving in regular army units
  • Lists of officers detailed to teach military science at high schools and colleges
  • Individuals issued specific firearms
  • Lists of soldiers detailed to perform specific jobs
  • Lists of civilian clerks working at various staff departments
  • Prisoners at Forts Leavenworth and Pulaski
  • Individuals serving as scouts during the Civil War
Old Army soldiers performed a wide-range of daily duty. For example, this list includes the names of soldiers from the 47th New York Infantry assigned to picket duty in North Carolina.
Wide range of Old Army Subjects

What distinguishes Old Army Records apart from other databases, is our commitment to not only capture the names of soldiers, but index the events, places, material, and other subjects associated with the period.  Together, these subjects, or what we call searchable units (SUs), put soldiers into context with the Old Army.  We are therefore pleased to announce the following additions to our dataset:

  • 500+ names and descriptive data for army horses and mules
  • List of countersigns and paroles used during the Civil War
  • List of safeguards issued during the Civil War
  • Tabular data of the types of firearms lost, damaged, and rendered unserviceable by regular army units
  • The causes of desertion from the regular army
  • Lists of items received by soldiers confined to prison
  • Accounting for ammunition expended in the southwest during the 1860s
  • Lists of ordnance and ordnance stores lost by the Union Army in key Civil War battles
Army officers were responsible for all government property and could be called upon to account for expenditures. One enterprising officer maintained a ledger which included the loss and usage of ammunition. This excerpt, for example, includes ammunition used in combat and by the the butcher for Company C, 1st California Cavalry in November and December 1865.
Following the Paperwork Trail

With each document digitized, we are amazed at the breadth of records kept by the 19th century U.S. Army and that survive, yet, today.  The details contained in those documents helps fulfill our goal of presenting the rich day-to-day life of an Old Army soldier.  In the coming months, while we index the new data, we will publish articles on these topics.  So, keep checking the Records Inventory page for updates.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or your research requests.

Major General Jacob Jennings Brown’s Funeral

On February 25, 1828, Adjutant General Roger Jones issued the following directive from Washington, DC.  “The Senior officers of the General Staff of the Army, and the Commanding General of the Militia of the District of Columbia, will convene at the Adjutant’ General’s Office, this morning, at nine o’clock, to make suitable arrangements for the funeral honors of the distinguished and lamented Major General Brown.”  The flurry of orders and details which soon followed outlined the funeral for the 12th Commanding General (both George Washington and James Wilkinson each served twice) of the U.S. Army.

Humble Roots

Jacob Jennings Brown was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in May 1775.  He descended from a long line of devout Quakers making his ultimate career path therefore seem strange.  After brief stints as a surveyor, school teacher, and military secretary for Major General Alexander Hamilton, Brown purchased land on Lake Ontario in northern New York.  Soon after, he founded the village of Brownville and became a prominent figure in state politics.  His political position led to an appointment of colonel in the militia.  When the war of 1812 began Brown served as a militia brigadier general.

General Jacob Brown, Commander of the Army

Much of the War of 1812 was fought along the northeast U.S. border with Canada.  As a result, New York militia troops entered the conflict early.  Brown competently lead troops in the early engagements at Ogdensburg and Sackett’s Harbor.  Consequently, he received appointments as brigadier and then major general in the Regular Army.  Regular Army soldiers, led by Brown, defeated British regulars at Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane in January 1814.  Before the war officially ended, Congress bestowed upon Brown a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his “gallantry and good conduct” at the battles of Chippewa, Niagara, and Erie.

By June 1815, Brown was the senior officer of the U.S. Army.  However, he did not receive the title of Commanding General of the Army until 1821.  During his tenure as senior army commander, General Brown attempted to retain competent soldiers and improve unit training.

Jacob_Jennings_Brown.jpg. oldarmyrecords.com
Major-General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828), US Army, circa 1814.
A Grand Funeral Possession

General Jacob Brown died on February 24, 1828 while on duty in Washington, DC.  The exact cause of death is unknown.  He suffered several wounds at Lundy’s Lane in January 1814.  One 19th century biographer stated that “[t]he disease of which he died is said to have been in consequence of another wound contracted by him at Fort Erie, during the war…”  The funeral orchestrated by the War Department included nearly all senior military and government leaders then at the nation’s capital.  As with all military duty, the funeral was scripted and adhered to strict protocol.  The following circular, issued by the Adjutant General, outlined the funeral procession.

Orders of the Adjutant General's Office, Washington, DC, 26th July 1825-October 29th, 1828. oldarmyrecords.com
Circular issued by the Adjutant General outlining the order for General Jacob Brown’s funeral procession.

Arrangements occurred right up to the burial on February 27th.  Early that morning the War Department issued last-minute orders, which included instructions for the line of escort to form precisely at 10:30 a.m. in front of General Brown’s residence with its left resting near the corner of the United States Bank.  The procession escorted the general’s body to the Congressional Cemetery where it was interred in Section 1, Range 57, Site 150.

Mourning and General Jacob Brown’s Old Army Legacy

The day after the funeral Secretary of War James Barbour issued an order, distributed to troops throughout the nation, eulogizing General Brown.  In it Barbour credited Brown for“[u]niting with the most unaffected simplicity, the highest degree of personal valor, and of intellectual energy, he stands pre-eminent before the world, and for after ages, in that band of heroic spirits, who, upon the ocean and the land, formed and sustained, during the second war with Great Britain, the martial reputation of their country.”  Barbour went on to commend the former commanding general for his “intuitive penetration, his knowledge of men, and his capacity to control them…his scrupulous regard for their rights, his constant attention to their wants…”

Following regulations, artillery at each military post were fired every half hour from sunrise to sunset on the day succeeding the arrival of the directive.  Further, each army officer wore black crape around their left arm and on the hilt of their sword for six months.

According to the official history of commanding generals and army chiefs of staff, Brown recommended pay incentives to encourage reenlistment and pay increases for noncommissioned officers.  He also advocated periodic centralized training for widely scattered units in order to prevent erosion in military instruction.

Sources

Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Orders issued by the Adjutant General’s Office (1828)

Army Regulations
General Regulations for the Army (1825)

Congressional Document
The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents; and all the Laws of a Public Nature; with a Copious Index, Thirteenth Congress-Third Session.  Comprising the Period from Sept. 19, 1814 to March 3, 1815, Inclusive. Compiled from Authentic Materials (1854)

Government Document
Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff, 1775-1995: Portraits & Biographical Sketches of the United States Army’s Senior Officer (Bell 1999)

 

 

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
Rosters
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.

Sources

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)

Memos

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.

Sources

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 Punishment: Fort Adams Flogging

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

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

Flogging, A Punishment For All Offenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

“cat o’ nines”

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

Old Army Courts Martial: Overview

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

Composition of the Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inferior Courts

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

Regimental and Garrison Court Martial

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

Field Officer Court

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

Summary Court

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

Courts Martial Database

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

Sources

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

 

 

 

Old Army Libraries: Publications Overview

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

Old Army Libraries

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

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

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

…a judicious selection of interesting and instructive books…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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