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)