Old Army Ordnance Inventory: Fort Laramie (1877)

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

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

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

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

Post on the North Platte

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antiquated Arms 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple, yet Revealing View of the Old Army

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


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

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


Old Army Property: Sundial

While indexing general orders and circulars for the Military Division of the Missouri we came across a circular providing instructions on the use of a sundial.  The circular, issued on May 26, 1870, stated

[t]he annexed instructions for the constriction and use of sun dials [sic], prepared by Brevet Colonel William E. Merrill, Corps of Engineers, and Chief Engineer at these Headquarters, being of great practical value, are published for the information of the officers of this command.  Commanders of posts where there are no sun dials, will immediately cause such to be made for their respective posts, and all sun dials will be carefully protected and kept in good order.

Later, we found a general order, issued by the Department of Dakota, referring to the earlier document.  The sentence [c]ommanders of posts where there are no sun dials, will immediately cause such to be made for their respective posts… intrigued me and prompted the question:  do any Old Army sundials still exist?  But, before answering that question, we may ask:  why were sundials so important to the Old Army?

Importance of a Sundial

Essentially, sundials consist of flat plates and a gnomon, a fin-shaped protrusion that casts a shadow on the dial.  The observer uses the shadow, relative to sun’s altitude and/or azimuth, to determine the time.  Accurate timekeeping was essential for the effective running of an 19th century U.S. Army post.  The adjutant often served as the official post timekeeper.  His watch determined when the various drum or bugle calls occurred and established when the important task of guard mounting occurred.  However, sundials provided an approximation of the time.  Timekeepers needed to further refine the information to determine the true time as described in General Order (G.O.) 102, dated December 11, 1871, issued by the Department of Dakota:

The time given by a sun dial is solar or apparent time.  But as the sun does not move uniformly in his path, it is impossible to make watches follow his movements exactly.  The device has therefore been resorted to of supposing a fictitious sun, called the mean sun, which in a year passes through the same space as the true sun, and has a uniform motion.  Watches and clocks all show mean time.  To get mean time from the apparent time, which is shown by a sun dial, it is necessary to use a correction called the equation of time.  This correction is given in all nautical almanacs…published by the Bureau of Navigation of the Navy Department. 

The raw data derived from the sundial required further refinement to achieve the accurate watch time through a process known as equation of time.  A circular, issued by the Division of the Missouri in May 1870, included an equation of time table.

The Fort Randall Sundial

While researching extant sundials, I came across one in the collections of the Center for Western Studies, Augustana University.  The artifact is a brass dial plate from Fort Randall in present day South Dakota.  Established by order of General William S. Harney in June 1856, Fort Randall occupied a flat on the west side of the Missouri River.  For the next 36 years the post served as river-based supply and troop station.

The Fort Randall dial plate is nearly 12” square.  Arrayed along three sides are Roman numerals denoting twelve hours.  The name of the post along with the date (1871) and latitude (43°00’) of the fort, is inscribed at the bottom center of the plate.  The center of the plate has two slots, which supported the gnomon.  Unfortunately, the gnomon is missing.  One edge of the plate features the embossed initials U.S. Q.M.D., denoting the United States Quartermaster Department; the sundial was government issue.

The Quartermaster Department issued the Fort Randall sundial in 1871. Photo by the author with permission from the Center for Western Studies, Augustana University.

Dial plate embossing detail. Photo by the author with permission from the Center for Western Studies, Augustana University.

Surprisingly, the sundial does not appear on a plan view of Fort Randall, prepared in 1873.  A slightly different plan, illustrated in the 1876 government publication Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri Commanded by Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan, also does not show the sundial.

With the exception of the stone chapel, built in 1875, no extant buildings remain at the post.  The United States Army Corps of Engineers administers the archaeological site as the Fort Randall Dam and Lake Francis Case.  Today, a modern sundial sits in the middle of the parade ground, adjacent to the flagpole.

This detailed 1873 view of Fort Randall shows most of natural and built environment. However, the plan does not show the sundial, issued in 1871. From Report on the Hygiene of the United States Army (Billings 1875).

Other Old Army Sundials

The 1876 publication Outline Description of the Posts includes plan views of most stations within the Military Division of the Missouri.  At the time of publication, the division consisted of five departments (Dakota, the Platte, the Missouri, Texas, and the Gulf).  Soldiers manned nearly 90 stations within the division.  A review of plan views of military stations compiled in Outline Description of the Posts located about 10 posts that either showed the location of a sundial or listed a sundial in the map legend.  These plan views cannot be considered true representations of built features.  The quartermaster issued the Fort Randall sundial in 1871, but the dial does not appear on two plans of the fort prepared in the 1870s.  Nevertheless, the few illustrated examples provide insight into where sundials were typically located:

Department of Dakota
Abercrombie, Fort (on parade ground in front of guardhouse)
Abraham Lincoln, Fort (behind the adjutant’s office)
Wadsworth, Fort (middle of parade ground)

Department of the Missouri
Sill, Fort (on parade ground)
Supply, Camp/ Fort (denoted on the legend, but location undetermined)
Wallace, Fort (on edge of parade ground near the adjutant’s office)

Department of the Platte
Bridger, Fort (in front of the headquarters building)

Department of Texas
Ringgold Barracks (on edge of parade ground between the guardhouse and headquarters building)
Stockton, Fort (on edge of parade ground in front of “offices”)

As already mentioned, accurate timekeeping was essential to the Old Army.

Instructions issued by both the Division of the Missouri and reiterated by the Department of Dakota stated that “[the time] should be taken daily, at noon, when the weather permits, by the sergeant of the guard, and the guard clock…regulated accordingly.”  Although representing a small data set, documents referring to sundials in the division clearly show that the military installed the devices near the guardhouse or adjutant’s office.

What Happened to the Sundials?

The sundial at Fort Union, New Mexico is still in place.  However, a simple internet search failed to identify any other extant sundials in the area known historically as the Military Division of the Missouri.  Several reasons likely account for their disappearance.  First, souvenir hunters likely collected some dials.  Second, other dials probably ended up in scrap piles during World War Two.  Finally, sundials, such as the one from Fort Randall, ended up in museums.  Do you know the whereabouts of an Old Army sundial?  If so, please share it with us.


I would like to thank Center for Western Studies, Augustana University, and especially Liz Cisar, for allowing me to examine and photograph the Fort Randall sundial plate.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Department of Dakota, General Orders, Circulars (1871)
Division of the Missouri, General Orders and Circulars (1870)

Government Documents
Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri Commanded by Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan (1876)
Report on the Hygiene of the United States Army (Billings 1875)

Bozeman Trail Abandonment Part 2 of 3: Fort Phil Kearny

In the spring of 1868, a commission assembled to negotiate a peace with the northern Plains tribes.  The negotiations and subsequent Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 were predicated on the abandonment of the three Bozeman Trail posts.  On July 29, 1868, troops, Companies E, G, and H, 27th Infantry, withdrew from Fort C.F. Smith.  This signified the abandonment of the first Bozeman Trail fort.  The three companies arrived at Fort Phil Kearny on August 2nd and after a brief stay continued south and off the trail.

Fort Phil Kearny

Established in July 1866, Fort Phil Kearny was the largest of three Bozeman Trail posts.  At various times it served as headquarters for the Mountain District and several units, including the 18th Infantry and 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, simultaneously.  In 1867, the 2nd Battalion became the 27th Infantry.  Additionally, the post served as the home base for the lone cavalry company, first Company C and later Company D, 2nd Cavalry, assigned to the trail.  In short, Phil Kearny was the military command center for the Bozeman Trail.  Four commanders presided over the post:  Captain Tenador Ten Eyck (18th Infantry), Colonel Henry B. Carrington (18th Infantry), Lieutenant Colonel Henry W. Wessells (18th Infantry), and Colonel John E. Smith (27th Infantry)

Named in honor of Major General Philip Kearny, Jr. killed in the Battle of Chantilly in September 1862, the Fort Phil Kearny impressed many who saw it.  One army inspecting officer noted that “[t]he Colonel [Carrington] has built a strong stockade, the best I ever saw, except those built by the Hudson Bay Company, of 2,800 running feet in length, enclosing a space in which will be located all the quarters, shops and store-houses.”  The garrison typically included five infantry and one cavalry company with an average garrison strength of 390 men.

Major General Philip Kearny, Jr. (1815-1862).

Moving Property

The Department of the Platte issued orders to abandon the Bozeman Trail on May 19, 1868.  The abandonment not only meant the closing of three forts but also the movement of an entire infantry regiment.  At the time the regiment consisted of 10 companies and about 750 officers and enlisted men.  Not only did these troops shuffle south, the regimental headquarters, including all records dating to the unit’s inception in 1861, had to be boxed up and moved.

By the end of July, post quartermaster, 1st Lieutenant Charles H. Warrens had moved 523 tons of supplies from Phil Kearny.  This included 418 tons of quartermaster property, 80 tons of subsistence stores, 18 tons of ordnance stores, and 7 tons of medical stores.  Amazingly, Warrens still had 130 tons of stores (quartermaster and subsistence) to move.  Contractors Black, Kitchen, and Martin hauled the majority of the supplies with 150 teams of oxen, each team hauling 6,000 pounds.  The government provided an additional 75 six-mule teams for the effort.

An average semi trailer carries about 40 tons of material.  In other words, it would have taken 17 modern trailers to move the property from Fort Phil Kearny.  This did not include the personal belongings of the officers and their families.  In addition to furniture, cooking utensils, and toiletry items, Warrens had to find space in the wagons for the cithar he brought with him from Germany.

The subsistence stores wound up at Fort Laramie while most of the remaining property went to Fort D.A. Russell.  Fort Fetterman gained some of the military clothing, tents, and cooking items, as a collective known as clothing, camp and garrison equipage.

Business as Usual

Despite the flurry of activity required for the movement, military business proceeded as usual.  The paymaster paid the troops on July 13th to include wages to June 30th.  Two days later Assistant Surgeon Samuel M. Horton left; Dr. Horton served as post surgeon from July 1866.

Fittingly, the last general order issued by post commander, Colonel John E. Smith, directed routine activities.  They included ordering the usually monthly inspection of troops at 8 a.m. the next day and convening a post of council of administration to assess the tax on the post trader and dividing the post fund amongst the garrison.

Abandoned, Sort Of

Not surprisingly, the abandonment of Fort Phil Kearny occurred in fits and starts. Per S.O. No. 80 H.Q. Dept. Platte, Fort Philip Kearney D.T. was officially abandoned on July 31st.  “Pursuant to authority and preparatory to the troops being withdrawn, this Post is abandoned on and after the 1st of August as a post: immediately upon the arrival of transportation to remove the remaining Stores, the Troops will go in camp upon the parade ground and the companies will be put in readiness to move without delay [emphasis added by the author].”  However, troops remained camped nearby for another 11 days.  Evidently, by vacating the buildings Colonel Smith fulfilled the technical requirement to abandon the post by August 1st.

Although technically abandoned, unique situations required some of the post buildings to be pressed back into service.  On August 4th, two noncommissioned officers, Sergeant Edward Oliver and Corporal Merritt E. Brown, of Company A suffered accidental gunshot wounds.  Thankfully, Acting Assistant Surgeon Francis Geisdorff remained with the troops and tended the injuries.  The doctor administered medial aid to both victims in the post hospital before admitting them to the field hospital in camp.  Brown merely suffered a soft tissue wound treated with cold water dressings.  Unfortunately, Oliver’s wound was more severe.  The rifle ball fractured his right radius, which caused his early discharge in February 1869.

Sketch of Fort Phil Kearny, 1867, oldarmyrecords.com
Sketch of Fort Phil Kearny attributed to a sergeant in the 27th Infantry, 1867.

Gradual Withdrawl

By August 2nd seven infantry companies (over 520 men) camped at Fort Phil Kearny.  This put unneeded strain on food resources, not to mention forage for the animals tasked with moving the command.  As a result, headquarters of the 27th Infantry and Companies E, G, and H left the Fort Phil Kearny camp on August 4th.   Captain Edward L. Hartz remained in command of the 3-company camp.  Over 70 officers were stationed on the trail.  Hartz had perhaps the most interesting career.  An 1855 graduate of West Point, Hartz spent most of his early career in the Southwest.  While there he became one of only a handful of officers to serve in the U.S. Camel Corps.  He served as a quartermaster through most of the Civil War.  Hartz’s previous experience probably factored into the decision to place him in charge of the last detachment.

Lasting Memories

On July 1st, Captain David S. Gordon led Company D, 2nd Cavalry out of the Phil Kearny stockade for Fort Laramie.  This unit was one of the largest companies, by number of enlisted men, to serve on the trail.  Yet, it had the fewest disciplinary problems.  Perhaps the most endearing tribute to the fort was the captain’s six-month-old son Phil Kearny Gordon.  Decades after the abandonment Gordon recalled that several officers of the garrison decided on the name “to perpetuate the name and memory of General Kearny, a gallant soldier of the late war [Civil War], and the post that was also named after him.”

On a gentle slope about a quarter of a mile south of the stockade stood the post cemetery.  It was surrounded by a picket fence covered with fire-proof paint.  Within the enclosure were 109 bodies, soldiers and civilians, killed during the previous two years and a brick monument erected in their honor.

Move the Flagpole?

A 20 x 36-foot garrison flag typically flew over Fort Phil Kearny.  The height of the pole was reported to be 110 to 124 foot-tall.  Not surprisingly, it made an impression on many who saw it.  Lieutenant Colonel Henry W. Wessells commanded Phil Kearny for just over 6 months before leaving the station in July 1867.  Although he spent just a few months at the post, the flag pole lingered in memory of the colonel.  By mid-July 1868, Wessells commanded Fort D.A. Russell, the newest military post in the Department of the Platte and the destination for the Bozeman Trail troops.

Shortly after assuming command of D.A. Russell, Wessells telegrammed department headquarters requesting that the Phil Kearny flagstaff be sent to his station.  He argued that “one good team” could accomplish the task.  Department headquarters politely denied the request reasoning that “[w]e are very much pressed for transportation to bring down the troops and stores from the upper posts and cannot well spare one team for the purpose requested.”  Rather than expend the effort to move the pole 340 miles, headquarters reasoned that timber in the nearby mountains could furnish the required flagstaff.  In the end, the flagpole remained in the Powder River country.

Be sure to check our Schedule Calendar for part three of this Special Series.  Feel free to leave a comment regarding this article, or any Old Army subject.  We look forward to hearing from you, contact us.


Old Army Numbers: Boards of Survey 1870

Old Army officers constantly served on boards of survey.  These ad hoc councils determined who or what caused the loss or allocation of government property and were discussed in a previous blog.  This post presents some of the details of boards of survey convened in the Department of Platte (D.O.P.) in 1870.

Composition of Boards of Survey 

About 11% of the U.S. Regular Army was stationed in the department (a list of these stations may be found here).  That amounted to 60 companies representing the 2nd and 5th Cavalry Regiments, the 4th, 7th, 9th, 13th, and 14th Infantry Regiments, and a contingent of Engineers.  Boards of survey involved  249 officers as either the responsible party (the person financially responsible for government property) or board members (1-3 officers tasked with determining the disposition of government property).

As the chart below illustrates officers from the infantry, cavalry, and engineers comprised the boards.  Interestingly, 29 officers not assigned to a specific unit, also served on boards.  In 1869, Congress mandated a substantial reduction in the strength of the regular army.   This law consolidated several units, mostly infantry, and left many officers without a command.  They had no specific assignment until a vacancy opened up.

Distribution, by rank, of officers associated with boards of survey in the Department of the Platte (1870).

On average officers were associated with boards five times during the year.  First Lieutenant Thomas J. Gregg, 2nd Cavalry, was a responsible party once and served as a board member the most (16 times).  All commissioned ranks, 1st Lieutenant through Colonel, were associated with the boards.  Not surprisingly, company grade officers were the most frequent responsible parties and board members, as shown in the chart below.

Comparison, by rank, of officers who were responsible parties or members for boards of survey convened in the Department of the Platte (1870).

Boards of Survey Subject Matter

In 1870, 294 boards of survey convened in the department.  The four major categories of government property were Commissary Stores, Quartermaster Stores, Ordnance Stores, and Medical Stores.  The following is a breakdown of the 294 boards of survey convened in the D.O.P. in 1870.  Examples from the categories follow:


This catchall category includes boards convened to examine more than one class of government property (i.e. commissary and quartermaster stores).  It also included a case Signal Corps stores and equipment (Fort Douglas) and determining the number and size of stoves required in a cavalry barracks and kitchens at Omaha Barracks.  The board concluded that buildings in question should have Pioneer No. 38 and Charter Oak No. 12 stoves, the latter with 5 and 25 gallon coffee boilers.

Medical Stores

Three of the eight boards convened to examine medical stores involved liquor.  They include the loss of 12 quarts of brandy (Fort Fetterman), 9 bottles of whiskey, 2 bottles of alcohol, and 4 bottles of sherry (North Platte Station), and one bottle of whiskey (Miner’s Delight).  In the latter case, the board determined that Sergeant John Schumaker, Co. K, 7th Infantry was responsible for the theft of the whiskey plus:

Ordnance Stores     

Ordnance stores, not surprisingly, included artillery, small arms, horse equipment, and associated equipment and tools.  Surprisingly, 17 boards convened at nine posts/ sub-posts to determine the responsibility for the theft of 120 firearms throughout the department.  The loss of these weapons also meant a large financial burden for the government.


In most cases deserters stole the firearms and, consequently, were accountable for the loss.  While deserting from Plum Creek Station one night in May 1870, Sergeant John H. Groover, and four others from Co. F, 5th Cavalry took 8 Sharps Carbines and 30 Colt Army Revolvers.

Although the board of survey absolved Groover’s company commander, Captain William Henry Brown, of responsibility for the loss, Captain John R. McGinness, D.O.P. Chief Ordnance Officer, wrote a brief admonishment.  In his opinion the revolvers “…should have been placed in the hands of the men of the Comp[any] in order that each man could be held personally responsible for their safe keeping.”  McGinness further stated “[t]he fact that five enlisted men, wishing to desert would connect themselves with such a suspicious circumstance as to carry 6 revolvers and a carbine or two in addition about their person or offer them for sale seems strange enough to excite comment.”

Quartermaster Property

This category is by far the largest and most diverse classification of government property.  In the D.O.P., boards of survey for quartermaster property convened for as little as one crosscut saw (Fort Bridger) to 3,532 itemized uniform components (Fort D.A. Russell).

Perhaps the most unique subject of a board of survey was a pontoon bridge located at Omaha Barracks, Nebraska.  The bridge included 13 pontoon boats, 14 boats oars, 21 incomplete boats, and 12 anchors.  The board concluded that the bridge was “…nearly valueless five years ago, and [it] has been in almost constant use ever since.”

Virginia, Pontoon boat used by the Army of the Potomac. Old Army Records, LLC
Boards of survey often condemned government property.  In 1870, a board, convened at Omaha Barracks, considered 16 pontoon boats, similar to this one, “nearly valueless.”

Commissary Stores

Commissary stores comprised the largest numbers of boards of surveys.  Most of these items were perishable and subject to rot and loss due to evaporation and dehydration (known in Old army parlance as “shrinkage”).   Boards convened to examine something as little as little as 13 pounds of ham (Fort D.A. Russell).  More commonly, boards determined whether these articles were fit for issue or sale.  The following is an example from Fort Fetterman:

Closing Remarks

From food to furnishings, boards of survey provide a wealth of information pertaining to the life of an Old Army soldier.  The information provided in this post is only a small representation of the data contained in boards of survey documents.  Feel free to contact us at admin@oldarmyrecords.com for more information on this subject.


Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)

Reports of Boards of Survey, Department of the Platte (1866-1876)

Old Army Numbers: Horses and Mules

This is the first of a series of posts that presents a statistical summary of the Old Army.  The 19th century U.S. Army, as with today’s government, was rooted in paperwork.  In addition to the volumes of personnel data (descriptive information, casualty lists, desertion statistics, etc.) the army itemized supplies and equipment issued and consumed.  Some summaries, such as the Record of Animals on Hand at Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri, were short-lived.   Nevertheless, information in these documents helps us understand the sheer volume, expense, and paperwork involved with manning, equipping, and supplying the 19th century U.S. Army.

Horses and Mules

In 1866, and part of 1867, the Division of the Missouri headquarters staff compiled an inventory of army horses and mules present at the various posts and stations (71 in number) within the division; six posts did not have any listings.  At the time the division consisted of the Departments of the Arkansas, Missouri, Platte, and Dakota.  Quartermasters filed these reports every three weeks (ending on the 10th, 20, and 30th or 31st) of each month January – September.  Horses were reported as being either for cavalry or artillery use.

Of the stations reporting, Keokuk, Iowa had the fewest animals; only three cavalry horses during the week ending January 10th.  The number of cavalry horses reported ranged from 849 (January) to 3,906 (September) with an average of 2,179/month.

Profile of a horse showing the areas that should be closely inspected for fitness for artillery service (from The Artillerist’s Manual by Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, 1863).

Contracts issued for horses in the Department of the Platte in 1866 and early 1867 specified that cavalry mounts were typically 15 to 16 hands high and between the ages of 5 and 9 years old.  The government did not consider mares, studs, or white horses.

Only 11 posts reported artillery horses.  Weekly reporting numbers ranging from 4 to 125 and averaging 46/month.  Fort Bascom, New Mexico reported five horse during one week.   Fort Leavenworth and St. Louis had the most reporting periods (11 and 14 weeks respectively).

The mule represented the main livestock asset of the Old Army.  With the limited reach of railroads west of the Mississippi in 1866, mules were essential for supplying troops.  They were the transport vehicle of the day.  The number of mules reported in the division ranged from 3,912 (January) to 13,562 (February) with an average of 9,589/month.

Livestock represented a substantial financial investment for the government.  Contracts for 463 cavalry horses in the Department of the Platte averaged $148/ horse.   The Quartermaster Department (QMD) purchased artillery horses at an average cost of $174.78.  The QMD purchased mules for, on average, $150.18 each.  Based on a weekly reporting average of 2,179 cavalry and 46 artillery horses, the government spent about $330,532.00 in the Military Division of the Missouri.

Average # of Animals/ Month Cost (1866) Cost (2016)
46 artillery horses $8,039.88 $125,000.00
2,179 cavalry horses $322,492.00 $4,500,000.00
9,589 mules $1,440,076.02 $22,500,000.00
Total: 11,814/ month $1.8 million $27.1 million
Feeding Government Livestock

Army regulations stipulated that horses and mules were to be fed 14 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of grain, typically oats, barley, or corn, daily.  For remote posts the daily forage requirement of 26 pounds was difficult to maintain.  Posts established late in the year, before adequate supplies could arrive, often experienced supply shortfalls.  For example, in November 1866, Colonel Carrington, commanding Fort Phil Kearny and the Mountain District, issued Special Order 81: “[u]ntil further orders the issue of hay to public horses and mules will be eight pounds per day instead of fourteen and special care will be exercised to prevent waste of any kind or the access of any animals to the public stock of hay or corn in store.”

Contracts for hay ranged from $10.47 – $60/ ton and averaged $33/ ton (1.6¢/ pound), oats averaged 3¢/ pound, and corn 9¢/ pound.  Based on the average rates, the government was spending between 58¢ and $1.21/ animal/ day.  The following summarizes the average amount spent on forage for army livestock (11,814 animals), within the division every day, month, and year.  Cost estimates are for 1866 and 2016:

  Daily (1866) Daily (2016) Monthly (1866) Monthly (2016) Yearly (1866) Yearly (2016)
58¢ $6,852.12 $104,000.00 $205,563.60 $3.04 million $2.5 million $37.4 million
$1.21 $14,294.94 $223,000.00 $428,848.20 $6.7 million $5.2 million $81.1 million
Closing Thoughts

Horses and mules were an integral and expensive requirement of the Old Army.   Old Army Records is actively compiling and tabulating lists, such as the Animals on Hand at Posts, in an effort to understand how the supplies, equipment, and livestock affected the day-to-day activities of the 19th century U.S. Army.   If you have a topic suggestion for a By the Numbers post, please contact us.



The foregoing information was compiled from the Annual Report of the Secretary of War (1866) and the following documents and document sets digitized and indexed by Old Army Records:

Record of Animals on Hand at Posts in the Military Division of the Missouri (1866-1867)

Register of Contracts, Department of the Platte, Office of the Quartermaster (May 1866-March 1870)

Special Orders, Fort Phil Kearny (1866-1868)


The Journeys of 19th Century U.S. Military (Old Army) Records

Detailed record keeping was as critical to the 19th Century U.S. Army as it is to today’s military.  Daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual documents were required to be prepared, often in triplicate, and submitted to various headquarters.  In addition, every regiment maintained its own set of records, kept by headquarters.  Regimental records included:

Morning Report Book
Descriptive Book
Special Order Book
General Order Book
Letters Sent Book
Index to Letters Received
Endorsement Book
Muster Rolls (band, field, and staff)

Similar sets of records were also maintained by individual companies or batteries, military station headquarters, and sometimes expeditions or campaigns.  All of these documents hold invaluable details on the inner workings of the Old Army; the enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, officers, arms, equipment, places, and events.

The regimental adjutant was tasked with maintaining and safeguarding these records.  In the summer of 1866, the records of the 18th U.S. Infantry were inspected by Department of the Platte staff.   The records were found to be

complete from its organization, and are all correctly kept, and posted to date.  The books are exceedingly neat and complete, and special praise is due [1st Lieutenant Frederick Phisterer, late Adjutant] of the regiment, for the excellent manner in which he has performed his duties.

The 18th was one of nine regular army infantry regiments (11th-19th) formed in 1861.  These regiments organized into three 8-company battalions (designated 1st-3rd).   In actuality, each battalion functioned as a regiment, each having its own set of records (i.e. many of the records listed above).

As a 19th Century U.S. Army researcher, I am often frustrated by the lack of and inconsistent coverage of records pertaining to a variety of time periods and units and military posts.  In most instances only one copy of the unit records are extant.

Between January and February 1867, the headquarters of the 18th Infantry moved from Fort Phil Kearny to Fort McPherson.  Twenty-two wagons (each pulled by six mules) were required to move three officers and their families, the regimental band with their instruments and music, unassigned recruits, and five years of records for a three battalion regiment.   By 1890, the records of the 18th Infantry followed the Army of the Cumberland across Tennessee and Georgia, traversed the Great Plains, returned to the southeast for Reconstruction duty, and returned to the northern plains.   During this time the records traveled over 7,000 miles in wagons, on steamboats, and on railroads.  They endured countless thunderstorms, mud marches, stream crossings as evidenced by the stained and ragged condition of “Extracts of General and Special Orders Received.”

Damaged, original document, General Order No. 80, Ft. Phil Kearney, Dec. 27, 1866; Old Army Records;
The first extant page from “18th Infantry Extracts of General Orders and Special Orders Received 1866-1867″.

Today, the extant records for the 18th Infantry, like most of the 19th Century U.S. Army units, are fragmented, battered, and soiled, a far cry from the “exceedingly neat and complete” records kept by Lt. Phisterer.  Although most of the surviving records reside in public repositories, several of the original documents are in the hands of private collections.  It is fortunate that we have as much to explore today as we do.

The examples used above were gleaned from Fort Laramie (letters received, 1866-1868), 18th Infantry records (1862-1871), and a full suite of records pertaining to the military occupation of the Bozeman Trail at Forts C.F. Smith, Phil Kearny, and  Reno (1865-1868) currently being indexed by Old Army Records.  We are also filling in the voids in data from alternative record sets and compiling the comprehensive database of Old Army people, subjects, places, and events.

Let us know (by leaving a comment on this page) if you would like to continue the Journey of Old Army Records and learn how the records survived to be available on our site.