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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
General Order Book
Index to Letters Received
Letters Sent Book
Morning Report Book
Special Order Book
Each morning the adjutant prepared duty rosters which detailed officers and enlisted men to a variety of temporary assignments. These included officer of the day, fatigue and guard duty. The first sergeants in turn met with the adjutant to receive orders and assignments pertaining to their respective companies. Clerks, detailed from the enlisted ranks, often assisted adjutants with copying and organizing the various reports and papers. Not surprisingly, clerks received assignments based on their administrative ability and penmanship.
Adulation and Consternation
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.”
Often, Old Army researchers experience frustration with gaps in the original records for the period. However, considering the fact that 19th century army records slogged with the soldiers through wind, rain, snow, and mud, we are fortunate that we have as many records as we do. This is largely due to the unsung administrative warriors of the period, the adjutants. Check out our list of documents kept by adjutants and indexed by Old Army Records. In the next article I will discuss details from a superb regimental history prepared by an extremely capable adjutant.
Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
General Orders from the Headquarters of the Department of Dakota, 1873
Special and General Orders, Fort C.F. Smith
Special Orders, General Orders, and Circulars, Seventh Cavalry
Army Regulations General Regulations for the Army (1821) General Regulations for the Army of the United States (1847) Regulations for the Army of the United States (1895) Regulations of the Army of the United States (1881) Revised U.S. Army Regulations (1863)
Congressional Document Legislative History of the General Staff of the Army of the United States (Its Organization, Duties, Pay, and Allowances), From 1775-1901 (1901)
Published Source Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1866)
Cornelius C. Platter Civil War Diary, 1864 – 1865, Hargerett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries
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.
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.
The 19th century army, as with today, relied heavily on civilian contractors to complete their mission. Contractors throughout the country provided a wide range of goods and services including freighting, building material, horses, and fuel. In most instances, the government selected contractors based on competitive bids. The army issued circulars detailing which newspapers procuring officers could advertise in. Conversely, leaflets also listed which newspapers no longer warranted advertisements. The following is a small sample of newspapers in which the War Department authorized the publication of ads in the 1870s:
Advocate (Huntsville, Alabama) Daily Times (Jersey City, New Jersey) Evening Call (Leavenworth, Kansas) Grand Era (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) National Republic (Selma, Alabama) Our Mountain Home (Talladega, Alabama) Pioneer (Asheville, North Carolina) Republican (San Francisco, California) Skandinavisk (New York, New York)
Circulars also functioned as interbranch memos. Memorandum replaced circulars as a form of communication in the 20th century army. Colonel John R. Brooke (3rd Infantry), commander of Fort Shaw, Montana Territory took issue with the behavior of some of his men at a post band concert. As a result, Brooke issued the following:
Circulars condemning behavior also applied to officers. The 1895 army regulations specifically listed one instance in which officers likely regretted inclusion in the memos:
The notice of stoppage of officers’ pay will be prepared in the form of a monthly circular to paymasters, advising them of stoppages outstanding at its date. This circular will be submitted to the Secretary of War for his approval prior to its publication. When an officer’s name is borne thereon, no payment of salary will be made to him which is not in accordance with the stoppage entry made against his name.
Although not as numerous as general and special orders, circulars contain a wealth of information regarding the administration of the Old Army. They provide insight into what subjects army commanders deemed important throughout the 19th century. Furthermore, the leaflets identify other documents, such as newspapers, that may contain other information pertaining to an Old Army topic.
Unpublished Sources (indexed byOld 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)
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).
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.
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.
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)
“Field Books of Anthony Wayne” Army and Navy Journal (1909)
What did you do in the army? This is a question asked of countless army veterans through the ages. Gauging the number of reminiscences published by soldiers, especially Civil War veterans, the question pervaded 19th century America. These publications often provide general narratives of their author’s service. Even some popular overviews of the period, namely The Life of Billy Yank (Bell Irvin Wiley 1952), Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay (Don Rickey Jr. 1963), and Regular Army O! (Douglas C. McChristian 2017), generalize the day-to-day life of a 19th century U.S. soldier. However, they do not provide the unique service experienced by an individual soldier. While indexing various sets of orders, Old Army Records, identified several enlisted men and officers assigned to duties not typically discussed in reminiscences and general histories. The following are some of those unique 19th century army jobs.
Unique 19th Century Army Jobs for Enlisted Men
Private Charles Bullock, Co. F, 15th Infantry, received the assignment to drive the police cart at District of New Mexico headquarters. The cart did not transport prisoners. Rather, it hauled trash and debris removed from the installation. Soldiers did not welcome all jobs. One can imagine the reaction George Anderson, a private in Co. K, 7th Cavalry, to being detailed to daily duty in charge of the slop cart at Fort Abraham Lincoln.
In December 1871, Captain William Kelly, 8th Cavalry, suffered from chronic dysentery and received permission to convalesce at his Portland, Oregon home. At the time Kelly’s unit served in the District of New Mexico. A nurse/ attendant, detailed from the enlisted men of the regiment, accompanied the captain. Company C private, Richard Archer, received the assignment. Sadly, Kelly died in Denver, Colorado en route to his home.
Often senior noncommissioned officers performed multiple duties. In 1873, Fort Abraham Lincoln Ordnance Sergeant Eugene Walsh epitomized multitasking. The post commander increased his workload by adding the responsibilities of post librarian and “the culture and preservation of the trees at this Post” to his duties.
Unique 19th Century Army Jobs for Officers
As previously discussed, officers performed a multitude of administrative duties in the Old Army (e.g. boards of survey and councils of administration). However, like their enlisted men, officers sometimes drew unique assignments. For example, in October 1885, the Adjutant General detailed lieutenants Allyn Capron (1st Artillery), Charles G. Treat (5th Artillery), and Isaac N. Lewis (2nd Artillery) for torpedo coursework at Willets Point, New York. The 1881 U.S. Army regulations made provisions for artillery regiments to send subalterns to New York for instruction in the torpedo service. These weapons differed from those used by the navy in that they were meant for shore defense.
U.S. Revised Statute 1225, amended on July 5, 1876, allowed the President to detail army officers to teach military science or similar subjects at schools across the country. As a result, 1st Artillery lieutenant James M. Ingalls assumed the role of professor of military science and tactics at Houghton High School in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, beginning in early 1877.
Enlisted men and officers alike often had the opportunity to perform unique jobs. These jobs no doubt provided welcome reprieve from the mundane daily activities. Nineteenth century U.S. Army records are filled with information that provides a unique narrative of an individual soldier’s service history. Continue to check back as Old Army Records extracts this information.
Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Adjutant General’s Office, Special Orders (1877, 1885)
District of New Mexico, Special Orders (1871, 1872)
Fort Abraham Lincoln, D.T., Special Orders (1876)
Government Document Regulations for the Army of the United States (1881)
This article is a continuation of the series describing the various orders issued in the Old Army. Most orders fell into two categories: general or special. As previously discussed, general orders covered a broad range of subjects. The Regulations for the Army of the United States(1881) summarizes the information contained in special orders:
Special Orders are such as do not concern the troops generally; such as relate to the march of some particular corps, the establishment of some temporary post, the detaching of individuals, the granting requests, and generally such matters as need not be published to the whole command.
This rather simple official definition belies the amount of information contained in special orders. Special orders were, essentially, personnel management instructions. They specified duties performed by all soldiers, officers and enlisted men alike.
Each order included the source (order number, date of issue, place of issue, and the name of the commander issuing the order). Often orders also included the name of the adjutant. As discussed in the previous post, orders emanated from a variety of Old Army commands and units, including the War Department through the Adjutant General of the Army (AG), division headquarters, military posts, regiments, or battalions.
Of all of the types of orders issued in the 19th century, special orders were the most numerous. Special orders issued by the adjutant general totaled 268 in 1876, 302 in 1887, and 308 in 1898. Obviously, in times of open conflict the number of orders issued rose dramatically. In 1846, General Zachary Taylor, commander of the United States Army of Occupation, issued 142 special orders over an eight-month span. Likewise, during the peak of the Civil War, the adjutant general issued nearly 600 special orders in 1863 alone.
Every special order typically included paragraphs, which could number 50 or more. Each paragraph typically referred to a unique individual or circumstance. The content of most special orders is summarized below.
Promotions and Demotions
Promotion was the goal of most Old Army officers. Higher rank meant increased responsibility, pay, and social status. The AGO issued orders regarding the promotion or, occasionally, demotions, of officers. Whereas army headquarters dealt with the status of officers, the professional fate of enlisted men largely rested with their regiment. Company commanders, who in theory observed the day-to-day interactions of the enlisted men under his command, recommended men for noncommissioned officer (NCO) positions to the regimental commander. In turn, the regimental commander considered the request and, in most instances, approved the changes.
Surprisingly, promotions and demotions occurred frequently. The expiration of service, disciplinary action, and a simple desire not to have the responsibility required periodic changes in NCO positions. In rare instances battle losses resulted in mass-promotions. In the weeks immediately following the Battle of the Little Big Horn, for example, Major Marcus A. Reno, field commander of the 7th Cavalry, issued several special orders promoting individuals to fill the ranks of noncommissioned officers killed in the engagement. Special Order No. 59 (7th Cavalry), approving promotions in Company K, is a representative example:
Corporal George Hove to be sergeant (vice 1st Sgt. DeWitt Winnie killed)
Private Michael P. Madden to be sergeant (vice Sgt. Robert H. Hughes killed)
Duty Assignments (Officers)
Special orders convened a wide range of panels on which officers served. Many, such as boards of survey, councils of administration, courts martial, occurred regularly. These mundane duties consumed a large portion of a line officer’s duty. Special orders also assigned officers to unique duty. For instance, in April 1863, the AGO ordered Captain Cyrus B. Comstock, with the Corps of Engineers, to assume charge of the balloon establishment (also known as the Balloon Corps). The order also empowered Comstock sole discretion for requisitions and accounts pertaining to the balloon organization.
Duty Assignments (Enlisted Men)
Old Army duty required extensive labor commitments. Routine activities, such as erecting buildings, escorting supply trains, providing water and firewood to the garrison, more often than not required the labor of enlisted men. For small escorts, such as transferring mail, orders specified, by name, the NCO in charge. When there was a shortage of available men, privates often filled in, temporarily, as the NCO in charge.
Most special orders, especially at the regiment and post levels, assigned men to complete these onerous tasks. Therefore, special orders are excellent sources for viewing the day-to-day life of an enlisted man in the 19th century army. Special Order No. 182, issued at Fort Abraham Lincoln in September 1876 is typical of the “job” assignments. In the order, Private Charles Banks, a Battle of the Little Big Horn survivor from Company L, 7th Cavalry, was detailed on daily duty as mail carrier for the post adjutant.
In March 1886, 6th Cavalryman, Private John H. Gaston got a brief reprieve from field duty with his company, then serving at a remote temporary camp. He was ordered to “his station at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, to prepare [the] troop garden for the coming season.
Special orders also demonstrate that even lowly privates assumed, at least temporarily, heady responsibilities. On March 7, 1885, District of New Mexico commander, Colonel Luther Bradley, issued Special Order 14 detailing Private Hugh Hartmann, then serving with a General Service detachment, to proceed to Fort Selden, New Mexico to verify and establish the boundaries of that military reservation.
Whether marching to a battle, shifting positions on the battlefield, or simply changing stations, Old Army soldiers were always moving. Special orders conveyed detailed instructions regarding the moves. Those orders outlined the time and place of marches, the unit or number of men required, the amount of ammunition and rations required, etc. The following example is from Special Order No. 180 issued by headquarters of the 8th Army Corps on July 5, 1863:
Brigadier-General Briggs, U. S. Volunteers, will immediately proceed with the following named troops by railroad to Frederick City, Md.: The Ninth Maryland Volunteer Infantry; the Tenth Maryland Volunteer Infantry; the Eighth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the Forty-sixth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the Fifty-first Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the Seventh Regiment New York State Militia; detachment of the [First] Connecticut Cavalry; Battery B, First Maryland Volunteer Artillery; Battery C, First Pennsylvania Volunteer Artillery.
The command will go in light marching order. They will carry with them their blankets, canteens, and haversacks; 40 rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes, and 20 rounds in their pockets.
Leaves of Absence
Serving at remote stations or under arduous field conditions took a strain on Old Army personnel. Regulations afforded officers greater opportunity for rest. Justifications for leaves included medical conditions, the desire to see wife and children, or simply a need to attend to “personal matters”. In all instances, the AG reviewed and approved these applications. If approved, the AG specified the length of time for sabbaticals in a special order. Often, the order included an option to extend the break.
Although rare, enlisted men could apply for leaves of absence. Time off for enlisted men depended upon the length of time they served, their character, and the severity of the request. As with officers, the AG approved all requests by enlisted men for leaves of absence. For example, in March 1833, the AG granted Sergeant Alexis St. Martin, with a detachment of orderlies “at the seat of Government”, a three-month furlough.
The topics discussed above typify what is in Old Army special orders. However, these types of instructions often included information about other subjects such as the requisition and use of specific government property. Special orders also addressed issues affecting specific units. One such issue was the abuse of alcohol that persisted throughout the 19th century army.
Curbing Alcohol Use
In January 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, then commander of the Department of Tennessee, issued Special Order No. 26 directing that “[t]he Bars in Government service in this Department will be closed and no Spirituous, Vinous or Malt Liquors will be allowed to be sold on the boats or in the Camps.”
Alcohol remained an issue and commanders struggled to curb its abuse. For example, Colonel Richard I. Dodge, commanding a battalion on the Powder River Expedition, issued Special Order No. 21 in December 1876:
[t]he Trader or Sutler at this camp is herby forbidden to sell intoxicating liquor either by the glass or quantity to enlisted men of this command. Liquors will only be sold to Commd [commanding] officers, or on the presentation of written orders from the same; and officers are forbidden to sign orders for liquor for the personal use of enlisted men. Company Commanders may purchase, in bulk, liquors for the use of men of their respective companies; and will see that it is properly distributed; and be held responsible for any cases of drunkenness which may occur therein.
However, Dodge’s order did not resonate with the officers under his command, prompting him to issue Special Order No. 22 just one day later.
Company commanders having failed to respond to the desire of the Commanding Officer to allow their men to have liquor, & at the same time keep its sale under proper control Special Order No. 21 is hereby revoked. The sutler is permitted to sell liquors by the drink to all enlisted men who are not at the time under its influence. He will sell to enlisted men no liquor by the bottle or quantity, and in no case sell even a drink to any man who is already under the influence of liquor.
Service History Through Special Orders, An Example
Special orders provide a wealth of information on the routine life of an Old Army soldier, whether an officer or enlisted man. In the last article, I summarized a report compiled by Captain Henry E. Noyes while serving as an assistant inspector general during the Civil War. Noyes’ army career lasted into the early 20th century. A query of random special order sets, digitized and indexed by Old Army Records, indicates Noyes’ post-Civil War experience was diverse:
The Value of Special Orders
As the above example illustrates, there is a wealth of information in special orders. However, orders, like most Old Army records, are either not digitized and/or thoroughly indexed. Old Army Records developed software and a process to quickly and efficiently digitize and index these significant documents for names, places, events, and subjects. In the coming months, we will make some 19th century army records available. While we continue to digitize and index documents, Old Army Records is accepting custom requests by individuals for information in orders (general and special), letters, reports, etc. Feel free to contact us for information.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the military abandonment of the Bozeman Trail. Between 1865 and 1868, a variety of Old Army troops maintained three posts along the highly contested route to the gold fields in southwest Montana. Beginning in late July 1868, the army began its withdrawal from the trail. Moving from north to south, towards the transcontinental railroad, troops began with abandonment of the post with the shortest history: Fort C.F. Smith.
The Bozeman Trail Established
In 1862, gold was discovered in Alder Gulch in southwestern Montana. Gold seekers from across the nation subsequently moved into the region. They used a variety of trails with the Bozeman Trail being the primary route. It followed the eastern flank of the Big Horn Mountains, in northeast Wyoming, to the Yellowstone River. The trail then turned westerly and generally paralleled the Yellowstone River to Bozeman, Montana. The Bozeman Trail largely crossed an area rich in timber, water, and grass and cut through the primary hunting grounds of the Sioux, ceded to them under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.
Bozeman Trail traffic quickly caused tension with the local Indian population that soon boiled over into confrontation. In the spring of 1866 the 2nd Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry, under the command of Colonel Henry B. Carrington, took up station along the Bozeman Trail. The unit replaced volunteer soldiers stationed at Fort Reno, on the Powder River in eastern Wyoming, and built two new posts along the trail.
In June, negotiations were under way between the federal government and the Lakota to build roads through the Powder and Yellowstone River hunting grounds. Armed conflict between the whites (emigrants and troops) and the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and their Arapaho allies prompted the federal government to classify them “hostile”. Two years of heavy fighting, which some authors call Red Cloud’s War, along the Bozeman Trail followed.
Fort C.F. Smith
In July 1866, Carrington began building Fort Phil Kearny. He remained at the post to supervise construction and sent a portion of the battalion north up the Bozeman trail to build Fort C.F. Smith in present day Montana. The post was named for Major General Charles Ferguson Smith, who died in April 1862. Established in August, the post averaged 2 companies during the first 10 months of operation and 5 companies over the last 14 months. The strength of the garrison averaged 286 men all belonging to the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry (in 1867 the 2nd Battalion became known as the 27th Infantry). C.F. Smith was the most remote of the three posts. Soldiers serving at both C.F. Smith and in the Dry Tortugas, Florida must have had similar feelings of isolation.
In the spring of 1868, a commission assembled to negotiate a peace with the northern Plains tribes, including the Sioux. The negotiations and subsequent Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 were predicated on the abandonment of the three Bozeman Trail posts.
The Withdrawal Begins
The Department of the Platte issued orders to abandon the Bozeman Trail on May 19, 1868. The withdrawal of an entire regiment and tons of government supplies and equipment spread out along a 150-mile trail would prove nearly as costly as establishing the posts. This began on June 18th with the permanent withdrawal of Companies D and I from Fort C.F. Smith. Upon receiving his orders Company D commander, Captain George M. Templeton, lamented in his diary “I am loath to leave the place I have become quite attached to.” Templeton served at the post since its inception in August 1866, the longest serving officer at C.F. Smith.
At the same time day-to-day operations proceeded. This included closing the books on decisions made months prior. For example, during the winter of 1867/68 scurvy was common at Fort C.F. Smith. To stave-off the ill effects of the disease post commander Lieut. Col. Luther P. Bradley made an extra issue of vegetables to his garrison. Since these items exceeded the required allotment, Bradley asked for authority, after the fact, from his superiors to make the issue. Bradley’s request made its way up the chain of command: through the Department of the Platte to Headquarters Military Division of the Missouri (March 2nd). In June the Adjutant General approved the request. On July 7th, the Department of the Platte sent word that the issue was approved. Bradley left Fort C.F. Smith for good on April 1, 1868.
Selling and Packing
Rather than transporting heavy and bulky property nearly 420 miles to the railroad, the government elected to sell it at public auction on June 1st. Due to the remoteness of the post, the initial attempt only attracted two bidders. However, each of the five companies, making up the garrison, bought a box of tools. On June 15th, sufficient bidders appeared and the auction proceeded. They purchased a wide range of items including uniforms, horse equipment, nails, and sawmills for minimal cost. For example, uniform coats sold for 25¢ while parlor stoves netted $1.50 each.
Packing tons of items required all available hands. As a result, men were released from temporary duty deemed no longer essential. Some of this duty was unique to C.F. Smith. The post sat near the point where the Bozeman Trail crossed the Big Horn River. During periods of high water, soldiers operated a ferry. Private Patrick Desmond, a boatman from Ireland supervised this three-man team simply known as the “boats crew”. Fort C.F. Smith had at least one piece of artillery. However, no formal artillerymen were stained on the Bozeman Trail. Post commanders, therefore, assembled impromptu gun crews. The last gun crew, which included 21-year old Private Robert J. Cochran, a former laborer from North Carolina, disbanded in July to help pack equipment.
Disposing of Unwanted items
Most of the commissary (foodstuff) supplies were sent to Fort Ellis, Montana. Ninety wagons transferred these supplies. In addition, 50 mounted infantrymen from Ellis escorted the wagons. Captain Emory W. Clift and 1st Lieutenant Osceola A. Thompson, temporarily released from arrest, commanded the escort.
Not all of the commissary supplies ended up at Fort Ellis. On July 25th, four days before abandonment, a board of survey convened to examine various commissary stores damaged by mice, mold, fermented, and rotten and therefore rendered worthless:
86 Sacks of Flour (8,600 lbs.)
5½ Sacks of Coffee (3,500 lbs.)
3 Sacks of Java Coffee (300 lbs.)
4 Sacks of Salt (600 lbs.)
10 Cases Desiccated Potatoes (975 lbs.)
11 Kegs of Pickles (110 gallons)
7 Kegs of Kraut (70 gallons)
Vinegar (132 gallons)
The board recommended that the flour, coffee, salt, and potatoes be issued to the Crow Indians visiting this Post; the remaining items were destroyed. The local Crow inhabitants were welcome allies to the army. They provided intelligence regarding the activities of the Sioux and their allies. The Crow also served as couriers and often brought in army deserters. The military documents do not mention whether the Crow appreciated the worthless items.
Just hours before abandoning the fort, Captain Andrew S. Burt (post commander) ordered the post quartermaster/ acting commissary of subsistence “to abandon such Commissary and Q.M. Stores for which he is responsible and which he is unable to carry owing to the want of transportation.”
Farewell Fort C.F. Smith
The last party to leave included Company E, commanded by Captain Isaac d’Isay. Captain d’Isay’s Bozeman Trail experience is unique. He formed part of Carrington’s force that arrived at the future site of Fort Phil Kearny on July 16, 1866. Just two weeks later he left the trail assignment and headed to New York to begin a recruiting stint. D’Isay returned to the trail in the spring of 1868. He assumed command of his company at C.F. Smith on May 27th, two months later the post was abandoned.
D’Isay’s brief experience on the trail failed to elicit the sentimental feelings expressed by fellow soldiers like Templeton. Nevertheless, D’Isay noted in his diary, on July 29, 1868, the following “[a]bandoned Fort C.F. Smith today at 1 o’clock p.m. the field music playing until we were well outside the Fort when the major proposed three cheers to Fort C.F. Smith which were given with good will…” only to camp in the rain later that day. By September 1st, all five companies that once served at C.F. Smith arrived at Fort D.A. Russell near Cheyenne, Wyoming thereby ending the military occupation of the last Bozeman Trail fort built.
Shortly after the Fort Ellis detachment returned from their 400-mile round trip with 90 wagons full of commissary supplies, a board of survey convened to condemn a large quantity of the supplies. The movement of spoiled food not only cost the government. It also hit the wallets of some of the men tasked with moving the spoiled food. For instance, several of the ad hoc cavalrymen lost various pieces of horse equipment. The government, in turn, charged each soldier the cost of replacing the missing items. No doubt these men were angered by the expense they personally incurred by moving soiled food 200 miles.
Be sure to check our Schedule Calendar for the next post to continue to follow this Special Series on the Bozeman Trail forts abandonment for more detail about this significant event in American history. Feel free to leave a comment regarding this article, or any Old Army subject. We look forward to hearing from you, contact us.
Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
27th U.S. Infantry Regiment
Record of Events for the Year 1868 of the 27th U.S. Infantry
Regimental Returns, 27th Infantry
Department of the Platte
Letters and Telegrams Sent
Fort C.F. Smith
Miscellaneous Records (Quartermaster and Commissary Supplies)
Proceedings of Boards of Survey
Special and General Orders
Special and General Orders
Fort Phil Kearny
Isaac d’Isay Diary (1868)
George M. Templeton Diaries (1866-1868)
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.
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)