Three wagons per 1,000 men: Ingalls proposes reduction in Army’s wagons

On this day (November 18) in 1863, the Army of the Potomac’s Chief Quartermaster, Brigadier-General Rufus Ingalls, wrote from his camp near Brandy Station to suggest more reductions to the Army’s trains.   Ingalls used figures derived from an examination of the Sixth Corps supply operations:

Capabilities of supply of the Sixth Corps, excluding the artillery, computing rations for 18,000 men, at 1,500 pounds weight for 1,000 rations (1½ pounds to a ration), and forage for 2,500 animals, at 10 pounds each. This number of animals includes only those attached to the supply trains and 300 others, estimated not to be provided for otherwise.

  • 18,000 rations weigh 27,000 pounds
  • 2,500 animals’ forage [weigh] 25,000 pounds
  • Daily supply – 52,000 pounds

The number of wagons procurable for supply trains is 226. Estimating their capacity at 2,500 pounds each, makes 565,000 pounds. Divide this by 52,000, gives ten days and a fraction of about four-fifths.

All the wagons included in the supply trains cannot be devoted to rations and forage. Quartermasters are obliged to carry their blacksmiths’ and harness-makers’ shops, and commissaries their scales &c. About ten days’ would seem, therefore, to be the full capacity of supply. The same number of days’ rations can be carried by the artillery supply train, but not more than five days’ forage can be carried in wagons.

One wagon will carry 1,200 rations hard bread; 2,000 rations coffee (1 barrel); 1,800 rations sugar (1 barrel); 300 rations (two-eighths pound) pork (1 barrel, 1 box, 25 pounds); 1,200 rations salt (1 box, 45 pounds); 36 rations (9 pounds to ration)oats (3 sacks); gross weight, 2,674 pounds.

Weight of 1,200 rations, two-eighths pounds pork, 2,520 pounds; weight of 1,200 rations, short, 1,800 pounds; weight of ten days’ rations, forage, 600 pounds.

From those figures, Ingalls saw the opportunity for a general reduction in the number of wagons committed to division and corps supply trains.

His proposal, addressed to Army Headquarters, read:

I have the honor to report, for the information of the commanding general, that I have examined the capacity of our wagon trains as now allowed by existing orders for carrying of supplies, and find, in round numbers, that each corps can carry ten days’ short rations of subsistence and forage in the baggage and supply trains, in addition to the most necessary articles of baggage, camp equipage, &c. To do this, less small-arms ammunition should be carried in wagons. I would suggest that only three wagons, instead of five, be allowed each 1,000 men for that purpose.

I inclose a memorandum of what a wagon can carry, also a memorandum of the wagons in Sixth Corps and what they can carry. I am of the opinion that a wagon cannot carry over 1,000 rations of subsistence, and, say, 600 pounds of grain. This will make the load over 2,000 pounds.  The general depot can furnish wagons enough to carry two days’ hard bread and four of salt for the army. This will give twelve days’ in wagons, with an extra allowance of salt.

If the men carry eight days’ on their persons there will be twenty days’ in all. I would remind the general commanding that experience has shown that there is no military advantage in loading the men heavily. They become quickly fatigued and waste the rations. In case of battle they abandon them. If eight days’ are carried, hardly more than five can be calculated upon.

In any military operations based on amount of supplies carried in wagon trains, calculations must be made for a fresh supply from some reliable source at the expiration of, say, fifteen days.

This proposal was not from some pencil pushing administrator far removed from the front.  Ingalls had supported six campaigns as quartermaster.  Indeed, he took into account the limitations on what men could carry and the wastage expected.  And he still came to the conclusion that two-fifths of the wagons were overhead.

The logic – issue eight days rations, of which the troops will eat three; have ten days in the wagons; have fresh wagons up every fifteen days.  The logistic pattern was thus reduced to a two week cycle, give or take.  Had this been coupled with Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s proposal for artillery supply, the Army’s wagons might have been reduced by half (but with an increase in caissons of course).

Ingalls’ proposal came at a time when the Army of the Potomac was preparing for another march.  He closed his message, “The army can be furnished with all its prescribed supplies on or before Friday evening.”  A week later the Army of the Potomac was on the move again, crossing the Rapidan River into the “Wilderness.”  The maneuver, which we know now as the Mine Run Campaign, proved unsuccessful.  The following spring, Ingalls again made logistical preparations for a march over the Rapidan into the Wilderness.

That endeavor proved, while lengthy in nature, much more successful.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 49, pages 472-3.)


2 thoughts on “Three wagons per 1,000 men: Ingalls proposes reduction in Army’s wagons

  1. Rufus knew his proposal would fall on the sympathetic ears of his classmate, US Grant.
    There is an excellent essay on Civil War logistics in the Luvaas’ War College guide to Antietam.

  2. Craig, as you well know, we are presently negotiating an easement, in perpetuity, whereupon this “Wagon Park” image was taken.

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