January 10, 1864: “When rogues fall out, honest men have their due”

For January 10, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright began his diary entry discussing his administrative duties of the day:

Having got my brigade work pretty well done up, I am now busy on regimental affairs. All the returns for November are in, and the sergeant-major at work consolidating them.  Those for December are too so far received that I am able to come pretty near the state of the regiment at the close of the year.  The aggregate for November was 1,139.  For December it will be some few more, a turning point from which I hope to have it go on constantly increasing.

The regiment mentioned was of course the 1st New York Light Artillery Regiment.  The batteries of that regiment were mostly with the Army of the Potomac, but not all:

  • Battery A – Department of the Susquehanna.
  • Battery B, C, D, E, G, H, K, and L – Army of the Potomac
  • Battery F – Camp Barry, Washington, D.C.
  • Battery I and M- Department (Army) of the Cumberland

As Wainwright wrote that day, “The regiment is widely separated, and will never act together as a regiment, but so long as it maintains its organization, I want to do all I can to keep up regimental pride.”  Wainwright continued to say he promoted re-enlistments within the batteries that winter.

Beyond the administrative tasks, Wainwright related some of the rumors circulating within the Army of the Potomac that January:

There has been no news stirring for some time now.  In want of it the army is full of camp rumours.  One of these is of importance, and coming down from Washington may very likely have some foundation. It is to the effect that the First and Third Corps are to be broken up, and consolidated with the Second, Fifth, and Sixth.  It would be a good move in my opinion, as a corps d’armée of 15,000 men is simply absurd, causing a vast increase in the amount of writing to be done, and the time necessary to get orders to their destination.  Were all the companies reasonably full, and the army not stronger numerically than at present, two-thirds of the writing could be dispensed with, two-thirds of the clerks returned to the ranks, and one-half of the officers dispensed with.

Companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades start as full or “reasonably full” in terms of manpower.  Attrition reduces those numbers, disproportionately on the men shouldering weapons.  Yet, so long as the formation of the unit remains, there is a need for the clerks, quartermasters, adjutants, and such.  And likewise there is a need to handle instructions through the chain of command – even where a battalion is diminished to the size of a company.  Yet, the military mind abhors consolidation as it breaks up unit cohesion (and the “regimental pride” Wainwright mentioned earlier in the day).  In some ways, this brings us to the “big battalions” of Napoleonic rule.  The higher the ratio of infantrymen with muskets to support personnel without long arms, the more efficiently organized for combat.  Or at least that’s how it worked in 1864.  We might argue about contemporary service.

If any consolidation does take place, this corps and the Third are the ones most likely to be broken up, for the commander of neither of them is popular at the War Department; and if there is any difference in the excellence of the different corps in this army, I think these two are the poorest.

This assessment of the leadership of the First Corps is a remarkable measure of the attrition suffered from the 1863 campaign season.  Likewise it was a damning measure of the leadership that remained.

And the gossip continued:

There are other rumours to the effect that General [Daniel] Sickles has sworn to oust Halleck, and Governor [Andrew] Curtin has done the same as regards Secretary Stanton.  Much ill feeling and some high words have doubtless passed between the parties; but such a think is most too good to be true, for “when rogues fall out, honest men have their due,” and these are not the days for anything so good as that.  If these men have done any such searing, the Secretary and Commander-in-Chief have two strong opponents who are not likely to stick at trifles in order to carry out their designs.

Those rumors aside, Wainwright returned to the administrative chores.

We are now required to make a daily report of men re-enlisting, by states; also of officers going and returning on leave; and a field return on the 4th, 14th, and 24th of the month, in addition to the regular trimonthly. General [George] Meade is evidently anxious on account of so many men having left on furlough. Letters from home say that the streets are full of uniforms.

Some of those furloughs were a function of re-enlistment bonuses afforded the men.  Well deserved furloughs, I think you would agree.  But to some degree this was a risk taken by the command.  Mitigated, you might say, by frequent and thorough headcounts.

Rumors and roll-calls… facets to the Army of the Potomac’s winter spent in Culpeper County.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 314-5.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

5 thoughts on “January 10, 1864: “When rogues fall out, honest men have their due”

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