Wainwright’s Diary, February 16, 1864: The Colonel on leave

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright secured a leave of absence early in February 1864.  As related in his February 4 diary entry, Wainwright requested and received twenty days in which to address recruiting duties at home in New York.  With that request granted, Wainwright made his way north:

New York, February 16, Tuesday.  Left camp on the fifth and reached here the next day, to find all well.  Last week I went up Albany for a couple of days to attend the annual meeting of our State Agricultural Society, where I met many old friends and had a good time…. From there I went home to The Meadows, where I stopped until yesterday, driving down to thank Mr. [William] Kelley for all his kindness.

Kelley was a Democratic politician and had helped Wainwright earlier in the year with a matter concerning a worker at The Meadows.  Wainwright had last been home in September, and at that time devoted much space to discussing affairs on his farm.  Here in February, he appears less concerned of those matters.

Of primary importance that February were the matters involving recruiting:

At Albany I saw Governor Seymour, hoping to get part of some 800 unassigned recruits which are at his disposal. But he would only give them to me on conditions of my taking a certain number of civilians with them as officers, which I would not do.  These men had been raised  for new companies, but those raising them not having procured enough to be accepted, the men were surplus.  Some of those who raised them, the Governor felt, ought to have commissions with the men.

Interesting that, even concerned about manpower, Wainwright was unwilling to accept fresh recruits with strings attached.

There are several new regiments of heavy artillery raising, as also two extra companies for those infantry regiments which have been turned into heavy artillery.  There is a great rush of the recruits to get into these regiments, as they are promised to have nothing but garrison duty to do.  Some of the new ones I learn are 2,000 strong…. The Governor was very polite to me.

Of course, at that time nobody knew the changes afoot to relieve those “heavies” from that garrison duty.

Wainwright continued on to relate how the recruiting system worked, and mentioned some of the ills:

Under the present system of getting recruits none of the men can appear on the returns as enlisted by my party.  In each Congressional district there is a provost-marshal appointed from Washington, as also the examining surgeon.  With them rests entirely the receiving and mustering of the men.  The recruits are picked up by agents or brokers, who receive $10 to $20 for each man they bring up.  These agents are of course men of that kind who are best at such work; great gab and small conscience.  Should an officer try to enlist men they would all be down upon him as interfering with their business.  All my party can do is to try and secure for the regiment the men who are enlisted by these agents.  Mr. Pudney at Poughkeepsie is one of these brokers; and , so far as I could learn, an honest one; he is no doubt indebted in some way to Mr. Kelley for past favors and so only too glad to do as he requests now.  Davis spends his time in Mr. Pudney’s office, and tells me he has found him perfectly fair, and quite gentlemanly.

Wainwright continued on to discuss the provost-marshal in his district, of which he expressed less flattering remarks:

Provost-marshals are most of them politicians.  Platt of the Poughkeepsie Eagle holds the position in our district, and according to Mr. Pudney’s account is proving himself a great rascal.  He has accepted scores of men as volunteers whom he rejected on the draft three months ago as over-age or physically exempt; many of whom, Pudney says, will not be able to stand a week’s service.  Then he retains his recruits at Poughkeepsie as long as he can before sending them to the depots, as he gets so much for their rations and quarters, which of course he makes as poor as possible. He has a large empty warehouse where they are crowded together in a condition little better than the “Libby.” Pudney told me that he went there the other day to see one of his recruits who was sick; he found him laying on a little straw on the floor, in a crowded room, for there was no provision to separate the sick from the others. When he returned home he found his arms covered with lice from the sick man’s body! – and this man was a very respectable, well-to-do man before he enlisted.  Such treatment will cause the loss of a great many men by sickness and death; still more by desertion. Nor can one blame a decent man who is driven to deserting from being shut up in such close companionship with the lowest dregs of society….

With the war entering a fourth year, the recruitment system, and even the conscription system, still suffered from inefficiencies, corruption, and graft.

(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 319-20.)