“This murder is a terrible affair”: Death of a sutler in the Artillery Reserve

Earlier, I brought up the subject of sutlers and the Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac, during the 1864 Winter Encampment.  A “sidebar” of sorts on that subject comes from the letters of Colonel John Howard Kitching, 6th New York Heavy Artillery.   In January 1864, Kitching was temporarily the commander of the Artillery Reserve.  Writing to his mother on January 17, he related a rather grisly incident:

Artillery Reserve, near Beverly Ford, Virginia, Sunday Evening, January 17, 1864.

My own precious Mamma: – I had set apart this evening particularly to devote in part to you, but I have been occupied all day with a murder case which occurred last night, and since my return from prayer-meeting, my tent has been full of officers visiting me in relation to the murder, so that I am now alone for the first time, (eleven o’clock, p.m.)

This murder is a terrible affair.  It appears that the tent of a sutler for one of the brigades in my command was forcibly entered last night, the sutler beaten to death, and all his goods destroyed, by men belonging to some of the batteries.  The facts being reported to me, I immediately ordered a Board of Inquest in the case, and I have arrested everybody upon whom the slightest suspicion rests. The Board have not yet finished their investigations, but I imagine that it will turn out that there was an attack made upon the sutler for the purpose of robbery, which ended in a general fight, during which the deed was committed.

Such a thing could not have happened in a fort regiment, having guards and sentries; but in the batteries, no guards are considered necessary; consequently the men are more at liberty.  If the crime is proved upon any man, he will be dealt with summarily….

I stumbled across this account about two weeks back.  It was one of those “looking for something else” finds, which at the time didn’t strike any cords.  But after a few days, curiosity took hold.  Now I’d like to locate any transcripts of the board or results issued.

(Citation from Theodore Irving, “More than Conqueror’ or Memorials of Col. J. Howard Kitching, Sixth New York Artillery, Army of the Potomac, New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1873, pages 111-2.)

“My proposition, approved by you…”: More from Henry Hunt

So far this week, we’ve seen, in detail, proposals offered by Brigadier-General Henry Hunt in regard to organization of the artillery in the Army of the Potomac in the winter of 1864.  Those proposals were not radical changes.  Rather changes that would improve the operational efficiency of the artillery, mostly achieved by adding regiments of heavy artillery, without their artillery, to support the field artillery.

All of these points bring light on how Hunt preferred to manage the artillery in the army.  A letter written to Brigadier-General Marsena Patrick, the army’s Provost-Marshal, on February 22, 1864 offers more insight into Hunt’s management of the artillery:

General: The artillery of this army consists of one brigade attached to each corps d’armée, two brigades (six batteries each) of horse artillery, which take turns for service with the cavalry, and the artillery reserve proper, consisting of twelve batteries (field batteries and siege guns). The general ammunition train of the army and the Sixth New York Artillery as its guards are also under the command of the commander of the reserve.

The brigade of horse artillery in reserve is placed under the orders of the commander of reserve artillery when not serving with troops. The whole command constitutes what in other armies would be called the grand park of the artillery, to which the reserve artillery is usually attached. The horse artillery is relieved by brigades, so that each brigade constitutes a unit. The brigades of horse artillery in reserve sometimes furnish temporary re-enforcements of batteries to the brigades in the field or when ordered for other purposes; but as a rule the horse artillery serves and is detailed by brigades.

The mounted batteries (reserve artillery proper) are, for convenience, divided from time to time into two or more brigades. These brigades are not like those attached to corps, independent; they vary in strength and composition, according to their numbers, employment, the number of disposable field officers, &c.

The important part of this set of paragraphs is Hunt’s description of the horse artillery.  It was part of the Artillery Reserve, detailed to the Cavalry Corps when and where needed.  But otherwise, it was used as other parts of the reserve, in the “grand park” of artillery.

Hunt went into some detail about the task organization of the mounted batteries from the Artillery Reserve.  While stopping short of describing how he would employ those guns, he did explain the practice of brigading the batteries.  But he leaves alone the discussion of artillery brigades attached to the corps and how those operated.

So why was Hunt explaining all this artillery “stuff” to Patrick?  Well, Hunt got to that in the next paragraph:

My proposition, approved by you, as I understood, was to give to each unit of force 1 sutler, and but 1, viz: To each brigade attached to a corps, 1 sutler; to each brigade of horse artillery, 1 sutler; to the Sixth New York Foot Artillery (a regiment of volunteers), 1 sutler; to the mounted batteries constituting the reserve proper and for the train attached to it, 1 sutler.

Look, if “The duties must be performed and men are required to perform them,” then the men deserve a little place to spend their hard earned money.  Right?  Beyond just giving a place to spend discretionary income, the sutlers offered a source for items not issued by the army but needed by the soldier.  Things such as tooth brushes, paper, pencils, combs, and such.  Oh, and if permitted, a bottle or two of strong drink.

Hunt went on to detail the assignment of sutlers, by name, to the commands under his charge:

The sutlers are as follows, as now recognized:
1. Mercer Brown, appointed sutler in December, 1861, of the Artillery Reserve by the council of administration. Appointment approved by me and, if I remember right, by General Barry, as chief of artillery, and General McClellan, commanding the army, under paragraph 214, General Regulations.
2. A. Foulke, First Brigade of Horse Artillery (Robertson’s).
3. John Nilan, Second Brigade of Horse Artillery (Graham’s).
4. Thomas McCauly, Sixth New York Foot Artillery (Colonel Kitching).

I’ll call attention to two of these.  There are a couple of photos of Foulke’s sutlery from the Winter Encampment:


Thanks to the Civil War photographers, once again, we know what these establishments looked like.

I’ll also call attention to the sutler, supporting the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.  A letter from Colonel John Howard Kitching, commanding that regiment, offers an interesting side bar about sutlers and soldiers, though not directly involving Mr. Thomas McCauly.  I’ll post that later today.

Hunt’s letter to Patrick was thus not some pontification about the use of artillery, but rather a letter of record to headquarters noting the assignment of sutlers to the artillery units.  In doing so, Hunt had to elaborate on the way he managed the arm.  That’s to our gain.  Closing his letter, Hunt returns to the management aspects:

Artillery from the reserve is detailed for temporary service by batteries, not by brigades. If to occupy a position its sutler must provide for it, if necessary. If permanently transferred to a corps it enters the brigade of that corps, and of course is supplied by the corps sutler. There is no artillery in this army outside of the organizations named.

Today we’d start a discussion of the military terms along the lines of attached, assigned, and OPCON.  The armchair general might organize the army by simply moving lines in the order of battle.  Out in the real world, task organization requires planning and adheres to procedures.  Such avoids confusion and ensure the unit is properly maintained to perform the assigned mission.  Infantry brigades are not apt to carry about extra 3-inch Hotchkiss shells.  So when a battery went to their support, a slice of the Reserve Artillery ammunition train had to go with it.  And if that arrangement were for more than a few days… eventually a sutler would follow.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 583-4.)