Wainwright’s Diary, March 31, 1864: “He rode along the line in a slouchy unobservant way”

An ongoing theme in Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s diary through the winter of 1864 was the Army of the Potomac’s consolidation.  Though the consolidation and reorganization  orders for the infantry divisions came out earlier in the month, not until the next-to-last day of the month did Wainwright receive order pertaining to the artillery:

March 31, Thursday. The order finally organizing the artillery brigades did not come out until yesterday: it assigns me to the Fifth Corps, and gives me the batteries I expected; so now I have to go to work and organize my trains and staff.  From the waggons and teams in the two corps I ought to be able to get a very nice outfit.  The changes in my staff are likely to be my losing my commissary, Cranford, whom I shall be sorry to have leave me; and my surgeon, Richmond, whom I shall not regret much….

Earlier in the week, Wainwright’s batteries participated in a review.  The ceremony provided Wainwright his first assessment of Major-General Gouverneur Warren, the Fifth Corps Commander, and also another view of Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant.

On Tuesday the corps, that is the old First, no other part of the present corps being about here, was turned out for review by General Grant.  The ground about a mile south of the village along the railroad was quite good.  Warren knew enough to put the artillery on the right of the line where it belonged; I had the six batteries here out, all looking quite well.  When we arrived Warren was already on the ground to assign each command it s position: he promises to be a very different man from Newton in this respect. General Warren is a small man, about thirty-five years old, dark complexioned, with black eyes, and long, straight black hair; he has a little of the look of an Indian, and evidently is of a nervous temperament. Just as General Grant came on the ground it commenced to rain; he rode along the line in a slouchy unobservant way, with his coat unbuttoned and setting anything but an example of military bearing to the troops. There was no enthusiasm, and as the rain increased, we were quickly dismissed without passing in review.

Wainwright also received Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s endorsement of the proposed volunteer artillery organization.

I have a most capital letter from Hunt, “heartily approving” mine to Morgan.  In it he very truly says: “The battery is the unit of organization for artillery, corresponding to the battalion of infantry, and squadron of cavalry; two, three or more of which constitute a regiment for administration, but for purposes of combat, a brigade. So, six or eight batteries constitute a brigade of artillery; a command fully as important and extended and much more complicated than a brigade of infantry, and requiring from the ground it covers and its distribution a large staff.” He also gives the organization of the British artillery, as he received it from Colonel Turner commanding our arm of the service in Canada at this time; and who was down here last week. “A brigade of eight six-gun batteries” (just the command I now have) “is commanded by a colonel with the army rank of major-general”; then there are “two colonels and four lieutenant-colonels, one of these last for every two batteries.” How different is this from our organization! …. In this army there will be when we start about 280 guns; with one brigadier-general, four colonels, and perhaps two or three lieutenant-colonels and majors: on the British footing we should have at least five major-generals, one for each corps and the reserve; a lieutenant-general probably as chief of artillery of the army; seven colonels and fourteen lieutenant-colonels.

There was merit making the comparison to the British Army, where the Royal Regiment of Artillery played a similar role as that suggested by both Hunt and Wainwright. However, in regard to staffing ranks for the positions, the British Army had Major-Generals commanding divisions.  So the higher ranks when compared to those in respective positions in the American army must come with a grain of salt.  But the gist of Wainwright’s and Hunt’s observations sat on firm ground – the Army of the Potomac, and other American field armies, sorely lacked senior artillerists.

(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 338-9.)

One thought on “Wainwright’s Diary, March 31, 1864: “He rode along the line in a slouchy unobservant way”

  1. Craig, in the 25 years or so I’ve been collecting Army of the Potomac ’63-’64 winter encampment source material, I have maintained a separate folder containing observations, opinions and soldier theories regarding General Grant’s sudden arrival in the spring of 1864 alongside the big eastern army. And with specific respect to Grant’s physical appearance as chronicled by officers and men, I can now identify certain themes that emerge from these dozens and dozens of accounts, to wit:
    –Grant was deemed unimpressive and even “unsoldierly-looking” by almost everybody who took the time to record their first impressions.
    –Grant seemed “completely distracted” (wonder why?) and “always” ignored official salutes conveyed in his direction by regiments passing in review. In April, for example, he reviewed almost the entire army, corps by corps. Grant in fact chomped on his cigar during reviews, offending many.
    –Grant conveyed the unmistakable message that trappings of power meant nothing to him and it seems he went out of his way to present a business-like, non-personal command demeanor.

    Now here is the question we must ask.. Was this command brusqueness some intentional presentation or affectation on Grant’s part, or was he just being “old Sam Grant?”

    In my opinion, General Grant could care less what anybody in the Army of the Potomac cared about him, stylistically, or otherwise. He was there to do a job and Meade’s army was nothing more than an offensive tool available to him to accomplish his objectives. His orders were to win the war and that was the only thing on his mind.

    And General Grant followed his orders.

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