Howard, April 27, 1865: “This Army is very proud of its record. Let, then, every officer and man do his best to keep it unsullied”

After receiving Special Field Orders No. 66 from Major-General William T. Sherman on April 27, 1865, both Major-Generals Oliver O. Howard and Henry Slocum, commanding respectively the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia, issued a set of derivative orders to their subordinates.

Howard’s was Special Field Orders No. 102 from his headquarters. The first eleven paragraphs of that order offered details about the march route, location of key elements on the march, and procedures for marking the route.  Generally the administrative details which most (except for us “proper” military historians) find boring.  For instance, Lieutenant Amos Stickney was assigned the task to “examine and mark the roads so that the two corps may cross Crabtree Creek without interference.”  Having been assigned similar chores, I have some appreciation and sympathy for the work Stickney had to complete.  So I felt compelled to give the Lieutenant his due on this day, 150 years later.

But the real interesting portion of Howard’s order was in paragraph XII, which began, “The following special instructions are issued for the guidance of corps and other commanders during the march from Raleigh to Richmond, Va.:”

First. All foraging will cease. Corps commanders will obtain what supplies they may need in addition to those carried with them by sending their quartermaster and commissary in advance, who are required to purchase, paying the cash or giving proper vouchers. The supplies will be carefully selected to the divisions and regularly issued.

Second. The provost guards will be selected with the greatest care and sent well ahead, so that every house may be guarded, and every possible precaution will be taken to prevent the misconduct of any straggler or marauder. Punishments for entering or pillaging houses will be severe and immediate. Besides the roll-calls morning and even-big at every regular halt of each day’s march, the rolls will be called and every absentee not properly accounted for will be severely punished.

These first two points derived directly from Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 65.  I could point to numerous orders issued by Howard and his subordinates from Atlanta to Goldsboro that governed and regulated foraging.  These orders stopped the practice.  After April 27, the Army would carry its own food, and eat from its own table, from this point forward.  And were that bounds was violated, there would be punishment.  The Army was no longer moving through enemy territory, but rather that of its own country.

The next point addressed horses:

Third. Before starting on the march all persons not properly mounted will be dismounted, and all surplus animals, vehicles, and all ammunition (artillery and infantry) now in wagons, and all prisoners of war; will be turned over to Maj. Gen. J. M. Schofield or an officer designated by him to receive them.

From Edwards Ferry all the way to Raleigh, Howard always seemed to have too many horses!  At several points along the march through Georgia and the Carolinas, excess mounts were called in.  And in all cases that was simply a check control measure.  Subordinate commands acquired more mounts as needed to support foraging, scouting, and administrative tasks.  With no foraging or scouting necessary, Howard could clear out excess mounts.  This reduced the number of soldiers who might be tempted to stray off the line of march.  It also reduced the number of mouths to feed.  No doubt, some of those animals and vehicles would end up “loaned” to civilians under Sherman’s directives.

Addressing another problem seen throughout the march:

Fourth. Refugees will be discouraged from following the columns, because of the impossibility of carrying supplies for their subsistence.

But how far might one carry “discouraged” into practice?  Furthermore, someone should do a study of correspondence and determine how “contraband” was gradually replaced, subsumed, or otherwise rendered obsolete by other terms such as “refugee.”

As for the rate of march and advance of the units, Howard directed:

Fifth. Corps commanders will not habitually close up their divisions, but allow them to encamp two or three miles separated, and in order to prevent night marching it will be well to commence encamping as early as 3 p.m. daily.

Sixth. The left column, General Blair will be the regulating column as to the distance for each day’s march. It is desirable for the two corps to reach Petersburg simultaneously, or as nearly so as possible. This order will be published to all officers and men at every headquarters, and to all quartermaster’s employés, as well as generally to the command.

These would become a sore point – literally and figuratively – to the rank and file.  As commanders will do, some formations competed to “out march” others in the days to come.  Instead of a very leisurely march, in some early stretches the soldiers made excessive marches.

Outside of these orders, Howard wrote additional instructions to both Major-Generals John Logan and Frank Blair.  To both, Howard stressed, “This Army is very proud of its record. Let, then, every officer and man do his best to keep it unsullied.”

These were the orders that launched the Army of the Tennessee on its last series of marches, and into the history books.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 324-6.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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