Logistics – A Horse Soldier Perspective

First off, thanks to all who responded to the series of posts last week using the setting of Gettysburg to discuss some of the staff-related activities on the battlefield. Much of that readers have seen or heard before. I just felt compelled to collect those observations into one package. If nothing else, to break the monotony of ordnance summaries. I enjoyed writing those. And from the feedback, at least some of you enjoyed reading.

By far the most feedback came on the pair of posts centered on logistics. My focus was narrowly on the question of providing ammunition to the cannon. For a complete treatment, I would need additional posts considering other facets and other requirements to keep the batteries in the field and operating. Not the least of which would be a discussion of the horses used in the battery (not just the horses hauling ammunition resupply, as the second post covered). Without horses, the field artillery would be degraded to simply “artillery of position”… of little value in an open battle.

And at the same time, we should not limit the discussion to just artillery. The infantry and cavalry likewise had their own set of logistical considerations. Some considerations, of course, were the same as the artillery. But in each of those cases, the equations had to stem from the mission of the respective branch. Thus, while we can keep those “three questions” I mention, the details of the answers change considerably.

My good friend Bob O’Neill tackled this discussion from the perspective of the cavalry in a set of posts earlier this year, which I highly recommend. The posts discuss cavalry operations in the Second Manassas Campaign. But the observations might apply to any campaign of the Civil War. In part 1, he comes to a very valid observation about how we should assess the value of cavalry:

Cavalry critics, or skeptics, tend to measure the cavalry’s contribution to a battle or campaign by casualties sustained. By doing so, they ignore two of the tasks assigned to the mounted arm, intelligence gathering and the security of the army. Even in the age of airpower, satellites and drones, soldiers conduct patrols to seize prisoners, gather intelligence and develop enemy positions by patrolling the area between the armies, most especially the roads and other avenues of approach.

So where I say the “combat value” of artillery may be measured in the time a battery can maintain fires, Bob offers a different measure for the cavalry – The time that a cavalry force can maintain a presence doing those assigned security and intelligence tasks. And I would submit that is indeed a good foundation to base any discussion of cavalry unit effectiveness. The troopers can each sport fancy new carbines, a brace of pistols, and a shiny saber. But if the trooper has no horse on which to be mobile, then gathering intelligence and preventing the enemy from doing the same becomes very difficult.

Thus when we discuss cavalry and logistics, perhaps our discussion shifts to the number of hours, or days, that a company can remain mobile to perform its mission. That, I submit, is the answer to one of those logistical questions – What is the value for the gaining unit with the issue of that resource (supply)?

In part 2, Bob walks us through the factors which converged to create a logistical disaster for the Federals. It is lengthy, but well worth your time. Masterful analysis! I don’t want to post a spoiler here in regard to Bob’s conclusions. But I do want to highlight some parts of the logistical equation. First is the requirement of feed for the horses:

Determining the exact number of serviceable horses and mules in Pope’s army on a given day is impossible, but on August 17 and 27, Montgomery Meigs estimated the number at 25,000 animals. On August 8 he had counted another 25,000 horses and mules with the Army of the Potomac. The army prescribed 26 pounds of feed (14 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of grain) per day per horse and 23 pounds per mule. Using an average of 24.5 pounds per day per animal, Meigs needed to provide 306 tons of food per day to each of the two armies just for the animals. 

Bob went on to add to that that weight of the soldier’s rations, concluding that Pope’s Army needed “375 tons of food per day for the men and animals, in addition to ammunition, clothing and all of the other supply items an army needed.” For emphasis – 375 tons of food per day!

But we can’t just leave that sitting at the depot. Bob then reasoned out the next logistical question – What resources are expended in order to get the needed resource (supply) across the gap from source to issue? And he does so in terms of train cars needed:

Using an average capacity of 14.5 tons per car, the army needed 26 rail cars or a minimum of two trains per day, just to feed the men and animals of Pope’s army.

If I may impose upon Bob’s fine work, let me apply the reasoning given for the Gettysburg example and number of ammunition chests for artillery. You can see here, without getting too deep into the complexities, that one could step into Montgomery Meigs’ shoes for a bit and calculate just how many days of cavalry operations can be sustained by one railcar. Or perhaps how many pounds of coal are needed to keep the whole army in the field. Fascinating stuff!

Now what we need is one of those infantry types to spell out the same for their branch!