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!

Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – North Carolina

Considering December 1863, one year after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, US Colored Troops had become an important, if not essential, component of the Federal war machine. We historians say they’d proven their mettle at places such as Morris Island. However, questions remained in the minds of the more traditional line officers. But none could deny the ever growing number of USCT regiments and batteries joining the force.

Thus it is no surprise to see colored troops artillery units appear in the summaries. We’ve discussed a few along the way, in particular those from Louisiana and Mississippi. Initially, these formations carried designations referencing the states in which their muster took place. And these received a suffix descriptor of “A.D.” for “African Descent” in order to set them apart in the order of battle from unionist regiments recruited in the same areas. Eventually, all would receive designations within the USCT regimental system. But for the mid-war period, this presents a tricky “administrative” problem for those of us researching to find the stories from those USCT units. Just making a positive identification of a unit is often difficult.

And in many cases, clearly even the clerks during the Civil War were a bit confused. When reviewing a wartime reference to a USCT unit, one must often “beat the bushes” in order to get it right. A good example of this is from our next summary statement entry:

  • Company L, 1st Artillery, A.D.: At Newport Barracks, North Carolina, with one 12-pdr Mountain Howitzer, on a return received on October 13, 1864.

Newport Barracks was a Federal outpost between Morehead City and New Bern, North Carolina. Protecting the valuable supply line inland, the post was important for maintaining the Federal hold on the eastern part of the state. And of course, into 1865 that supply line became Sherman’s resupply point. That said, Newport Barracks was not simply your run-of-the-mill remote outpost. There are markers around the location of the barracks and fortifications.

Newport 2 May 10 135

A nearby Civil War Trails marker highlights a February 2 action in which the Confederates, in conjunction with a larger attempt at New Bern, overran the Federal garrison posted to Newport Barracks. After which, the Federals reestablished the base, with even more security.

It’s the unit identification which becomes problematic here. There was a 1st North Carolina Colored Heavy Artillery (NCCHA) Regiment. We might start the story of this regiment in February 1864 related to the attempt on New Bern which was associated with the Newport Barracks action mentioned. In the crisis, the commander at New Bern armed civilians, including some free blacks, as the garrison braced against a Confederate attack. After the emergency, eyes turned to the contraband camps as a source for recruits. Major Thorndike C. Jameson received authorization to recruit a regiment of heavy artillery from the freedmen.

Jameson was an ardent abolitionist and pastor from Massachusetts. He’d initially volunteered as a chaplain in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. Opting for a more active role, he secured a commission and was later appointed major in the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, then stationed at New Bern. With William Lloyd Garrison among his friends, Jameson had secured quick support for a plan to raise a colored heavy artillery regiment. The 1st NCCHA mustered in March 1864. However, all was not that simple. The recruiting process was flawed to say the least. I would recommend “Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era” by Richard M. Reid for a detailed examination.

Specific to our discussion, the 1st NCCHA was not up to full strength even into the fall (for that October reporting date). The regiment remained at New Bern, mostly performing fatigue details. During a Yellow Fever outbreak, the 1st NCCHA was assigned to provost guard duties. Only after suffering through the summer under the pandemic was the regiment assigned to actual “artillery” duties. In January 1865, the regiment transferred from the Sub-District of New Bern to the Sub-District of Beaufort. As such, they were assigned to defend the bases of Morehead City and Beaufort.

While Newport Barracks was part of that command, sources are not clear in regard to the 1st NCCHA being assigned there. Furthermore, we have date issues here. The heavy regiment was not in existence at the end of December 1863. And if we postulate this was a “post dated” report sent in October 1864, we still cannot reconcile that with the 1st NCCHA’s service at New Bern. And by the way, the regiment became the 14th US Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment in March 1865.

So if it wasn’t the 1st NCCHA, then who? There was another colored “1st” regiment from North Carolina – the 1st North Carolina Infantry, African Descent. The regiment later became the 35th US Colored Troops. Formed in June 1863 around New Bern and Plymouth, this regiment was part of Wild’s Brigade and served in South Carolina during the Morris Island Campaign. They spent the rest of the war in the Department of the South. However a detachment of the regiment was left behind at New Bern and saw quite a bit of service. They would be a candidate for this entry line, except for again the location. The 1st NC Colored Infantry detachment does not appear to have served at Newport Barracks. Nor do we find any connection for the unit to any mountain howitzers.

But there’s one more “1st” from North Carolina to consider. The 1st North Carolina Volunteers, or what we today call the 1st North Carolina (Union) Infantry, must also be considered. Authorized in May 1862, Colonel Joseph M. McChesney commanded the regiment. The regiment formed within Federal lines in North Carolina, with volunteers reflecting the complicated experience in the coastal region. Some men were union men to the core. Others were fence-sitters motivated by personal gain or simply looking for a measure of security. And some of the ranks were deserters from Confederate service. As such, there were misgivings within echelons of the Federal command about this regiment. Early on, the regiment provided guards for outposts and garrisons, with some companies detached from the main body. However, a few companies from the regiment earned a reputation for efficiency and good order when assigned to patrols.

From formation through the end of 1863, most of the command was assigned to the Sub-District of the Pamlico, with the Washington, North Carolina, garrison. But later in 1864 the regiment transferred to Beaufort and was assigned to outposts which included Newport Barracks. In fact, Company L of the 1st North Carolina was assigned to Newport Barracks in October 1864. Captain George W. Graham commanded the company. And there is some indication of a howitzer section, at least temporarily, assigned and managed by Lieutenant W.W. Alexander of the company.

The “clincher” in this case, I believe, is to fast forward to the next quarter… which I hate to do here. For the 1st quarter of 1864, we find this line under North Carolina:


Company L, 1st Volunteer Infantry…. that has to be Captain Graham’s. Same location with the same mountain howitzer. We are left to conjecture about the clerk’s entry indicating “artillery” and “A.D.” At a minimum, at least they provided some justification for this lengthy blog post!

All that established, there was ammunition for the mountain howitzer:

  • Company L, 1st North Carolina Infantry: 26 shells and 142 case for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

And more on the next page:

  • Company L, 1st North Carolina Infantry: 31 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

There are no other entries for this line on the pages that follow. And we know that is typical for “sectional” artillery assigned to infantry formations.

Concluding this post, I hope the readers recognize my “blogger’s indulgence” with a rather lengthy post going down different “rabbit holes” to demonstrate what I’d consider the likely explanation for the entry line. But the explanation allowed me to demonstrate what I figure as the proper approach to interpreting the entry line and significance. This also allowed me to discuss, at least within a few brief paragraphs, the service of two North Carolina units which may be unfamiliar to readers. The 1st NCCHA and the 1st North Carolina Volunteers had very different service stories in some regards. Yet, given the postings and duties, perhaps similar wartime experiences in the same operational area. I submit once the clerks committed to writing that “A.D.” on the line, we here in the 21st century had to discuss both units.

Getting to Gettysburg WebEx Event

Join us on Friday for a discussion of Loudoun in the Gettysburg Campaign

Getting to Gettysburg with Craig Swain

Friday, July 10, 2020  6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

In June 1863, the Union Army traveled northward through Loudoun County on its way to Gettysburg to face the Confederate troops in what would become the biggest battle ever fought in North America. Historian Craig Swain will discuss how the Union Army’s stay in Loudoun helped shape that battle and the local waypoints that still mark the journey. Use this link to watch a live of the program. The link will become active beginning at the start time listed for this program. Event password: LCPLNote that you may have to download WebEx or a temporary WexEx application to activate the link.

Link to Event Details

We originally scheduled this as an “in person” talk at one of our local pubs, part of the History & Hops program series. But the bars were closed on the anniversary date (June 27). And even now seating is limited for indoor events. So we’ve moved this to an online event, using WebEx.