The horses…had been taxed to the utmost of their strength – Part 2

[The importance of logistics – the movement of supplies or materiel – remains sadly under-appreciated. In my opinion, available studies paint in broad strokes, a wise decision as most readers/students do not care to get bogged down in excessive numbers. The books sell, the author is happy and the reader leaves with a basic sense of the challenges involved in supplying an army. In my view, however, if anyone genuinely wants to understand the challenges involved, he or she needs to dive deep into the records, deep into the numbers and paint with fine strokes. Only then does one appreciate the enormity of the task faced by those who kept the armies supplied. Such a dive into the quartermaster records at the National Archives will be both revealing and rewarding.

After a brief hiatus, I have returned to my overview of the cavalry in the Second Manassas Campaign. This post is exceptionally long, even for me, so take it as a warning. I have tried to strike a balance with numbers. I do not want to put readers to sleep but hope you will walk away with a better appreciation for the question posed when I began this series several months ago – that is, what happened to General Pope’s cavalry in the last days of the Second Manassas Campaign? This post largely concludes my discussion, though I may have a follow-up covering a few related odds and ends. Thanks for staying with me.]


After moving into Culpeper County, some cavalrymen might have thought the supply problems would be resolved.  After all, they had moved closer to a railroad, as well as the depots in Washington and Alexandria. In fact, the supply line remained tenuous. Even though the Orange and Alexandria Railroad ran through Brandy Station, the large span which carried the tracks across the Rappahannock River had been burned by retreating Confederates in March. Other infrastructure, including culverts and depots had also been destroyed and needed to be re-built before the line into Culpeper County could operate with any efficiency. After rebuilding the span in July and tenaciously defending the crossing after he surrendered Culpeper County, General Pope burned the bridge again on August 23, having shifted his supply base to Catlett Station.

Recognizing the need to protect his new depot, and the critical bridge over Cedar Run, Pope detailed several infantry regiments for the task, assisted by the untested 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry. Before any of these troops could arrive, however, Jeb Stuart raided the base on the night of August 22-23, capturing one of Pope’s senior quartermasters and barely missing his chief quartermaster, Colonel Clary. Only a heavy storm thwarted Stuart’s effort to destroy the railroad bridge at Cedar Run. Then, during the night of August 26-27, Confederate infantry captured Manassas Junction, destroying locomotives, railcars, and other infrastructure. The raids on Catlett Station and Manassas Junction are well documented and often highlighted in discussions of Pope’s supply problems, yet a wealth of unpublished documents detail numerous other concerns.

In mid-July, a rail-bridge near Warrenton had been damaged, probably by high water. Until repaired, the break forced trains to unload at Warrenton, from where the supplies proceeded by wagon. The emergency measures necessitated the immediate need for additional wagons. Seeking a quick solution, officials either diverted wagons, which, of course, meant a shortage somewhere else, or purchased new wagons, which took time. Additional wagons meant hiring additional teamsters and purchasing more horses. Colonel Clary’s plea to an official in Alexandria to “Send as many teamsters as you can prevail upon to…Warrenton,” suggests both the need for teamsters, as well as the difficulty in convincing civilians to work closer to the frontlines. All these efforts took time, however. Contracts had to be approved, ads had to be placed in newspapers and new employees had to be transported to Washington. Resulting delays in shipments of food, forage and other materiel impacted the cavalry through the second half of July and early-August.

Then, on August 24, several support beams in the Long Bridge, which carried trains across the Potomac between Washington and Alexandria, gave way as a train passed over. Though the locomotive fell into the gap, the weight of the attached cars prevented the engine from crashing through to the river. Official communications from the next several days belie optimistic accounts in the local papers of the bridge being back in service the next day. Two days after the crash, even as Colonel Clary told Meigs, “Our animals are dying…for want of forage,” the track had still not been cleared, while “cars loaded with grain” crowded the depot on Maryland Avenue in the capital. Once trains began running again, troops rushed onto the cars “which should have been used to forward supplies.” As Meigs told Clary, “The troops should march and the supplies go by rail.” Still, officious infantry commanders, like Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis, imposed their own rules for several days, creating further delays. Then, just after the bridge re-opened, the enemy closed the tracks at Manassas Junction.

The importance of teamsters is probably under-appreciated today. The need for these wagon drivers, or mule-skinners, grew in proportion to the size and dispersion of the army, but the army could not take just anyone off the street and expect him to be able to handle four or six-horses or mules pulling a heavy wagon. Seeking to hire additional teamsters, desperate officials painted the job in the best light possible, with one advertisement declaring, “Better Than Being Drafted.”

The army paid teamsters, white and black, $25 per month plus one ration per day, but taxed black teamsters who lived in contraband camps with their families $5 per month for the care and housing of their families. Ambulance drivers received $15 per month if they drove a one-horse ambulance and $25 per month for a two or four-horse rig. Laborers made $20 per month plus a daily ration. Army privates, however, made only $13 per month and, understandably, some refused to serve as laborers for the quartermaster, no matter how badly supplies might be needed.

Demand for laborers to support the army may have peaked in the spring and summer of 1863, as Lee’s army moved north toward Washington. The army saw contrabands as a ready labor force and offered a good wage, but married men often refused to be separated from their families. Driving a wagon to the front lines also put them at risk of capture and a certain return to bondage. To meet the shortage during the Gettysburg Campaign, the Secretary of War authorized the impressment of contrabands from their camps at Fort Monroe and Norfolk (and possibly James City, outside of New Bern, N.C.), placed them aboard ships and brought them north to the capital.


Location, rivers, and railroads all contributed to the strategic importance of Culpeper County.  General Pope repeatedly targeted the Virginia Central Railroad, which supplied Lee’s army through nearby Gordonsville and Charlottesville, while the Orange and Alexandria supplied Pope from Alexandria. By mid-August, however, Pope had lost faith in the management of the O&A and termed the service “most wretched and inefficient.” He needed someone in Alexandria to ensure the company responded to his priorities, by moving men and supplies in the most efficient and expeditious manner. On August 14, he asked General Halleck to contact Herman Haupt in Massachusetts and convince him to return to the capital and “take charge of all railroad matters in this department.” Specifically, Pope did not want the limited supply of rolling stock tied up transporting troops, while his provisions rotted in the sun at the depots. But the army commander, whose overbearing demeanor and disastrous leadership made him a convenient scapegoat, has, for more than 100 years received the lion’s share of the blame for the lack of materiel transported to his army by the O&A. To my knowledge, no one has ever challenged the accuracy of Haupt’s Reminiscences, written decades after the fact, before convicting Pope for creating the logistical debacle.

In April, the army had asked Haupt, a former officer, to rebuild a rail line connecting the depot at Aquia Creek to Fredericksburg and gave him the rank of colonel to facilitate the task. On June 20, feeling he had successfully completed the job, Haupt wrote to the Secretary of War and asked to be allowed to return to his civilian pursuits. Pope took command of the Army of Virginia six days later.  Waiting for a response from Stanton or orders from Pope, Haupt remained on duty with Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell around Fredericksburg. With no orders forthcoming, Haupt, as he later explained, queried McDowell, who told him that Pope believed the Quartermaster Department should run the railroads. Believing himself to be out of a job, Haupt returned to Massachusetts.

While I have no reason to doubt Haupt’s veracity, I do question his memory. One newspaper accused Pope of throwing Haupt out of the army and this sentiment, supported by Haupt’s comments 25 years after the fact, prevails today. If true, we have no “smoking gun;” no contemporary document from Pope dismissing Haupt as unnecessary. There is, however, a communication between McDowell and Stanton on June 4, 22 days before Pope took command, in which McDowell begs Stanton to reconsider a directive ordering Haupt to report to the quartermaster in Washington. The order, signed by Montgomery Meigs, the quartermaster-general, alluded to complaints, like those from Pope two months later, blaming Haupt for not getting supplies to the front in an expeditious manner. Rising to Haupt’s defense, McDowell told Stanton, “You have done me a great favor to place Colonel Haupt on my staff as the chief of the railroad department…I shall lose [him] to all intents and purposes if he is placed under an officer who is not in my command, and who knows comparatively nothing of the business he is to superintend.” In his Reminiscences, Haupt credits McDowell as being the source of the statements from Pope dismissing Haupt. I find the similarity of McDowell’s comments to Stanton on June 4 and Haupt’s later summation of McDowell’s comments to him rather compelling. Barring the location of other contemporary documents, one might ask if Stanton had agreed with Meigs and decided to let his order stand. If so, Pope had nothing to do with Haupt’s dismissal. Later claims by Haupt, of having divined Lee’s intention to send troops through Thoroughfare Gap and other questionable statements in his Reminiscences regarding captured trains, lead me to suspect we have placed too much credence in his version of events blaming Pope for the lack of supplies reaching his army.

On August 14, Pope asked Halleck to order Haupt to return “at once to take charge of all railroad matters in this department.” Haupt reached Pope’s headquarters four days later. After a short conversation, Pope told his chief of staff to issue any orders which Haupt dictated, to include taking immediate and exclusive control of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

By August 20, Haupt had the trains running, with all the forage at Alexandria having been sent forward and with non-emergency supplies also en-route to the army. He expected to send 60 carloads of food and equipment forward the next day. His messages suggest he was staging supplies, especially food and forage, at stations close to the army and using his cars as temporary mobile warehouses, but he must have known the scheme came with some risk.

Due to a variety of factors, including the size of the locomotive and the length of the sidings at stations or waypoints, Civil War era trains probably averaged between 10 and 15 cars, with 20 cars being close to the maximum. Thus, sending 60 cars to the front tied up a lot of valuable equipment at the receiving end of the line, especially locomotives, and left Haupt dangerously short of rolling stock at the loading end of the line. Haupt sent crews to expand sidings at several stations to hold 20 cars but he could only leave the cars for a limited period.

Then, on the evening of August 22, just four days after Haupt returned to the army, Jeb Stuart’s cavalry hit Pope’s supply base at Catlett Station. Under the cover of a violent thunderstorm, the Southern raiders dashed through the camps, seizing prisoners, cutting telegraph lines, and looting supply wagons, though the rain, which fell “in torrents,” prevented them from destroying the critical railroad bridge over Cedar Run. Still, the raid created more chaos along the line than Stuart might have realized.

Late the next morning, Haupt began wondering why none of his trains had returned from Catlett. Possibly unaware of the raid due to the telegraph wires having been cut, he asked the Asst. Secretary of War, “Can you…make it understood…that cars can be used either for transportation or for warehouses, but not for both…[Pope] can receive re-enforcements and supplies only by returning the cars (the balancing act I alluded to above).” Two hours later he pleaded with Pope to, “order some competent officer to see that the cars are unloaded and returned…” By evening, and now almost certainly aware of the raid, he outlined his priorities. “My first care is to send forward troops, next forage and subsistence.  I hope to start forage tomorrow noon.” Considering the latest crisis and the advancing campaign, Haupt’s priorities had changed, with men now taking precedence over provisions. Still, and despite all orders to the contrary, infantry commanders in Alexandria began commandeering cars for their men.  The following day, August 24, the support timbers on the Long Bridge collapsed, preventing trains from leaving the capital.

Demand for forage may have peaked on August 26, the day Stonewall Jackson sent his troops against the vital rail-hub at Manassas Junction. Hours before the raid, Haupt urged a frustrated infantry commander to be patient, telling him, we “have an unexpected demand for…forage.”  He also told an official in Washington, “We give forage …preference over everything else.” Was Haupt shifting his priorities daily or simply trying to appease everyone?

Still, the combination of events meant 78 cars loaded with grain for Pope’s horses sat idle in Washington on August 27. Other cars loaded with forage and grain sat idle in Alexandria, due, in part, to a lack of manpower. Then, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac, arrived in Alexandria from the Peninsula. “Everything that we now have awaits the orders of General McClellan,” Haupt told a frustrated quartermaster. On the afternoon of August 28, after assessing the damage to the line, Haupt concluded, “the Army of Virginia can receive no more supplies by rail at present.”

Our animals are starving

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.  The army prescribed each soldier a daily ration of nearly 2.5 pounds, which amounted to another 69 tons of food per day for the roughly 55,000 men in Pope’s army; 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.

The army manual states, “the capacity of a box car is 1,300 cubic feet, or about twenty tons of weight.” This description is almost certainly based on an overly optimistic scenario, as other factors, including the quality and repair of each car, as well as the serviceability of track and bridges, impacted the actual loaded weight of a railcar. In October 1863, the superintendent of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad complained of his cars being overloaded and told quartermasters to load no more than nine tons per car. 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.

But the weight and bulk of baled hay further limited the amount each car could carry, to a point well below the limits expressed above. On August 19, a quartermaster in Washington conducted a test seeking an average weight per bale of hay.  He selected several varieties of hay shipped from different locations. Using cars from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, with a capacity of eight tons per car (further proof of the unrealistic nature of the figure in the manual), he could load only 3.5 tons per car with the hay from two of the lots and just 1.5 tons per car from the third lot. Another document from February 1862 confirms the actual capacity of railcars carrying hay to have been less than four tons. These more realistic figures translated to more trains per day just for food and forage.

In the test, the weight of the bales from the three lots averaged 225 pounds per bail. Bags of corn and oats appear to have averaged 115 pounds per bag. A bushel of oats weighs about 32 pounds. With each horse rationed for 12 pounds of grain per day, one bushel would feed less than three horses. Not only were bags easier to load and unload but being less bulky, cars carrying grain averaged between 9 and 13 tons per car. The math suggests the army needed 16 train cars per day, at an average of 11 tons per car, to provide just the grain prescribed for 25,000 horses.

Moving the hay and grain from the train cars to the horses meant unloading the cars onto wagons pulled by four or six horses or mules. An army wagon might carry one ton of supplies under ideal conditions, but the condition of the wagon and the roads probably kept the average capacity below a ton. Thus, the estimate of 11 tons of grain per rail car meant one car equaled at least 11 wagons. By one estimate, “the armies need for supply wagons nearly doubled for each travel day between base and the army, with several factors, including weather and road quality impacting delivery time.” The animals pulling the wagons were also going to consume a percentage of the food for each travel day, thereby increasing the number of wagons needed to supply the horses at the front.

Northern quartermasters paid about $20 per ton for hay in August 1862, while the South paid at least $70 per ton. The army used facilities along the docks in Baltimore, Maryland, as the main storage and distribution point for hay and grain on the east coast. The colonel in charge of the depot advertised for contracts, sought the best price, and then tried to estimate the amount of hay he needed for the various armies and military posts along the coast. If he held too much on hand, especially in the summer, he might lose it due to heat and humidity. Too little, and horses might starve before new contracts could be delivered. He needed to keep adequate shipping chartered to ensure timely delivery and he tried to facilitate the efficient and expeditious delivery of hay and grain by keeping just the right number of ships and barges loaded and at anchor at any given time (mobile warehouses again).

Once ships delivered the hay to Alexandria, for example, the officer in command of the depot moved it quickly to trains or wagons for delivery to the front. Storage facilities were always at risk of fire but hot embers escaping from the funnel of a locomotive escalated the risk to trains. In October 1862, embers from a cooking fire ignited several hundred bales of hay along a trestle near Harpers Ferry, destroying 24 loaded cars and damaging the trestle. In April 1863, 800 tons of hay loaded in barges on the Ohio River caught fire forcing the barges to be abandoned. A breathless correspondent described the scene as “a grand moving panorama of fire ships, filing along in one continuous line of blaze.” In December, a fire at a pier in New York City consumed 12 ships and more than 20 barges, most of them carrying hay.

A black-market grew up along rail lines, with soldiers or railroad personnel throwing product off trains to accomplices waiting along the line. Sloppy handling and torn bags also contributed to the loss of product. When a railroad superintendent ordered “empty” cars cleaned before being reloaded, his men swept up more than 17,000 pounds of spilled grain. In January 1864, the officer in charge of the depot at Alexandria estimated four percent of his hay to be damaged or unfit for use. Four percent sounds insignificant, but he put the total weight of unusable product at nearly 500,000 pounds, suggesting the staggering amount of hay kept on hand. Finally, natural loss of moisture between the time a product was baled or bagged could reach 30 percent by the time the product reached the soldiers at the front.

According to some newspaper accounts, much of the nation enjoyed a good growing season in 1862. Other accounts disagree. Virginia farmers made early predictions for an “abundant” harvest. One scribe observed on July 1, “two or three more good rains, will make an overwhelming corn crop,’ but the rain, as often happens in the heat of summer, became spotty.  By mid-August local papers began referring to a “prolonged drought” in Maryland, with a “precarious” corn crop and vegetation “suffering greatly in the “intense” heat of the previous days. Postwar analysis confirms a lengthy “drought…throughout the South” in 1862, which “sharply reduced” corn harvests and “badly damaged” wheat in the fields. The drought also meant low water in rivers and canals which adversely impacted delivery of materiel.

While still in Washington, General Pope issued General Order Number 5 on July 18, instructing his men, “as far as practicable…[to] subsist upon the country in which their operations are carried on.” Exactly when the order reached the cavalrymen in the field is unknown, but Pope’s controversial directive almost certainly received mixed reviews within the ranks. The prosecution of the war continued to leave many soldiers, especially hardline republicans, confused. In a letter written the day before Pope published his directive, a trooper in the 1st Maryland complained “that Quartermasters are permitted to sell to the rebels salt at Government prices, whilst the soldiers are most strictly forbidden to take from the rebels even a few vegetables without paying them enormous prices. The rebels are actually better protected than our patriotic soldiers…”

About the same time, Col. John Beardsley, commanding General Siegel’s cavalry, including the 1st Maryland, told his officers, “The attention of commanding officers…is called to the great number of depredations which are being committed by the soldiers attached to the different regiments stationed in this vicinity…all company officers attached to this command will take measures as may be necessary to prevent their men from committing any actions that would lead to…[censure].”

Shortly after receiving Pope’s order, an officer in the 1st New Jersey, then posted near Culpeper Court House, explained, “We have an order (No. 5) authorizing the appropriation of rebel property to ourselves and horses, and trains of wagons may be seen at any hour of the day, loaded with the produce of the rich farms in this vicinity, on their way to camp, and “Gen. Pope’s stores” has already become a by-word. This order gives general satisfaction, and will have a tendency to counteract the bad influence of placing guards over the rebel property, which not only made the people saucy, but made the soldiers despondent. I have had charge of several of these expeditions, and one has an opportunity to see how these vigorous measures operate on the people. Some of them plead, some storm, others cry…and some manifest the most supreme indifference. We get corn for our horses, generally.” Without referring to Pope’s order, another soldier opined, “It’s a curious country that protects and aids its open enemies in war. And if the policy is followed up you can rest assured that all we can do is naught, for protection and this treachery never will go successfully together.”

But a few days after Pope published the order, the colonel of the 1st Maine, attached to General Bayard’s Brigade, issued his own edict, avowing, “Commanders of companies will be held responsible that no more growing corn is cut and taken from the fields to feed to horses. Besides being useless as an article of forage, it is needless destruction of property and must be stopped.”  Some troopers fed their mounts green corn from ignorance and others may have done so from need, but the practice could debilitate and even kill a horse.

A perfect storm

By way of summary, we might ask, did the soldiers have a legitimate need in mid-July to take corn and hay from local farms? On July 19, 14 cars loaded with hay waited on the siding at Warrenton Junction, with 10 more cars en route. The quartermaster at Warrenton had also asked for a “daily supply of 350,000 lbs. of grain.” “It will almost block up the railroad,” an officer in Alexandria replied, “but we will send it if necessary.” So, delivery rather than supply seems to have been the problem in mid-July. At least one bridge between Warrenton and Culpeper had been destroyed, possibly washed away in a storm, which prevented trains from getting to Culpeper. Thus, trains backed up around Warrenton and other trains, bringing lumber to repair the span, could not get through. With no trains getting beyond Warrenton for several days, every car had to be off-loaded and re-loaded onto wagons. This created an emergency need for more wagons, and quartermasters quickly diverted 100 wagons to Warrenton, to move the forage and grain to the front. By August 1, 500 additional wagons had been sent forward. The additional wagons created a need for a like number of additional teamsters.

The longer the corn and hay sat on barges, railcars, or wagons the greater the risk of it spoiling. On July 13, an officer reported, “The corn at Fredericksburg is entirely unfit to issue and could kill the horses.” In response, an officer in Baltimore explained, “the forage was in good condition when shipped,” but he also deemed “35,000 bushels corn now in store is irreclaimably damaged in my opinion and is fit only for distillery purposes.”

Quartermasters in Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria also supplied the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula and at Aquia Creek, and every other military force along the east coast. On August 6, Col. Rufus Ingalls, quartermaster for the Army of the Potomac reported a daily need for 200 tons of hay and 12,000 bushels of grain. He believed 1200 tons of hay, 110,000 bushels of oats and 2200 bushels of corn sat on ships in the Chesapeake Bay. But then the first real reports of shortages began to appear.

On August 8, one of Ingalls’ subordinates reported no forage available for the Army of the Potomac and asked for an immediate delivery. The same day, the quartermaster at Alexandria asked for an urgent delivery of oats from Baltimore. Four days later, an officer in Washington queried the quartermaster in Baltimore, “Have you anymore oats or has your supply run out?” Not receiving a quick response, the officer asked again the next day, “Shall we look to you for further supply of oats? We have nearly run out.” On August 15, the quartermaster in Culpeper reported, “We are in the greatest need for 4 to 500,000 lbs. [of forage] daily, horses are [starving].” In response, an official told him the O&A Railroad would run two forage trains per day to meet his needs.

On August 16, Col. Robert Clary, Pope’s chief quartermaster, began badgering the harried officer in Alexandria. “Our animals are starving. You were called upon to send 30 cars a day of forage, let me know why it was not done.” In a second message he ordered “35 carloads of forage, principally oats,” sent to Culpeper daily. “By what I can learn you are responsible for the starving condition of our animals – fail not under any consideration to forward the forage called for,” Clary threatened. Then, in case the mere captain had not appreciated Clary’s threat, the colonel told him, “You were called upon as early as the 11th to send to Culpeper 300,000 pounds forage daily, and this amount increased as you were advised. It has been presumed you have had plenty of time to procure it… I do not know who is responsible for the feeble condition of our animals if you are not. Let there be no failure hereafter.”

I have not seen the August 11 request Clary alluded to and the officer in Alexandria may not have either. “A very unexpected demand has been made upon me for grain for Gen. Pope’s command,” the beleaguered captain told his superiors in Washington. “Between 5 and 600 thousand pounds are required daily to be sent forward by railroad. Please inform me at once whether I can be temporarily supplied from Washington and how soon it can be sent.” The captain also recalled ships, then serving as forage warehouses on Chesapeake Bay, to Alexandria as a quick solution to the growing problem. Reaching out to grain merchants in Baltimore, he asked how many bushels of oats “you can furnish me… I am in immediate want.” Then Pope threw his weight into the fray, complaining to Meigs, “There has been the grossest possible carelessness…in…furnishing forage to my army. Although only 70 or 80 miles from Alexandria, I cannot get forage for my cavalry; and now at the moment I most need it this arm of service is paralyzed by the neglect of some quartermaster. I desire that the quartermaster at Alexandria may be called to account and made to explain who is culpable in the matter.”

Whether through his own culpability or circumstances beyond his control, the captain in Alexandria found himself caught up in a firestorm of complaints. “I have had frequent communication from [Clary] notifying me that I am personally accountable for the supplying of this grain,” now totaling “between 5 & 600,000 lbs. daily.” He sent his assistant to Baltimore with a direct appeal to the depot commander, only to learn “that he could not supply the grain at present.” In violation of army policy, the assistant sought to make his own grain purchases but found demand had driven prices up 10 cents per bushel in as many days. At his wit’s end, the captain asked, “I beg to be notified at once… as to how the Army of Virginia is to be supplied.”

Deciphering meaning in terse telegrams can be difficult, but on August 17 the captain appears to have asked the commander in Baltimore to ship 40,000 bushels of corn directly to the army, rather than routing it through the Alexandria depot. He sent a tug into the Potomac to “look for a vessel from Baltimore consigned to me loaded with oats. It is very necessary that he should find the vessel for I am entirely out of forage and the Army of Virginia is suffering for want of it.” He also told his superior, “I have sent 74 carloads of forage today and ten more will go…this evening. A cargo of 10,000 bushels of oats has just arrived from Baltimore and there are about 20,000 bushels on the way. If the car arrives…[I] shall again be able to send a full supply tomorrow.”

With McClellan’s army now returning to Aquia and Alexandria, quartermasters had to scramble to shift delivery points and General Meigs told Rufus Ingalls, McClellan’s quartermaster, “Supplies of forage should accompany the horses shipped to Aquia and Alexandria…. There is now a short supply [in Washington] and at Falmouth and Fredericksburg.” According to the quartermaster at Aquia, 3,000 to 4,000 hungry horses had already disembarked, with more “constantly arriving.”

The damaged rail-bridge near Warrenton had been repaired by August 20, and the depot commander at Alexandria told his counterpart at Bealton, “I will send you the grain asked for…without fail tomorrow.” But then, due to the rapid influx of troops from the Peninsula, he had to tell the officer at Bealton two days later, “We have plenty of grain on hand, but owing to the transportation of troops, cannot get cars to send it forward.” Four days later, the officer told his counterpart at Warrenton, “The exclusive occupancy in the road is the transportation of [troops.  This] has prevented me from sending forward forage. The Railroad [Superintendent] assures me that he will furnish cars for forage this [evening].”

Then, just as the shortages appeared to have been resolved, Stuart hit Pope’s supply depot at Catlett Station. The next day, Meigs told Ingalls, “… [the] oat contracts [signed by the commander at Baltimore] have failed.

Three days later, Colonel Clary told Meigs, “Our animals are dying in their harness for want of forage. My calls upon [Alexandria] are not complied with. The reason, I learn, is that there is none at Alexandria. No forage can be had in the country, not even hay in sufficient quantity…  Irregularity exists somewhere, and in the meantime our animals must be rendered totally unserviceable unless a supply of forage is speedily furnished.” Meigs could only query his subordinates along the supply line. To the commander at Baltimore, he complained, “On your report of large quantity of forage on hand and at your command, I directed [officers with the Army of the Potomac] not to make contracts for forage but to depend upon you. You were lately directed to send forage to Yorktown and Fort Monroe.  [The officer] who is shipping horses and wagons… from Fort Monroe and Yorktown is almost out of forage. He reported today that he has received only three small steamer loads from you at Fort Monroe and none at Yorktown.  This requires energetic measures on your part to prevent great loss to the army.” Meigs also contacted a subordinate in New York, telling him, “These is some blunder about forage and danger of starvation to horses at Fort Monroe and Yorktown.  Hurry off a large steamer with hay and grain to…Fort Monroe.”

In response to Clary’s complaints, the officer in Alexandria told him on the 26th, “Have sent since yesterday morning…20 cars grain, which were all the cars I could get, excepting 6 which are now being loaded. No exertion shall be wanting on my part to keep you supplied.” He told the officer at Aquia, “I have plenty of hay, but no grain.  Am in hourly expectation of large arrivals.” He then informed his superiors, “All the cars that could be obtained have been loaded and sent out today. Six carloads of oats went by the 11 o’clock train. Eleven will go this evening.  I am looking momentarily for arrivals of grain and will push forward as rapidly as in my power.”  Even Haupt came to the captain’s defence, telling Pope, “The trouble is that [he] has not the grain to send.”

By August 27, the die had been cast. A perfect storm of events had conspired to create the crisis which crippled General Pope’s cavalry. Rather than the simple explanations of the past, and the rather indiscriminate blame heaped upon Pope as being the sole cause of the problem, the issues are more varied and complex. The army did not have access to an unlimited supply of locomotives and rolling stock. Constantly shifting priorities delayed forage deliveries. The arrival of the Army of the Potomac, though desperately needed by Pope, created additional strain upon an already overtaxed system. Elements of the arriving army then took several different routes to join Pope, meaning quartermasters had to find new avenues to route and re-route supplies.

Damage to track and bridges, including the bridge near Warrenton and the Long Bridge over the Potomac River, created additional delays.  Jeb Stuart’s raid on the depot at Catlett Station appears to have resulted in a greater military result than he realized, as the confusion he sowed resulted in vital rolling stock sitting idle along the track.

Summer heat and drought damaged local crops, limiting the amount of food the animals might subsist upon by grazing until other supplies arrived.  Heat also damaged food sitting in cars and wagons and at temporary depots without adequate shelter before it could be distributed to the animals.

Greed may also have played a role.  When the quartermaster in Baltimore reported that his grain contracts had failed, he gave no reason that I have seen.  But other messages report a sharp spike in prices.  Civilians who had signed contracts to provide grain at a set price may have let the contracts fail in a deliberate attempt to gouge the army, and profit from the emergency.

Finally, Stonewall Jackson’s capture and destruction of Manassas Junction on August 26 effectively shut down any further rail service to the army before the campaign concluded on the plains of Manassas.  The forage trains sent forward during the day may have been among the trains burned during the evening. Four days later, when his campaign ended in disaster, General Pope bore much of the blame for his defeat. He had created many of his own problems, and he had used his cavalry hard, but historians should not lay the blame for the ineffectiveness of his cavalry during those final days entirely at his feet.



Documents from the national Archives

The Official Records

Alexandria Gazette

Amherst (NH) Farmer’s Cabinet

Boston Commercial Bulletin

Bucks County Intelligencer

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Harrisburg Patriot

New York Tribune

Philadelphia Public Ledger

Philadelphia Inquirer

Providence (RI) Evening Press

Richmond Enquirer

Washington Evening Star

Alfred Ryder Letters, Bentley Library, University of Michigan

David J. Gerleman, “War Horse,” North & South, January 1999, Vol 2, #2

Michael Welton, Editor, My Heart Is So Rebellious, The Caldwell Letters

Benjamin Franklin Cooling, Counter-Thrust, From the Peninsula to the Antietam

Paul Gates, Agriculture and the Civil War

Herman Haupt, Reminiscences

John Hennessy, Return to Bull Run

Rodney Lackey, Notes on Civil War logistics: Facts & Stories

Thomas Weber, The Northern Railroads in the Civil War, 1861-1865

4 thoughts on “The horses…had been taxed to the utmost of their strength – Part 2

  1. Thanks, Bob. I love your posts and go through them all (especially horse topics) and save them. Some day they could be their own publication. How’s the Aldie revision going? Hope all is well with you and your family during this pandemic. Be safe and be well, Cindy I.

    On Sun, Jun 28, 2020 at 10:37 AM Small But Important Riots wrote:

    > roneillmt posted: “[The importance of logistics – the movement of supplies > or materiel – remains sadly under-appreciated. In my opinion, available > studies paint in broad strokes, a wise decision as most readers/students do > not care to get bogged down in excessive numbers. T” >


  2. Thank you Cindy! Your kind words are always encouraging and appreciated. I think we, certainly me, over the years, have or has, assumed too much in discussions about cavalry, when, in truth, a lot went into keeping a healthy effective mounted force in the field. Still hoping I can persuade you to write a piece on horses for me sometime. Until then, stay well, enjoy your busy retirement, and I hope to see you next year with the Chicago Tour.
    The pandemic has forced me stay home and out of the archives. This may not bode well for the blog but the first draft of the book is complete and I hope to start a clean, corrected second draft to shop around this month.


  3. Magisterial work, Bob, as always! I learned a great deal from this post–the demands of supplying an army are staggering! Thanks for you careful attention to detail, too.


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