An Army on the Move

At the beginning of May, the Cavalry Corps numbered 12,386 men, and employed 313 wagons, or one wagon for every 40 men. In addition to the wagons needed for personal gear, rations for the men, medical equipment, grain and forage for the horses, and other sundry materiel, the command needed wagons for ammunition.

The following is drawn from Maj. Theodore Laidley’s The Ordnance Manual for the Use of Officers of the United States Army, published in 1861, and General Buford’s request for ammunition following his fight on June 21, 1863. Laidley offers specifics regarding the size and weight of ammunition shipping crates, as well as the number of rounds per crate for several calibers of rifle and carbine ammunition and for six and twelve-pound artillery ammunition. Buford’s 3-Inch Ordnance Rifles fired rounds weighing nine to nine and a half pounds. I have constructed the following using the information for .54 caliber Sharps carbine rounds, the most prevalent but not the only caliber in Buford’s command. I also used Laidley’s information for .44 caliber revolver ammunition. As explained below, I have tried to reach a fairly accurate estimate for 3-Inch Ordnance Rifle ammunition. I offer these estimates to give readers a sense of the task but admit to the lack of complete accuracy.

One box of 1,000 rounds of .54 caliber ammunition for the Sharps carbine weighed 98 pounds gross weight, and the army loaded 20 boxes per wagon (20,000 rounds) or 1,960 pounds. As Ingalls later explained, providing 100 rounds per man required 5 wagons.

Solid shot for a 6-pounder artillery piece came 14 rounds to a box and each box weighed 131 pounds. Case shot came 14 rounds to a box and each box weighed 125 pounds. Canister also came 14 rounds to a box, with each box weighing 146 pounds. A wagon carried about 15 boxes of round shot, or 16 boxes of case shot or 14 boxes of canister.

Ammunition for a 12-pounder came eight rounds to a box, with each box weighing on average, 150 lbs. The average 6-pounder ammunition box weighed 134 lbs. Laidley provides detailed information for four types of 12-pounder ammunition but for only three types of 6-pounder ammunition, so I used the same three types of ammunition to reach these figures. He lists the empty weight of each box for 12-pounder rounds at 23-24 lbs. vs 25-26 lbs. for 6-pounder ammunition.

Rounds for the Ordnance Rifle weighed 9-9.5 lbs. Using a weight of 9.5 lbs. per round and 11 rounds per box gives a rough estimate of 104 lbs. per box. Counting each crate at 25 lbs., brings the weight per crate to 130 lbs.

Buford’s request for 3,000 artillery rounds for his Ordnance Rifles required 273 boxes, weighing 35,000 lbs. pounds or 18 wagon loads. He requested 94,000 rounds of carbine ammunition, roughly 94 boxes weighing 9,200 pounds, which, at 20 boxes per wagon required five wagons. He needed 20,000 rounds of revolver ammunition, 10,000 Colt Army and 10,000 Colt Navy. Both came 600 rounds to a box. With an average weight per box of 23.5 pounds, he needed about 33 boxes, nearly 800 pounds, requiring another one or two wagons depending on how the boxes could be stacked.

Assuming my math is correct (a big assumption) and keeping in mind I have averaged some figures, Buford’s request weighed about 22.5 tons. Transporting his ammunition would have added 23 wagons to his existing supply train.

On June 13, one of Hooker’s aides told Col. James Ramsey at the Washington Arsenal, “The depot at Aquia moves tomorrow to Alexandria. Please send no more stores until you hear from …me.” The aide then told an officer at Aquia, “Put all your stores on vessels and proceed to Alexandria and await orders there. Use as much dispatch as possible.” Then, having directed Col. Charles Sawtelle, Pleasonton’s quartermaster, to oversee the move, Ingalls told Sawtelle to evacuate the hospitals as quickly as possible. Ingalls also asked, “Can you get off all property by tomorrow night?” Considering descriptions of the depot, such a request seems rather staggering at this distance.

To evacuate the sick and wounded, Ingalls worked out the following plan, possibly with Col. William Wright, Superintendent of the Military Railroad at Aquia. As Ingalls related, 30 rail cars would arrive at or depart from (the message is not clear) Brooks Station at 4:45 that afternoon to transport the patients from the 2nd Corps. Another 30 cars would arrive at or depart from Brooks Station at midnight to remove the men from the 5th Corps. The next morning, 30 cars would arrive at or depart from Potomac Creek at 4:45, followed by another 30 cars three hours later to evacuate the patients from the 3rd Corps. Finally, 30 cars would take the patients from the 11th Corps off from Brooks Station at 1:45 p.m. Ingalls also called for steamers and barges, to remove the remaining patients, presumably from the other corps.

Evacuating such a large facility on short notice meant stopping all deliveries already in transit. For instance, by June 1, plans had been approved to extend the wharf used to unload ordnance, and 1500 feet of 12 x 12-foot timbers, 2400 feet of 10 x 10 timbers, 4500 3-inch planks, 15 kegs of 6-inch spikes, and 150 25-foot piles. One wonders if the items had arrived by June 13. If so, had construction already begun or had the officer been able to stop the delivery before the trains arrived?

The army also had horses and cattle to move. I do not have figures for cattle on hand on June 13, but the following is instructive. On June 9, Col. Amos Beckwith, chief commissary officer at the depot in Washington asked his counterpart with the Army of the Potomac, “Do you want any more cattle sent to Aquia? You have now about 1550 at that place.” I have not seen a response and the officers may not have been privy to Hooker’s plans, but I wonder if a deep dive into soldier accounts for the second week of June reflect a sudden increase in fresh beef rations.

On June 16, with both armies on the move and Winchester having fallen, the quartermaster at the Edwards Ferry depot, on the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia, felt his position threatened by advancing Confederates. Possibly contemplating an order to abandon the facility, the officer reported holding 5,000 bushels of grain in his warehouses and asked if he should send the grain closer to the capital or leave it at risk of capture. The depot did not immediately close, as Hooker determined, on June 19, to have engineers erect the pontoon bridges across the Potomac at Edwards Ferry. Three days later, and with the 11th and 12th Corps now posted nearby, Ingalls ordered 500,000 lbs. of grain and 200,000 lbs. of hay to the depot, along with enough rations to feed the men. The depot continued to receive supplies of food and clothing until the army crossed into Maryland, as Ingalls ordered such supplies distributed to the troops as they approached the river at the end of the month.

On June 17, with Pleasonton’s troopers having abandoned their camps as they headed toward Aldie, a superintendent sent a train to evacuate surplus or abandoned supplies from the cavalry camps between Manassas and Union Mills. At 3 o’clock that afternoon, an engineer reported having removed eight or ten cars of forage, two cars of ammunition or other ordnance stores, two cars of “camp & garrison equipage,” and one car of hospital patients.

On June 25, Ingalls ordered Capt. Henry Page to evacuate the large depot at Fairfax Station, and to move all the materiel to Alexandria “if you can.” Ingalls sent a stronger message to the railroad superintendent at the station, telling him that a regiment of infantry, along with the 5th U.S. Cavalry, were en route to protect the station. He was to call for as many empty cars as possible to remove “public property…[and] work the road until daylight,” but, Ingalls admonished, “property must not be abandoned.”

Thus, Ingalls must have been irritated when Gen. Julius Stahel evacuated his camps at Fairfax Court House, leaving vast quantities of property behind. Unwilling to abandon any more property than necessary, Ingalls diverted laborers and wagons needed elsewhere to clear the camps. In the end, local citizens and advancing Confederates still found a bounty of abandoned supplies. 

By June 27, Ingalls, Sawtelle, Beckwith and others had focused their attention on Frederick, Maryland, as the location for the next major depot for the advancing army. Beckwith needed rail cars to transport 100,000 rations sent to the city, while Sawtelle sent 300,000 lbs. of grain. Sawtelle also reminded the officer tasked with establishing the depot, to select a location with “free ingress and egress [for] many wagons.”

With the new depot opening, Ingalls ordered the quartermaster at Edwards Ferry to close his facility as soon as the last cavalrymen crossed the river and the bridges had been taken down. The officer quickly sent two barges loaded with hospital patients to Washington via the C&O Canal, but also felt the immediate need for laborers, asking a superior, “What has become of the gang of colored laborers that were to report to me at this place yesterday?”

At 8 a.m. that morning, Buford found himself caught up in a massive traffic jam as the tail of the army crossed the river, engineers prepared to remove the bridges, and quartermasters rushed to close the nearby depot. As Buford explained to Pleasonton from the river, “I am crossing my division on the upper bridge slowly. All my train is between here and Leesburg behind a large infantry train. I will move as soon as my troops are across. The Lord only knows when the wagons will get up. I have no forage and one brigade is out of rations today.” Why, after several days in camp, an experienced officer found himself in such dire straits is unknown.

Buford also asked for maps of the country he was heading into. I do not know when or if he received maps but the following day, Lieut. Washington Roebling, an aide to General Warren, Hooker’s topographical engineer, asked Warren from Baltimore, “where shall I rejoin you tomorrow with the [Pennsylvania] Country maps?” How many copies of the map or maps Roebling brought is also unknown, but a later message may be instructive. On September 12, and with Pleasonton’s cavalry in Culpeper County, an officer asked for 100 copies of specified maps to be printed.

With the entire army now moving toward Frederick, quartermasters sent massive amounts of materiel to the new depot. With so many depots on the move, Ingalls needed wagons and he asked Sawtelle on the 27th to send him 150 “without delay.” He then added, “let the wagons you send carry three days’ forage, and in charge of a quartermaster, with suitable wagon-masters and teamsters.” Sawtelle responded, telling Ingalls, “The 150 teams…will start under charge of Capt. [Henry] Page at the earliest possible moment. Wagon masters and teamsters are transferred with the teams.”

At 12:30, the following afternoon, Sawtelle told his boss, “Capt. Page started with a train of 150 wagons at 8 o’clock this morning for Frederick.  He was to drive through today.” He then asked, rather presciently, “Would it not be well to send some cavalry out to meet it and escort it in?” In the rush of the moment, no one sent an escort, even though nearly 600 remounted cavalrymen had left the capital the previous day bound for the army. Just three and a half hours after reporting the departure of the train, Sawtelle sent another message to Ingalls: Jeb Stuart’s cavalry had captured the unescorted train near Rockville.

General Meigs was justifiably furious with the failure to send the remounted cavalry to escort for the wagons. Lost in discussions of the captured wagons and how they might have become an impediment to Stuart, is the loss to the Federals. The forage and other supplies could be replaced, but Ingalls urgently needed the wagons. He had asked them to be filled with forage more as a matter of efficiency than dire need. He had also specified the need for wagon masters and teamsters. He needed these men as urgently as he needed the wagons, and now most of them had been captured. A man did not just step onto the seat of a wagon and guide a team of four or six mules. They needed experience and the army compensated these men well: wagon masters received $50 per month, more than twice as much as a sergeant major in the army, and Teamsters received at least $25, two dollars a month more than a sergeant major. Beyond the loss of the skilled workers, many of these men, especially the teamsters may have been recently freed slaves who would have been taken back into bondage.

On June 22, an officer in the 2nd Corps asked for 2,500 pairs of shoes and 2,000 pairs of socks for the corps. Six days later, Ingalls requested 10,000 pairs of shoes and a like number of socks for the army. The wording used by Ingalls suggests that he was anticipating a shortage, after several days of long marches, rather than looking to meet an immediate need. Meigs, replying after learning of the lost wagon train, assured Ingalls the shoes will be sent, but only after “a safe route and escort can be found.” That evening, at 7 p.m., Sawtelle told Ingalls that the shoes and socks, now increased to 20,000 pairs of each, would be on a train leaving in one hour.

The army’s need for shoes during the remainder of the campaign, especially during General Meade’s pursuit of Lee after the battle at Gettysburg, has received some well-deserved attention of late, especially by Kent Masterson Brown in his recent study, Meade at Gettysburg. Seven years ago, I copied about a dozen messages regarding the need for shoes but left another dozen or so uncopied. Taken in total, the messages might add some clarity to Meade’s concerns, but we will probably never know exactly how many shoes reached the army, in what quantity, and when. Lee’s army had the same needs but with fewer immediate solutions.

In addition to capturing the wagons, teams and teamsters on June 28, Jeb Stuart had also cut the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and closed the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Further, Southern infantry soon destroyed several bridges carrying the Northern Central Railroad. In response to Lee’s advance, several railroads sent some of their rolling stock to Philadelphia, as a precaution. Suddenly, the Union army’s logistical system, which had been running rather smoothly, began breaking down at an ever-increasing rate, as damage wrought by bad weather added to the developing crisis.

By mid-afternoon on June 30, the president of the B&O reported the line to Frederick had re-opened. But what about the shoes? At some point during the day, Ingalls told Sawtelle, “Watch for the repairing of the railroad. When repaired push forward the” shoes.

At an unspecified time on July 1, Ingalls, at Taneytown, told Meigs, “I have to request that you will order…to Frederick 20,000 pairs of [shoes]…as early as possible.” The need had now become a matter of urgency. At 11:20 that morning, Meigs told Ingalls that the shoes, socks, and other supplies would be sent to Westminster. After discussing other concerns, Meigs reiterated, “Supplies of shoes are on the cars.”

The journey of the shoes understandably slips from the headlines during the battle, but on July 4, a quartermaster in Washington tells his counterpart at Westminster, “20,000 [shoes] & same number of [socks] will be sent forward this afternoon or early tomorrow.” But are these the shoes promised on June 28 or July 1 or is the officer referring to a third or later shipment. In other words, did the army need 20,000 pairs or 40,000 or maybe 60,000?

At 9:30 p.m. on July 6, General Rucker, in Washington, told Ingalls that 25,000 pairs of shoes would leave the capital that evening, and by the next day, at least one shipment had reached Frederick, as General Warren told a subordinate, “Tell everybody wanting shoes that there are plenty of them here.” When these shoes had been shipped or when they had arrived is unknown, but not every element of the army passed through Frederick. The 11th Corps had been ordered west of Frederick to Boonsboro, and, on the evening of July 7, Warren told General O. O. Howard, commanding the corps, to leave the men in need of shoes behind “and send in for shoes. General Ingalls will have plenty of them [at Frederick] in the morning.” The following day, Howard had yet to receive any and counted half of his men “destitute” of footwear.

On July 7, Frederick again became the main supply point for the army. “During the suspense,” Ingalls told Rucker in Washington, “it was natural confusion should ensue with the railroads. All will be right after to-morrow morning, you may rest assured.” But the army had been directed to shift west toward Boonsboro, an area best served by the Cumberland Valley Railroad, running between Harrisburg and Hagerstown. General Haupt now described the Cumberland Valley line as “very necessary for army operations.” Thus, uncertainty reigned again, when Rucker learned that a six-mile stretch of the line had been “so badly destroyed” near Chambersburg, that no trains could proceed beyond that point.

Despite the best efforts of Haupt, Ingalls and railroad personnel, confusion continued, as when a general reportedly detained ten B&O trains near Monocacy. Just as the president of the railroad made his complaint regarding the officer (there is some confusion as to the identity of the man), the interfering officer reported many of his men shoeless and asked for 1,000 pairs. Meade now depicted his army as “barefooted,” even as heavy rains created other disruptions.

By July 13, a storm, described by B&O president John Garrett as “unprecedented,” had washed away bridges and cut the track in several places. Garrett termed the breaks “serious,” and Rucker suspected the damage would prevent trains from running for a couple of days. The campaign continued, however, even as Garrett, Ingalls and others sought to repair the latest damage.

The following day, Ingalls told a subordinate at Frederick to begin dismantling the depot and to arrange “to have your…supplies ready to send to Berlin and Sandy Hook,” along the Potomac River. General Rucker reported the railroad repaired two days later, but the army’s need for shoes had not been entirely relieved. On the night of the 16th, another storm rolled through the area, preventing another delivery of shoes from reaching Berlin. At 1:30 the following afternoon, Rucker reported the line reopened, and “five cars loaded with [shoes]” and other supplies en route to Berlin.

But by then, several corps had already crossed the river into Virginia and the remainder were in the process of doing so. As Colonel Sawtelle told Rucker on the 18th, “The 30,000 pairs of [shoes] have arrived but as the army is now in motion…I have returned them to Washington by rail. I think they will be needed at Warrenton.” The shoes continued their journey.


Documents from the National Archives

The Official Records

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

Maj. Theodore Laidley, The Ordnance Manual for the Use of Officers of the United States Army

4 thoughts on “An Army on the Move

  1. These numbers are absolutely staggering. The hundreds of thousands of pounds of grain and hay alone must have given the Quartermaster Corps nightmares, yet it was all managed in the end. There has to be at least a Master’s thesis in here.


    • The numbers are truly staggering, Larry. Modern studies do not, in my mind, begin to convey the challenges, in part, I suspect, because most folks are bored by numbers. And also, because digging out the day-to-day information is time consuming. I briefly examine logistical challenges in an appendix in the book. A couple examples: On July 11, the Alexandria depot began shipping one million pounds of forage per day to Frederick, while continuing to ship to other locations. On July 24, the depot began shipping one million pounds of grain per day to Warrenton and to Warrenton Jct. – two million pounds to just two locations.
      We do need a deep, deep study but I’m not sure how many folks would read it


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