MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863
Laying out the camp--Rosecrans as engineer--A comfortless night--Waking to new duties--Floors or no floors for the huts--Hardee's Tactics--The water-supply--Colonel Tom. Worthington--Joshua Sill--Brigades organized--Bates's brigade--Schleich's--My own--McClellan's purpose--Division organization--Garfield disappointed--Camp routine--Instruction and drill--Camp cookery--Measles--Hospital barn--Sisters of Charity--Ferment over re-enlistment--Musters by Gordon Granger--"Food for powder"--Brigade staff--De Villiers--"A Captain of Calvary"--The "Bloody Tinth"--Almost a row--Summoned to the field.
On the 29th of April I was ordered by McClellan to proceed next morning to Camp Dennison, with the Eleventh and half of the Third Ohio regiments. The day was a fair one, and when about noon our railway train reached the camping ground, it seemed an excellent place for our work. The drawback was that very little of the land was in meadow or pasture, part being in wheat and part in Indian corn, which was just coming up. Captain Rosecrans met us, as McClellan's engineer (later the well-known general), coming from Cincinnati with a train-load of lumber. He had with him his compass and chain, and by the help of a small detail of men soon laid off the ground for the two regimental camps, and the general lines of the whole encampment for a dozen regiments. It was McClellan's purpose to put in two brigades on the west side of the railway, and one on the east. My own brigade camp was assigned to the west side, and nearest to Cincinnati. The men of the two regiments shouldered their pine boards and carried them up to the line of the company streets, which were close to the hills skirting the valley, and which opened into the parade and drill ground along the railway.
A general plan was given to the company officers by which the huts should be made uniform in size and shape. The huts of each company faced each other, three or four on each side, making the street between, in which the company assembled before marching to its place on the regimental color line. At the head of each street were the quarters of the company officers, and those of the "field and staff" still further in rear. The Regulations were followed in this plan as closely as the style of barracks and nature of the ground would permit. Vigorous work housed all the men before night, and it was well that it did so, for the weather changed in the evening, a cold rain came on, and the next morning was a chill and dreary one. My own headquarters were in a little brick schoolhouse of one story, which stood (and I think still stands) on the east side of the track close to the railway. My improvised camp equipage consisted of a common trestle cot and a pair of blankets, and I made my bed in the open space in front of the teacher's desk or pulpit. My only staff officer was an aide-de-camp, Captain Bascom (afterward of the regular army), who had graduated at an Eastern military school, and proved himself a faithful and efficient assistant. He slept on the floor in one of the little aisles between the pupils' seats. One lesson learned that night remained permanently fixed in my memory, and I had no need of a repetition of it. I found that, having no mattress on my cot, the cold was much more annoying below than above me, and that if one can't keep the under side warm, it doesn't matter how many blankets he may have atop. I procured later an army cot with low legs, the whole of which could be taken apart and packed in a very small parcel, and with this I carried a small quilted mattress of cotton batting. It would have been warmer to have made my bed on the ground with a heap of straw or leaves under me; but as my tent had to be used for office work whenever a tent could be pitched, I preferred the neater and more orderly interior which this arrangement permitted. This, however, is anticipating. The comfortless night passed without much refreshing sleep, the strange situation doing perhaps as much as the limbs aching from cold to keep me awake. The storm beat through broken window-panes, and the gale howled about us, but day at last began to break, and with its dawning light came our first reveille in camp. I shall never forget the peculiar plaintive sound of the fifes as they shrilled out on the damp air. The melody was destined to become very familiar, but to this day I can't help wondering how it happened that so melancholy a strain was chosen for the waking tune of the soldiers' camp. The bugle reveille is quite different; it is even cheery and inspiriting; but the regulation music for the drums and fifes is better fitted to waken longings for home and all the sadder emotions than to stir the host from sleep to the active duties of the day. I lay for a while listening to it, finding its notes suggesting many things and becoming a thread to string my reveries upon, as I thought of the past which was separated from me by a great gulf, the present with its serious duties, and the future likely to come to a sudden end in the shock of battle. We roused ourselves; a dash of cold water put an end to dreaming; we ate a breakfast from a box of cooked provisions we had brought with us, and resumed the duty of organizing and instructing the camp. The depression which had weighed upon me since the news of the opening guns at Sumter passed away, never to return. The consciousness of having important work to do, and the absorption in the work itself, proved the best of all mental tonics. The Rubicon was crossed, and from this time out, vigorous bodily action, our wild outdoor life, and the strenuous use of all the faculties, mental and physical, in meeting the daily exigencies, made up an existence which, in spite of all its hardships and all its discouragements, still seems a most exhilarating one as I look back on it across a long vista of years.
The first of May proved, instead, a true April day, of the most fickle and changeable type. Gusts of rain and wind alternated with flashes of bright sunshine. The second battalion of the Third Regiment arrived, and the work of completing the cantonments went on. The huts which were half finished yesterday were now put in good order, and in building the new ones the men profited by the experience of their comrades. We were however suddenly thrown into one of those small tempests which it is so easy to get up in a new camp, and which for the moment always seems to have an importance out of all proportion to its real consequence. Captain Rosecrans, as engineer, was superintending the work of building, and finding that the companies were putting floors and bunks in their huts, he peremptorily ordered that these should be taken out, insisting that the huts were only intended to take the place of tents and give such shelter as tents could give. The company and regimental officers loudly protested, and the men were swelling with indignation and wrath. Soon both parties were before me; Rosecrans hot and impetuous, holding a high tone, and making use of General McClellan's name in demanding, as an officer of his staff, that the floors should be torn out, and the officers of the regiments held responsible for obedience to the order that no more should be made. He fairly bubbled with anger at the presumption of those who questioned his authority. As soon as a little quiet could be got, I asked Rosecrans if he had specific orders from the general that the huts should have no floors. No, he had not, but his staff position as engineer gave him sufficient control of the subject. I said I would examine the matter and submit it to General McClellan, and meanwhile the floors already built might remain, though no new ones should be made till the question was decided. I reported to the general that, in my judgment, the huts should have floors and bunks, because the ground was wet when they were built,--they could not be struck like tents to dry and air the earth, and they were meant to be permanent quarters for the rendezvous of troops for an indefinite time. The decision of McClellan was in accordance with the report. Rosecrans acquiesced, and indeed seemed rather to like me the better on finding that I was not carried away by the assumption of indefinite power by a staff officer.
This little flurry over, the quarters were soon got in as comfortable shape as rough lumber could make them, and the work of drill and instruction was systematized. The men were not yet armed, so there was no temptation to begin too soon with the manual of the musket, and they were kept industriously employed in marching in single line, by file, in changing direction, in forming columns of fours from double line, etc., before their guns were put in their hands. Each regiment was treated as a separate camp, with its own chain of sentinels, and the officers of the guard were constantly busy teaching guard and picket duty theoretically to the reliefs off duty, and inspecting the sentinels on post. Schools were established in each regiment for field and staff and for the company officers, and Hardee's Tactics was in the hands of everybody who could procure a copy. It was one of our great inconveniences that the supply of the authorized Tactics was soon exhausted, and it was difficult to get the means of instruction in the company schools. An abridgment was made and published in a very few days by Thomas Worthington, a graduate of West Point in one of the earliest classes,--of 1827, I think,--a son of one of the first governors of Ohio. This eccentric officer had served in the regular army and in the
Mexican War, and was full of ideas, but was of so irascible and impetuous a temper that he was always in collision with the powers that be, and spoiled his own usefulness. He was employed to furnish water to the camp by contract, and whilst he ruined himself in his efforts to do it well, he was in perpetual conflict with the troops, who capsized his carts, emptied his barrels, and made life a burden to him. The quarrel was based on his taking the water from the river just opposite the camp, though there was a slaughter-house some distance above. Worthington argued that the distance was such that the running water purified itself; but the men wouldn't listen to his science, vigorously enforced as it was by idiomatic expletives, and there was no safety for his water-carts till he yielded. He then made a reservoir on one of the hills, filled it by a steam-pump, and carried the water by pipes to the regimental camps at an expense beyond his means, and which, as it was claimed that the scheme was unauthorized, was never half paid for. His subsequent career as colonel of a regiment was no more happy, and talents that seemed fit for highest responsibilities were wasted in chafing against circumstances which made him and fate seem to be perpetually playing at cross purposes. [Footnote: He was later colonel of the Forty-sixth Ohio, and became involved in a famous controversy with
Sherman over his conduct in the
Shiloh campaign and the question of fieldworks there. He left the service toward the close of 1862.]
A very different character was Joshua W. Sill, who was sent to us as ordnance officer. He too had been a regular army officer, but of the younger class. Rather small and delicate in person, gentle and refined in manner, he had about him little that answered to the popular notion of a soldier. He had resigned from the army some years before, and was a professor in an important educational institution in Brooklyn, N. Y., when at the first act of hostility he offered his services to the governor of Ohio, his native State. After our day's work, we walked together along the railway, discussing the political and military situation, and especially the means of making most quickly an army out of the splendid but untutored material that was collecting about us. Under his modest and scholarly exterior I quickly discerned a fine temper in the metal, that made his after career no enigma to me, and his heroic death at the head of his division in the thickest of the strife at Stone's River no surprise.
The two regiments which began the encampment were quickly followed by others, and the arriving regiments sometimes had their first taste of camp life under circumstances well calculated to dampen their ardor. The Fourth Ohio, under Colonel Lorin Andrews, President of Kenyon College, came just before a thunderstorm one evening, and the bivouac that night was as rough a one as his men were likely to experience for many a day. They made shelter by placing boards from the fence tops to the ground, but the fields were level and soon became a mire, so that they were a queer-looking lot when they crawled out next morning. The sun was then shining bright, however, and they had better cover for their heads by the next night. The Seventh Ohio, which was recruited in Cleveland and on the Western Reserve, sent a party in advance to build some of their huts, and though they too came in a rain-storm, they were less uncomfortable than some of the others. Three brigades were organized from the regiments of the Ohio contingent, exclusive of the two which had been hurried to
Washington. The brigadiers, beside myself, were Generals Joshua H. Bates and Newton Schleich. General Bates, who was the senior, was a graduate of West Point, who had served some years in the regular army, but had resigned and adopted the profession of the law. He lived at Cincinnati, and organized his brigade in that city. They marched to Camp Dennison on the 20th of May, when, by virtue of his seniority, General Bates assumed command of the camp in McClellan's absence. His brigade consisted of the Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth regiments, and encamped on the east side of the railroad in the bend of the river. General Schleich was a Democratic senator, who had been in the state militia, and was also one of the drill-masters of the legislative squad which had drilled upon the
Capitol terrace. His brigade included the Third, Twelfth, and Thirteenth regiments, and, with mine, occupied the fields on the west side of the railroad close to the slopes of the hills. My own brigade was made up of the Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and Eleventh regiments, and our position was the southernmost in the general camp. McClellan had intended to make his own headquarters in the camp; but the convenience of attending to official business in Cincinnati kept him in the city. His purpose was to make the brigade organizations permanent, and to take them as a division to the field when they were a little prepared for the work. Like many other good plans, it failed to be carried out. I was the only one of the brigadiers who remained in the service after the first enlistment for ninety days, and it was my fate to take the field with new regiments, only one of which had been in my brigade in camp. Schleich did not show adaptation to field work, and though taken into West Virginia with McClellan in June, he was relieved of active service in a few weeks. He afterward sought and obtained the colonelcy of the Sixty-first Ohio; but his service with it did not prove a success, and he resigned in September, 1862, under charges. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. ii. pp. 308-310.] General Bates had some reason to expect an assignment to staff duty with McClellan, and therefore declined a colonelcy in the line at the end of the three months' service. He was disappointed in this expectation after waiting some time for it, and returned to civil life with the regrets of his comrades. There were some disappointments, also, in the choice of regimental officers who were elected in the regiments first organized, but were afterward appointed by the governor. The companies were organized and assigned to regiments before they came to camp, but the regimental elections were held after the companies were assembled. Garfield was a candidate for the colonelcy of the
Seventh Regiment, but as he was still engaged in important public duties and was not connected with any company, he was at a disadvantage in the sort of competition which was then rife. He was defeated,--a greater disappointment to me than to him, for I had hoped that our close friendship would be made still closer by comradeship in the field. In a few weeks he was made colonel of the Forty-second Ohio, in the second levy.
Up to the time that General Bates relieved me of the command of the camp, and indeed for two or three days longer, the little schoolhouse was my quarters as well as telegraph and express office. We had cleared out most of the desks and benches, but were still crowded together, day and night, in a way which was anything but comfortable or desirable. Sheds for quartermaster's and subsistence stores were of first necessity, and the building of a hut for myself and staff had to be postponed till these were up. On the arrival of General Bates with two or three staff officers, the necessity for more room could not be longer ignored, and my own hut was built on the slope of the hillside behind my brigade, close under the wooded ridge, and here for the next six weeks was my home. The morning brought its hour of business correspondence relating to the command; then came the drill, when the parade ground was full of marching companies and squads. Officers' drill followed, with sword exercise and pistol practice. The day closed with the inspection of the regiments in turn at dress parade, and the evening was allotted to schools of theoretic tactics, outpost duty, and the like. Besides their copies of the regulation tactics, officers supplied themselves with such manuals as Mahan's books on Field Fortifications and on Outpost Duty. I adopted at the beginning a rule to have some military work in course of reading, and kept it up even in the field, sending home one volume and getting another by mail. In this way I gradually went through all the leading books I could find both in English and in French, including the whole of Jomini's works, his histories as well as his "Napoleon" and his "Grandes Operations Militaires." I know of no intellectual stimulus so valuable to the soldier as the reading of military history narrated by an acknowledged master in the art of war. To see what others have done in important junctures, and to have both their merits and their mistakes analyzed by a competent critic, rouses one's mind to grapple with the problem before it, and begets a generous determination to try to rival in one's own sphere of action the brilliant deeds of soldiers who have made a name in other times. Then the example of the vigorous way in which history will at last deal with those who fail when the pinch comes, tends to keep a man up to his work and to make him avoid the rock on which so many have split, the disposition to take refuge in doing nothing when he finds it difficult to decide what should be done.
The first fortnight in camp was the hardest for the troops. The ploughed fields became deep with mud, which nothing could remove but the good weather which should allow them to pack hard under the continued tramp of thousands of men. The organization of the camp kitchens had to be learned by the hardest also, and the men in each company who had some aptitude for cooking had to be found by a slow process of natural selection, during which many an unpalatable meal had to be eaten. A disagreeable bit of information came to us in the proof that more than half the men had never had the contagious diseases of infancy. The measles broke out, and we had to organize a camp hospital at once. A large barn near by was taken for this purpose, and the surgeons had their hands full of cases which, however trivial they might seem at home, were here aggravated into dangerous illness by the unwonted surroundings and the impossibility of securing the needed protection from exposure. As soon as the increase of sickness in the camp was known in Cincinnati, the good women of that city took promptly in hand the task of providing nurses for the sick, and proper diet and delicacies for hospital uses. The Sisters of Charity, under the lead of Sister Anthony, a noble woman, came out in force, and their black and white robes harmonized picturesquely with the military surroundings, as they flitted about under the rough timber framing of the old barn, carrying comfort and hope from one rude couch to another. As to supplies, hardly a man in a regiment knew how to make out a requisition for rations or for clothing, and easy as it is to rail at "red tape," the necessity of keeping a check upon embezzlement and wastefulness justified the staff bureaus at Washington in insisting upon regular vouchers to support the quartermaster's and commissary's accounts. But here, too, men were gradually found who had special talent for the work.
The infallible newspapers had no lack of material for criticism. There were plenty of real blunders to invite it, but the severest blame was quite as likely to be visited upon men and things which did not deserve it. The governor was violently attacked for things which he had no responsibility for, or others in which he had done all that forethought and intelligence could do. When everybody had to learn a new business, it would have been miraculous if grave errors had not frequently occurred. Looking back at it, the wonder is that the blunders and mishaps had not been tenfold more numerous than they were. By the middle of May the confusion had given place to reasonable system, but we were now obliged to meet the embarrassments of reorganization for three years, under the President's second call for troops. We had more than ten thousand men who had begun to know something of their duties, and it was worth a serious effort to transfer them into the permanent service; but no one who did not go through the ordeal can imagine how trying it was. In every company some discontented spirits wanted to go home, shrinking from the perils to which they had committed themselves in a moment of enthusiasm. For a few to go back, however, would be a disgrace; and every dissatisfied man, to avoid the odium of going alone, became a mischief-maker, seeking to prevent the whole company from re-enlisting. The recruiting of a majority was naturally made the condition of allowing the company organization to be preserved, and a similar rule applied to the regiment. The growing discipline was relaxed or lost in the solicitations, the electioneering, the speech-making, and the other common arts of persuasion. After a majority had re-enlisted and an organization was secure, it would have been better to have discharged the remaining three months' men and to have sent them home at once; but authority for this could not be got, for the civil officers could not see, and did not know what a nuisance these men were. Dissatisfied with themselves for not going with their comrades, they became sulky, disobedient, complaining, trying to make the others as unhappy as themselves by arguing that faith was not kept with them, and doing all the mischief it was possible to do.
In spite of all these discouragements, however, the daily drills and instruction went on with some approach to regularity, and our raw volunteers began to look more like soldiers. Captain Gordon Granger of the regular army came to muster the re-enlisted regiments into the three years' service, and as he stood at the right of the Fourth Ohio, looking down the line of a thousand stalwart men, all in their Garibaldi shirts (for we had not yet received our uniforms), he turned to me and exclaimed: "My God! that such men should be food for powder!" It certainly was a display of manliness and intelligence such as had hardly ever been seen in the ranks of an army. There were in camp at that time three if not four companies, in different regiments, that were wholly made up of undergraduates of colleges who had enlisted together, their officers being their tutors and professors; and where there was not so striking evidence as this of the enlistment of the best of our youth, every company could still show that it was largely recruited from the best-nurtured and most promising young men of the community.
Granger had been in the Southwest when the secession movement began, had seen the formation of military companies everywhere, and the incessant drilling which had been going on all winter, whilst we, in a strange condition of political paralysis, had been doing nothing. His information was eagerly sought by us all, and he lost no opportunity of impressing upon us the fact that the South was nearly six months ahead of us in organization and preparation. He did not conceal his belief that we were likely to find the war a much longer and more serious piece of business than was commonly expected, and that unless we pushed hard our drilling and instruction we should find ourselves at a disadvantage in our earlier encounters. What he said had a good effect in making officers and men take more willingly to the laborious routine of the parade ground and the regimental school; for such opinions as his soon ran through the camp, and they were commented upon by the enlisted men quite as earnestly as among the officers. Still, hope kept the upper hand, and if the question had been put to vote, I believe that three-fourths of us still cherished the belief that a single campaign would end the war.
In the organization of my own brigade I had the assistance of Captain McElroy, a young man who had nearly completed the course at West Point, and who was subsequently made major of the Twentieth Ohio. He was sent to the camp by the governor as a drill officer, and I assigned him to staff duty. For commissary, I detailed Lieutenant Gibbs, who accompanied one of the regiments from Cincinnati, and who had seen a good deal of service as clerk in one of the staff departments of the regular army. I had also for a time the services of one of the picturesque adventurers who turn up in such crises. In the Seventh Ohio was a company recruited in Cleveland, of which the nucleus was an organization of Zouaves, existing for some time before the war. It was made up of young men who had been stimulated by the popularity of
Ellsworth's Zouaves in Chicago to form a similar body. They had had as their drill master a Frenchman named De Villiers. His profession was that of a teacher of fencing; but he had been an officer in Ellsworth's company, and was familiar with fancy manoeuvres for street parade, and with a special skirmish drill and bayonet exercise. Small, swarthy, with angular features, and a brusque, military manner, in a showy uniform and jaunty _kepi_ of scarlet cloth, covered with gold lace, he created quite a sensation among us. His assumption of knowledge and experience was accepted as true. He claimed to have been a surgeon in the French army in Algiers, though we afterward learned to doubt if his rank had been higher than that of a barber-surgeon of a cavalry troop. From the testimonials he brought with him, I thought I was doing a good thing in making him my brigade-major, as the officer was then called whom we afterward knew as inspector-general. He certainly was a most indefatigable fellow, and went at his work with an enthusiasm that made him very useful for a time. It was worth something to see a man who worked with a kind of dash,--with a prompt, staccato movement that infused spirit and energy into all around him. He would drill all day, and then spend half the night trying to catch sentinels and officers of the guard at fault in their duty. My first impression was that I had got hold of a most valuable man, and others were so much of the same mind that in the reorganization of regiments he was successively elected major of the Eighth, and then colonel of the Eleventh. We shall see more of him as we go on; but it turned out that his sharp discipline was not steady or just; his knowledge was only skin-deep, and he had neither the education nor the character for so responsible a situation as he was placed in. He nearly plagued the life out of the officers of his regiment before they got rid of him, and was a most brilliant example of the way we were imposed upon by military charlatans at the beginning. He was, however, good proof also of the speed with which real service weeds out the undesirable material which seemed so splendid in the days of common inexperience and at a distance from danger. We had visits from clerical adventurers, too, for the "pay and emoluments of a captain of cavalry" which the law gave to a chaplain induced some to seek the office who were not the best representatives of their profession. One young man who had spent a morning soliciting the appointment in one of the regiments, came to me in a shamefaced sort of way before leaving camp and said, "General, before I decide this matter, I wish you would tell me just what are the pay and emoluments of a _Captain of Calvary!_" Though most of our men were native Ohioans, General Bates's brigade had in it two regiments made up of quite contrasted nationalities. The Ninth Ohio was recruited from the Germans of Cincinnati, and was commanded by Colonel "Bob" McCook. In camp, the drilling of the regiment fell almost completely into the hands of the adjutant, Lieutenant Willich (afterward a general of division), and McCook, who humorously exaggerated his own lack of military knowledge, used to say that he was only "clerk for a thousand Dutchmen," so completely did the care of equipping and providing for his regiment engross his time and labor. The Tenth was an Irish regiment, and its men used to be proud of calling themselves the "Bloody Tinth." The brilliant Lytle was its commander, and his control over them, even in the beginning of their service and near the city of their home, showed that they had fallen into competent hands. It happened, of course, that the guard-house pretty frequently contained representatives of the Tenth who, on the short furloughs that were allowed them, took a parting glass too much with their friends in the city, and came to camp boisterously drunk. But the men of the regiment got it into their heads that the Thirteenth, which lay just opposite them across the railroad, took a malicious pleasure in filling the guard-house with the Irishmen. Some threats had been made that they would go over and "clean out" the Thirteenth, and one fine evening these came to a head. I suddenly got orders from General Bates to form my brigade, and march them at once between the Tenth and Thirteenth to prevent a collision which seemed imminent. My brigade was selected because it was the one to which neither of the angry regiments belonged, the others being ordered into their quarters. My little Frenchman, De Villiers, covered himself with glory. His horse flew, under the spur, to the regimental headquarters, the long roll was beaten as if the drummers realized the full importance of the first opportunity to sound that warlike signal, and the brigade-major's somewhat theatrical energy was so contagious that many of the companies were assembled and ready to file out of the company streets before the order reached them. We marched by the moonlight into the space between the belligerent regiments; but Lytle had already got his own men under control, and the less mercurial Thirteenth were not disposed to be aggressive, so that we were soon dismissed with a compliment for our promptness. I ordered the colonels to march the regiments back to the camps separately, and with my staff rode through that of the Thirteenth, to see how matters were there. All was quiet, the men being in their quarters; so, turning, I passed along near the railway, in rear of the quartermaster's sheds. In the shadow of the buildings I had nearly ridden over some one on foot, when he addressed me, and I recognized an officer of high rank in that brigade. He was in great agitation, and exclaimed, "Oh, General, what a horrible thing that brothers should be killing each other!" I assured him the danger of that was all over, and rode on, wondering a little at his presence in that place under the circumstances.
The six weeks of our stay in Camp Dennison seem like months in the retrospect, so full were they crowded with new experiences. The change came in an unexpected way. The initiative taken by the Confederates in West Virginia had to be met by prompt action, and McClellan was forced to drop his own plans to meet the emergency. The organization and equipment of the regiments for the three years' service were still incomplete, and the brigades were broken up, to take across the Ohio the regiments best prepared to go. One by one my regiments were ordered away, till finally, when on the 3d of July I received orders to proceed to the Kanawha valley, I had but one of the four regiments to which I had been trying to give something of unity and brigade feeling, and that regiment (the Eleventh Ohio) was still incomplete. General Bates fared even worse; for he saw all his regiments ordered away, whilst he was left to organize new ones from freshly recruited companies that were sent to the camp. This was discouraging to a brigade commander, for even with veteran troops mutual acquaintance between the officer and his command is a necessary condition of confidence and a most important element of strength. My own assignment to the Great Kanawha district was one I had every reason to be content with, except that for several months I felt the disadvantage I suffered from assuming command of troops which I had never seen till we met in the field.
The period of organization, brief as it was, had been valuable to the regiments, and it had been of the utmost importance to secure the re-enlistment of those which had received some instruction. It had been, in the condition of the statute law, from necessity and not from choice that the Administration had called out the state militia for ninety days. The new term of enrolment was for "three years or the war," and the forces were now designated as United States Volunteers. It would have been well if the period of apprenticeship could have been prolonged; but events would not wait. All recognized the necessity, and thankful as we should have been for a longer preparation and more thorough instruction, we were eager to be ordered away.
McClellan had been made a major-general in the regular army, and a department had been placed under his command which included the States of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, to which was added a little later West Virginia north of the Great Kanawha. [Footnote: McClellan's Report and Campaigns (New York, 1864), p. 8. McClellan's Own Story, p. 44. Official Records, vol. ii. p. 633.] Rosecrans was also appointed a brigadier-general in the regulars, and there was much debate at the time whether the Administration had intended this. Many insisted that he was nominated for the volunteer service, and that the regular appointment was a clerical mistake in the bureaus at Washington. There was no solid foundation for this gossip. A considerable increase of the regular army was authorized by law, and corresponding appointments were made, from major-general downward. It was at this time that Sherman was made colonel of one of the new regiments of regulars. It would perhaps have been wiser to treat the regular commissions as prizes to be won only by conspicuous and successful service in the field, as was done later; but this policy was not then adopted, and the newly created offices were filled in all grades. They were, of course, given to men from whom great services could reasonably be expected; but when none had been tested in the great operations of war, every appointment was at the risk that the officer might not show the special talent for command which makes a general. It was something of a lottery, at best; but the system would have been improved if a method of retiring inefficient officers had been adopted at once. The ostensible reason for the different organization of volunteers and regulars was that the former, as a temporary force to meet an exigency, might be wholly disbanded when the war should end, without affecting the permanent army, which was measured in size by the needs of the country in its normal condition.