Sunday, March 23, 2008

General Orders Number Six

In preparation for my analysis of the Battle of Brandy Station (or Fleetwood Hill), I would like to begin by posting Major Henry B. McClellan's report on the state of the Army of Northern Virginia's cavalry right after the Battle of Chancellorsville. McClellan is Stuart's adjutant. This is taken from his book I Rode With Jeb Stuart.

A consideration of the difficulties under which the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia labored will not be uninteresting to one who would form a a true estimate of the services rendered by it.

At the beginning of the war, the Confederate government, charged as it was with the creation of an army and of war material of all kinds, felt itself unable to provide horses for the numerous cavalry companies which offered their services, especially from the State of Virginia. Many companies, organized as cavalry, were rejected. With those that were enrolled the government entered into a contract, the substance of which was that the cavalrymen should supply and own their horses, which would be mustered into service as a fair valuation; that the government should provide feed, shoes, and a smith to do the shoeing, and should pay the men a per diem of forty cents for the use of their horses. Should a horse be killed in action, the government agreed to pay to the owner the muster valuation. Should the horse be captured in battle, worn out, or disabled by any of the many other causes which were incident to the service, the loss fell upon the owner, who was compelled to furnish another horse, under the same conditions, or be transferred to some other arm of the service.

That the government should have adopted such a policy at the beginning of the war was a misfortune that it should have adhered to it to the very end was a calamity which no amount of zeal or patriotism could successfully contend.

It is not in the spirit of unfriendly criticism that we today proclaim the unwisdom of such a policy. At the time, all acquiesced in it; the cavalryman most cheerfully of all. Virginia was full of horses of noble blood. The descendants of such racers as Sir Archy, Boston, Eclipse, Timoleon, Diomede, Eschequer, Red-Eye, and many others more or less famous on the turf, were scattered over the State. Gentlemen fond of following the hounds had raised these horses for their own use. They knew their fine qualities, their speed, endurance, and sure-footedness, and they greatly preferred to entrust their safety in battle to their favorite steeds rather than to any that the government could furnish. But the government might have purchased these horses at the outset, and by suitable activity it might have provided for replenishing the losses incurred in the service. The cavalrymen were kept mounted, but at an enormous loss of efficiency in the army, and by a system of absenteeism which sometimes deprived the cavalry of more than half its numbers. Why should it have been thought that the people of Virginia would hold back their horses, when they refused nothing else to the government?

The evil results of this system were soon apparent, and rapidly increased as the war progressed. Perhaps the least of these was the personal loss it entailed upon the men. Many a gallant fellow whose horse had been irrecoverably lamed for the want of a shoe, or ridden to death as the command of his officer, or abandoned in the enemy's country that his owner might escape capture, impoverished himself and his family in order that he might keep his place in the ranks of his comrades and neighbors. Nor should it be a cause for wonder if this property question affected the courage of many a rider; for experience soon proved that the horse as well as the man was in danger during rough cavalry melee. If the horse were killed the owner was compensated; but a wounded horse was a bad investment.

By far the greatest evil of the system was the fact that whenever a cavalryman was dismounted, it was necessary to send him to his home to procure a remount. To accomplish this required from thirty to sixty days. The inevitable result was that an enormous proportion of the command was continuously absent. Many of the men were unable to procure fresh horses within the time specified in their "details," and the column of "Absent without leave" always presented an unsightly appearance. To punish such men seemed an injustice, and the relaxation of discipline on this point was abused by some with impunity. We have already seen that Fitz Lee's brigade, which should never presented less than twenty-five hundred sabres in the field, was reduced to less than eight hundred at Kelly's Ford, on the 17th of March, and numbered less than fifteen hundred men at the time of the battle of Chancellorsville, when many of the absentees had returned.

Great as was this evil among the Virginia regiments, it operated with tenfold force upon the cavalry of Hampton's brigade. Think of sending a man from Virginia to South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, or Mississippi to procure a horse! Recruiting camps were established in Virginia and in North and South Carolina, and every means which the cavalry commanders could devise were used to ameliorate this state of affairs. But the inevitable tendency was downwards; and in the last year of the war hundreds of men were gathered together in the "Dismounted Camp," or, as the men called it, "Camp Q," in the vain attempt to utilize good, but misplaced material. Special officers were appointed for these men, and the attempts was made to use them, dismounted, in various ways; but with no success. The men were disheartened. Espirt du corps could by no possibility be infused into such an assemblage. Every man looked and longed for the time when his horse might be returned from the recruiting camp, or when some kind of providence might remount him and return him to his comrades. The penitentiary could not be more loathsome to him than his present condition, and yet even this was better than to give up all hope, and consent to a transfer to the infantry or artillery.

The want of proper arms and equipments placed the Southern cavalry at a disadvantage which can hardly be overestimated. At the beginning of the war the troopers furnished their own saddles and bridles (see General Order Number 7 for complete list). The English round-tree saddle was in common use, and sorebacked horses multiplied with great rapidity. After a time the government furnished an unsightly saddle which answered a very good purpose; for although the comfort of the rider was disregarded, the back of the horse was protected. Our best equipments were borrowed from our cousins of the North. The question of arming the cavalry was far more serious. Some of the more wealthy of the Virginia counties armed their cavalry companies with pistols when they were mustered into service, but whole regiments were destitute of them. Breech-loading carbines were procured only in limited quantities, never more than enough to arm one, or at most two squadrons in a regiment. The deficiency was made up, generally but Enfield rifles. Robertson's two North Carolina regiments, which joined Stuart in May, 1963, were armed with sabres and Enfield rifles. The difference between a Spencer carbine and an Enfield rifle is by no means a mere matter of sentiment.

Horseshoes, nails, and forges were procured with difficulty; and it was not an uncommon occurrence to see a cavalryman leading his limping horse along with road, while from his saddle dangled the hoofs of a dead horse, which he had cut off for the sake of the sound shoes nailed to them.