Friday, June 18, 2010


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VII. The Quartermaster Bureau During the Civil War

Union Army logistical support was assigned to four departments:

Quartermaster General: clothing, equipment, animals, forage, transportation, and housing;
Commissary General: rations;
Chief of Ordnance: weapons, ammunition, and related equipment; and
Surgeon General: medical supplies, evacuation, treatment, and hospitalization.

Union Army major supply depots were located in Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington, DC; Cincinnati; Louisville; St. Louis; Chicago; New Orleans; and San Francisco. The Confederate Army had major supply depots at Richmond; Raleigh; Atlanta; Little Rock; San Antonio; Staunton, VA; Columbus, GA; Huntsville, AL; Montgomery, AL; Jackson, MS; and Alexandria, LA. Supply depots procured supplies from commercial vendors and then repacked or assembled them to make them ready for shipment to advance and temporary supply bases. Advance and temporary supply bases could be established as needed to support operations in the field. Supply depots and advance and temporary supply bases were commanded by members of the Quartermaster Bureau, usually captains in rank but sometimes men of higher rank or even non-commissioned officers could be assigned the job in an emergency.

Non-perishable goods and commodities were procured from responsible low bidders by supply depots. Perishable goods and commodities were procured where the troops were operating when possible. Armies in the field were accompanied when practicable by herds of cattle that were slaughtered and distributed to the men as needed.

Each regiment in the field had a regimental quartermaster, regimental commissary officer, and a regimental ordnance officer. Each of those men was responsible for submitting requisitions for his supplies and transport of those supplies, for issuing his supplies, and for managing the transport of his supplies. These officers were usually men selected from the regiment's officers, and had no special training or expertise in logistics or transportation. On-the-job training was definitely the order of the day!

Transportation problems faced by quartermasters included:

1. Unconnected railroads that often used tracks of different gauges;
2. Bad roads made worse by heavy rain;
3. Rivers that could be too shallow to navigate at certain times of year, and too high to ford safely at others;
4. Disruption by rebel armies, cavalry, and guerrillas of lines of supply and communications; and
5. Competition for goods and cargo space with commercial vendors.

Labor problems faced by quartermasters included:

1. Quartermaster's duties were mentally complex and physically demanding, yet quartermasters learned their duties on the job, were burdened with onerous paperwork requirements, were frequently transferred, and were rarely promoted;
2. War effort's voracious appetite for manpower made it difficult to procure the services of experienced civilian clerks and white laborers, so free blacks were routinely employed as laborers and teamsters, and slaves were sometimes pressed into service in those same capacities;
3. Civilian and military personnel were often laid low by debilitating diseases like malaria that were endemic to many of the Southern states; and
4. A parsimonious Congress that made no effort to make available on a timely basis funds for payment of civilian suppliers and employees.

Amounts of supplies & equipment handled by quartermasters:

1. A quartermaster at the Pittsburg Landing supply depot in Tennessee in 1862 received almost eighteen million pounds of forage in a twenty-nine-day period.
2. A quartermaster's replacement at the supply depot at Eastport, Mississippi signed receipts for stores on hand that included 2.8 million pounds of corn, 1.9 million pounds of oats, 1.3 million pounds of hay, and 59,000 pounds of straw. 3. During a three-month period at the Nashville supply depot in 1863, a quartermaster dispensed nearly 3.5 million dollars to the holders of 9,000 overdue vouchers. Yet most quartermasters held the relatively lowly rank of captain during their entire time in service.

Paperwork requirements of Union Army quartermasters:

1. Nine monthly reports, each of which had to include nine different lengthy forms;
2. Three quarterly reports, each of which had to include three mandatory and two optional returns (quartermasters at major depots filled out an additional mandatory return);
3. All returns had to be documented with abstracts and vouchers, and vouchers accounting for lost, stolen, or destroyed property had to be sworn before a justice of the peace or designated military officer;
4. Additionally, the 1862 effort to root out corruption in the Quartermaster Bureau resulted in a requirement that quartermasters make three copies of their reports--one to be sent directly to the Treasury Department, one for Quartermaster General Meig's office, and one for the quartermaster to keep for his own protection in case of subsequent inquiries by the Army or the Treasury Department; and
5. Quartermasters had to account for lost, stolen, and destroyed property both during and after the war. In 1869, as the result of a Treasury Department audit of his wartime accounts, one former Union Army quartermaster received a bill for items unaccounted for. The amount that Treasury claimed he owed was $297,926.18, a truly jaw-dropping amount in those days. Luckily, he was able to resolve part of the amount owed with a notarized statement of his recollection of the final disposition of certain materials, but erasing the rest of the amount due required the calling in of a few political favors.

A six-months' supply of forms for one regiment consisted of:

1 Guard Report Book
1 Consolidated Morning Report Book
10 Company Morning Report Books
100 Consolidated Morning Reports
2 lists of Rolls, Returns, etc. to be made out by Company Commander
6 Field and Staff Muster Rolls
6 Muster Rolls of Hospital
18 Muster and Payrolls, Hospital
60 Company Muster Rolls
180 Company Muster and Payrolls
12 Regimental Returns
60 Company Monthly Returns
20 Returns of Men Joined Company
6 Quarterly Regimental Returns of Deceased Soldiers
30 Quarterly Company Returns of Deceased Soldiers
2 Annual Returns of Casualties
40 Descriptive Lists
100 Non-Commissioned Officer's Warrants

[Sources of statistics and bibliography included in last installment of this article.]

Thomas A. Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library

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