The Quartermaster's Department, 1861-1864

The Quartermaster Review September-October 1928

The following article was supplied by Lt. Col. A. B. Warfield, Q. M. C., and furnishes invaluable information as to the functioning of the Quartermaster Corps during the Civil War period--nothing, however, being discussed that does not apply as well today as it did then, which makes the account all the more worth while. It is taken from a book entitled, "Annals of the Army of the Cumberland," published in Philadelphia in 1863 and written by "An Officer," no name being given. The book was originally in the possession of Colonel Warfield's father, who served as an officer during the Civil War.

THE DEPARTMENT of widest range in an army is that of the quartermaster. Upon its promptness and efficiency the success of all military operations in a great measure depends. The duties committed to its officers are most important, involving vast pecuniary re­sponsibilities, and requiring for their faithful discharge the utmost energy and ability. The Quartermaster General, in his late report, graphically and tersely sums up these duties as follows:

"Upon the faithful and able performance of the duties of the quartermaster an army depends for its ability to move. The least neglect or want of capacity on his part may foil the best-concerted measures and make the best-planned campaign impracticable. The services of those employed in the great depots in which the clothing, transportation, horses, forage, and other supplies are provided, are no less essential to success and involve no less labor and responsibility than those of the officers who accompany the troops on their marches and are charged with the care and transportation of all the material essential to their health and efficiency. The quartermaster's department is charged with the duty of providing the means of transportation by land and water for all the troops and all the material of war. It furnishes the horses for artillery and cavalry, and for the trains; supplies tents, camp and garrison equippage, forage, lumber, and all materials for camps; builds barracks, hospitals, wagons, ambulances; provides harness, except for artillery horses; builds or charters ships and steamers, docks and wharves; constructs or repairs roads, bridges, and railroads; clothes the army; and is charged generally with the payment of all expenses attending military operations which are not expressly assigned by law or regulation to some other department."

The business of the department naturally divides itself into three sub-departments, as follows: (1) Clothing, camp, and garrison equipage; (2) Transportation by land and water, with all its means and supplies; and (3) Regular and contingent supplies for the army and the department.

The business which falls under the first head is immense; but only general statistics can be given with safety and propriety. Of tents, the regulations allow to each general in the field three; to each staff officer above the rank of captain, two; to each captain or other staff officer, one; to every two subalterns of a company, one; and to every fifteen foot or thirteen mounted men, one. The latter number are also entitled to two camp-kettles, five mess-pans, two hatchets, two axes, two pickaxes, and two spades.

Each soldier is allowed a uniform amount of clothing as stated in the published table in the regulations, or, in lieu thereof, articles of equal value. One sash is allowed to each company for the first sergeant, and one knapsack, haversack, and canteen to each enlisted man. Commanders of companies draw the clothing of their men, and the camp and garrison equipage for the officers and men of their company. Other officers draw their camp and garrison equipage upon their own receipts. When clothing is needed for the men, the company commander procures it from the quartermaster upon requisitions approved by the commanding officers. Clothing is usually drawn twice each year, but sometimes, in special cases, when necessary. The price at which each article of clothing is furnished is ascertained annually and announced in orders from the War Department; and when any soldier has drawn more than the authorized allowance, the excess is charged upon his next muster-roll. Officers furnish their own clothing, but may purchase from the quartermaster, at the regulations prices, such articles as may be necessary for their own personal use, upon certifying to such fact. No officer's servant, however, unless a soldier, is allowed to draw or wear the uniform clothing issued to the troops, except underclothing and shoes, of which, when there is no other means of procuring them, a reasonable supply may be purchased of the quartermaster upon the officer's certificate to that effect.

Under the second division are included all the animals, wagons, ambulances, forage, steam and sail vessels, boats, railroads and cars in use in the army. In one army of the Union there are about three thousand wagons, most of which are six-mule teams. One wagon is allowed to each regiment, ten to the brigade, and in the batteries one to each gun. In addition to these regular trains, there are also several extras. In the order of march, one hundred wagons extend over a mile of road; and if all the wagons in this army were formed in one line, they would extend 30 miles. The number of ambulances is about six hundred. The horses and mules number about fifty thousand head. These are purchased at an average cost of $110 for horses and $105 for mules, and are also impressed from the surrounding country. Within the last three months a great number have been obtained in this way, many of which have been used in mounting cavalry regiments. Three regiments have been furnished thus, and the work is still going on. Only about one-fourth of these are paid for. Large as is the number taken by our forces, it has been greatly exceeded by the South, who from the beginning have supplied their armies by a system of impressment. The statistics of the losses of animals are not ascertainable. At the battle of Stone River it is estimated that over five hundred artillery horses were killed, and over one thousand belonging to the cavalry and wagontrains.

Twelve pounds of hay and 10 pounds of grain constitute the daily ration of each horse or mule. The amount necessary to supply an army is almost beyond belief, and must be seen to be realized. At present (April 20,1863) the quartermaster of one army has on hand some 24,000 bales of hay and some 200,0000 sacks of grain, stored away in houses and piled up out-of-doors. The hay costs at base of supplies about $25 per ton, and corn $1.25 per bushel. For three months the army was entirely supplied with forage from the country in which it was quartered. For everything thus taken receipts are to be given; the party holding a receipt is entitled to a voucher for the amount. In many cases, however, receipts are not given at all, or it is done in an improper manner, or they are lost; and the proportion really paid for will not exceed one-fourth of the whole. The average cost of the feed for each animal is about 30 cents per day.

The railroads in an army's territory are military roads, and are operated entirely by the government superintendent and the quartermaster. All the freight for the army is transported over them and they have more than paid their way. Fifty carloads, or 300 tons, are daily brought in. Over one commercial road, which is taxed to its utmost capacity in transporting government freight, the regular rates are paid. The government road has been in constant operation since the 1st of March and has been interrupted only once, when a train was captured and burned by the rebels. For passage and freight private persons pay regular rates.

All steamboats are bought or chartered by the quartermaster. For this item alone an immense amount of money is expended, a large part of the supplies for the army having been brought in by river.

The third division includes the regular and contingent supplies of the departments--hospitals, barracks, and quarters, fuel, stationery, secret service, and the number--­less incidental expenses of the army.

Of fuel the consumption is enormous. Since the 1st of January 150,000 bushels of coal have been received. It is estimated that 600,000 bushels will be used before the river rises next winter: and this amount was contracted for, to be delivered before the water becomes too low for transportation. In this estimate the quantity needed to supply the two hundred and fifty forges in the field is not included. Since the army arrived, November 1, 1862, 18,000 cords of wood have also been consumed, and to this must be added the large forests that have been cut down and burned, of which no account is kept and for which no payment is made, and at least 200 miles of fencing, mostly cedar rails. Board fences, and all lumber found in the country, are taken to make bunks, cots and coffins. The coal costs about 15 cents per bushel, and the wood $4 per cord.

The quartermaster also furnishes the stationery used in every department of the army, builds the warehouses at every post, repairs, refits, and furnishes all houses and offices for army use, provides all hardware and such build­ing material as nails, glass, rope, etc., with all the machinery used, fits up hospitals for the sick, and furnishes coffins for the dead. He pays the mileage of officers, the expenses of courts-martial, the per-diem of extra-duty men, postage on public service, the expenses incurred in pursuing and apprehending deserters, of the burials of officers and soldiers, of expresses, interpreters, veterinary surgeons, clerks, mechanics, laborers, and cooks.

The secret service alone requires about $10,000 per month. The Quartermaster's Department of the army employs in the neighborhood of 3,000 men as mechanics and laborers. These are engaged in shoeing horses, repairing wagons, making and repairing harness, and in divers other ways. Probably an equal number are similarly employed at other places. The wages of white teamsters are from $25 to $30 per month. Negroes, or "contrabands," are paid $10 per month. The latter are generally familiar with the management of mules, and are preferred by wagonmasters to careless white drivers. By their use in this service alone, nearly 4,000 effective men have been added to the ranks of this army and $40,000 per month saved on their wages.

The policy in regard to the employment of negroes has been changed entirely. The principle now is: "Keep all we get, and get all we can." Many of them are good mechanics and very shrewd. Negro women are worth $5 per month to wash and work for the hospitals. In the performance of this labor their services are invaluable, and the Government can well afford to board and clothe them and their children. Cooks are allowed to each company, and for this purpose negroes are also employed as fast as competent ones can be found.

Still, the number of citizens necessarily employed in the different departments of an army is immense. Quartermasters, commissaries, provost-marshals, provost-judges, and chiefs of police, if not themselves civilians, must have capable clerks who are, at wages varying from $75 to $100 per month. Then there are wagonmasters, agents, teamsters, scouts, and spies, all of whom come under the supervision and pay of the quartermaster. The money with which these payments are made is sent to the chief quartermaster from the Treasury Department, in answer to his requisitions, which are sufficient in amount to meet the anticipated monthly expenses.

Full monthly reports are made to the chief quartermaster, by the corps quartermasters and each quartermaster in the service, of the expenditures of that month and the requirements for the next. The system is an admirable one, enabling the head of the department to know at a glance the amount of expenditures, the amount of stores on hand, and the amount, both of money and stores, necessary to be supplied. Still, with all the care and system possible, the labors of the chief quartermaster are incessant. He must maintain a constant watch over the river and railroad transportation, and anticipate every want of the army. With the commissary and the ordnance officers, he has to administer the affairs of and provide for a city, as it were; but upon him alone falls the duty of transporting the supplies and stores of the other two.

When the army was assembled it was destitute of nearly everything. Now it is abundantly supplied, better perhaps than any other in the field. Nothing that could add to its health, comfort, or efficiency is wanting. Well clothed, fed, and paid, and well provided with camp equipage, it is in the best possible condition for effective service. This change, as gratifying as it is beneficial, is due mainly to the energy and perseverance of its chief quartermaster, seconded in all his efforts by the general commanding.


The Commissary Department is the great heart that sends the life-blood bounding through the veins of an army. Other departments are useful and necessary, but this is absolutely indispensable. To it the soldier looks for his daily food; without it no army could exist, no victories would be won. The wise commander will see that the haversack, not less than the cartridge-box, is well filled; for the hungry soldier, however abundantly supplied with powder and ball, is lacking in the one great essential to success-physical strength and endurance. The immense importance of such a bureau, supplying the nerve and sinew of the army, caring for the lives and health of thousands of men, and involving such vast consequences as the fate of a battle or the result of a campaign, will be seen at a glance. Few of those inexperienced in military life, however, have any definite conception of its practical workings; and it is with the design of giving the public an inside view of this department, as it exists in one army, that it is made the special subject of this chapter.

As remarked, the business of the Commissary Depart­ment is to supply the army with subsistence, or food. Of this subsistence, the regulations provide that each man shall be entitled to a certain fixed amount daily, which amount is designated "a ration." Rations consist of beef, salt and fresh, pork, bacon, flour, pilot or hard bread, corn­meal, coffee, sugar, beans, peas, rice, hominy , molasses, vinegar, soap, candles, and desiccated vegetables. The latter are usually potatoes, cut, scalded, dried, and put up in barrels. When thus prepared they have very much the appearance of coarse cornmeal, and are used as a preventive of scurvy. Each day's ration-subsistence for one man-in bulk averages 3 pounds in weight. A ration of whiskey-1 gill daily-is allowed in cases of excessive fatigue and exposure, but is issued only on special order. The negroes in camp also draw rations, principally made up of bacon, corn-meal, and molasses. All of these rations, forming the entire subsistence of the army, are under the charge of the Chief Commissary, by whom the corps commissaries are supplied; and these in turn supply the division commissaries. Brigade officers draw from the division commissaries, and regimental from brigade officers. The men draw their rations by companies, and they are then divided among the messes. The cost of each ration, including transportation, is about 20 cents.

All provisions are purchased by contract, proposals to furnish them having been invited by public advertisement. The salt meats and fresh beef for the army are brought from the north. About one hundred head of cattle are used per day; and they arrive in lots of some five hundred at a time. Those now at camp came from Chicago, and nearly all that are used are from Illinois. The pilot bread is chiefly made in Cincinnati, New Albany, St. Louis, and Chicago, and its average cost is about 5 cents a pound. The quartermaster provides transportation for all subsistence from the place of delivery by the contractors to the army, and the buildings in which to store it. The special duty of the commissary is to keep watch of the amounts on hand, maintain a full supply, and notify the quartermaster to furnish transportation and storehouses when needed. The supply of cornmeal is constantly kept up. Large quantities of the kiln-dried article are brought from the north, and a mill is constantly in operation at army headquarters manufacturing it. When in camp, the entire army is supplied with fresh bread three days out of five. On the march the hard bread is used exclusively. Each brigade is, as a general thing, supplied with portable bake-ovens, with all the necessary appliances, such as kneading troughs, baking pans, etc. The yeast used is made of hops and, when they can be obtained, potatoes. Troops who have been some time in the service make mud ovens, wherever they are camped, similar to those found in primitive settlements. Their construction is easy and simple, and when completed they answer every purpose of a larger and more pretentious structure. A pile of wood is built up to fix the size and shape of the oven, and braces are put across the top to prevent the roof from falling in. The whole is then plastered over and covered thickly with mud, the wood burned out, and the result is a good oven, which lasts much longer than one would suppose. The heat cracks it sometimes, it is true, but the cracks are speedily stopped with mud, and the whole is as good as new again. The advantages of these ovens can hardly be estimated, for nothing contributes more to the health and strength of an army than good bread. In an emergency, troops can subsist upon it alone.

In camp each man consumes very nearly the whole of his rations. Whatever is saved by not drawing full rations is called the company savings, for which they are allowed a commutation in money. Each full company can save about $15 per month while in camp, and more when on the march, as but little over half the army ration is then consumed. The more active an army, the less the expense of transportation and subsistence; for the reason that men at leisure think more of their wants than they would if busily engaged. This is a matter of everyday experience with all classes of men. Anyone who has ever traveled on a steamboat will acknowledge its truth at once. It is astonishing on how little troops will sometimes subsist when in active service. One of our generals recently remarked that he did not see how his men lived on the march. They had scarcely any rations at all-just enough to call them such-and yet were in fine health and spirits. This explains why armies that march the most have the least sickness. They eat less and exercise more. The food of a soldier is strong and hearty and is intended to produce stout and healthy men, but in camp too much is eaten and too little done to insure good health.

Of late, onions have been largely introduced as an article of food. These and potatoes are eagerly desired by the men, so much so that if they could be constantly supplied with them they would be willing to forego one-fourth of their rations. Twenty thousand bushels of potatoes and 10,000 bushels of onions could be consumed in the army every month, with incalculable advantage to the men composing it. And yet, strange to say, they are so scarce that it is difficult, and at times impossible, to procure them in anything like sufficient quantities. This, too, when the quarter of any county in the Ohio Valley-say, 5,000 acres-will grow enough to feed the entire army for a whole year. Potatoes cost now (in the latter part of April, 1863) $1 a bushel-the contract price at the Ohio River-and onions $2 a bushel. At these prices the farmer can produce no more profitable crop. It is estimated that from 800 to 1,000 bushels of onions can be grown on a single acre, which, even at one-half the present prices, would prove most remunerative to the producer. Forty acres, thus planted, could be easily cultivated by a few contra-bands, and, with half the labor expended on the more usual crops, be made doubly and trebly more profitable. These suggestions are thrown out in the hope that they may meet the eye of someone who will appreciate their importance and induce him to take some steps towards remedying the scarcity which has called them forth. These vegetables are necessary to the health of the soldier. Without them and others, scurvy will inevitably make its appearance and the efficiency of the army be totally destroyed. But, if the war continues, the supply must be largely increased, or it will be absolutely impossible to furnish them, except in quantities too limited to be useful. Already prices have more than doubled and are steadily increasing. The subject is worthy the attention of north­ern farmers. The country is at war, and, while the war continues, all the energies of the people should be directed to its prosecution. Such articles as are needed in the army should be produced to the exclusion of others, especially when profit as well as patriotism prompts to such a course.

But potatoes and onions are not the only vegetables that are, or can be, used with similar beneficial results. Beans have become a staple article of food. Some 250 bushels are used daily in this army; and so great is the demand that the price has risen from 70 and 80 cents to $2.88 a bushel. Sour-krout and pickles are also excellent antiscorbutics and are issued pro rata in lieu of other things, when procurable. But there is always a deficiency of these articles. The people should see that more of them are put up, and that less is allowed to waste and rot. They, too, command a good price, and with a little care an abundant supply for the whole army could be furnished. Another very excellent article, both common and cheap, is canned tomatoes. These can be used with great advantage at all times, and are especially desirable in hospitals. The necessarily coarse and substantial army fare, when long used and unvaried, wears upon the constitution and eventually breaks it down. These vegetables afford a variety and prevent all. injurious results, and thus save the lives of thousands of soldiers. The Government does everything in its power to furnish a sufficient quantity, but upon the people at home the soldiers must mainly depend for them. The demand will always exceed the supply, and, unless more of them are grown, prices will necessarily rule too high to make them as abundant in the army as could be wished.

Other things being equal, the regiment that has the best cooks will be the healthiest and most effective. One good cook is worth ten doctors, as may easily be seen by an examination and comparison of the different messes in camp. One of our Pennsylvania regiments was especially noticed for the unusually healthy and contented appear­ance of the men. Inquiries revealed the fact that it was supplied with an excellent cook, whom the officers declared they would rather have than all the doctors in the army. This is a point which has been too much neglected, but is now coming to be better understood and appreciated. Many of the negroes who flock to the camps are fine cooks, and as such are very generally employed, to the manifest benefit of the men and an equal advantage to the service.

The Commissary Department of the army has been managed with signal ability. The supply of provisions was at first found to be scant, and immense quantities had to be transported by wagon trains a distance of 35 miles. Even after the railroad was completed, this wagon trans­portation was continued, and brought to the army large amounts of subsistence in addition to the many carloads that came daily by rail. By earnest and unremitting ef­forts, thirty days' provisions were accumulated, and the army began its advance, which it could not have done without this supply. A battle and the period of rest neces­sarily following consumes nearly all of the stock, and new stores must be gathered. Taking advantage of the high water in the river, immense cargoes of everything eatable were brought in and thence forwarded by rail to the army.

Many otherwise unoccupied houses are filled from cellar to roof with commissary stores, and even then much of it is unhoused. The visitor is struck upon his arrival with the enormous piles of hard bread he sees near the depot. He has heard of a mountain of stuff, but never before so fully realized it. One mass is larger than a common two­story house, and around it are clustered other and smaller heaps, reminding him of the outhouses surrounding some stately mansion. Were all communication cut off with the north, the army, with the supply now on hand, together with what can be gathered from the surrounding country, could easily subsist itself for six months, and on short rations for a longer time. Such an accumulation inspires confidence in the masses of the soldiery. It tells of a foresight promising well for the future, and leaves no room for the disheartening influences which invariably attend an uncertain and irregularly supplied commissary. They know that all that can be done for them will be done; and, with such assurance, they will put their hands boldly to the musket and look not backward until the end of their march shall have been reached.

The preceding account of the commissary department will show that its head sustains a responsibility hardly second to any in the army. At all times his services are very important, but in time of battle even more so, if such a thing is possible. He must always be ready to issue when called upon, whether it be by day or night. He must also exercise a careful foresight with a view to meet contingencies of every kind. In short, it requires a peculiar talent, which every man does not possess, to become a practical, successful commissary. It is no small matter to cater for 50,000 men and to so arrange that a full supply shall al­ways be on hand. The efficiency and capability of the chief commissary of this army may well be inferred from the length of time he has held the position, and the universal satisfaction given by him, to which no word of comment need be added.

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