Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Monday, April 21, 1862

“Where’s Our Pay?”

Civil War armies spend more time wrestling with bureaucracy and struggling with paperwork than they spend in battle. The innocent victims of all this are the army’s own soldiers, and especially their families. Few soldiers were wealthy enough to leave their families well provided for.

Even top commanders like Grant and Sherman have to regularly fuss with arrangements to send money home. Families of the ordinary farmers, craftsmen, and shop workers who make up the army’s rank and file are never far from destitution even in the best of times. It imposes an almost unbearable hardship when soldiers cannot regularly send home their meager pay ($13 a month for ordinary privates).

Failure to pay soldiers on time is a common occurrence. The cause is an old-fashioned bureaucratic system that breaks down under the strain of war. Today, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant attempts a strategy to relieve the problem for the 58th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Most members of the regiment, except for 150 men and one or two company-grade officers, were captured in the recent battle at Pittsburg Landing (“Shiloh”).

The remnants of the 58th Illinois have been left without the paperwork (“descriptive rolls” and “discharge papers”) needed to authorize soldiers’ pay. All the regimental officers, who could furnish such paperwork, have been taken prisoner. At the request of one of his division commanders, therefore, Grant approves consolidating the remnants of the 58th Illinois with the 18th Illinois as a way of achieving the regimental structure needed to deal with the problem.

Some of the men of the 58th Illinois have not been paid for four or five months, and sick and wounded survivors are making “urgent appeals.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Last week, the Confederate Congress approved (and President Jefferson Davis signed) a bill ordering into military service all white males ages 18 to 35. Today, the Congress approved badly needed exemptions to the overly broad conscription act. Among those who will not be drafted are government officials (of course!), telegraph operators, educators, druggists, hospital workers, and workers in certain essential industries. Having tidied up the conscription act, Congress adjourns.

The Confederate military situation worries President Jefferson Davis, although no major military action occurs today. Nevertheless, Union generals McClellan and McDowell are leading armies in the direction of Richmond, Union naval mortars are pounding the defenses of New Orleans, and Burnside has established himself in eastern North Carolina. Things do not look good for the Confederacy.

President Lincoln informs General McClellan, now on the Virginia Peninsula, that Fredericksburg, Virginia, has been evacuated by the enemy and General McDowell is positioning himself near the riverbank across from the town.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—scarcely 3 years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

Your suggestions, comments, and questions about this blog are always welcome. Address the author: Ohioan@bloodtearsandglory.com

For more information about the author and his newest book, please go to

No comments: