Friday, April 18, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, April 17, 1862

Shaping Up the Volunteers

Having taken personal charge of the troops gathering at Pittsburg Landing, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, commander of the Union’s Department of the West, has his hands full whipping thousands of free-spirited volunteers into shape. He is trying to impose Old Army rules on New Army men.

Today, a long, complicated directive from Halleck goes out to Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, commanders of the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio respectively. Halleck tells them to establish a system of drills and inspections immediately. All defective arms are to be collected. All troops are to be arranged in line of battle. Cavalry guards will keep men from wandering down to the boat landing. Bridges are to be built and roads repaired

Working parties that fail to do their duty will be arrested and punished. All stragglers will be arrested and confined. Bars on the boats will be shut down and no more liquors sold. Boards will be established to examine the “character and capacity” of volunteer officers. These orders are to be read out loud to all soldiers, and they are to be told, “Every regiment and corps should take pride in preparing itself, with the least possible delay, to again meet the enemy in battle….”

No doubt the volunteer armies, composed mostly of citizen-soldiers just off the farm, can benefit. But these are soldiers willing to fight for their country, under leaders they respect for their courage and concern for their own men. They will only reluctantly follow martinets who live by the rulebook. Halleck is demanding too much at once.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: As if Confederate authorities didn’t already have enough to worry about, Federal soldiers are gathering on Ships Island, not far from New Orleans. Flag Officer David F. Farragut has organized a large fleet of Union warships nearby as well. David Dixon Porter is present with a fleet of mortar boats, and Gen. Benjamin Butler has transports loaded with troops. To defend the Crescent City, the Confederates have two forts manned by a small number of militiamen, an improvised barricade of chain and hulks, and a small river fleet. New Orleans is the gateway to the Mississippi and of great importance commercially and militarily.

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.

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