Discussion Did most generals select staff officers and aide-de-camps based on skill or for some other reason?

major bill

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It would seem like a general would want staff officers and aide-de-camps with a high degree of skill. However, it appears that some generals selected them based on family connections, political favors, and even loyalty to the general. I do wonder if staff officers and aide-de-camps selected for these reasons were real assets.
 

Lubliner

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This must have impacted how well the staff officers and aide-de-camps did their jobs. Would a general's son or nephew have the needed military skills needed? In some cases yes but in some cases probably not.
I believe the intricacies of a staff position may have not been a difficult learning curve to master. With the natural abilities of most educated gentleman serving a general, maybe those skills were easily acquired.
Lubliner.
 

Zack

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This doesn't address your question unfortunately, but the most recent Civil War Digital Digest episode is about regimental staff positions:

In all sincerity, a large part of staff work was probably about the relationship with the officer in question, much like an assistant to their boss today. Obviously competency is a factor, but people are going to select those they work well with even if it means learning on the job.

I think it also varied a lot general to general. Some samples:

UlyssesSGrant_staff_ca1865_byJAWhipple_Harvard.png

General Ulysses S. Grant and Staff: Ely Samuel Parker (left sitting), Adam Badeau, General Grant (at table), Orville Elias Babcock, Horace Porter. c. 1865

Ely Samuel Parker - The two were friends from their time together in Galena before the war; no prior military experience
Adam Badeau - Recommended by John Rawlins to join the staff; was staff officer prior to selection
Orville Elias Babcock - Selected by Grant for his service as an engineer at Vicksburg
Horace Porter - Grant was impressed with Porter and selected him for his staff; experience from earlier in war
John A Rawlins - The two were friends from their time together in Galena before the war; no prior experience

34112r.jpg


McClellan and Staff; Portrait shows from left: Lieut. Williams, A.D.C., Surg. Walters, Brig. Gen. G. W. Morell, Lt. Col. A. V. Colburn, A.D.C., Maj. Gen. G. B. McClellan, Lt. Col. N. B. Switzer, Prince de Joinville, Comte de Paris as identified on the card mount. c. March 1862

TBH this photo is entitled McClellan and his staff but I'm not sure if that's accurate.

Lieutenant Seth Williams ADC - Met McClellan prior to the war, but had experience from Mexico as an aide-de-camp
Surgeon Walters - can't find any info, but he's a surgeon based on the caption
General G. W. Morell - went to military school; I don't think he was on McClellan's staff
Lt. Col. A. V. Colburn, ADC - extensive prior military experience
Lt. Col. N. B. Switzer - Couldn't find reason
Prince de Joinville, Comte de Paris - Political appointment

Since this is March 1862, here's more of his staff from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peninsula_campaign_Union_order_of_battle)
  • Col Thomas M. Key - Chosen for skills
  • Col Edward H. Wright - Appointed
  • Col John J. Astor, Jr. - Couldn't find reason, but he belonged to a powerful family
  • Ltc Albert V. Colburn - see above
  • Ltc Nelson B. Sweitzer - see above
  • Ltc Edward McK. Hudson - West Point grad, appointed
  • Ltc Paul Von Radowitz - Son of Prussian War minister
  • Maj Herbert Von Hammerstein - couldn't find reason
  • Maj William W. Russell (USMC) - paymaster
  • Maj Ferdinand Lecompte (Swiss Army Engineer) - observer
  • Cpt George A. Custer - West Point grad
  • Cpt Joseph Kirkland - couldn't find info
  • Cpt Arthur McClellan - George's brother
  • Cpt Louis Philippe d'Orleans - appointed
  • Cpt Robert d'Orleans - appointed
  • Cpt Martin T. McMahon - appointed
  • Cpt William P. Mason, Jr. - couldn't find info
  • Cpt William F. Biddle - couldn't find info
  • Cpt Edward A. Raymond - couldn't find info
I'm not sure what "appointed" specifically means.

But there's a taste. This was just off of google so if anyone sees any errors or omissions please point them out.
 

Lubliner

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This doesn't address your question unfortunately, but the most recent Civil War Digital Digest episode is about regimental staff positions:

In all sincerity, a large part of staff work was probably about the relationship with the officer in question, much like an assistant to their boss today. Obviously competency is a factor, but people are going to select those they work well with even if it means learning on the job.

I think it also varied a lot general to general. Some samples:

View attachment 399758
General Ulysses S. Grant and Staff: Ely Samuel Parker (left sitting), Adam Badeau, General Grant (at table), Orville Elias Babcock, Horace Porter. c. 1865

Ely Samuel Parker - The two were friends from their time together in Galena before the war; no prior military experience
Adam Badeau - Recommended by John Rawlins to join the staff; was staff officer prior to selection
Orville Elias Babcock - Selected by Grant for his service as an engineer at Vicksburg
Horace Porter - Grant was impressed with Porter and selected him for his staff; experience from earlier in war
John A Rawlins - The two were friends from their time together in Galena before the war; no prior experience

View attachment 399759

McClellan and Staff; Portrait shows from left: Lieut. Williams, A.D.C., Surg. Walters, Brig. Gen. G. W. Morell, Lt. Col. A. V. Colburn, A.D.C., Maj. Gen. G. B. McClellan, Lt. Col. N. B. Switzer, Prince de Joinville, Comte de Paris as identified on the card mount. c. March 1862

TBH this photo is entitled McClellan and his staff but I'm not sure if that's accurate.

Lieutenant Seth Williams ADC - Met McClellan prior to the war, but had experience from Mexico as an aide-de-camp
Surgeon Walters - can't find any info, but he's a surgeon based on the caption
General G. W. Morell - went to military school; I don't think he was on McClellan's staff
Lt. Col. A. V. Colburn, ADC - extensive prior military experience
Lt. Col. N. B. Switzer - Couldn't find reason
Prince de Joinville, Comte de Paris - Political appointment

Since this is March 1862, here's more of his staff from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peninsula_campaign_Union_order_of_battle)
  • Col Thomas M. Key - Chosen for skills
  • Col Edward H. Wright - Appointed
  • Col John J. Astor, Jr. - Couldn't find reason, but he belonged to a powerful family
  • Ltc Albert V. Colburn - see above
  • Ltc Nelson B. Sweitzer - see above
  • Ltc Edward McK. Hudson - West Point grad, appointed
  • Ltc Paul Von Radowitz - Son of Prussian War minister
  • Maj Herbert Von Hammerstein - couldn't find reason
  • Maj William W. Russell (USMC) - paymaster
  • Maj Ferdinand Lecompte (Swiss Army Engineer) - observer
  • Cpt George A. Custer - West Point grad
  • Cpt Joseph Kirkland - couldn't find info
  • Cpt Arthur McClellan - George's brother
  • Cpt Louis Philippe d'Orleans - appointed
  • Cpt Robert d'Orleans - appointed
  • Cpt Martin T. McMahon - appointed
  • Cpt William P. Mason, Jr. - couldn't find info
  • Cpt William F. Biddle - couldn't find info
  • Cpt Edward A. Raymond - couldn't find info
I'm not sure what "appointed" specifically means.

But there's a taste. This was just off of google so if anyone sees any errors or omissions please point them out.
Wasn't McClellan's Chief of Staff his own father-in-law?
Lubliner.
 

Joshism

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Part of it was trust. Whose advice do you trust? Who do you trust to reliably deliver your orders?

The kind of men selected by regular Army officers vs those with some prewar experience vs those with no prewar experience probably varied quite a bit.

Sigel tended to select other 48ers for his staff.

After McClellan left late 1862 almost all his staff, even the engineers and topographers, were sent elsewhere.

When Meade became AOTP commander he didn't have time to replace Butterfield as the army's chief of staff. Butterfield trashed Meade in Washington after Gettysburg. Meade picked Andrew Humphreys for his new Chief of Staff, much to Humphreys regret as he wanted to remain in division command. He would finally get a corps command in late 1864. Humphreys was a prewar Army engineer like Meade. He did some prewar work in Washington with Engineer HQ and I would guess that was probably more staff-like experience than most of the other potential candidates had.

Staff work was not a route to promotion in the ACW so I suspect a lot of officers balked at it. They preferred a combat command where they might win promotion and glory.
 

Arioch

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It's not quite the same thing, but that issue and how early on, some regiments at the beginning of the war (I believe it may have been exclusive to the volunteer regiments) voted for their officers...with usually predictable, tragic results....not exclusively, though...sometimes gems would emerge...but after the peninsula, a lot of voted on officers were purged...for one stated reason or another, but in reality they were removed because of military incompetence.
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
Major Campbell Brown was one of Lt. General Richard Ewell's key staff members. He arrived on Ewell's staff because Brown was the son of Lizinka Campbell, Ewell's cousin, who he eventually married. Regardless of the personal association, Campbell Brown performed his duties effectively.
 

Polloco

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South Texas
For years I worked for the Texas Prison System and never learned of the Goree/Longstreet connection until after retirement. I'd like to think Major Goree was more of the genuine article who kept his job due to ability.
 

David Knight

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Location
Pontefract, Yorkshire.
I suspect that no country at the time of the Civil War had professional staff officers who would form Army, Corps and Division staff. In the abasence of trained officers nepotism and connection would always be to the front. Jackson had as Chief of Staff someone I first came across via his systematic Theology book, RL Dabney.
 

TSJ

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Feb 2, 2021
It would seem like a general would want staff officers and aide-de-camps with a high degree of skill. However, it appears that some generals selected them based on family connections, political favors, and even loyalty to the general. I do wonder if staff officers and aide-de-camps selected for these reasons were real assets.
According to James Robertson’s book “Stonewall Jackson the man, the soldier, the legend” obviously skill but was very fond of those who were Christians
 

Pete Longstreet

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For years I worked for the Texas Prison System and never learned of the Goree/Longstreet connection until after retirement. I'd like to think Major Goree was more of the genuine article who kept his job due to ability.
It was because of his ability. Longstreet chose Goree over one of his relatives for his staff. There was an issue with the paperwork being submitted, which mistakenly promoted Longstreet's relative. Longstreet rectified the mixup and had Goree promoted instead.
 

gjpratt

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I have not systematically studied this issue. But it seems like the assembly of a staff every general officer was a winnowing process of trial and error. And in many cases I can recall, one man ultimately emerged as the general’’s most trusted and usually fiercely loyal Staff aide and/or Chief of Staff. Since the success of the general was dependent on the talents of the chief, I have to believe that skill dictated the selection and family or political connection was a fortuitous. A good chief of staff could find a place for a family or political aide and adroitly manage his performance and contributions. I would also hazard a guess that this is a universal military truism not limited to the Civil War.

As a related-aside, the paperwork accomplished by the staff was an enormous undertaking. I have a stack of military telegrams fro Hooker’s HQ that provide fascinating insight to the process. On the margin of any telegram requiring action, Hooker would scribble a few words and abbreviations and ending “JH.” It was up to the staff officer to interpret and convert into an order drafted by the staffer and issued in the name of the “General Commanding.” I can interpret the scribbling only by reference to the actual order transcribed as published in the O.R.s.
 

Pete Longstreet

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To answer the OP's original question... I would say both. I recently read a comparison of Longstreet's staff vs. Jackson's staff. The author based his comparison of how each staff member was selected and how they performed. He indicated that Longstreet selected men of character, intelligence and other military values... while Jackson selected mainly his friends or men who he was acquainted before the war. He indicated how well Longstreet's staff performed compared to Jackson's, who's struggled.
 

Lubliner

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To answer the OP's original question... I would say both. I recently read a comparison of Longstreet's staff vs. Jackson's staff. The author based his comparison of how each staff member was selected and how they performed. He indicated that Longstreet selected men of character, intelligence and other military values... while Jackson selected mainly his friends or men who he was acquainted before the war. He indicated how well Longstreet's staff performed compared to Jackson's, who's struggled.
Jackson being as reticent as he was would have most likely left out some key points to his own staff, making their job more difficult!
Lubliner.
 
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