How did one join/get promoted within the famous Richmond Howitzers

Jul 23, 2017
Southwest Missouri
A tongue-in-cheek account - this author gives some very humorous moments in the midst of a very serious conflict

After the first organizers, no one applied for admission into the Battalion - they were elected into it, without their consent. The way we kept the ranks full was this: Whenever any man in the Battery did any specially trifling, and good-for-nothing thing, or was guilty of any particularly asinine conduct, or did any fool trick, or expressed any idiotic opinion, he was marked out as a desirable recruit for the Fusiliers. We elected him, went and got him and made him march with us in parade of the Battalion, and solemnly invested him with the honor. This was not always a peaceable performance. Sometimes the candidate, not appreciating his privilege, had to be held by force, and was struggling violently, and saying many bad words, during the address of welcome by the C. O.

I grieve to say that an election into this notable corps was treated as an insult, and responded to by hot and unbecoming language. One fellow, when informed of his election, flew into a rage, and said bad words, and offered to lick the whole Battalion. But what would they have? We were obliged to fill up the ranks.

After a while it did come to be better understood, and was treated as a joke, and some of the more sober men entered into the fun, and would go out on parade, and take part in the ceremony. We paraded with a band composed of men beating tin buckets, frying pans, and canteens, with sticks, and whistling military music. It made a noisy and impressive procession. It attracted much attention and furnished much amusement to the camp.

A Special Entertainment

On proper occasions, promotions to higher rank were made for distinguished merit in our line. An instance will illustrate. One night, late, I was passing along when I saw this sight. The sentinel on guard in camp was lying down on a pile of bags of corn at the forage pile - sound asleep. He was lying on his left side. One of the long tails of his coat was hanging loose from his body and dangling down alongside the pile of bags. A half-grown cow had noiselessly sneaked up to the forage pile, and been attracted by that piece of cloth hanging loose - and, as calves will do, took the end of it into her mouth and was chewing it with great satisfaction. I called several of the fellows, and we watched the proceedings. The calf got more and more of the coat tail into her mouth. At length, with her mouth full of the cloth, and perhaps with the purpose of swallowing what she had been chewing she gave a hard jerk. The cloth was old, the seams rotten - that jerk pulled the whole of that tail loose from the body of the coat. The sleeping guard never moved. We rescued the cloth from the calf, and hid it. When the sleeper awoke, to his surprise, one whole tail of his coat was gone, and he was left with only one of the long tails. Our watching group, highly delighted at the show of a sentinel sleeping, while a calf was browsing on him, told him what had happened and that the calf had carried off the other coat tail. He was inconsolable. He was the only private in the company who had a long-tailed coat and it was the pride of his heart. There was no way of repairing the loss, and he had to go around for days, sad and dejected, shorn of his glory - with only one tail to his coat.

All this was represented to the “Battalion of Fusiliers.” Charges were preferred, and the Court Martial set. The witnesses testified to the facts - also said that if we had not driven off the calf it would have gone on, after getting the coat tail, and chewed up the sentinel, too. The findings of the Court Martial were nicely adjusted to the merits of the case. It was, that the witnesses were sentenced to punishment for driving off the calf, and not letting her eat up the sentinel.

For the sentinel, who appeared before the Court with the one tail to his coat, it was decreed that his conduct was the very limit. No one could ever hope to find a more thorough Fusilier than the man who went to sleep on guard and let a calf eat his clothes off. Such conduct deserved most distinguished regard, as an encouragement to the Fusiliers. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General of the Battalion, the highest rank in our corps. After a while the lost coat tail was produced, and sewed on again.

from the book "From the Rapidan to Richmond and the Spottsylvania Campaign"

There are numerous accounts of the Richmond Howitzers in print, but the books "Four Years With Marse Robert" and the above book, are two wonderfully written books that will move you.
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JPK Huson 1863

Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
That's quite wonderful, thank you so much! Ever pick up Jerome K. Jerome? Reminds me of his treatment of daily moments in general- you're just pretty happy the writer filled you in from that perspective.

Made my day. If the writer could come up with this in the midst of that awful war, heck, piddly stuff in 2018 gets put in place.

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