Provost Guard

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
I'm seeking resources on Provost Troops, specifically the number per Corps or Division. I have found quite a bit of information but much of it is contridictory.

I would appreciate any information or sources anyone might suggest.
Below is a summary of info that I have discovered, I believe some of it is incorrect, any suggestions or observations?


Provost Marshall troops or the Provost Guard, as they were also known, were the military police of the Union Army during the American Civil War. They had a separate chain of command from the regular and volunteer troops answering only to the Provost Marshall of each Division or Corps. While in the field they acted as the security detachment for Division and Corps Headquarters. They protected Headquarters units and provided men to guard captured Confederates on their way to the rear. They provided security against Confederate guerrillas and raiders. They were often the only law enforcement available to civilians after the Union Army arrived. It was vital that the Union Army provide men willing to be fair and honest in their dealings with the soldiers and the local civilian populace. These were the men of the Provost Guard.

The Provost Guard was initially chosen from among the Regular United States Army because of their better discipline. The small size of the Regular Army in comparison to the State Volunteer Regiments quickly made this practice prohibitive. After the first battles of the Civil War, this practice was abandoned. The Provost Guard was formed via a variety of methods, some of them quite unorthodox. This included survivors of Regiments that had been ravaged by combat or illness being assigned to the Provost Marshall. Sometimes regiments were asked to provide a few hand picked men to flesh out the Provost Guard as a temporary measure or were occasionally hand picked by the Provost Marshall himself. On at least one occasion, the Provost Marshall asked several Volunteer regiments for their "…most notorious thieves" his reasoning being that it was best to use a thief to catch a thief. He then made it quite clear that any of his Provost Guard that he suspected of thievery would be summarily hanged. He had few problems.

Generally, the Provost Guard were among the best troops in the Army. They were intimately familiar with military customs, courtesies and drill due to their proximity to headquarters, there were also a high proportion of veterans in their ranks. During a battle they helped to check stragglers, deserters and provided security detachments for Confederates prisoners. They were sometimes used as the Generals last reserve and turned the tide of several battles at critical moments by fierce fighting. However, they paid dearly for their reputation. After the battle of Gettysburg, the Provost Marshall found that more than half of his men lay dead on the field and at the battle of Stones River the Provost Marshall was able to muster barely thirty men.

The men of the Provost Guard were, generally well respected by the average Union soldier. Because they were enlisted men they were able to travel among the soldiers as equals. They were often Veterans who had held the line themselves and because of this they weren't considered shirkers.

Provost Guards were often sent home with large groups of Union troops that were going on leave or furlough to make certain they would return in a timely manner. While waiting for that leave to end, they spent much of their time acting as recruiters for the regiments that were on leave. They were at times quite successful in making good losses by recruiting fresh troops into the regiments. On several occasions, Provost troops actually returned to the Army with more men than they had left.

The Provost Guard was not the modern Military Police, but they were the forerunners of the United States Military Police System. The presence of Provost Guard detachments with each Division and Corps helped prevent many crimes against the civilian populace and provided a way to punish those who chose to step outside the bounds of military discipline. Their effectiveness varied from unit to unit and often depended on the leadership of the Provost Marshall.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
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Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
:smile: I'm not suprised... though there were definate times when the Provost troops were held in outright reverence... In particular when elements of the Iron Brigade were pulling Provost. Also I was amused by a story from the West... Provost Marshall requested worst scoundrels of the Corps... informed them that if he even suspected they were out of line he would hang them summariily. Worked from what I understand.
 

mobile_96

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ill.
Gary, that is a good read. Only wish there was more written, especially from diaries of soldiers pulled for duty. Bet they could tell some great stories. There is more 'official' material in the OR's, especially Series 2, which has 8 volumes dealing with POW's and prisons.
I have another book which I've not time to start right now.
General John H. Winder C.S.A. by Arch Fredric Blakey. Winder was provost marshal of Richmone and later commander of Confederate prisions, including Andersonville.
 

mobile_96

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ill.
From what little I've read on the PG, it seems that the Provost Marshall had the authority to requisition as many men as needed, within reason.
Numbers needed would depend on the actual size of the Corps or Division and where they were at the time. Out in the field, away from towns and cities, I think less would be needed. After a battle I see more being requested, to help with prisonors being held and transported to holding areas, which were staffed with reg. troops assigned as guards.
I just purchased, thru Camp Pope BookShop, a little book... The Little Gods-Union Provost Marshals in Missouri 1861-65, by Joanne Eakin and Annette Curtis, published by Two Trails Publishing, of MO.
I hope to be able get to it soon, as it looks very interesting. 'The Missouri Provost Guard were unanswerable to man's or military law so they managed to create a kingdom that ws unparalleled in the history of the United States', or so the book discription on the back cover informs us.
The book also has a list of thousands of Missourians branded as southern sympathizers many of them women. And Yes, I did look but don't see any family listed, although we are supposed to have had at least one in the Missouri State Guard.
Chuck in Il.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
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Location
South of the North 40
Thanks Billy Yank; I've already contacted the school and was given a list of publications, period regulations in particular. Ironically, I already own them and they are less than complete.
 

tamaroa

Cadet
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
While doing research for the 6th heavies and 95th NYV in Rockland, I came across a lot of articles in the local papers during the Civil War that were by or about the Provost Guard. they would publish lists of alleged deserters in the Rockland county Messenger. Then the editor of the messenger would publish an article stating that the alleged men were of good character and they were sure it was just a mistake. However one case was kind of funny. Orville Dean Conklin of the 6th Heavies had a problem to solve. The paper states that during the first week of June,1863, the Provost Marshal was kept quite busy. At least a dozen men were arrested for desertion, their names printed in the paper for all to see. One of the men’s story, that of Orville Dean Conklin, has passed down through family lore. It seems that three hundred dollars Orville sent home never arrived. He took the letter from his family to his Captain and told him he had to go home. Apparently, the Captain had little sympathy for Orville’s plight. Orville left anyway and the army arrived at his home in Pine Meadows to arrest him. Orville refused to budge. The military police took him, still sitting in a captain’s chair, down to Suffern and thence back to his unit. Orville received an honorable discharge at war’s end so he must have redeemed himself somewhere in between.

This story is dear to me because it turns out that my oldest son married a Conklin girl and I have seen and touched with my own hands Orville's iron cooking pot. beerchug.gif

Bill
 

mikie88

Cadet
Joined
Oct 11, 2005
95th NYV Rockland,rville Dean Conklin

This is the story I was talking about, Bill is my connection to the Conklin side. If you know of another way i can contact Tamaora taht would be great. thatks, Mikie [email protected]
 

larry_cockerham

Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011
Honored Fallen Comrade
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Feb 20, 2005
Location
Nashville
Considerable information on the provost guards under Gen. Robert Milroy here in the Tullahoma - Murfreesboro area of Tennessee can be had in numerous books by Dr. Michael Bradley, just retired from Motlow State U. Milroy had one unfortunate career limiting habit.... he didn't like West Pointers and told many of them so. The provost marshall was the local judiciary during the war and was less than popular with the citizenry, many of whom were aiding the Confederate cause.
In Milroy's case, he was guarding the railroad Nashville-Chattanooga.
 

jkeith21

Cadet
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Jun 19, 2006
Location
Alpharetta (Atlanta), GA
larry_cockerham said:
Considerable information on the provost guards under Gen. Robert Milroy here in the Tullahoma - Murfreesboro area of Tennessee can be had in numerous books by Dr. Michael Bradley, just retired from Motlow State U. Milroy had one unfortunate career limiting habit.... he didn't like West Pointers and told many of them so. The provost marshall was the local judiciary during the war and was less than popular with the citizenry, many of whom were aiding the Confederate cause.
In Milroy's case, he was guarding the railroad Nashville-Chattanooga.

Larry - This was near the time (but afterward) where Bragg had appointed RC Tyler and Provost of the AOT. Any references to Tyler in the Milroy material? - Joe
 

larry_cockerham

Southern Gentleman, Lest We Forget, 2011
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Nashville
Col. Tyler

There are a couple of mentions of Colonel R.C. Tyler in command of the 15/37th Consolidated Tennessee fighting rear guard action for Bragg in June 1863 in TULLAHOMA, The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee by Dr. Michael R. Bradley. Recently published, I suspect he has a few copies available. Dr. Bradley is now serving as Tennessee Division Commander, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
 
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Chesapeake, Virginia!
I am just wondering. Did or did not only the provost guard had the power to arrest people? The reason why I asking is because after reading many cases/accounts mostly about attempted sexual assault or actual sexual assault among other things, in several of these accounts it seems that even non provost guards members had the power to arrest people and actually arrested people in these accounts. Why was that? Thanks!
 
Joined
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Location
Chesapeake, Virginia!
They were often the only law enforcement available to civilians after the Union Army arrived. It was vital that the Union Army provide men willing to be fair and honest in their dealings with the soldiers and the local civilian populace. These were the men of the Provost Guard.
How come the provost guard was often the only law enforcement available to civilians after the Union Army arrived? What happened to the regular police force that the civilians normally dealt with? Just wondering. Thanks!
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
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Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
I am just wondering. Did or did not only the provost guard had the power to arrest people? The reason why I asking is because after reading many cases/accounts mostly about attempted sexual assault or actual sexual assault among other things, in several of these accounts it seems that even non provost guards members had the power to arrest people and actually arrested people in these accounts. Why was that? Thanks!
Many units would be assigned to the provost on an ad hoc basis.

Rape was a highly frowned upon crime & several rapists found themselves at the wrong end of a tall tree & a short rope. In some cases there was at best only an improvised trial.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
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Aug 25, 2012
Are we talking about arresting or apprehending? These are not exactly the same thing. For example during the Vietnam era enlisted Military Police did not have the power to make an arrest, but they could apprehend. During that time only officers could arrest someone. I am of the opinion that during the Civil War commissioned officers could arrest enlisted soldiers and officers lower in rank then themselves. You can find examples of commanders arresting junior officers.
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
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Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Shane:
How about some worthless information? I recall reading somewhere that the Provost Guards were sometimes called P.G's. An "I" was added and thus the nickname PIGS.

Traveller
Whoa! What a new thought to ponder.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Before the Civil War starting in 1821, the power of selecting soldiers to act as General Police was given to commanders in Article 58 "General Police" Of the 1821 U.S. Army Regulations. The first U.S. 'Military Police' were created in 1778 and called the Marechaussee Corps.
 

Caswell Ranger

Corporal
Joined
Jul 27, 2011
Location
Virginia
This is a great thread, hope to find information on V Corps Provost Marshal records of the Weldon Raid, 12/64 , Confederate prisoners taken by V Corps.
 
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