Regimental Drill Competitions

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AUG

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View of the Grand Army of the Republic 1.jpg

View of the Grand Army of the Republic by James Alexander Walker​


This is from Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee by Larry J. Daniel, pp. 24-25:

Competitiveness was one tool used in forming unit morale. While at Wartrace (near Tullahoma), Hardee's corps participated in a series of drill competitions. On March 23,1863, a contest was held for the best-drilled regiment in Breckinridge's division, the prize being a highly coveted palm ornament to be attached on the regimental flag. Three regiments, one from each brigade, were in contention—the Eighteenth Tennessee, Thirteenth and Twentieth Louisiana [consolidated], and First Florida. Initially the Tennesseans and Floridians were matched in competition, concluding with a bayonet charge across an open field. The men of the First were confident but were unaware that the troops of the Eighteenth had planned something spectacular. Explained a soldier: "They got half way across the field yelling as loud as they could when all at once the Drum rapped and they all dropped [as if to avoid a volley] like they were dead[;] even the Col. and his horse both came down. The horse lay as close [to] the ground as he could and the Col. right behind him. They all lay for several minutes before they got up. It beat everything I ever saw in my life and I never did hear such cheering [from spectators] in my life as was done when they dropped. They got the praise and well they deserve it for they beat anything drilling I ever saw."​
The corps competition ultimately came down to a match between the Thirteenth and Twentieth Louisiana and the Seventeenth Tennessee in Cleburne's division. An inspector noted that the Tennesseans were "remarkable for fine stature, manly bearing, and steadiness of movement," but the accuracy with which the Louisianians executed every movement on the double-quick "was unequalled." The Tennesseans immediately demanded a rematch, bemoaning that they were embarrassed by newly received conscripts.​
In the meantime, Brigadier General Daniel Adams, commanding the army's Louisiana brigade, challenged the Kentucky brigade of Breckinridge's division to a contest. In regimental performance, the Sixteenth Louisiana would be matched with the Sixth Kentucky, the Thirteenth and Twentieth Louisiana with the Second Kentucky, the Nineteenth Louisiana with the Fourth Kentucky, and the Thirty-second Alabama with the Ninth Kentucky. In each of the first three contests the Kentuckians were declared the winners, and although active campaigning commenced before the conclusion, the men of the Orphan Brigade never doubted who were the champions.​
The artillery of Polk's corps had its own competition at nearby Shelbyville, the prize a beautiful banner. Eleven batteries entered the contest; Captain James Douglas, commander of a Texas battery, boasted to his fiancee: "My boys think that if they have a fair showing they will take the prize—all hands agree the contest will be between my battery and Scott's." On May 1 Douglas disgustedly wrote: "I rather think Scott will get the prize as he is a pet with Bragg's army." He was wrong, for Stanford's Mississippi Battery took the banner.​
 

AUG

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Civil War Infantry Tactics by Earl J. Hess, pp. 76-77:

When Hardee took charge of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana in the late summer of 1863, he went out to watch the 3rd Kentucky drill. Col. A. P. Thompson persuaded him to lead the regiment in maneuvers. According to Henry Ewell Hord, Hardee initially was reluctant, apparently afraid he might overtax the men's ability, but upon seeing how well they performed the spirit of the drillmaster took hold of him. He put the Kentuckians through their paces for an hour in the hot sun and could not "tangle us up," in Hord's words. Hardee praised the men highly, and the incident led to a drill competition between the 3rd Kentucky and the 15th Mississippi. Ladies in Canton, Mississippi, sent to Memphis for material to make a special flag as a prize (smuggling it through the opposing lines). The 15th Mississippi had many more men than the 3rd Kentucky, so it weeded out some members while the 3rd borrowed men from other Kentucky regiments in its brigade. A large crowd of soldiers and civilians gathered to watch the competition in the manual of arms and various maneuvers. In the end, the panel of judges (which included Hardee) chose the 15th Mississippi. A member of the 35th Alabama blamed local prejudice for the decision. "Kentuckians & Alabamians cant stand much show in Miss.," he wrote home.​
Some commanders in the Army of Tennessee also experimented with drill competitions to instill a greater degree of interest in continuous training. Brig. Gen. Edward C. Walthall offered a prize of $100 in his brigade in June 1863. The 27th Mississippi won the prize because it excelled in skirmish drill.​
The biggest and most successful drill competition of the war took place within the ranks of the Seventeenth Corps in early 1864. The troops largely were doing occupation duty at Vicksburg, Natchez, and along the Big Black River and understandably became somewhat lazy. Brig. Gen. Mortimer D. Leggett decided to inspire them by offering a special flag to the winner of a drill competition. His objective was to be certain that all men were "conversant with the tactics to maneuver correctly a company or battalion." The flag would be inscribed in silver letters, "Third Division, Seventeenth Army Corps, Excelsior." The regiment winning it had to give the color up when another unit won the next contest. Leggett mentioned the general deportment of the regiment in camp and discipline as additional qualities that would be taken into account, noting that he retained the right to take the flag away from any regiment if he deemed its future conduct warranted it.​
Leggett's regiments drilled intently for more than a month in preparation, conducting competitions on the brigade level. On January 22, 1864, the 124th Illinois beat out all other regiments in its brigade, even though more than half of Charles Henry Snedeker's company had been put on extra duty for missing battalion drill a month earlier. The next day the 124th went up against the 17th Illinois and 78th Ohio from other brigades for the division flag. This competition was held two miles south of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River bottomland, with nearly the entire population of Vicksburg as spectators. Each regiment drilled for forty minutes and listened to a speech by corps commander Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson. The 124th Illinois won the "Excelsior" flag and was known thereafter as the "Banner Regiment." There was some disappointment among members of regiments raised early in the war that a newer unit, raised in 1862, had taken the prize. The 124th Illinois gave up the color on April 5, 1864, because it was transferred to a different division.​


Another drill competition for an "Excelsior banner" was held at Louisville, Ky., in July 1865, except that one took place in the 4th Division, 15th Corps. The contestants were the 7th Iowa of the 1st Brigade, 63rd Illinois of the 2nd Brigade, and 50th Illinois of the 3rd Brigade. Like the other competition, the three were the top regiments from their respective brigades after a contest was held in each for the honor.

The regiments were judged for their (1) soldierly bearing and personal appearance of the men, as well as the condition of their clothing, arms and accoutrements; (2) their proficiency in the manual of arms; and (3) their proficiency in battalion drill.

The 50th Illinois came out on top. Below is the Excelsior banner they were presented. Note the 15th Corps badge on the center.

Excelsior Banner.jpg

https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.34604/
 
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AUG

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The 1st Missouri Brigade and 1st Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade were two of the best, if not the best-drilled Confederate brigades in the Western Theater. I don't think they ever went head-to-head in a drill competition, but one almost took place between the 1st Missouri Infantry and the 2nd Kentucky Infantry while at Bowling Green, Ky., in January 1862, as described by Capt. Joseph Boyce, Co. D, 1st Missouri:

"On Christmas Eve, 1862, orders were received by General Bowen to move his brigade to Bowling Green, Ky., and report to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, and early Christmas morning we were marched to State Line Station, on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, where we took the cars for our destination.​
"General Bowen had preceded us several days to arrange for our camping ground, etc. One day, while at General Johnston's headquarters, General Bowen was bantered by General Breckinridge to drill the 1st Missouri against the 2d Kentucky, Colonel Hanson commanding, the prize to be a stand of colors. At once General Bowen accepted the wager. General Johnston cautioned General Breckinridge at the time, for he had seen the 1st Missouri maneuver often while he was at Columbus, Ky.​
"Upon our arrival a few days later, January 1, 1862, the men were informed of the wager when formed into line at the railroad depot. The line of march was taken up for camp, about a mile north of town. The weather was fine, everybody was out to see the Missourians, and as our regiment (1,000 strong) wheeled into the main street, company front, and our band of twenty musicians struck up 'Dixie' we were greeted with cheers and a regular old Kentucky welcome.​
"Just before we left Camp Beauregard, near Mayfield, Graves County, Ky., the command had received new muskets, overcoats, and caps, and presented a very soldierly appearance as it passed in review before Generals Johnston, Breckinridge, Hardee, Bowen, and their staffs, and General Breckinridge remarked good-naturedly and by way of the highest compliment he could pay General Bowen and his old regiment: 'Do you expect me to back the 2d Kentucky against your old "regulars," who deserted from Jefferson Barracks and followed you here? No, no, Bowen, I shan't fall into any such trap.' General Bowen replied: 'There are no old regulars there, General. That regiment is composed entirely of volunteers, and it has the best blood of Missouri in it.' So ended the challenge against the 1st Missouri."​

- Captain Joseph Boyce and the 1st Missouri Infantry, C.S.A., ed. William C. Winter, pp. 53-54.
 
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AUG

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In his memoirs, Capt. Boyce also wrote of a drill competition at Mobile on January 8, 1864:

"While at Mobile Gen. Dabney Maury put up a stand of colors to be awarded to the best drilled regiment of infantry in the department of the Gulf. Many entries were made by states, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, etc., had representative regiments. The eyes of the Missouri brigade turned towards the old First. The others discovered soon that Missouri would be represented.​
"This prize drill took place just west of our camp on a broad, level field well adapted for the necessary movements. The day was all that could be hoped for. The sun shone out bright and clear, the air was warm and pleasant; overcoats were thrown aside, the men appearing in nice-fitting jackets of grey, and all equipped in first-class style.​
"The first regiment to move out was from Arkansas. It did very well, indeed. This was followed by commands from Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, etc. These battalions moved very handsomely and attracted a great deal of attention and applause from the large attendance of citizens, soldiers and ladies. The navy was also well represented by Admiral Buchanan and his fleet officers stationed in Mobile harbor.​
"This was the first challenge to drill which the regiment received since its entry at Bowling Green, Ky. It is well to state here that all entries were limited to five companies. The companies selected were under the command of Capts. Lewis H. Kennerly, Chas. Edmondson, Keith Goah Stewart aand Joseph Boyce, Col. Riley in command of the battalion.​
"The command moved out at quick time. The immense crowd received us with cheers, the ladies in carriages waving their handkerchiefs an speaking kind words of encouragement. It was not known to many outside of our brigade that we were to drill by the bugle. Coming promptly into line by platoons we saluted Gen. Maury and Col. Olin E. Rice of his staff, who had charge of the drill. Col. Rice, by the way, was one of the original captains of the regiment. He ordered Col. Riley to proceed with the drill​
"The bugle sounded 'Deploy.' Away went the men at the 'double-quick,' deploying from the colors; then 'commence firing,' which was continued standing, kneeling and lying down, then rallying by fours, platoons, by companies, then again thrown out as skirmishers, the entire battalion on the run, wheeling, the men four paces apart, until it completed a circle, never out of line, moving like a solid front, then rallying upon the colors the next movement in line of battle at a charge bayonets, all this done at the 'double quick.' It was a revelation to the crowd. Such cheering for old Missouri and her regiment. It was a proud day for Missouri. The colors were won and awarded to the regiment.The command left the drill grounds company front at the 'double quick,' amidst the plaudits of all. The brigade seemed to take more pride in our success than we did. It was late that night, or rather early the next morning, before the men of the brigade left our camp. The canteen was passed freely, and we were overpowered by good wishes and peach brandy. Healths were drunk and songs were sung until the command was too full to reply to any more compliments.​
"A few days after the drill the regiment was ordered with the rest of the brigade into Mobile, to be reviewed by Gen. Patrick Cleburne. This officer had seen the regiment often while we were a part of the army while at Bowling Green, Ky. He complimented Col. Riley after we had passed before him and spoke very feelingly to him about our reduced ranks, then about 300 men. When he last saw the regiment we mustered at least a thousand strong; this was a short time before the battle of Shiloh."​

- Captain Joseph Boyce and the 1st Missouri Infantry, C.S.A., ed. William C. Winter, p. 145-46


Another competition in early 1864:

"While in Tuscaloosa our crack company, Company A, 1st Missouri Infantry, drilled on the University campus, and drilled so well that the cadets challenged them for a competitive skirmish drill. The challenge was accepted, and, after a most exciting contest, witnessed by all the students and nearly every citizen of the town, our old soldiers were declared the winners, by unanimous vote of the judges, in manual of arms, regular company, and skirmish drilling. I was sorry when we had to leave."​

- Charles B. Cleveland, "With the Third Missouri Regiment," Confederate Veteran, vol. 31, p. 18
 

AUG

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One was held in Walker's Texas Division while encamped near Marksville, La., in February 1864:

[Sgt. John C.] Porter, only a few weeks away from his twentieth birthday, wrote that "we spent the best weather in drilling, which we followed for some days, when Gen. Walker offered a flag as a prize to the best drilled Reg't. The Reg'ts. were all to drill, and the two best were to be selected by the inspector Gen., as contestants." In Randal's brigade the contest was eventually narrowed to the 28th [Texas] Cavalry and the 11th [Texas] Infantry. The men of the 11th, veterans of the charge at Bayou Bourbeau, eventually represented the brigade against the champions of Hawes's brigade, the 12th [Texas] Infantry, on February 13. After some snappy movements by both groups before a large audience of officers, civilians, and fellow soldiers, General Walker himself presented the prize flag to the men of the 12th. One soldier in the champion regiment, Lavaca County attorney Volney Ellis, proudly informed his wife that "we now claim to be the banner regiment of the division."​

- Walker's Texas Division, C.S.A. by Richard Lowe, p. 160.

I think it's interesting that all of these instances are from the Western Theater and Trans-Mississippi. You'd think there would be just as many, if not more drill competitions held in the East, but I'm not aware of any at the moment.... I'm sure they must have occurred in the AoP or ANV, though. Gen. William J. Hardee's presence in the Western Theater, author of the primary drill manual used in the Confederacy, obviously inspired some of these contests there.
 
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According to Don Troiani's Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War, p. 78:

Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs's Quartermaster Department was fully taxed trying to meet the demands of the growing Federal armies in the summer of 1861 and was eager to find a way to quickly supply the much-needed uniforms and equipment of these new troops. As an experiment. Meigs ordered 10,000 complete uniforms of the French chasseur, or light infantry, pattern from the firm of Alexis Godillot, the manufacturer for the French Army. It was hoped that these uniforms would solve some of the American supply problems and perhaps even set the patterns for redesigned Federal uniforms.​
In what would today be considered a contracting miracle, the order was placed, and the uniforms and equipment were manufactured and actually shipped by late November 1861. These uniforms were remarkably complete and included every item a soldier needed, from "uniform coat with epaulets" to "blue cotton cravat" to "2 handkerchiefs." Moreover, the shipment included "hair tanned knapsacks" and a "sac le petite, containing five brushes for various purposes, needle case, with combs, thread, spool, cloak pin, and various other conveniences." It had to have been the most complete set of uniforms and equipment ever issued soldiers of the American army to that time.​
The question of which regiments would receive them was settled with a drill competition, with three regiments of Gen. Fitz-John Porter's division of the Army of the Potomac winning the uniforms as prizes for the best performance. Among the winning regiments was the 18th Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the uniforms had been made in European sizes, too small to fit the American soldiers. Although larger sizes were evidently drawn from the remaining surplus, these elaborate uniforms were not at all popular with the soldiers, and as their novelty wore off, they were packed up and left in storage in Washington. Later in the war, bits and pieces of the uniforms were used for other purposes, but the 18th Massachusetts did not wear it to any of its battles with the Army of the Potomac.​
 
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Just read the diary of Philip Smith of Co. H, 8th Missouri Infantry. He recounted an event in which his regiment was placed in a drill competition against another unit.

The 8th won the contest, and was instructed by their CO. to escort the losing regiment back to their camp, form up in such a way as to allow the second place finisher to pass through, all while the 8th serenaded them with the Star Spangled Banner.

As soon as the losing regiment began marching through the assembled Missourians, they broke out in a rendition of 'Poor Old Soldier' much to the chagrin of their CO, who then roughly drilled them for a half hour once they returned to their own camp.

Fun times were had by all?
 
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AUG

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Just read the diary of Philip Smith of Co. H, 8th Missouri Infantry. He recounted an event in which his regiment was placed in a drill competition against another unit.

The 8th won the contest, and was instructed by their CO. to escort the losing regiment back to their camp, form up in such a way as to allow the second place finisher to pass through, all while the 8th serenaded them with the Star Spangled Banner.

As soon as the losing regiment began marching through the assembled Missourians, they broke out in a rendition of 'Poor Old Soldier' much to the chagrin of their CO, who then roughly drilled them for a half hour once they returned to their own camp.

Fun times were had by all?
Ha! That's a good one. I have his diary bookmarked but didn't think about checking it. At least it doesn't sound like the other regiment took it too hard....

November 10 - - - - For some time there has been quite a rivalry between our Regiment and the 11th Indiana as to Which was the best drilled, each claiming the honor and to day we met on the field of strife to settle the momentous question and for four long hours each Regiment was put through all the Movements in the Tactics and resulted in a Victory for us with the exception of the skirmish drill by call of the Bugle, in which they flaxed us badley [sic] After the Regiments had got through drilling, our Regt was drawn up and our Colonel stated that we would escort the 11th to their Camp and on arrival there would open Ranks and let the 11th pass through during which he wanted us to sing the Star Spangled Banner. The program was all nicely carried out with one important exception, for as the 11th Started through our Ranks some Mischievous chap started the song "Poor old Soldier," and quick as wink everybody took it up even by the Boys of the 11th and such Singing of Poor Old Soldier had never been heard before and I doubt will ever again I happened to look up at our Colonel and the way he was stroking that Mustache of his I felt sure that something was going to happen, and it certainly did, for after the 11th had passed through, he marched us back to the Levee and for an solid hour without a Minutes rest or intermission put us through such drilling as we never had before Then Marched us to our camp. before dismissing us he Complimented us highly on our drilling, but mighty poor singing Well it was really too bad, but how could a fellow resist such an opportunity.​
November 12th - - - - To day the 11th paid us a friendly visit, remaining all day. We enjoyed it very much Everybody seemed to have had a good time.​

https://www.scribd.com/doc/189778738/Phillip-Smith-Diary?secret_password=2jwniksjvqixmm3un26k#fullscreen&from_embed
 

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Reviews could also see some competition among the units, giving them the opportunity to show off how well they could march.

This is an excerpt from a letter by Major Henry L. Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (the "Harvard Regiment") to his mother, describing a review of the II Corps, AoP. The 20th Mass. was in 1st Brigade (Webb's), 2nd Division (Gibbon's).

Near Stevensburg, Virginia, April 15, 1864​
My Dear Mamma,​
I have received yours of the eleventh. I believe I have answered every one at home since they have written, except you. It is again raining, though we have had an intermission of a couple of days in which we managed to have the greatest review of the corps. Our division was reviewed by Hancock; Meade, Sedgwick & a host of inferior lights were over to see it.​
We knocked all the other 3 divisions of the corps into pie. This regiment led the column, & with glittering brass polished belts, shining faces, white gloves & trefoils to contrast, well set up, hair & beard close cut & clothes clean, but above all marching in lines absolutely perfect, the rear rank moving snug on the front rank and like Siamese twins, it could not be surpassed. All the generals were in raptures over the regiment & in fact their marching fairly surprised me. But they were on their taps, because I told them before starting that there was one other regiment that could march better than they. They all admired it so much that they had the regiment up to drill at Gibbon's [headquarters] before them all, after the review, when we showed them something none of them had ever seen before, breaking ranks to go through each tactical change, every man on his own hook. . . .​
Well, the regiment behaved so finely that it reflected its glory on me as its commander, & Gibbon sent for me into his tent, where [there] were nothing but general officers, & I was presented to Meade & 7 or 8 others, who all spoke in the most flattering manner of the 20th. At the corps review I believe they are going to trot us out for Grant, who has just got back.​

- Fallen Leaves: The Civil War Letters of Major Henry Livermore Abbott ed. Robert Garth Scott. Time-Life Voices of the Civil War: The Wilderness, p. 16.

Sadly, Maj. Abbott was killed in the battle of the Wilderness not long after writing this letter. He was only 22 but had served with the regiment since the beginning of the war and had risen from 2nd Lieutenant to Major.
 
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Another drill competition for an "Excelsior banner" was held at Louisville, Ky., in July 1865, except that one took place in the 4th Division, 15th Corps. The contestants were the 7th Iowa of the 1st Brigade, 63rd Illinois of the 2nd Brigade, and 50th Illinois of the 3rd Brigade. Like the other competition, the three were the top regiments from their respective brigades after a contest was held in each for the honor.

The regiments were judged for their (1) soldierly bearing and personal appearance of the men, as well as the condition of their clothing, arms and accoutrements; (2) their proficiency in the manual of arms; and (3) their proficiency in battalion drill.

The 50th Illinois came out on top. Below is the Excelsior banner they were presented. Note the 15th Corps badge on the center.

excelsior-banner-jpg.jpg

https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.34604/
Some more info on this competition. Article from Military Images Magazine, vol. 6, no. 6, May-June 1985.

MI, 6, 6, The Excelsior Banner.jpg
 
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