Substandard Shoes at Gettysburg? Peter Wellington Alexander Reports 10,000 Barefooted Confederates on the Retreat

lelliott19

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In this letter, dated Culpeper Court House, August 2, 1863, Peter Wellington Alexander reports on a significant shoe situation. No, not the one you're thinking of. :D Apparently, prior to the Gettysburg campaign, a large number of substandard shoes were issued to the Army of Northern Virginia. Does anyone know which brigades might have been the unlucky recipients of the second-rate shoes?

"...The rest here has been of much service to men and animals. We came out of Maryland with nearly ten thousand barefooted men, and all had suffered more or less in the wear and tear of clothing. These wants have been pretty well supplied by the quartermasters, who have displayed commendable zeal in the matter, and by some of the State authorities. The German shoes furnished the men just before they started to Pennsylvania were of a very inferior description. They were low quartered russets, light and thin, and the leather very poor. Such shoes would never answer the purpose of a vine dresser, a gardner [sic] or an artisan, who had but little walking to do, but are totally unfit for a soldier; whose marches are long and frequently over rough roads and through drenching rains. They last from three days to six weeks, generally not longer than a week or two, especially if the weather is wet or a river is forded; for, the leather being inferior, the soles spread when they get wet, and soon become part of the uppers, as it were, from which they separate when they get dry again...."​
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Source: The Rome Weekly Courier (Rome, Ga.), August 21, 1863, page 1.
*This is an excerpt of a letter, written by correspondent "P.W.A." is dated Culpeper C. H., Va., August 2, 1863; sent back home to the Savannah Republican and reprinted in The Rome Weekly Courier. Peter Wellington Alexander was the now well-known war correspondent who always signed his submissions "P.W.A." Alexander had previously served as editor of the Savannah Republican. In 2002, a guy named William B. Styple discovered Alexander’s letters and manuscripts at the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library and edited/published some of them in Writing & Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander, Confederate War Correspondent. EDIT TO ADD: I haven't read Styple's book so don't know if this particular letter is included in that book.
 
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Norm53

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View attachment 310468
In this letter, dated Culpeper Court House, August 2, 1863, Peter Wellington Alexander reports on a significant shoe situation. No, not the one you're thinking of. :D Apparently, prior to the Gettysburg campaign, a large number of substandard shoes were issued to the Army of Northern Virginia. Does anyone know which brigades might have been the unlucky recipients of the second-rate shoes?

"...The rest here has been of much service to men and animals. We came out of Maryland with nearly ten thousand barefooted men, and all had suffered more or less in the wear and tear of clothing. These wants have been pretty well supplied by the quartermasters, who have displayed commendable zeal in the matter, and by some of the State authorities. The German shoes furnished the men just before they started to Pennsylvania were of a very inferior description. They were low quartered russets, light and thin, and the leather very poor. Such shoes would never answer the purpose of a vine dresser, a gardner [sic] or an artisan, who had but little walking to do, but are totally unfit for a soldier; whose marches are long and frequently over rough roads and through drenching rains. They last from three days to six weeks, generally not longer than a week or two, especially if the weather is wet or a river is forded; for, the leather being inferior, the soles spread when they get wet, and soon become part of the uppers, as it were, from which they separate when they get dry again...."​
View attachment 310467*
Source: The Rome Weekly Courier (Rome, Ga.), August 21, 1863, page 1.
*This is an excerpt of a letter, written by correspondent "P.W.A." is dated Culpeper C. H., Va., August 2, 1863; sent back home to the Savannah Republican and reprinted in The Rome Weekly Courier. Peter Wellington Alexander was the now well-known war correspondent who always signed his submissions "P.W.A." Alexander had previously served as editor of the Savannah Republican. In 2002, a guy named William B. Styple discovered Alexander’s letters and manuscripts at the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library and edited/published some of them in Writing & Fighting the Confederate War: The Letters of Peter Wellington Alexander, Confederate War Correspondent. EDIT TO ADD: I haven't read Styple's book so don't know if this particular letter is included in that book.
It would be interesting and educational to know more about the procurement processes on both sides that resulted in such disasters. How detailed were the specs for food, clothing, and footwear drawn up and issued to suppliers? Were inspections made at their plants and at receiving points?
 
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Seduzal

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Thanks for sharing this interesting article! Without a good pair of shoes as a soldiers point it wouldn’t be long til his feet blistered and hurt after a long or sometime a short march. Soldiers on both sides of the Civil War suffered not only of bad shoes or from protection from the weather conditions but also of disease, amputation, dehydration, etc...
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Yes, and boy are we smitten by the war when bad shoes are interesting. It's a great thread. " ....for want of a shoe, the horse was lost...". You know, I realize that whole " Confederates came to Gettysburg looking for shoes " thing is considered myth but did run into a blurb from the era ( maybe out of The Compiler? ) even stating where on earth those shoes could be found. You can see why those poor guys wanted some.
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McILhenny's store, on the square! I'm not getting into how it's probably myth because whomever busted that must be one of our knock down, drag out experts who researched using things like facts. This is interesting.


If era shoes were even worse than those ' good ' shoes we see with nail heads visible on the soles and kinda big leather blocks glued to your feet, can you imagine how awful would be shoes worthy of being deemed bad?
 

Tom Elmore

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Moving through streams and rivers apparently took a heavy toll on shoes: Mapmaker Jed Hotchkiss at Ewell's headquarters heard that 8,000 pairs were lost just recrossing the Potomac on the retreat. (Supplement to the Official Records, Journal of Jed Hotchkiss)

Marching into Pennsylvania largely alleviated the immediate needs:
-Our Quartermasters are draining large supplies of shoes and boots, I am told, from the stores. (Three Years in Battle and Three in Federal Prisons, Randolph Shotwell, 8th Virginia)
-Nearly all our boys have new clothes, shoes, and hats. (June 28 letter of Leonidas Polk, 43rd North Carolina)
-1,200 pairs of shoes were obtained by Gen. Early from the citizens at York. (Ewell's Official Report)

The enemy was always a generous, if unwilling, supplier. As I recall Gen. Early had the many captured (mainly) young lads of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia give up their shoes on his first visit to Gettysburg circa June 26. It was also a common practice of both sides to strip the battlefield dead of shoes for which they had no further earthly use. Also, Federal General Milroy did his part back in mid-June: -Nearly every man in the company was wearing boots taken in Winchester. (Bedingfield Family Papers, 60th Georgia)
 
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major bill

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There are many reports of Union solders who pursued Lee after Gettysburg being barefoot. Even the better quality shoes issued by the Union wore out quickly on campaigns.

Has anyone studied tanning processes used during the Civil War? Tanning takes some time and attempting to hurry the process results on poor quality leather.

This is one pf the reasons the Confederacy purchased so many shoes from England.
 

lelliott19

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Alexander continues, explaining that pontoons were hauled up and back, and yet the army still forded the rivers. He continues to lament the shoe situation and offers some sensible suggestions. <Do Southern men really have wider feet than their English counterparts?:D>

"We hauled pontoon boats from Fredericksburg to the Shenandoah, and thence to the Potomac, and back again to the Shenandoah; and yet the army forded both rivers as we marched north, and a considerable portion of it did the same thing on our return. You are ready to ask why is this? I can only reply that it is owing to the wants of staff officers educated in their duties, and especially to the want of a corps of practical engineers. It remains to be added in this connection, that the English shoes issued to the men since our return to Virginia are well made, and that the leather is excellent. The only defect there is the narrowness of the bottoms -- a defect which all shoe dealers have noticed in boots and shoes of English manufacture. It is a little remarkable that our agents in Europe, instead of making their selections from the stock on hand, do not have shoes made to order -- that is, a strong, substantial army shoe, suited to the general shape and size of the feet of Southern men. To march well or to fight well, a soldier must be well-shod.-- Wide bottomed, roomy shoes, which can be securely tied on the feet, and which fit snugly around the ankle, are the best. Such as we have, the supply has not been sufficient to meet the demand; there is still a considerable number of men who are barefooted."<emphasis mine>​
Source: The Rome Weekly Courier (Rome, Ga.), August 21, 1863, page 1.
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lelliott19

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There are many reports of Union solders who pursued Lee after Gettysburg being barefoot. Even the better quality shoes issued by the Union wore out quickly on campaigns.
That's for sure. Seems like they would have all benefited from finding some better shoe suppliers. Both sides suffered again for want of shoes during the East Tennessee campaign.
Has anyone studied tanning processes used during the Civil War? Tanning takes some time and attempting to hurry the process results on poor quality leather.
I havent, but it sure would make for an interesting thread - leather was everywhere and impacted every aspect of soldiers' daily lives.
 
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Carronade

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It would be interesting and educational to know more about the procurement processes on both sides that resulted in such disasters. How detailed were the specs for food, clothing, and footwear drawn up and issued to suppliers? Were inspections made at their plants and at receiving points?
Unfortunately the procurement process often involved people wanting to make a fast buck on government contracts, often obtained through political connections. The need for unprecedented quantities of shoes and other goods in short time frames made quality control hard to maintain.

I understand that the concept of separate left and right shoes was just coming into practice at the time of the Civil War; can anyone confirm or comment?
 

DaveBrt

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It would be interesting and educational to know more about the procurement processes on both sides that resulted in such disasters. How detailed were the specs for food, clothing, and footwear drawn up and issued to suppliers? Were inspections made at their plants and at receiving points?
Domestic contracts used very general terms, like "best quality top leather" and also "per sample provided by this office." Don't know how foreign contracts were stated, but the quality received by the army was the result of the acceptance by the contract inspector.
 

Norm53

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Unfortunately the procurement process often involved people wanting to make a fast buck on government contracts, often obtained through political connections. The need for unprecedented quantities of shoes and other goods in short time frames made quality control hard to maintain.
True, but there must be more to this vital subject than politics and fraud. I'm talking about food, clothing, footwear, and shelter for CSA and USA armies - enormous quantities over the 4 years, not just during the era when the South was low on money and credit. And I don't see the subject covered or referenced on the Internet.
 

Norm53

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Domestic contracts used very general terms, like "best quality top leather" and also "per sample provided by this office." Don't know how foreign contracts were stated, but the quality received by the army was the result of the acceptance by the contract inspector.
Are you saying that there were no detailed specs for such large quantities of military supplies? Hard to believe, even if we are talking about 1860-65, not 1940.
 


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