First Bull Run Was the writing already on the wall? A look at the composition of the Army of Northeastern Virginia at First Bull Run/ Manassas. [Part Five]

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Hussar Yeomanry

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Part Five:


Continued from here: https://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/was-the-writing-already-on-the-wall-a-look-at-the-composition-of-the-army-of-northeastern-virginia-at-first-bull-run-manassas-part-four.153627/

Part Three can be found here: https://www.civilwartalk.com/thread...at-first-bull-run-manassas-part-three.153549/
Part Two can be found here: https://www.civilwartalk.com/thread...a-at-first-bull-run-manassas-part-two.153437/
Part One can be found here: https://www.civilwartalk.com/thread...n-virginia-at-first-bull-run-manassas.153357/


Previously we looked at the composition of the army and more recently the officers that led them. In this part I wish to examine the far more subjective question of the quality of this very infantry heavy army.


With only 3.5% of its infantry being Regulars (and even then many of these are brand new to the ranks) it makes more sense to look at the 96.5% who weren't. A mix of militia and volunteers approximately 34% are 30 day men whose enlistments are soon up. These are almost entirely drawn from the various State Militia's and many of the longer enlisted 'Volunteers' are from a similar source.


They at least have the advantage of being available (at least for now in the case of the 90 day men) and bring weapons with them. Theoretically they are also trained but is this really the case? Certainly there is a perception of them as barely trained rabble. Is this fair? Unsure of the answer I asked @major bill who I was aware has spent many years examining the Michigan militia. After all the state sent four regiments to Bull Run and these were all in the 3 Divisions that were committed during the battle.

His answer was extensive and I wish to attribute the vast majority of the next four paragraphs to information he supplied though he also directed me to Philip Karcher's The Complete Civil War. He states that Karcher has taken a good but short look at the issue and that Mr. Karcher's conclusion is unsurprising. It varied by State. Supposedly (and against the normal perception) the best State Militia system was that of New York. Virginia and Kentucky were also considered to have a fine Militia system while certain states that are often assumed to have a good system did not (Georgia).

It is also undoubtedly the case that during the 1850's and into the 60s attempts are made to improve the system but that results were at best patchy. Major Bill was then kind enough to explain specifically the state of things in Michigan. There each Militia company was required to attend a three day inspection camp once a year and there they were graded on how they looked and marched (with their grading determining how much money they received from the State). Musketry skills were not tested and indeed Major Bill states that many companies did not do any training in this. Further some of the elite Militia companies paid people to set up their tents at these encampments. Worse at the outset of the war many companies would be missing canteens, tents and field gear.

So, while they can drill and dance (for the social aspect of these organisations should not be overlooked) there is the question as to whether they can or will fight. What we can say is that one of the four Michigan Regiments at First Bull Run will find themselves in the thick of it. Therefore let us look at these Regiments. First and Fourth will serve under Orlando B Wilcox in the 2nd Brigade of Heintzelman's 3rd Division and the First will be heavily engaged (the 4th Michigan will be ordered in a rather muddled fashion to guard the depot at Fairfax Court House) while the Second and Third will serve under Israel Richardson in the 4th Brigade of Tyler's 1st Division and while not technically engaged will be one of the few brigades that stands firm during the Union rout. [Interesting the Brigade Commanders are the Colonel's of the 1st and 2nd Michigan respectively]

Now, who are these Regiments? Well, they are the Michigan Militia with supposedly the best rated companies going in to the First (who are the only 90 day men), the next best in to the Second and so on. However Major Bill suggests that it is not as simple as this for the ratings aren't all they seem for given the size of Michigan there was not one annual inspection camp. Instead there were three (The Main Encampment, Grand Rapids and Flint) and there was some grumbling at the time that those who went to the Grand Rapids and Flint encampments were under marked. Then there was also an element of prejudice. Being German appears to have been a 'defect' and so some militia companies left the system and set their own up. Beyond that when the word went out to call up the militia because of how the railroads and roads ran some of the better companies (from Lansing and Grand Rapids) went in to the 3rd Michigan.

Are the four Michigan regiments representative of the men this army is drawn from? If they are then the bulk of the army already knows basic drill which is a start. Beyond that? Most have weapons. But what can really be done to train them in the eighty or so days (including transport) before the battle? Now in Europe it was felt as a rule of thumb that it took four weeks to train an infantryman. However and there is a big however this is for an infantryman going into an established company and led by experienced officers and NCO's.

As a result ex Regular officers and soldiers are in high demand and thankfully they are out there. Are there enough to go around? Given the size of the pre war army that is not possible. Officers and NCO's are also voted upon which means the vast bulk of the officers and NCO's are going to have to be new to this. Most likely they are well meaning but it takes a lot longer to train an NCO or officer than it does a man. Probably they will have access to basic drill books – perhaps with Hardee's name hastily crossed out – but do they really understand them. Certainly there is anecdotal post war accounts of officers unable to work out how to get their company to cross a fence line. Therefore they had their men fall out for a five minute break and informed them when they reformed they were to do so... on the other side of the fence. How well this is going to work in combat conditions I leave to the reader.

Now, let's look at the Michigan regiments again, specifically the 90 day men of the 1st Michigan. The 1st was 780 strong by the time they reached Washington (according to contemporary newspaper accounts) and along with the 11th New York and 38th New York will be significantly engaged for between the 3 Regiments they will lose 1 officer and 70 enlisted dead, c.170 wounded and almost 200 missing (precise numbers vary but are in general agreement). In total that will be c.440 casualties for the brigade (and I have only been able to find brigade level casualties). So, if the casualties are approximately evenly spread (and all 3 regiments do seem about evenly engaged) between the 3 Regiments then the 1st Michigan loses nearly 150 men. To all intents and purposes that is 20% of their numbers (Likely more for they had 780 when they reached Washington rather than when they marched down to Bull Run but 780 is the only hard number I have available to work with). Whatever, for a regiment to take 20% casualties suggests to me they stuck around for a while. That they had some fight in them despite their enlistments almost being up and the OR reflects this. According to Brigade Commander Wilcox (wounded and captured) and indeed Divisional Commander Heintzelman (wounded) who was with them at times they suggest that the 1st Michigan first tangled with the 7th Georgia Regiment (Francis Bartow's 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah). This occurred for quite some time before they were able to drive the Georgians off and they only left the field when attacked in the rear by the 28th Virginia (Jackson's 1st Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah). [It should also be noted that despite their horrendous baptism of fire the vast majority of the regiment reenlist]

Meanwhile the 2nd and 3rd Michigan under Israel Richardson are guarding/ demonstrating opposite Blackburn's Ford. At the end of the day Johnston orders the brigades of Bonham and Longstreet to attack and further compound the rout of the Union army. Neither Confederate commander seems in any way enthusiastic over their orders especially as they don't make it clear who is senior. Therefore Richardson is able without too much trouble to cover much of the army's withdrawal.

Therefore despite the inherent weaknesses in the army we should not discount the men. I for one would not have wished to be there amidst the confusion. The chaos. The fog of war. Things that green troops deal with even worse than veterans and there are precious few of those there.


Hopefully people have liked these articles. Next I will look at the victorious opposing army in much the same manner (During the research behind these posts I have already uncovered a few interesting – to me – points that I will be pursuing)


Also, one final point. Army of Northeastern Virginia appears to be something of a misnomer (if a convenient one) for while it was the army guarding the Department of Northeastern Virginia it only seems to take the name post battle.
 

67th Tigers

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The 90 day militia wasn't that pre-organised. The total volunteer strength was:

Todd%2B1.png


Hence large numbers of new companies were enlisted:

Todd%2B2.png


Even this is misleading, as many of the "old" volunteer companies filled out with large numbers of new recruits. The Irish 69th NY for example went from ca. 200 to ca. 800 members by recruiting, and these ca. 600 recruits knew nothing of drill etc., but went to the war anyway.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Taking Michigan again as the example:

1st Michigan mustered in on the 1st May for 90 days (Later almost entirely reenlists). A detailed look at their composition shows they are entirely pre existing state militia.
2nd Michigan mustered in on the 25th May. A detailed look at their composition shows they are entirely pre existing state militia.
3rd Michigan mustered in on the 10th June. A detailed look at their composition shows they are entirely pre existing state militia.
4th Michigan mustered in on the 16th May. A detailed look at their composition suggests a mix of volunteers and pre existing state militia companies.

Or 35/6 state militia companies answering the call. This doesn't entirely coincide with your table - which I otherwise like and certainly can be used as a guideline for comparative strengths. It also ignores the various independent German militia companies in that State (of which only 1 seems to have answered the initial call - at least there is only 1 with German in its name!)

I also fully accept that some (perhaps most?) militia companies were not up to strength. They do however provide somewhere to start from. A foundation. Perhaps not very impressive foundations but foundations nonetheless. They are also all that the north has!
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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As an aside (and slightly off topic) I've just noticed something. The 1st Michigan and the 7th Georgia should have met again. This time they are in the brigades of Tilton and 'Tige' Anderson on the 2nd July 1863. This encounter should have taken place in the hell that became Gettysburg's Rose Woods/ Wheatfield...

However while the two brigades are both involved the 7th Georgia is off on detached duties (substituting for Stuart's Cavalry).

By this time the 1st Michigan certainly isnt 780 strong. Instead they are down to c.150 men and this time they will lose close to 30% of their number.
 

Saphroneth

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The 90 day militia wasn't that pre-organised.
Yes, this is basically the fruits of a breakdown of the US prewar militia system, one which had been brewing for years at minimum. There just wasn't the willingness to drill, or the resources.


From Cerebropetrologist, elsewhere (the post is based on looking at the early 1850s, but it has a lot of data on the late 1850s, and is looking at New York - one of the best states):

the 8th Brigade had never received six days training in a year. In 1859, the inspector's report on pp.60-1 shows the 20th received three days battalion training and the 21st four. In 1860, pp.83-5 shows that the 20th Regiment had four days and the 21st a single day's parade- pp.64-5 includes Samson's protest that the payment to the 20th had required 'waiving all claims for the services of 1859' and the 21st had been prevented from encamping for lack of funds. In 1861, on pp.118-9, Samson was forced to announce that he had no idea whether his battalions had trained during the year as his commanders had failed to provide the proper reports. It is unclear what training the 10th NYSM had received, as the 9th Brigade did not report in any of the three years given.

The level of training in New York was similar in this earlier period. In 1853, the regiments in the first division got between three and nine days; a few others got five or six days, and more got a single day for lack of funds. It was also complicated by the fact that they only had enough camp equipment for ten regiments. In 1857 (p.11) the Adjutant-General was complaining that 'The State has stored in its various arsenals and in the hands of its troops a large number of exceedingly worthless weapons, a considerable proportion of which have apparently come down from the war of 1812... the bulk of the small arms belonging to the State are thus worthless... also a large quantity which have been rendered unserviceable simply by the careless manner in which they have been altered [from flint to percussion].'

He also noted (p.2) that 'Upon assuming the duties of this office, I did not find upon the records of the department all the information that appeared to be to be requisite to a practical knowledge of the actual situation of the military force of the State, in respect to its numbers, equipment or discipline.' As such, he had to send a circular to commanders of regiments asking for 'a description of their regimental territories, the names of the officers of the field and staff, the number of their companies, and, under their proper letters, the names of the offices, the number of men in each, the character of the arm, and the ordnance, arms, and military stores, in their possession.' I'm surprised that there wasn't a system to return this as standard, and evidently this was seen as a hefty demand: 'It was of course, not to be anticipated that so much information... should be promptly transmitted to the department.'

This lack of organisation may be why it was so difficult to mobilise the militia in 1861. Asked for 17 regiments by Lincoln, New York only had 11 militia regiments which could be sent. Moreover, only two of those were ready to march: the rest needed men, equipment, or both.



What this means is that the trained men of the New York militia - which, I'll add, is one of the better states - would in many cases have spent a single day's training per year. When you add in that many of the regiments had to be filled out with hundreds of completely new recruits, it rather makes the point that the 90-day militia regiments were essentially better than entirely new regiments only because they had some pre-existing organization and officers.

If the Regular Army had been of prewar quality or provide training cadre, it might have been able to help solve that a little, but unfortunately the regulars also had to recruit extra strength to make up the numbers - as far as I can tell between doubling and trebling in size.
 

Saphroneth

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By this time the 1st Michigan certainly isnt 780 strong. Instead they are down to c.150 men and this time they will lose close to 30% of their number.
IIRC Wisconsin was the only state which actually maintained their regiments at close to establishment strength, so WI regiments were scarce but actually fought like regiments should - while for the rest of the US Army the regiments had shrunk so much that the brigade was the tactical unit. This combined with the way that the WI regiments had the newbies learning from experienced men in the same regiment made them much prized.
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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One thing I didnt look at was the geographic origin of the troops. So for completeness I'll do it here:

1st to 3rd Divisions
Regiments: 3 from Connecticut, 4 Maine, 3 Massachusetts, 4 Michigan, 1 Minnesota, 1 New Hampshire, 10 New York, 2 Ohio, 2 Rhode Island, 1 Vermont, 1 Wisconsin
1 Rhode Island Battery
4th Division (Reserve)
8 New Jersey Regiments
5th Division (Uncommitted)
8 New York Regiments and a New York Battery
Unattached
9 New York Regiments, 1 Pennsylvania Regiment

(+1 Pennsylvania Regiment and 1 New York Battery that refuse to fight)

Obviously Pennsylvania is under represented - they are with Patterson, but I see an obvious discrepancy. Massachusetts sends as many Regiments as Connecticut and less than Maine!

We also have a dichotomy. Badly trained men with old weapons that (excepting the 4th Pennsylvania and Varian's Light Artillery Battery (8th New York State Militia Infantry - Company I)) fight and in a lot of cases fight hard.
 

JPChurch

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Please elaborate about what you have concerning the 11th Mass. Regt. under command of Col. George Clark Jr. They moved into position on the Henry hill in able to support the artillery batteries around 2:30-3:00 pm. Clark was severely wounded and successfully carried off the field in a wagon along with others during the skedaddle across the Bull and Cub run bridges.
 

Saphroneth

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We also have a dichotomy. Badly trained men with old weapons that (excepting the 4th Pennsylvania and Varian's Light Artillery Battery (8th New York State Militia Infantry - Company I)) fight and in a lot of cases fight hard.
That's not a dichotomy. Training isn't needed for zeal; it's needed for competence and for the ability to manoeuvre under fire.
If you have people with the right mindset you can take untrained women and children and get them to charge professional enemy troops with bamboo spears. (Okinawa, Iwo Jima etc.) What training gives is the ability to do more than just "stand and attack".
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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Please elaborate about what you have concerning the 11th Mass. Regt. under command of Col. George Clark Jr. They moved into position on the Henry hill in able to support the artillery batteries around 2:30-3:00 pm. Clark was severely wounded and successfully carried off the field in a wagon along with others during the skedaddle across the Bull and Cub run bridges.
No idea if you have seen this (Colonel Franklin was the 11th Massachusett's Brigade Commander)


Report of Col. William. B. Franklin, Twelfth U. S. Infantry, Commanding First Brigade, Third Division

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp.405-407

HEADQUARTERS FIRST BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION,

Department Northeastern Virginia, July 28, 1861


CAPTAIN: I have the honor to make the following report on the operations of the brigade under my command in the action at Bull Run on the 21st instant:

The brigade consisted of Light Battery I, First Artillery, Capt. J. B. Ricketts; the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment, Colonel Lawrence; the Eleventh Massachusetts Regiment, Colonel Clark, and the First Minnesota Regiment, Colonel Gorman. The Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment had been attached to the brigade until the morning of the 21st instant, but as its term of service expired on that day it refused to go forward, and when the remainder of the brigade marched forward it marched to the rear. The brigade left camp near Centreville at 2.30 a.m., in the following order: 1st, Minnesota regiment; 2d, Ricketts battery; 3d, Fifth Massachusetts Regiment; and, 4th, Eleventh Massachusetts Regiment. The Minnesota regiment was arranged with the two front companies ready to act as skirmishers; the next three companies as the advanced guard, and the remainder of the regiment formed the head of the column. The men were furnished with three days’ provisions in their haversacks.

At Centreville a delay of more than two hours took place, to enable General Tyler’s and Colonel Hunter’s columns to pass Colonel Heintzelman’s. The march then recommenced, and continued without interruption until the brigade reached Bull Run, about 11 o’clock a.m., after a march of about twelve miles.

Colonel Hunter’s column had by this time become engaged with the enemy, and Ricketts’ battery was immediately ordered to cross the run and hold itself in readiness for action. The Minnesota regiment was ordered to cross to support the battery, and was, by a subsequent change in the order, placed in position on the left of the field. The Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts Regiments were, for a very short time, held in reserve on the left bank of the run. Ricketts’ battery was directed to take position in a field towards the extreme right of our line, and commenced firing at a battery of the enemy placed just beyond the crest of a hill on our left. After firing for about twenty minutes at this point, the battery was moved to a point about one thousand feet from the enemy’s battery, where it was immediately subjected to an incessant fire of musketry, at short range, disabling it almost immediately. Here Captain Ricketts was severely wounded, and First Lieut. D. Ramsay was killed. The battery also lost, in the course of a few minutes, eleven non-commissioned officers and men killed, and fourteen wounded. Many horses were also killed, so that the battery was entirely crippled, and its remains were drawn off the field, all of the guns being left on the field.

While the battery was in its first position, the Fifth and Eleventh Massachusetts Regiments were brought to the field, and took position just behind the crest of a hill about the center of the position. Here they were slightly exposed to the fire of the enemy’s battery on the left, and were consequently thrown into some confusion. This was shown by the difficulty of forming the Eleventh Regiment, and by wild firing made by both regiments. They fired without command, and in one or two instances, while formed in column, closed in mass.

From this point both regiments were ordered to proceed to the vicinity of the point where Ricketts’ battery was disabled, to try to get back the guns. They went there, and, with the help of some other regiments on their right, the enemy was driven from the guns three times. It was impossible, however, to get the men to draw off the guns, and when one or two attempts were made, we were driven off by the appearance of the enemy in large force with heavy and well-aimed volleys of musketry.

The First Minnesota Regiment moved from its position on the left of the field to the support of Ricketts’ battery, and gallantly engaged the enemy at that point. It was so near the enemy’s lines that friends and foes were for a time confounded. The regiment behaved exceedingly well, and finally retired from the field in good order. The other two regiments of the brigade retired in confusion, and no efforts of myself or staff were successful in rallying them. I respectfully refer you to Colonel Gorman’s report(*) for the account of his regiment’s behavior and of the good conduct of his officers and men.

Colonel Hartranft, of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment, whose regiment refused to march forward that morning, accompanied me to the field as aide-de-camp. His services were exceedingly valuable to me, and he distinguished himself in his attempts to rally the regiments which had been thrown into confusion.

I respectfully recommend to your favorable consideration the officers of my staff – Capt. Walworth Jenkins, First Artillery, acting assistant adjutant-general; Lieut. J. P. Baker, First Dragoons, aide-de-camp, and Lieut., C. H. Gibson, Second Dragoons, acting quartermaster and commissary of the brigade. Their efforts were unremitting in carrying orders and in attempting to rally the dispersed troops.

I cannot refrain from paying a tribute to the gallantry of Captain Ricketts and Lieutenant Ramsay. The service has sustained a serious loss in the temporary removal of Captain Ricketts from duty, and the cool and determined bravery of Lieutenant Ramsay was admired by all who witnessed it. It may be a consolation to his friends to know that he unflinchingly died a soldier’s death, regretted by all.

I transmit with this a list of the killed, wounded, and missing of the brigades.(+)

It is my firm belief that a great deal of the misfortune of the day at Bull Run is due to the fact that the troops knew very little of the principles and practice of firing. In every case I believe that the firing of the rebels was better than ours. At any rate I am sure that ours was very bad, the rear files sometimes firing into and killing the front ones. It is to be hoped that practice and instruction will have corrected this evil by the time that we have another battle.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


W. B. FRANKLIN,

Colonel Twelfth Infantry, Comdg. First Brig., Third Div.

Capt. C. McKEEVER,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C.

* See Series I, Vol. 51, Part I, pp. 22-23

+ Embodied in division return, p. 405

---

(The part in bold is mine for it speaks volumes about what this thread was looking at)
 

Saphroneth

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So to elaborate a bit on training.

Basically, it's quite possible to have a good (aggressive) army and even a victorious army without much training, so long as they're facing an enemy they can still beat.

But it's very important to train troops, and the reason is that essentially from the moment you start sending troops into battle they're actually deteriorating in terms of their willingness to fight. Men only have so much willingness to attack in them, and if you work that out of them before they get competent you're essentially wasting the men. This meant that ACW troops tended to improve and then decline, because they'd barely learned the basics through experience before all the aggressive men had been killed off and everyone else was tired out - and in some respects that curve never got up to the level of well-trained regulars.


It's also the case that poorly trained troops are prone to sudden collapse in morale, because they panic - training is partly about making the actions of fighting into learned motions which don't need thought, and if you're relying on thinking through the motions of loading then as soon as you start to panic you don't know what to do and it all snowballs. And this can last for months afterwards, too.
 
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