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What is a Pioneer in Sherman's Memoirs?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by NH Civil War Gal, Aug 11, 2017 at 2:44 PM.

  1. NH Civil War Gal

    NH Civil War Gal Private

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    As I'm working my way through, we have just crossed into South Carolina. He is talking about free, able black men enlisting. He also describes his current group of men he has with him as "soldiers (white), pioneers, and servants."

    I'm in deep enough now that he's mentioned "pioneer" a few times but no description. Obviously, the audience he directed his memoirs to understood that term.

    And what would be the difference between a pioneer and a servant? Were servants the cooks, team drivers, farriers (I know there were very skilled black iron workers in different furnaces in the south), butchers, etc?
     
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  3. wausaubob

    wausaubob Sergeant Major

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    Pioneer refers to someone who fixes the roads for the wagon train and artillery, and also digs artillery placements when the army is stationary.
    A servant would normally be someone who unpacks and packs the camps, and runs the mess.
     
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  4. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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    "Pioneers" were organized units of construction troops that help clear routes, build roads, set up fortifications, etc. Distinct from regular infantry or cavalry units. Sometimes referred to as "sappers."

    Don Troiani:

    IMG_3689.JPG
     
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  5. mofederal

    mofederal Sergeant

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    Engineers really, but some armies had Pioneer Brigades created to do strictly engineering type of tasks only. Rosecrans created pioneer corps (brigade) in 1862, using two men from every company in every regiment in the Army. This continued in the west until they were officially enrolled as Veteran Volunteer Engineers. the story and deeds of the Pioneers is long and involved and is a book length topic.
     
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  6. amweiner

    amweiner First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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  7. WJC

    WJC 2nd Lieutenant

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    For 'Pioneers', substitute 'Construction Batallions', like the US Navy Sea Bees (CB) or Army Engineer Construction Batallions. These units have been largely merged with other logistics organization in foreign armies, though the French Foreign Legion still has a parade unit called Les Pionniers de la Légion étrangère who wear a distinctive and colorful uniform in honor of their heritage.
    Servants were, indeed, just what one would expect: cooks, laundry workers, butchers, those who cared for horses, etc.
     
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  8. NH Civil War Gal

    NH Civil War Gal Private

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    Love the picture! Thank you everyone. I couldn't make out (in the memoirs) if Pioneers were a different group of black men doing something very different.
     
  9. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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    french_foreign_legion.jpg

    The only thing more intimidating than a Foreign Legionnaire is a Foreign Legionnaire swinging an ax.
     
  10. WJC

    WJC 2nd Lieutenant

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    Thanks for your response! That's 'em!
    And wearing an apron: sure signs of gruesome work in the offing....
     
  11. Stony

    Stony 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Fire starter... Jk.
     
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    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Rebforever Captain

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    Copperhead-mi 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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  15. Ray Ball

    Ray Ball Sergeant

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    Respectfully, I believe you are slightly mistaken regarding the term Sappers. Sappers were dedicated troops, typically from the Engineers, used to dig a sap, or a form of trench used in the assault. Pioneers were only distinct for a short period in the Army under Rosecrans. More commonly, they were ad hoc units of men detailed to the work you mentioned. The organization of the units was as you describe in the West but in the East it changed over the time as units depleted.
     
  16. Ray Ball

    Ray Ball Sergeant

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    The best page you will find regarding the Engineers in the Civil War is written by this site's own Dan O'Connell (1SGDan). Here is the link: http://essentialcivilwarcurriculum....ate-engineer-operations-in-the-civil-war.html
     
  17. 1SGDan

    1SGDan Captain

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    There is a big distinction between a "pioneer" and a engineer soldier although they might to be assigned to some of the same tasks. A engineer is a soldier specifically recruited and and trained for his duty. A "pioneer" is a soldier taken from other disciplines and temporarily assigned to that duty.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2017 at 7:02 PM
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  18. Republican Blues

    Republican Blues Sergeant Major

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    Nailed it..

    ESSAYONS!!!​
     
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  19. Ray Ball

    Ray Ball Sergeant

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    Essayons! to you as well Republican Blues
     
  20. gary

    gary 1st Lieutenant

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    Pioneers are synonymous with engineers. They not only have construction ability (roads, bridges), but their training with explosives makes them useful for removing obstacles. We find the term pioneer used more among the European armies than our own.

    There are two types of engineers. Men trained as such or familiar with the construction trades. There are also men who are detailed to them from their parent units and work as laborers with the engineers.

    There is another specialised type called bridge builders. In the Civil War, they would be the pontooniers (me thinks French spelling is pontonniers). They hauled and placed pontoons with which they constructed bridges. This is ancient technology and was used by Xerxes to cross the Hellespont.
     
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  21. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

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    The following is from a post in another thread. In June 1864, Sherman was exasperated by the loss of black labor due to the aggressive recruitment efforts of General Lorenzo Thomas. Thomas had been tasked with enlisting former slaves into the Union army, and he was doing too good a job as far as Sherman was concerned.

    In the following communication, Sherman makes it clear: "I must have (negro) labor and a large quantity of it." The fact that the army needed the support of African Americans was not up for debate. Sherman wanted them as laborers, whereas Thomas wanted them as soldiers.

    Sherman complained that area slaveowners were fleeing their homes and taking their slaves with them. That created a problem for him because he seemed to expect that he would have use of those southerners as laborers to support his military operations. Sherman was not yet sure of the viability of negroes as soldiers, but their value as laborers led him to halt Lorenzo Thomas' recruiting efforts. Interestingly, Sherman is explicit that he doesn't mind blacks being enlisted, per se; as long as he could get all the black laborers he needed first, and as long as he could choose the exclusive use of white soldiers for his own forces.

    From Sherman:

    Hdqrs. Military Division Of The Mississippi,
    In the Field, Big Shanty, June 21, 1804.

    General Lorenzo Thomas,
    Chattanooga:

    It has repeatedly come to my knowledge, on the Mississippi, and recently Colonel Beckwith, my chief commissary, reported officially that his negro cattle drivers and gangs for unloading cars were stampeded and broken up by recruiting officers who actually used their authority to carry them off by a species of force. I had to stop it at once.

    I am receiving no negroes now, because their owners have driven them to Southwest Georgia. I believe that negroes better serve the Army as teamsters, pioneers, and servants, and have no objection to the surplus, if any, being enlisted as soldiers, but I must have labor and a large quantity of it. I confess I would prefer 300 negroes armed with spades and axes than 1,000 as soldiers.

    Still I repeat I have no objection to the enlistment of negroes if my working parties are not interfered with, and if they are interfered with I must put a summary stop to it.

    For God's sake let the negro question develop itself slowly and naturally, and not by premature cultivation make it a weak element in our policy. I think I understand the negro as well as anybody, and profess as much conviction in the fact of his certain freedom as you or any one, but he, like all other of the genus homo, must pass through a probationary state before he is qualified for utter and complete freedom. As soldiers it is still an open question, which I am perfectly willing should be fairly and honestly tested. Negroes are as scarce in North Georgia as in Ohio. All are at and below Macon and Columbus, Ga.

    W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding.

    Source: THE MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FOR THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FIFTY-SECOND CONGRESS, 1891-'92.

    I have made the point that the role of African American civilians in supporting the Union army is very under-appreciated. Surely tens of thousands of formerly enslaved southerners, perhaps as many as a hundred thousand, provided support as laborers, scouts, and spies. This enabled soldiers to be dedicated to combat or combat readiness.

    - Alan
     
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