The logistical problems of transferring the Army of Northeastern Virginia from the vicinity of Washington to Manassas were enormous. Staff officers, who had never before seen any unit larger than a regiment, had to move over 30,000 troops, hundreds of wagons, and thousands of horses thirty miles through hostile territory. Columns were assigned march-routes, timetables were established, and troops were assigned to protect the army’s line of communications back to Washington. To provide fresh meat, over two hundred head of beef cattle accompanied the marching columns.

Although Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell ordered wagons of rations, ammunition, medical supplies, and engineer tools to follow the troops, a shortage of vehicles hampered the operation. In addition, many wagons were not roadworthy, and teamsters were untrained and inexperienced. Yet, with all these difficulties, the Commissary Department was able to issue over 100,000 individual rations to division and brigade commands near Centreville during the campaign. At the lower unit level, however, inexperienced field commanders sometimes failed to reissue rations and ammunition to the troops, or, when these items were issued, the soldiers often tossed them away to avoid having to carry them during the heat of the day.

After the Union defeat, the return of McDowell’s army to Washington could only be described as a disaster. Many soldiers panicked, threw away their weapons, and sought whatever egress was available, whether roads, woods, or fields. Teamsters cut loose teams from wagons and made their escape, leaving the vehicles to block the roads. The presence of large numbers of civilian wagons on the road between Centreville and Alexandria only added to the bottleneck. By the end of the day, about four thousand small arms, twenty-five pieces of artillery, and large amounts of other equipment had been abandoned, much to the benefit of the victorious Confederates.

The Confederates, although in a defensive position at Manassas, had their share of logistic problems. Lack of sufficient staff officers and mismanagement often resulted in Brig. Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard’s troops sometimes going for twenty-four hours without rations. Initially, Confederate commissary officers obtained food from the surrounding countryside, but the removal of those officers by the authorities in Richmond just before the battle forced the soldiers to supply their own food by foraging from local citizens.


The most important logistical event regarding the Confederates at First Bull Run took place when the Army of the Shenandoah traveled thirty-four miles to the battlefield by rail. During 19–22 July General Joseph E. Johnston was able to transfer his command from Winchester to Manassas, most arriving in time to turn the tide of battle on 21 July. Although railroads had been transporting troops in Europe for some years, Johnston’s maneuver was a perfect illustration of how the railroad could affect the outcome of a military operation. Throughout the remainder of the war, the railroad would play an even greater role in transporting men and supplies over distances of thousands of miles.

U.S. Army Bureau System

Bureau chiefs and heads of staff departments were responsible for various aspects of the Army’s administration and logistics and reported directly to the Secretary of War. The division of responsibility and authority over them of the Secretary of War, the assistant secretaries, and the General in Chief was never spelled out. Therefore the supply departments functioned independently and without effective coordination throughout most of the Civil War, although the situation improved after Ulysses S. Grant took command in the spring of 1864.

Logistical support was entrusted to the heads of four supply departments in Washington. The Quartermaster General was responsible for clothing and equipment, forage, animals, transportation, and housing; the Commissary General for rations; the Chief of Ordnance for weapons, ammunition, and miscellaneous related equipment; and the Surgeon General for medical supplies and evacuation, treatment, and hospitalization of the wounded.

For other support there were the Adjutant General, the Inspector General, the Paymaster General, the Judge Advocate General, the Chief of Engineers, and the Chief of Topographical Engineers.

The military department was the basic organizational unit for administrative and logistical purposes, and the commander of each department controlled the support in that area with no intervening level between his departmental headquarters and the bureau chiefs in Washington. There were six departments when the war started (East, West, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and Pacific). Later on, boundaries changed and several geographical departments were grouped together as a military “division” headquarters.

Army depots were located in major cities: Boston, Massachusetts; New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; and San Francisco, California. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was


the chief depot and manufacturing center for clothing. Advance and temporary supply bases were established as needed to support active operations. Until 1864 most depot commanders were authorized the rank of captain who, despite the low rank and meager pay, had tremendous resources of men, money, and materiel under their control. There were a few exceptions, notably Col. Daniel H. Rucker at the Washington Quartermaster Depot and Col. George D. Ramsay at the Washington Arsenal. The primary function of the depots was to procure supplies and prepare them for use in the field by repacking, assembling, or other similar tasks.

Procurement was decentralized. Purchases were made on the market by low-bid contract in the major cities and producing areas by depot officers. Flour and some other commodities were procured closer to the troops when possible. Cattle were contracted for at specific points, and major beef depots were maintained at Washington (on the grounds of the unfinished Washington Monument); Alexandria, Virginia; and Louisville. The Subsistence Department developed a highly effective system of moving cattle on the hoof to the immediate rear of the armies in the field to be slaughtered by brigade butchers and issued to the troops the day before consumption. The Confederate Army used a similar system with depots at Richmond, Virginia; Staunton, Virginia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Montgomery, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; Little Rock, Arkansas; Alexandria, Louisiana; and San Antonio, Texas.

Supply Operations

Most of the unit’s logistical needs were handled at the regimental level. The regimental quartermaster was often a line lieutenant designated by the regimental commander. In addition to his normal duties, the regimental quartermaster submitted requisitions for all quartermaster supplies and transport; accounted for regimental property including tents, camp equipment, extra clothing, wagons, forage, and animals; and issued supplies and managed the regimental trains. The regimental commissary officer, also designated from the line, requisitioned, accounted for, and issued rations. The regimental ordnance officer had similar duties regarding ammunition and managed the movement of the unit ammunition trains.

In theory, a fully qualified officer of the supply department concerned filled logistical staff positions above the regimental level. However, experienced officers were in perpetual short supply, and many authorized positions were filled by officers and noncommissioned officers from line units or were left vacant, the duties thus being performed by someone in addition to his own. This problem existed in both armies, where inexpe-


rience and ignorance of logistical principles and procedures generally reduced levels of support.

The Soldier’s Load
The Union soldier carried about 45 pounds: musket and bayonet (14 pounds), 60 rounds of ammunition, 3 to 8 days’ rations, canteen, blanket or overcoat, shelter half, ground sheet, mess gear (cup, knife, fork, spoon, and skillet), and personal items (sewing kit, razor, letters, Bible, etc.). Confederates usually had less.

Annual Clothing Issue
The Union infantry allowance consisted of 2 caps, 1 hat, 2 dress coats, 3 pairs of trousers, 3 flannel shirts, 3 flannel drawers, 4 pairs of stockings, and 4 pairs of shoes. Artillerymen and cavalrymen were issued boots instead of shoes. The allowance equaled $42.

Officially, the Confederate soldier was almost equally well clothed, but the Southern quartermaster was seldom able to supply the required items. Soldiers wore whatever came to hand, the home-dyed butternut jackets and trousers being characteristic items. Shortages of shoes were a constant problem.

The daily individual ration for a Union soldier consisted of 20 ounces of fresh or salt beef or 12 ounces of pork or bacon; and 1 pound of hard bread or 18 ounces of flour or 20 of cornmeal. Also, 1 gill of whiskey per day was issued in cases of excessive fatigue or severe exposure.

In addition to the daily individual ration, the following were issued to every 100 men: 15 pounds of beans or peas; 10 pounds of rice or hominy; 10 pounds of green coffee or 1.5 pounds of tea; 15 pounds of sugar; 4 quarts of vinegar; 3.75 pounds of salt; 4 ounces of pepper; 30 pounds of potatoes; and, when practicable, 1 quart of molasses.

Desiccated potatoes or mixed vegetables, a dehydrated concoction referred to by soldiers as “desecrated vegetables,” could be substituted for beans, peas, rice, hominy, or fresh potatoes.

Basically, the Confederates got the same ration composition as Union soldiers but often in less quantity. Much of the meat and coffee that was issued was captured or obtained from sources other than the commissary department.

An Army wagon, drawn by four horses over good roads, could carry 2,800 pounds. A good six-mule team, in the best season of the year, could


haul 4,000 pounds. In practice, wagons seldom hauled such loads because of poor roads.

The number of wagons authorized for the Union Army in August 1862 was as follows:

corps headquarters
brigade or division headquarters
infantry regiment
battery of light artillery or squadron of cavalry

The daily forage ration for horses was 14 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of oats, corn, or barley. For mules, the daily ration was 14 pounds of hay and 9 pounds of oats, corn, or barley.

In the field the Union Army utilized a variety of canvas tents. The wall tent measured approximately 7 feet high, 10 feet wide, and 12 feet deep and was issued to officers above company level. A typical hospital tent might be 14 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 11 feet high. Shelter tents were issued to company level officers and enlisted men. They consisted of two sections that buttoned together to form what is now often referred to as a “pup” tent. Each enlisted man received a shelter tent half and buttoned it together with that of a sleeping mate.

The number and kind of tents prescribed for the Union infantry in the field were as follows:

corps headquarters (admin)
1 hospital
division and brigade headquarters (admin)
1 wall
corps, division, or brigade commander
1 wall
every two officers of the staff
1 wall
regimental colonel and field and staff officers
1 wall each
other officers of the regimental staff
1 wall per 2 officers
company officer
1 shelter
every enlisted man
1 shelter half
every officer's servant
1 shelter half

Enlisted men of both armies were required to carry their own baggage. A Union order of September 1862 limited officers to blankets, one small valise or carpetbag, and a mess kit. Enlisted men carried their rations and personal belongings in a waterproofed canvas knapsack or haversack attached to a strap slung over one shoulder.


Sources: Capt. Walworth Jenkins, Book of Reference for Quartermasters (Louisville, Ky.: John P. Morton, 1865); U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1893); Revised United States Army Regulations of 1861 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1863); Erna Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army: A History of the Corps, 1775–1939 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1962).








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Last updated 13 July 2006