The first legislation relative to subsistence of the Army is found in the resolution of the Continental Congress passed June 16, 1775, creating general and general-staff officers for the Army of the United Colonies, which provided that there should be, among the latter class of officers, "one commissary-general of stores and provisions."
On the 17th of July, 1775, Congress passed a resolution, upon the recommendation of Maj.-Gen. Philip Schuyler, commanding the New York Department, authorizing a deputy commissary-general of stores and provisions for that department, and immediately thereafter elected Walter Livingston to fill the office.
On the 19th of July, 1775, a dispatch from Gen. Washington, dated Cambridge, July 10, 1775, reporting his assumption of command of the Army, and recommending, among other things, that Joseph Trumbull, of Connecticut, be appointed commissary-general of stores and provisions, was laid before Congress. After the same had been read and considered, the following resolution was passed:
"Resolved, That Joseph Trumbull be commissary-general of stores and provisions for the Army of the United Colonies."
On the 29th of April, 1776, Congress, having had under consideration the report of the committee on supplying the troops in Canada, passed a resolution authorizing the appointment of a deputy commissary-general of stores and provisions for the Army of the United Colonies in Canada, and then elected Mr. J. Price to fill the office.
In 1777, so much dissatisfaction prevailed with respect to the administration of the officers of the "Commissary's Department," that the matter was made the subject of an investigation by Congress, resulting in the passage of a resolution on the 10th of June, 1777, instituting a new system, upon a different principle, under an elaborate code of regulations. The following extracts from the code, which constituted the resolution, show the principal features of the new system:
"I. That for supplying the army of the United States with provisions, one commissary-general and four deputy commissaries-general of purchases, and one commissary-general and three deputy commissaries-general of issues, be appointed by Congress.
* * *
"III. That the deputy commissaries-general have authority to appoint as many assistant commissaries to act under them as may from time to time be necessary, and the same to displace at pleasure, making returns
thereof to the commissaries-general respectively, who shall have full power to limit their numbers, to displace such as they shall think disqualified for their trust, and direct their respective deputy commissaries-general to appoint others in their stead; that special care be taken by the officers empowered as aforesaid, to appoint none but persons of probity, capacity, vigilance, and attachment to the United States, and the cause they are engaged in; and to make returns to the board of war, the commander-in-chief, and the commanders of the respective departments, of the assistant commissaries by them respectively appointed, their several places of abode, the time of their appointment and dismission, and the post, place, magazine, or district to which they are severally assigned; and that the deputy commissaries-general of purchases, and issues, in the same district make similar returns to each other.
IV. That the commissary-general of purchases shall superintend the deputy commissaries-general of purchases, and assign to each a separate district, who shall constantly reside therein, and not make any purchases beyond the limits thereof; and every purchaser employed therein shall also have a certain district assigned him by the respective deputy commissary-general, in which he shall reside, and beyond the limits of which he shall not be permitted to make any purchases, unless by special order of his superior, directing the quantity and quality of provisions so to be purchased beyond his limits, and informing such purchaser of the prices given by the stationed purchaser in the district to which he may be sent.
* * *
"VII. That it shall be the duty of the commissary-general of purchases, with the assistance of the deputy commissaries-general, and assistant, commissaries of purchases, to purchase all provisions and other necessaries allowed, or which may be hereafter allowed by Congress to the troops of the United States, and deliver the same to the commissary-general of issues, or his deputies, or assistants, in such quantities, and at such places or magazines, as the commander-in-chief, or the commander of the respective departments, shall direct.
* * *
XX. That the commissary-general of issue shall superintend the respective deputy commissaries-general of issues, and assign to each a separate district; and have full power to suspend them and appoint others for a time, as already appointed for the commissary-general of purchases."
* * *
By a resolution passed on the 11th of June, 1777, the next day after the adoption of the new commissariat system, Congress directed that the commissary-general of purchases should "keep his office in the place where Congress shall sit, and that he or his clerk constantly attend therein."
On the 18th of June, 1777, Congress proceeded to the election of officers for the new Commissary's Department, and the ballots having been taken and examined, the following persons were declared elected, viz., Joseph Trumbull, commissary-general of purchases, William Aylett, William Buchanan, Jacob Cuyler and Jeremiah Wadsworth, deputy commissaries-general of purchases; Charles Stewart, commissary-general of issues, and
William Green Mumford, Matthew Irwin and Elisha Avery, deputy commissaries-general of issues.
An additional deputy commissary-general of purchases and one additional deputy commissary-general of issues, for supplying the troops in the State of Georgia, were authorized by a resolution of Congress passed August 1, 1777. On the 6th of the same month, James Roe and John Bohun Garardeau, were elected to fill the offices, respectively.
The resignation of Joseph Trumbull, commissary-general of purchases, was received by Congress on the 2d of August, 1777, and on the 5th William Buchanan, a deputy commissary-general of purchases, was elected to fill the vacancy.
On the 6th of August, Congress proceeded to the election of officers to fill vacancies in the Commissary's Department. Ephraim Blaine was elected a deputy commissary-general of purchases, vice Buchanan, promoted; Archibald Stewart, a deputy commissary-general of issues, vice Hoops, resigned; and James Blicker, a deputy commissary-general of issues, vice Avery, resigned. An additional deputy commissary-general of purchases was, on the same day, authorized for the Eastern Department, and Samuel Gray elected to fill the office.
On the 11th of August, 1777, Peter Colt was elected a deputy commissary-general of purchases, vice Wadsworth, resigned.
On the 9th of April, 1778, Jeremiah Wadsworth, who had recently resigned as a deputy commissary-general of purchases, was elected commissary-general of purchases, vice Buchanan, and administered the office until January 1, 1780, when he resigned, and was succeeded by Ephraim Blaine, then a deputy commissary-general of purchases.
The laws relating to the purchasing branch of the Commissary's Department were further perfected by the following resolution of Congress, passed November 30, 1780:
"Resolved, That there be a commissary-general of purchases, whose duty shall be to purchase provisions under the direction of Congress, the commander-in-chief, or board of war; to call upon the principal State agents or commissioners for such supplies as their respective legislatures shall make provision for, keep up a regular correspondence with them, to the end that their prospects of furnishing such supplies may be fully known; of which correspondence he shall keep a fair and correct register, as well as every other official transaction; to direct the quantities and species of provisions to be stored in the magazines of the several States, under the orders of the commander-in-chief, and cause the same to be furnished to the army, as occasion may require; for which purpose he is empowered to call on the quartermaster-general and the deputy quartermasters for the means of transportation; to make monthly returns to the commander-in-chief and the board of war of all persons employed by him, specifying for what time and on what terms; and of all provisions received in each month, from whom, from what State, and the quantities delivered to the issuing commissaries, their names, and at what posts; also of all provisions remaining on hand, at what magazines, and in whose care; the returns to be made up to the last day of each month, and forwarded as soon as may be; to cause all
of his accounts with the United States to be closed annually, on the 1st of January, and laid before the board of treasury for settlement by the 1st day of March ensuing."
On the 28th of June, 178r, Congress passed the following order:
"Ordered, That a committee of three be appointed to devise the mode of transferring to the superintendent of finance the business of the several boards and departments to which the institution of his office extends, in order that the said boards and departments may be discontinued as soon as the situation of affairs will admit."
On the 10th of July Congress, in pursuance of the object contemplated by the foregoing order, upon the recommendation of the Board of War, passed the following resolution, transferring the duty of procuring all supplies for the Army to the superintendent of finance, then the head of the Treasury Department:
"Resolved, That the superintendent of finance be, and he is hereby authorized, either by himself or such other person or persons as he shall, from time to time, appoint for that purpose, to procure, on contract, all necessary supplies for the army or armies of the United States, and also for the navy artificers, or prisoners of war, and also the transportation thereof; and all contracts or agreements heretofore made, or which shall be hereafter made, by him, or persons under his authority, for the purpose aforesaid, are hereby declared to be binding on the United States."
Under this resolution the commissariat system of subsisting the army was discontinued and the method of contracts for rations adopted in its stead.
The office of superintendent of finance was abolished by an ordinance of Congress passed May 28, 1784. This ordinance created a board of three commissioners, styled the "Board of Treasury," to be appointed by Congress, to superintend the Treasury and manage the finances of the United States. All the duties of the superintendent of finance were transferred to this board, including, of course, the furnishing of subsistence, and all other classes of army supplies, and providing transportation for the same. This duty was, however, rendered almost nominal by the legislation of June 2 and 3, which fixed the strength of the forces to be maintained in the service of the United States at about 800 men, 700 of whom were militia called into service for twelve months, "for the protection of the northwestern frontiers, and for guarding the public stores."
There was no further legislation touching subsistence of the army until after the reorganization of the Government under the Constitution.
Under the provisions of the first section of the act of the 1st Congress, entitled "An Act to establish an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of War," approved August 7, 1789, the duty of procuring "warlike stores" was entrusted to the Secretary of War, but by Section 5 of the act of May 8, 1792, making alterations in the Treasury and War Departments, the duty of making "all purchases and contracts for supplying the army with provisions, clothing, supplies in the quartermaster's department, military stores, Indian goods, and all other supplies or articles for the use of the Department of War," was again devolved upon the Treasury Department.
An act was passed on the 23d of February, 1795, creating "in the Department of the Treasury an officer to be denominated 'purveyor of public supplies'," whose duties were under the direction and supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury, to conduct the procuring and providing of all arms, military and naval stores, provisions, Indian goods, and generally, all articles of supply requisite for the service of the United States."
In 1798, there were serious apprehensions of a war with France, and Congress, apparently conscious of the inherent weakness of a military system so organized that the War Department did not have control of the procurement of its own supplies, restored to it that very essential function, by making the purveyor of public supplies, although an officer of the Treasury Department, subject to the orders of the Secretary of War in all matters relating to army supplies, except the auditing and settlement of accounts therefor, which were rendered to the Treasury Department, This restoration was effected by Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the act approved July 16, 1798, entitled "An Act to alter and amend the several acts for the establishment and regulation of the Treasury, War and Navy Departments."
By Section 3 of the act approved March 16, 1802, entitled "An Act fixing the Military Peace Establishment of the United States," it was provided that there should be "three military agents and such number of assistant military agents as the President of the United States shall deem expedient, not exceeding one to each military post; which assistants shall be taken from the line." It was made the duty of the military agents " to purchase, receive, and forward to their proper destination, all military stores and other articles for the troops in their respective departments, and all goods and annuities for the Indians, which they may be directed to purchase, or which shall be ordered into their care by the Department of War."
The military agency system proved to be unsatisfactory, but no action was taken by Congress towards its abolishment until 1812. Our relations with Great Britain had then become so much strained that Congress deemed it prudent to commence making preparations for war. An act was passed on the 2d of January of that year authorizing the President to raise a force of Rangers for the protection of the frontiers from invasion by the Indians; on the 11th of the same month, an act was passed authorizing an increase in the army of ten regiments of infantry, two regiments of artillery, and one regiment of light dragoons and on the 6th of February another act was passed authorizing the President to accept the services of organized companies of volunteers, either of artillery, cavalry, or infantry, not exceeding, in the aggregate, 30,000 men. on the 28th of March, an act was passed abolishing the military agency system of supplying the Army, and substituting therefor a Purchasing Department and a Quartermaster's Department.
The strained relations with Great Britain, heretofore alluded to, culminated in a formal declaration of war by an act of Congress passed June 18, 1812.
The new staff system did not, however, bring with it any change in the mode of subsisting the Army, which was by contracts for rations delivered at the places of issue. This mode of subsisting the Army, although it had
been in operation since 1781, was now, for the first time, to be subjected to the test of war. It soon proved to be a great failure, as official reports from Gen. Dearborn and other commanders of troops on the Canadian frontier, show that as early as November and December, 1812, they were in dire extremities on account of deficiency of rations, arising from failure of contractors to make deliveries according to their contracts.
On the 3d of March, 1813, an act was passed with the significant title of "An Act better to provide for the supplies of the Army of the United States, and for the accountability of persons intrusted with the same." The second section of this act provided that there should be a "superintendent-general of military supplies," whose functions were to keep proper accounts of all the military stores and supplies purchased for, and distributed to, the Army of the United States; to prescribe the forms of all returns and accounts of such stores and supplies, and to credit and settle the accounts of disbursing officers; also, to transmit all such orders, and, generally, to perform all such other duties respecting the general superintendence, purchase, transportation, and safe-keeping of military stores and supplies, and the accountability therefor as might be prescribed by the Secretary of War.
Section 8 of this act empowered the President to appoint one or more special commissaries for the purpose of supplying by purchase or contract, and of issuing, or to authorize any officer or officers of the Quartermaster's Department to supply and issue the whole or any part of the subsistence of the Army, in all cases when, from want of contractors, or from any default on their part, or from any other contingency, such measure might be proper and necessary in order to insure the subsistence of the Army.
Notwithstanding this remedial legislation, the trouble about purchasing rations for the troops from the contractors continued. On the 12th of November, 1814, the Committee on Military Affairs of the House of Representatives took up the matter, and, after having had the same under consideration, instructed its chairman to address a communication to the Secretary of War, requesting information on the following points, viz.:
- "1. What is the present mode of subsisting the Army?
- "2. If by contracts, what are the defects, if any, and the remedy?
- "3. Whether any other mode can be adopted, combining, in a greater degree, certainty and promptitude with economy and responsibility?
- "4. Whether the alternative afforded by law of substituting commissaries for contractors has been adopted; and, if yes, what has been the general result?"
Under date of December 23, 1814, the Acting Secretary of War, Hon. James Monroe, replied, in substance, that, not wishing to rely altogether on his own judgment in answering the inquiries of the committee as to the best mode of subsisting the Army, he had consulted the officers of the greatest experience who were within his reach, on the presumption that he should best promote the views of the committee by collecting all the information he could on the subject. He submitted, as inclosures to his reply, letters from Gen. Scott, Gen. Gaines and Col. Fenwick, all of whom expressed a decided preference for the system of supply by commissaries to that by contractors. He also stated that he believed that officers generally
concurred with them in that preference, and that the proposition to establish the commissariat system of subsisting the Army had his unqualified approval.
On the next day, January 24, 1814, after the Committee on Military Affairs had presented the report of the Acting Secretary of War to the House of Representatives, Hon. George M. Troup, of Georgia, the chairman of the committee, introduced a bill entitled "A Bill making provision for subsisting the Army of the United States, by authorizing the appointment of Commissaries of Subsistence," which was read the first and the second time, and referred to the Committee of the Whole. On the 7th of February the bill, after having been amended in some respects, was passed and sent to the Senate.
The bill was taken up in the Senate on the 10th of February, read the first and the second time, and referred to the Committee on Military Affairs. On the 11th of February it was reported back to the Senate, with some proposed amendments. On the 13th of February the Senate, sitting as in committee of the whole, agreed to the proposed amendments, when the committee rose, and the bill, as amended, was reported back to the Senate and ordered to be engrossed and read the third time, as amended. On the 14th of February the bill was reported as correctly engrossed. On the 15th of February, on motion of Mr. Tait, of Georgia, the further consideration of the bill was postponed until the following Monday. This postponement was, presumably, due to the fact that on that day President Madison sent a message to the Senate transmitting a copy of the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States, which had been signed at Ghent on the 24th of December previous.
On the 21st of February, the further consideration of the bill was again postponed until the following Monday.
The return of peace had materially changed the aspect of our affairs. The pressure of the necessity for immediate legislation changing the mode of subsisting the Army had been relaxed, and this, with the proximity of the end of the session of Congress, seems to have prevented the bill, although in such an advanced stage towards becoming a law, from being taken up according to postponement, or again before the final adjournment on the 4th of March, with which the Congress expired, and with it, of course, this, and all other pending bills.
The subject was not again taken up by Congress until a repetition of our former adverse experiences with the contract mode of subsisting the Army brought it into conspicuous prominence.
In 1817, the Seminole Indians, of Florida, then a province of Spain, began to make hostile demonstrations on the southern frontier of Georgia, then embraced within the limits of the Division of the South, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Andrew Jackson. The available regular troops were ordered into the field, and, in addition, a brigade of Georgia militia, commanded by Brig.-Gen. Glasscock, was called into the service of the United States.
The contractor for furnishing rations in the district covering the theatre of military operations, was duly notified to make deposits of provisions at the places where they would be needed in order to carry out the plan of
campaign, but he failed to do so with punctuality, and, in consequence, military movements were delayed, and, in December, 1817, and January, 1818, the situation had become well-nigh desperate.
On the 21st of January, 1818, the matter was brought to the attention of the Senate by Mr. Williams, of Tennessee, of the Committee on Military Affairs, who introduced a resolution, which was adopted, requesting the President of the United States "to inform the Senate in what manner the troops in the service of the United States, now operating against the Seminole tribe of Indians, have been subsisted, whether by contract or otherwise, and whether they have been furnished regularly with rations."
On the 30th of January, the President, Hon. James Monroe, replied by message, inclosing a report on the subject of the inquiry, from the Secretary of War, Hon. John C. Calhoun, stating that the method of subsisting the troops was by contract; that the Department of War, anticipating an increased demand for rations in that quarter, had made early and liberal advances of money to the contractor to enable him to give prompt obedience to the requisitions of the commanding general; that requisitions for deposits, in advance, under the terms of the contract, at the several posts on the frontier of Georgia and in the adjacent territory, had been made; that, according to the last official reports, these requisitions had not been complied with, and that the commandant had detailed officers of the Army to supply the deficiency by purchase. He called attention to inclosed reports from Gen. Gaines, Gen. Glasscock, Col. Brearly, and Lieut.-Col. Arbuckle, showing the extent of the actual failure and the evils apprehended from an anticipated one.
On the 18th of February, Hon. James Barbour, of Virginia, introduced the following resolution in the Senate:
"Resolved, That the Committee on Military Affairs be instructed to inquire into the expediency of changing the mode of supplying the troops of the United States by contract, and substituting one cheaper and more efficient, by subjecting the parties who undertake that duty, to military law, in case of delinquency."
On the 20th of February, the Senate resumed consideration of this resolution, and adopted it.
On the 24th of February, the Senate passed a resolution requesting the President. of the United States to furnish the Senate with a copy of the contract under which rations were to be furnished at the several posts on the frontier of Georgia and in the adjoining territory; a statement of the Amounts and dates of requisitions and by whom made; the particular instances in which the contractor had failed to furnish rations agreeably to his contract; the amount of money advanced by the Government for supplies, in consequence of such failures; and the amount of money advanced by the Government to the contractor, at or before the time of said failures.
On the 11th of March the President replied to the resolution, by message, transmitting a report from the Secretary of War containing the information called for.
On the 20th of March, Mr. Williams, of Tennessee, from the Committee on Military Affairs, to whom a bill entitled "A Bill to reduce the
Staff of the Army," had previously been referred, reported the same back to the Senate, with an amendment, which was read and, on the 25th of March, adopted. After further amendments of the amendment, in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill finally became a law on the 14th of April, under the amended title of "An Act regulating the Staff of the Army."
The amendments above referred to, constituted Sections 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, of the act as passed, and laid the foundation of the present Subsistence Department. These sections were as follows:
"SECTION 6. That as soon as the state of existing contracts for the subsistence of the army shall, in the opinion of the President of the United States, permit it, there shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, one commissary-general, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of colonel of ordnance, who shall, before entering on the duties of his office, give bond and security, in such sum as the President may direct; and as many assistants, to be taken from the subalterns of the line, as the service may require, who shall receive $20 per month in addition to their pay in the line, and who shall, before entering on the duties of their office, give bond and security, in such sums as the President may direct.
"SECTION 7. That supplies for the army, unless, in particular and urgent cases, the secretary of war should otherwise direct, shall be purchased by contract, to be made by the commissary-general on public notice, to be delivered, on inspection, in the bulk, and at such places as shall be stipulated; which contract shall be made under such regulations as the secretary of war may direct.
"SECTION 8. That the President may make such alterations in the component parts of the ration as a due regard to the health and comfort of the army and economy may require.
"SECTION 9. That the commissary-general and his assistants shall not be concerned, directly or indirectly, in the purchase or sale, in trade or commerce, of any article entering into the composition of the ration allowed to the troops in the service of the United States, except on account of the United States, nor shall such officer take and apply to his own use any gain or emolument for negotiating or transacting any business connected with the duties of his office, other than what is or may be allowed by law; and the commissary-general and his assistants shall be subject to martial law.
"SECTION 10. That all letters to and from the commissary-general, which may relate to his office duties, shall be free from postage: Provided, That the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth sections of this act shall continue and be in force for the term of five years from the passing of the same, and thence until the end of the next session of Congress, and no longer."
Col. George Gibson, of Pennsylvania, then a quartermaster-general of division, which grade was abolished by Section 3 of the above-mentioned act, was appointed commissary-general of subsistence, on the 18th of April, 1818, and his appointment was announced to the Army in a general order
issued on the 30th of April, 1818. The new system of subsisting the Army did not, however, go into operation until the 1st of June, 1819.
On the 28th of December, 1820, pursuant to a resolution of the House of Representatives adopted on the 20th of November previous, Mr. Smyth, of Virginia, from the Committee on Military Affairs, reported an elaborate bill to reduce the Army to six thousand men. This bill, after having been debated in both branches of Congress, and sundry amendments made thereto, finally became a law on the 2d of March, 1821, under the title of "An Act to reduce and fix the Military Peace Establishment of the United, States." By the following section of this act, the organization of the Subsistence Department provided for by the act of April 14, 1818, was retained with only slight modifications:
"SECTION 8. And be it further enacted, That there shall be one commissary-general of subsistence; and there shall be as many assistant commissaries as the service may require, not exceeding fifty, who shall be taken from the subalterns of the line, and shall, in addition to their pay in the line, receive a sum not less than $10, nor more than $20, per month; and that assistant quartermasters and assistant commissaries of subsistence, shall be subject to duties in both departments, under the orders of the Secretary of War."
The foregoing resolution superseded so much of Section 6 of the Act of April 14, 1818, as related to the number and grades of officers in the Subsistence Department, and was a permanent enactment. The other provisions of Section 6, and Sections 7, 8, 9, and 10, of the Act of April 14, 1818, which were untouched by this legislation, retained their temporary character.
President Monroe, in his annual message to Congress, dated December 3, 1822, in referring to the new system of subsisting the Army, made the following suggestion:
"It appearing that so much of the act entitled 'An Act regulating the Staff of the Army,' which passed on the 14th of April, 1818, as relates to the commissariat, will expire in April next, and the practical operation of that department having evinced its great utility, the propriety of its renewal is submitted for your consideration."
On the 17th of December, 1822, Mr. Eustis, of Massachusetts, chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, to carry into effect the foregoing suggestion, which bill became a law on the 23d of January, 1823, in the following form:
"An Act to continue the present mode of supplying the Army of the United States.
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth sections of the act entitled, 'An Act regulating the Staff of the Army,' passed April fourteenth, eighteen hundred and eighteen, be, and the same are hereby, continued in force for the term of five years, and until the end of the next session of Congress thereafter."
On the 29th of April, 1826, the rank of brigadier-general, by brevet, was conferred on Colonel Gibson, the commissary-general of subsistence, under
the provisions of Section 4 of the Act of July 6, 1812, "for ten years' faithful service in one grade."
On the 9th of November, 1827, General Gibson addressed a letter to the Secretary of War, Hon. James Barbour, making the following recommendations: "Presuming that the utility of the present mode of subsisting the army to be sufficiently tested by eight years of successful experiment, I beg leave to suggest the expediency of asking Congress to make the department permanent.
"I am also induced to request your recommendation for a law authorizing the appointment of two majors to Commissariat Department, whose services are required to enable me more efficiently to conduct its operations."
Secretary Barbour made this letter an enclosure to his annual report for that year, with the following commendatory reference: "I beg leave, also, to recommend to the favorable consideration of Congress the alterations proposed by the commissary-general of subsistence, in the organization of the Subsistence Department, presuming that the mode of supplying the army by commissariat, whose advantages have been so satisfactorily manifested, will be continued by a new act of legislation, the former act being about to expire."
A bill in conformity with the foregoing recommendations was introduced in the House of Representatives, on the 2d of January, 1828, by Mr. Hamilton, of South Carolina, chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. No further action, however, was taken on the bill until the next session of Congress, when it was taken up, and, after having been materially amended, was passed on the 2d of March, 1829, under the title of "An Act to continue the present mode of supplying the Army of the United States."
This act extended for an additional term of five years, and until the end of the next session of Congress thereafter, the provisions of the sixth seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth sections of the Act of April 14, 1818, temporarily establishing the commissariat system of subsisting the army, which had been similarly extended twice previously, and authorized the appointment of two commissaries of subsistence, to be taken from the line of the army, one with the same rank, pay and emoluments as a quartermaster, and the other with the same rank, pay and emoluments as an assistant-quartermaster.
The next legislation affecting the Subsistence Department was suggested by Hon. Lewis Cass, Secretary of War. In his annual report for 1833, he said:
"The act organizing the Subsistence Department expires by its own limitation on the 2d of March next. It was originally passed in 1818, and' has been continued by successive temporary acts till the present time. The reason of this course of legislation is undoubtedly to be found in the fact that the introduction of this system was an experiment, and it was deemed prudent to test its operation before a permanent character was ,given to it. This has been fully done, and the result is, in every point of view, satisfactory. * * *
"I consider that the time has arrived when the present arrangement
should be rendered permanent, and I therefore present the subject with that view to your notice." * * *
On the 19th of December, 1833, Hon. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky, from the Committee on Military Affairs of the House of Representatives, introduced a bill "to render permanent the present mode of supplying the Army of the United States," which, after some preliminary action thereon, went over to the next session of Congress, when it was taken up and passed—becoming a law on the 3d of March, 1835.
A defect in the organization of the staff departments was brought to the attention of Congress by Hon. Benjamin F. Butler, of New York, Acting Secretary of War, in his annual report, dated December 3, 1836, which he described and commented upon as follows:
"The present system seems to have been formed upon the principle of concentrating the business of these departments at the seat of Government, and of employing therein a very small number of officers commissioned in the staff ; the deficiencies being supplied by selections from the line. This arrangement is very well adapted to a time of profound peace, when officers can be spared from the line without injury to the service: when the positions of the troops are chiefly permanent; and when the changes which occur are made with so much deliberation as to afford ample time for preparing adequate means for transportation and supply; but when large bodies of troops whose numbers and movements may be varied by unforeseen contingencies, are to be supplied in the field, and at a great distance from the seat of Government, the system is worse than insufficient; it is the parent of confusion and delay. * * * To prevent inconveniences of this sort, it is evident that staff officers of experience and rank must be associated with the commander; and to supply such associates, the staff departments must be enlarged."
On the 8th of December, 1836, Hon. Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, introduced a bill in the Senate "to increase the present Military Establishment of the United States, and for other purposes," which contained provisions based on the foregoing recommendation.
The bill was passed by the Senate on the 16th of February, 1837. It was taken up in the House of Representatives on the 3d of March, but on account of the proximity of the end of the session, was laid over, and not taken up again until the next session of Congress, when it was passed, and became a law on the 5th of July, 1838.
By Section 11 of this act, it was provided:
"That there be added to the commissariat of subsistence one assistant commissary-general of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of a lieutenant-colonel of cavalry; one commissary of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of a quartermaster of the army; and three commissaries of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of assistant quartermasters."
The expansion of the Subsistence Department to the extent necessary to enable it to meet the requirements of the service in the war with Mexico, in 1846, was provided for by Section 5 of an act entitled "An Act supplemen-
tal to an act entitled 'An Act providing for the prosecution of the existing war between the United States and the Republic of Mexico,' and for other purposes," approved June 18, 1846, which authorized the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint as many additional officers as the service might require, not exceeding one commissary of subsistence with the rank of major for each brigade, and one assistant commissary of subsistence with the rank of captain for each regiment—the said additional officers to "continue in service only so long as their services shall be required in connection with the militia and volunteers."
On the 30th of May, 1848, Bvt. Brig.-Gen. Gibson, commissary-general of subsistence, was appointed a major-general, by brevet, "for meritorious conduct, particularly in performing his duties in prosecuting the war with Mexico."
On the 4th of January, 1850, Gen. Gibson addressed a letter to the Secretary of War, Hon. G. W. Crawford, requesting "that there be added to the Subsistence Department four commissaries of subsistence with the rank of captain, to be taken from the line of the Army."
In explanation of the necessity for this increase, Gen. Gibson said:
"The addition of Oregon, California, New Mexico and Texas to our territory compels me to ask for an increase in the number of officers in the Subsistence Department. Each of these commands requires the presence of an officer of the Commissariat, and from no point occupied by my officers can one be spared for these duties."
Gen. Gibson further explained that the necessity for the additional number of officers asked for was of a permanent character.
On the 30th of January, the Secretary of War transmitted copies of this letter to both branches of Congress, and recommended it to their favorable consideration. On the 26th of September, an act was passed, entitled "An Act to increase the commissariat of the United States Army," authorizing "That there be added to the subsistence department four commissaries of subsistence, with the rank of captain, to be taken from the line of the army."
The next legislation affecting the Subsistence Department was to facilitate its expansion to the extent necessary to meet the requirements for an increase in the Army of 500,000 men, provided for by the act entitled "An Act to authorize the employment of Volunteers to aid in enforcing the Laws and protecting Public Property," approved July 22, 1861.
This act provided that the forces to be raised thereunder should be organized into divisions and brigades; each division to consist of three or more brigades; each brigade of four or more regiments; and that each brigade, among other general-staff officers, should have "one commissary of subsistence."
By Section 2 of an act entitled "An Act for the better organization of the Military Establishment," approved August 3, 1861, the Subsistence Department was increased by the addition thereto of "four commissaries of subsistence, each with the rank, pay, and emoluments of a major of cavalry; eight commissaries of subsistence, each with the rank, pay, and emoluments of a captain of cavalry, and to be taken from the line of the army, either the volunteers or the regular army."
Gen. Gibson died on the 29th of September, 1861, after having served as commissary-general of subsistence forty-three years and five months.
Lieut.-Col. Joseph P. Taylor, assistant commissary-general of subsistence, was promoted commissary-general of subsistence with the rank of colonel, vice Gibson, deceased.
The 10th section of the act of July 17, 1862, entitled "An Act to amend the Act calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrection, and repel invasion, approved February 28, 1796, and the Act amendatory thereof, and for other purposes," authorized the President " to establish and organize army corps, according to his discretion." The 10th section of the same act prescribed the staff of the commander of an army corps, and allowed to him, among other general staff officers, one commissary of subsistence with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, to be assigned by the President from the regular army or the volunteers.
By the following act, approved February 9, 1863, the Subsistence Department was given a stronger and more symmetrical organization, better adapted to the exigencies of war:
"An act to promote the efficiency of the Commissary Department.
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there be added to the subsistence department of the army one brigadier-general, to be selected from the subsistence department, who shall be commissary-general of subsistence, and, by regular promotion, one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, and two majors; the colonels and lieutenant-colonels to be assistant commissaries-general of subsistence, and that vacancies in the above-mentioned grades shall be filled by regular promotions in said department; and the vacancies created by promotions herein authorized may be filled by selections from the officers of the regular or volunteer force."
Under the provisions of the foregoing act, Col. Joseph P. Taylor, commissary-general of subsistence, was appointed commissary- general of subsistence, with the rank of brigadier-general.
On the 29th of June, 1864, Gen. Taylor died, after having served as an officer of the Subsistence Department thirty-five years, and as its chief nearly three years in the most eventful period of its existence.
Col. Amos B. Eaton, the senior assistant commissary-general of subsistence, was appointed the successor of Gen. Taylor.
The War of the Rebellion closed in 1865. The magnitude of the operations of the Subsistence Department during the four years of that war, is indicated by the following table, showing the amount of its disbursements for each year, and the total amount thereof :
|From July 1, 1861, to June 30, 1862||$48,799,521.14|
|From July 1, 1362, to June 30, 1863||$69,537,582.78|
|From July 1, 1863, to June 30, 1864||$98,666,918.50|
|From July 1, 1864, to June 30, 1865||$144,782,969.41|
When the war closed there were in service of the Subsistence Depart-
ment the 29 officers constituting the permanent establishment, and 535 commissaries of volunteers, making a total of 564 officers.
In referring to the operations of the Subsistence Department, in his annual report for 1865, Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, said:
"During the war this branch of the service never failed. It answers to the demand, and is ever ready to meet the national call."
The act of July 28, 1866, entitled "An Act to increase and fix the Military Peace Establishment of the United States," contained the following provisions fixing the organization of the Subsistence Department, and enlarging its province.
"SECTION 16. And be it further enacted, That the subsistence department of the army shall hereafter consist of the number of officers now authorized by law, viz.: one commissary-general of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of a brigadier-general; two assistant commissaries-general of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of colonels of cavalry; two assistant commissaries-general of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of lieutenant-colonels of cavalry; eight commissaries of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of majors of cavalry; and sixteen commissaries of subsistence, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of captains of cavalry."
"SECTION 23. And be it further enacted, That the adjutant-general, quartermaster-general, commissary-general of subsistence, surgeon-general, paymaster-general, chief of engineers, and chief of ordnance shall hereafter be appointed by selection from the corps to which they belong."
"SECTION 25. And be it further enacted, That the office of sutler in the army and at military posts is hereby abolished, and the subsistence department is hereby authorized and required to furnish such articles as may from time to time be designated by the inspector-general of the army, the same to be sold to officers and enlisted men at cost prices, and if not paid for when purchased a true account thereof shall be kept and the amount due the government shall be deducted by the paymaster at the payment next following such purchase: Provided, That this section shall not go into effect until the first day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven."
Section 16, above quoted, was a codification of all existing laws relating to the personnel of the Subsistence Department, except the provision of Section 8 of the act of March 2, 1821, authorizing not exceeding fifty assistant commissaries of subsistence, to be taken from the subalterns of the line, which, therefore, fell under the operation of the repealing clause.
By Section 24 of the Army-appropriation act, approved July 15, 1870, it was provided that the pay of an acting assistant commissary of subsistence should be one hundred dollars per annum, in addition to the pay of his rank.
The office of acting assistant commissary of subsistence was not authorized by a general law, but was maintained under a provision annually re-enacted in the army-appropriation acts.
General Eaton, "having served faithfully more than forty-five years," was retired from active service, under the provisions of Section 12 of the act of July 17, 1862, by a general order issued on the 16th of February, 1874, to take effect on the 1st of May following.
General Eaton was granted a leave of absence from the date of the above-mentioned order until the date of his retirement, and Col. Alexander E. Shiras, the senior assistant commissary-general of subsistence, was designated to perform the duties of commissary-general of subsistence, and ordered to relieve General Eaton. Colonel Shiras performed the duties of commissary-general of subsistence until the date of General Eaton's retirement, and, thereafter, until the removal of the bar to promotions and appointments in the Subsistence Department and other staff corps and departments imposed by Section 6 of the Army-appropriation act of March 3, 1869.
By Section 3 of the Act of June 23, 1874, entitled "An Act to reorganize the several Staff Corps of the Army," the number of assistant commissaries general of subsistence with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, was increased from two to three, and the number of commissaries of subsistence with the rank of captain, was reduced from sixteen to twelve.
Section 8 of the above-mentioned act repealed so much of Section 6 of the Army-appropriation act of March 3, 1869, as prohibited promotions and appointments in the Ordnance, Subsistence and Medical Departments, and Col. Shiras was then appointed commissary-general of subsistence, vice Eaton, retired.
Gen. Shiras died on the 14th of April, 1875, and was succeeded by Maj. Robert Macfeely, commissary of subsistence.
The office of "acting assistant commissary of subsistence" expired with the Army-appropriation act for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1882, and was superseded by the office of "acting commissary of subsistence," which was provided for by the Army-appropriation act approved July 5, 1882, and has since been continued by annual reenactments.
Gen. Macfeely served as commissary-general of subsistence until July 1, 1890, when, having reached the age of sixty-four years, he was retired from active service under the operation of the first section of the Act of June 30, 1882.
Col. Beekman Du Barry, the senior assistant commissary-general of subsistence, succeeded Gen. Macfeely, and upon his retirement from active service in December, 1892, was succeeded by Col. John P. Hawkins, the present commissary-general of subsistence.