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Quartermaster Corps: 1865

Quartermaster Corps: 1865

April 1865. "Washington, District of Columbia. Group of Quartermaster Corps employees." I detect a pattern here, and it's checks. Wet plate glass negative. Civil War glass negative collection, Library of Congress. View full size.


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There is a soldier

There is a soldier standing fourth from the left. He is wearing an Army issued four-button "sack" or fatigue coat (dark blue in reality), military trousers (sky blue in reality) and is holding a civilian hat (a common habit of US volunteers). He Army issue bootees (or "brogans) are falling apart. This was a common occurrence in the field--sometimes with in six weeks of their being issued. Perhaps he stopped by to get a new pair.

By April 1865 the younger men may have realized they were not going to be drafted, or perhaps the older ones may have been discharged veterans.

Civilians who fought and help save Washington

The Quartermaster employees were civilians, but they had been pressed into armed service only 9 months before this photo was taken when Confederate General Jubal Early and perhaps as many as 20,000 troops attacked Washington from the north, having come down through Maryland. Washington was only very lightly defended at the time; most of the Union troops who had been defending the city had been sent south for Grant's siege of Richmond.

When Early's forces came down from Hagerstown, Maryland they were held up for a day by Union troops from Baltimore under Gen. Lew Wallace (who later wrote Ben-Hur). Wallace lost the Battle of the Monocacy, just south of Frederick, Maryland, but by delaying Early he managed to give the defenders of Washington time to mobilize the Quartermaster's civilian employees and the "Invalid Corps," who were injured or sick troops recuperating in Washington. Wallace's efforts also gave them time to bring back some of the regular troops who had been sent south. Wallace was court-martialed for his effort because his orders had been to defend Baltimore! Only later was it recognized that he had saved Washington.

When Early arrived, the forts defending Washington were lightly defended, but his men were worn out from marching for miles during one of the hottest July periods on record. So he decided to wait until the next day before mounting a major attack on Fort Stevens. The defenders showed up in force over night, and when Early saw them the next morning he gave up mounting a full attack. After a day of skirmishing, his troops withdrew at night.

The next morning the Union defenders discovered the Confederates had abandoned the field in front of Fort Stevens, but they mounted only an ineffective effort to keep them from getting away through Montgomery County, Maryland and across the Potomac river into Virginia. In fact, Mary Lincoln complained to the Secretary of War that she and a bunch of women could have done a better job of stopping Early from getting away.

Early's attack was the only time a Confederate army entered the District of Columbia during the Civil War and it may have been the only time a sitting American President came under enemy fire. Lincoln went out to Fort Stevens to survey the scene and was narrowly missed by a Confederate sharpshooter, who did hit the person next to Lincoln. At that point someone, by some accounts later Supreme Court Justice Oliver W. Holmes, yelled "Get down, you fool!" at Lincoln. Lincoln got down.

Our Checkered Past

Sorry about this, but apparently dead men DO wear plaid.

Hidden hand

I believe that Napoleon hand in vest pose is a Freemason gesture.

Glaring boldly at the future

I love the lanky fellow over on the middle-ish right. He is just barely fitting into that waistcoat, and he has gone to pains to be friendly and put his arm on the shoulder of his comrade on the left, necessitating that he duck down a bit. One senses he might be used to ducking down, going through doorways and in chatting the ladies.

Also I must say the fine head of hair on the well dressed gentleman in the middle front puts a special longing on me. He is a fortunate fellow to have such a good head of hair. He looks honest, hardworking and reliable.

And finally, I love the fellow at the far left with the big mustache who glares at the camera with the ultimate scowl, as if to say "A pox upon you people of the future, ogling us and wondering what our lives are like." His scowl is so forthright!

Camp Followers

Most military support personnel in that era were civilians, employed by the Army but not considered "soldiers" or entitled to wear uniforms. The Civil War marks a point in the evolution of militaries in that respect. In earlier eras support was provided by "camp followers", people whose only connection with the Army was that they followed it around and were available when the troops needed to buy food or other services -- including things like borrowing money to support further operations.

Camp followers were generally disrespected, because the concept of "logistics" hadn't been invented. Armies were expected to steal food and other necessities as they passed through an area. The notion that support should be official and systematic didn't become general until technology started making the camp follower system insufficient. The innovation (like a lot of changes in military structure) traces to the Thirty Years War.

Civil War armies had camp followers too, but their function was reduced to something like the modern stereotype, i.e. mostly prostitutes and con men. General Joseph Hooker was known to be particularly solicitous of the camp followers, thus the use of the word for a prostitute -- "Who are those women?" [grin] They're Hooker's." The men in this picture aren't camp followers. They were hired and paid by the Army, or the War Department, to provide logistic support; they just weren't considered "soldiers".

After the Civil War the system evolved further, until most support personnel were official, uniformed, integral parts of the Army. By WWII almost all support was integrated, and camp followers disappeared. Recently that trend has reversed, with many support functions provided by civilian contractors, but camp followers as such have not reappeared. They probably won't. Modern armies move too fast for them to keep up. Civil War generals would be mightily puzzled by the notion that, e.g., gate guards should be civilians, but motor pool mechanics should be in uniform.

[The tracing of the term "hooker" to General Hooker is suspect, to say the least. There are a number of instances on record of use of the term earlier, for example. - tterrace]

Sure -- but the pre-existing meaning made the exchange a joke, a play on the good General's name, and all the funnier because Gen. Hooker really was solicitous of the camp followers, thinking them an important part of the army's support (besides his, umm, personal interest). That turned an obscure usage into a common one.

Oh, you guys!

You guys are a regular laugh riot! C'mon now, knock it off. I mean it! You are breaking me up!

Before there was Halliburton

No uniformed personnel shown. I wonder how much of the Corps was manned by civilians during the war?

Three dozen different people

Each one of these fellas has a distinctive look and attitude. A few of note: checked vest, a quarter of the way in from the left, in front, who took obvious pains to comb his hair and who poses like Napoleon, with forearm horizontal against chest, hand disappearing into the garment; blurry face beside him, the only one in the bunch to polish his shoes, with his right foot set forward to display the footware; wild-haired cigar chomper in the middle, rear, who has wandered off a pirate ship into the Civil War; and the tallest man, far right, standing at attention, as one should for a photograph.

3rd from the right, front row

I'm just guessing but he looks like a bit of a scallywag.

1. A scamp; rascal
2. A deceitful and unreliable scoundrel
3. One who is playfully mischievous.

There are other definitions of Scallywag but these are the ones I'm going with.

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