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FIELD TRANSPORTATION AND STRATEGIC MOBILITY IN THE UNION ARMIES Edward Hagerman TheUnion ARMYbegan the CivilWar withouta realistic field transportation doctrine. The Napoleonic standard of twelvewagonsper onethousand men was adequate within western Europe, with their concentrated supply resources and a good supporting road system, but Antoine Henri Jomini, Napoleon's most influential interpreter, observed that this standard proved inadequate in Russia—an insight that French and American formulators of field transportation doctrine ignored until the Civil War. The Napoleonic emphasis on foraging could not be met in even the most populous of Civil War campaigning areas, and the fact that American doctrine set a subsistence standard double that for the Napoleonic soldier placed an even heavier burden on Civil War field transportation.1 While Montgomery Meigs, the Union quartermaster general, acknowledged that in the chaos of the early Civil War there were, in fact, no transportation standards, he also believed that the Napoleonic standard was a realistic goal.2 Field commanders and their quartermasters ignored Napoleonic precedents and sought transportation standards demanded by Civil War logistical realities and Union strategic objectives . George B. McClellan's preparation for the Peninsula campaign was the initial experiment in practical field transportation standards for a mass Civil War army. McClellan landed on the Peninsula with approximately 5,000 wagons for some 110,000 men present for duty, a standard 1 For a comparative statistical analysis of Civil War field transportation needs versus those ofwestern Europe in the Napoleonic era, seeJohn G. Moore, "Mobility and Strategy in the Civil War," MilitaryAffairs 24 (Summer 1960); Herman Hattaway and ArcherJones, How the North Won (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1983), 141. 2 The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 128 vols. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880-1901), ser. 3, 2:654 (hereafter referred to as OR ). For examples of the early chaos, see ibid., pp. 544, 655, 671 -72, 797-800; for Meigs's adherence in theory, ifnot in practice, to the Napoleonicstandard, see ibid., pp. 654-55, 797-800. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, © 1988 by The Kent State University Press 144CIVIL WAR HISTORY of approximately forty-five wagons per one thousand men.3 The ratio was probably realistic considering the early disorganization and inefficiency in field transportation and supply.4 McClellan's field transportation standard proved adequate during the Peninsula campaign; but an inexperienced and sometimes incompetent staff, administering inadequate staff procedures, caused periodic failures to get field transportation to the army when needed. This was a particular problem in the army's movements after the Confederate evacuation of Yorktown. The most serious logistical breakdown occurred during McClellan's retreat to the James River. Inadequate staff procedures were largely responsible for a loss of almost half the5,000wagons, which reduced the army to 2,578 wagons for just under 100,000 men present for duty, a standard of only twenty-six wagons per thousand men. The army coped reasonably well, in part because ofMcClellan's increasing reliance on the talented Rufus Ingalls to hold together his quartermaster organization. In the aftermath of the Peninsula campaign Ingalls would be the first army quartermaster to establish an order of march for the wagon trains, as well as a staff system to make it work.5 When Lincoln and General in Chief Henry W. Halleck changed the Army of the Potomac's strategic objective after its failure on the Peninsula , they also increased its dependence upon its field transportation. The Army of the Potomac was to protect the approaches to Washington, hold Lee on its front so that he could not reinforce the western armies, and ultimately defeat Lee, preferably by maneuver. The new strategy posed the organizational dilemma of developing a field transportation standard and the supporting logistical organization to sustain extended overland movement away from the base of supply. From the Maryland campaign through 1863, the Army of the Potomac was a field laboratory for experimentation in field transportation. It was around union field transportation in the East that the coordination of logistical planning between high command, bureau organization, and operational planning came to fruition; events from the Maryland campaign through the Gettysburg campaign were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 143-171
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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