History of the Civil War in America

Author: Philippe d'Orléans  | Date: 1875

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Northern Preparations (1861)



CONGRESS on the 22d of July [1861] had correctly expressed the sentiments which animated the entire North at the news of

McDowell’s defeat. The loyal States understood at last the magnitude of the undertaking they had before them, and determined to neglect nothing that could compass its success. Everybody set to work; patriotic donations flowed in; subscription funds were opened for the benefit of the soldiers; women manifested as much zeal to induce men to enlist as in the South; the largest iron mills in the United States were turned into cannon foundries or into outfitting establishments; finally, enlistments became more and more numerous. The three months’ volunteers raised on the first call of April 15th were discharged, but a great many of them re-enlisted. Those who had responded to the second call of May 4th, instead of the forty battalions asked for, already formed 208 battalions on the 21st of July. In order to complete the effective force of 250,000 men authorized by Congress, it was only necessary to encourage this movement and to receive into the service of the Union all the new battalions thus created. . . . As soon as they were received into the Federal service by the mustering-officer, who had charge of the registry, they were forwarded to the armies of the West or to the army of the Potomac, which were rather vast camps of instruction than armies in the field; and as soon as they were able to defile without too much confusion they were formed into brigades of one or two battalions somewhat less inexperienced than themselves, whose example could be of use to them.

The interior organization of the armies thus formed was modelled precisely upon that of the old regular army . . . and this old army ceased to have a separate existence except in the annual Army Register. . . .

The first thing required was the appointment of a certain number of generals to assume the commands indispensable to such a large assemblage of troops. . . . the President . . . had the merit of listening to the opinions expressed by the comrades of every old officer, and his first list of generals, composed almost entirely of West Pointers, furnished him, together with a few chiefs who were to play a distinguished part in the war, a considerable number of educated and industrious men, who contributed powerfully to the organization of the volunteers. Selections were unquestionably made which were dictated either by political influence or personal favor; and among the first major-generals appointed by Mr. Lincoln we find two—Messrs. Banks and Butler—who are the two types of the class then styled political generals. . . . But, on the other hand, the names of Grant, Sherman, Meade, Kearney, Hooker, Slocum, and Thomas, which were among the first promotions, show that

Mr. Lincoln knew from the outset how to select men worthy of his entire confidence. . . .

All the administrative branches of the service were reinforced, both in the war department and in the armies in the field, by large promotions of officers appointed by the President, like the generals of volunteers, to serve during the war. But, notwithstanding their number, the personnel of all these corps, like that of the staffs, was always found insufficient for the task imposed upon it by the necessity of providing for the support and management of an army of 500,000 men, which at the end of the war was to number nearly 1,000,000; most of these officers, besides, were utterly unaccustomed to the duties confided to them. . . . It required months of assiduous labor to introduce order and method in this vast administrative machinery. There was constantly occasion to regret the absence of a general staff, such as is to be found in European armies, serving as a direct medium between the chief and all the subordinate agents placed under his command, and enabling him to enforce the execution of his wishes at all times.

When General McClellan commanded an army of 150,000 men, he had only about him, besides four topographical engineers especially detailed to study the ground, concerning which no map gave any precise information, eight aides-de-camp to carry his orders, to ascertain the position of the several army corps, to accompany important reconnoissances, to convey directions to a general on the clay of battle, and to receive despatches during the night at general head-quarters and during the day, the generals, civil functionaries, bearers of flags of truce from the enemy, and, finally, to question the inhabitants or prisoners of importance from whom information might be obtained.

An exception should be made in favor of the medical branch of the service; for, if officers were scarce, physicians before the war were numerous. . . . It may be said that there was no branch of the service in the whole army, unless it be that of the chaplains, which understood and performed its duties so well as the regimental surgeons—all physicians by profession.

The composition of the personnel of an army, notwithstanding its importance, is not, however, either the first element of military organizations or the most difficult to create: the most important is discipline, that moral force without which no army can exist. When it is established by tradition the new-comers submit to it without difficulty. But the Federal government had not only to introduce it among a vast multitude of men, all equally stranger’s to its severe requirements, but it did not possess any really effective means to enforce respect for it. In the first place, if the government had the right to deprive officers of their rank, it had not the power to replace them. It could only punish regimental officers by dismissing them, and had no rewards to offer them. The States, fearing lest the Federal government should possess too much influence, had, in refusing the right of appointment and promotion, deprived it of the best guarantee of good service. . . .

The establishment of examining commissions operated largely in favor of discipline, and raised the dignity of the epaulette in the estimation of the soldiers by purging the personnel of the list of officers. . . . the examining commissions were . . . instructed to subject all the officers of the various contingents to a rigid examination before they were finally accepted by the President. These examinations only took place several months after those contingents had been formed into divisions, so that the generals who had them under their respective commands were able to furnish the commissioners with suggestions in regard to the officers about to be examined, which more or less controlled their decisions.

The examiners always favored those who were known to be disposed to learn their profession, but those convicted of downright ignorance had no mercy shown to them. . . .

It was thus that discipline and respect for authority began to take root in the army, and their salutary influence was soon felt, although the observer, judging only from appearances, might not yet have been able to realize the fact. Indeed, what may be called the hierarchical sentiment has never existed in the United States, where the uncertain rounds of the social ladder offer to no one a pedestal so high but that a man may descend from it without ruin, where the citizen who has deserved well of his country in a high position does not think it derogatory to his dignity to serve that country in a more modest capacity. . . . In the volunteer army . . . no prestige could attach to the mere epaulette, for the soldier was the more able to criticise the ignorance of his immediate chiefs because he almost always belonged to the same county or village and had long known them personally. The absence of that moral authority which is based upon length of service and superior experience was still more unfortunate among the non-commissioned officers, to whom it was even more indispensable in order to enforce obedience from the soldier.

But, on the other hand, the intelligence and education which lifted most of the privates to a level with their superiors inspired them with a natural respect for those among their chiefs in whom they recognized the necessary qualities for command, and induced them to accept, without a murmur, the obligations and restraints of military life when they were made to understand the necessity. Leaving the entire monopoly of insubordination to a few regiments, mostly composed of European adventurers, they exhibited none of that turbulence which is frequently associated with the name of volunteers. A few words of caution were sufficient to remind them that, having once taken the oath, there were no longer amateurs in the ranks of the army. . . .

The personnel of staffs and administrative departments being once organized and that of the contingents purified, and the first principles of discipline established among the officers, as well as among the soldiers, the great task of drilling the army had yet hardly begun. . . . In order that it may acquire suppleness and agility the recruits must go through a series of exercises and evolutions equally irksome to the teachers and the taught—first singly, then by platoons, by battalions next, and finally by brigades. This task was the more difficult in the American army because instruction was as necessary for the officers as for the men, and because the latter, having no example to encourage them, did not understand the utility of so long an apprenticeship. Their intelligence, however, which rendered them submissive to the voice of chiefs really worthy to command them, soon made them undertake it with ardor. Full of confidence in themselves, they made up their minds, not that it was useless to learn, but that it would be very easy for them to learn anything they wished, the trade of war as well as any other; having enlisted woluntarily, they were determined to do everything in their power to become good soldiers capable of victory.

They were, therefore, of as much value as their chiefs, whose examples exercised an all-powerful influence over the collective spirit, if we may use such an expression, which animates a body of troops. A rapid change took place in those regiments in which the superior officers went assiduously to work and began by learning themselves what they desired to teach their inferiors. . . .

The special services found great resource in the aptitude of the American to pass from one trade to another. This is a great and valuable quality which the practice of true liberty engenders by protecting the individual against excesses in the pursuit of specialties which confine the faculties of man within a narrow prison. . . .

In order to organize the engineer service it was also found necessary to appeal to the ardor of volunteers who had no military instruction. The officers of that arm scattered among the various corps were not sufficiently numerous to direct in person all the works required by the military operations, nor to instruct the soldiers employed in them. But there were found, on the one hand, useful auxiliaries among civil engineers, a large and educated class, composed of practical men accustomed to struggle with the difficulties of the virgin soil of America; while, on the other hand, a rapid course of special instruction imparted to a few regiments sufficed to qualify them for the most important works of engineering art, while the rougher work was entrusted indiscriminately to the various regiments of volunteers, among whom some skilful artisans were always sure to be found. The construction of these works was never entirely new to them. Even the most populous States, which still possessed vast forests, all furnished a considerable contingent of woodmen or lumbermen and pioneers, inured from their infancy to the use of the axe, the pick, and the spade, and one regiment a thousand strong might be seen felling more than eighty acres (quarantes hectares) of tall forests in a single day.

Comte de Paris, (edited by Henry Coppée, Philadelphia, 1875), I, 262–277 passim.

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Chicago: Philippe d'Orléans, History of the Civil War in America, ed. Henry Coppée and trans. Louis Fitzgerald Tasistro in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZZ74BZZZU52V4U6.

MLA: d'Orléans, Philippe. History of the Civil War in America, edited by Henry Coppée, and translated by Louis Fitzgerald Tasistro, Vol. I, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZZ74BZZZU52V4U6.

Harvard: d'Orléans, P, History of the Civil War in America, ed. and trans. . cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZZ74BZZZU52V4U6.