Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shades of Blue and Gray, Part II

By Pamela Chase Hain and Robert C. Plumb

This is the second installment in a series of posts about the Civil War experience from the perspective of two soliders, George McClelland from the Union and Thomas Wragg from the Confederacy. To read the first post, please scroll down to the September 28 posting or simply click here.

What was the soldier’s attitude toward generals and other officers?

Blue- George McClelland

The further up the chain of command that officers were, the more critical George McClelland seems to be of them. At the company level, the lowest rung of the officer command level, McClelland finds his F Company commander, Edward E. Clapp, “The noblest soul I ever met.” (July 3, 1864)

On the other hand, the officers commanding the Army of the Potomac are generally scorned by McClelland. “McClellan’s strategy is played out. Pope is not much better. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson is a match for the whole of them.” (August 1862) “Joe Hooker is in command now. Well, my opinion is that he is not the man.” (February 14, 1863) “A soldier can see a great difference or change since Meade was placed in command. Short rations – one day we marched 28 miles without bread, meat or coffee.” (July 19, 1863) “Meade was afraid of a few rifle pits and let [Lee] escape without loss …. The fact of the matter is Meade was afraid of Lee.” (July 21, 1863) “The Army has no confidence in Meade since that slip at Williamsport [following Gettysburg].” (July 31, 1863)

Early in his tenure as general in chief, Grant does not generate an unfavorable or favorable opinion from McClelland. The soldier is ambivalent when Grant first takes command. “I can’t get it into my thick noddle that Grant is the man. I want to believe and hope he is, but there it is. I cannot explain it.” (April 23, 1864) As the war moves into 1865, McClelland does not write a negative opinion of Grant. By the absence of an unfavorable judgment, we can assume that McClelland is neutral or even slightly positive about Grant. His later references to Grant suggest that McClelland and Grant will win the war together as they wear down the Rebels. McClelland never questions Grant’s competence.

McClelland does soften his opinions of McClellan and Hooker over time. Perhaps this change in his impressions of the two generals is influenced by camp gossip and the opinion of his peers. Soldiers in the Army of the Potomac generally have move favorable opinions of McClellan and Hooker after the generals have left their positions of leadership.

Gray- Thomas Wragg

Following the Battle of Bull Run, in August 1861, Wragg said that the troops preferred Beauregaard over Johnston, since when the Army was in or near Martinsburg, Johnston retreated to Winchester instead of attacking the enemy there. Wragg, however, felt that Johnston knew what he was doing and said he would follow Johnston was well as Beauregard or anyone else. His greatest complaint about his superiors was in their failure to pay the troops and for the poor rations.The end of August he wrote: It is very strange that we have not been paid one cent since we have been in the service of the C. S. and it is going on to 4 months from the time we enlisted, our officers have been paid up for the last 2 months and it is my opinion that they don’t bother themselves about us or our pay. It would be a great help to us, but they don’t seem to care whether we get it or not." Wragg's first earnings were in September when he was only paid up to 1 July.

The 8th Georgia, in which Wragg served, saved their greatest dislike for Thomas L. Cooper, who, in August 1961 was placed in charge of the regiment and promoted from Major to Lt. Col.. The entire regiment, both officers and men, signed a petition to have him resign as their commander. They gave their petition to Cooper, who refused. Then, the end of December, Cooper was thrown from his horse in an accident, and died. Cooper's hometown newspaper, contrary to Wragg's report, stated that Cooper was a man of "great personal worth and popularity." Wragg felt that, although no one liked him, they were sorry to hear of his death.

What was the food quality and quantity that soldiers ate while in the field?

Blue- George McClelland

The availability and quality of food significantly improved as the Army of the Potomac’s logistics and commissary capabilities were enhanced as the war progressed. At the beginning of George McClelland’s service, the food provided by the army was supplemented with items foraged by the soldiers. “We go to an adjacent cornfield, get some corn. Next get a tin plate …. then grind our corn into meal, boil it and, for a change, fry it…. Had to kill a couple of hogs and dress them. I, in company with three others, went down to a house and bought a couple of chickens, got some potatoes and corn, borrowed a sauce pan, built a fire and had a nice chicken pie.” (Near Shepherdstown, VA [later West Virginia], September 25, 1862)

Resourcefulness in supplementing their army-supplied fare with local fish also occurred. “The mess dined on fresh fish – caught with pin hooks – and fried mush.” (October 14, 1862)

When supply wagons lagged behind the troops on the march, regular meals suffered. “Short rations – one day we marched 28 miles without bread, meat or coffee. Reason? Supply train wasn’t up.” (July 19, 1863)

Occasionally food from home was sent along with personal items to McClelland as was the case with many soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. “I’ve received in a box some nice underclothing, a can of delicious peaches and a box of sardines, together with a pair of boots.” (November 3, 1862) However, due to irregular mail service, some food boxes from home with perishables did not fare well. “Lizzie, I got that box which was sent from Pittsburgh. The eatables were pretty badly spoiled being almost a month on the way.” (December 19, 1863)

One staple in the Union soldier’s diet – hard tack crackers – drew a sarcastic report from George McClelland: “It is astonishing the variety of dishes we have. Had hard tack plain, crackers ala mode, ‘tack Americanaise,’ cracker scouse [stew], crackers roasted, fried and boiled.” (January 10, 1863)

Gray- Thomas Wragg

Almost from the beginning of Wragg's service in the Confederate Army he complained about the food, or lack of it. In June 1861 he wrote his father that he was getting tired of military life, but that he didn't think he would if they gave them enough to eat. He complained that the food was not fit to be eaten by a dog, the "fatest kind of bacon and spoiled at that." Coffee was supplied once a day and was "not fit to drink." On June 17 he wrote his brother that there were orders, no food could be sold in camp due to their fear the food might be poisoned. Instead, one man sold eggs and butter at 12 1/2 cents per dozen and pound. Another man sold 800-900 eggs every day. In a name that said it all, their camp near Winchester on July 9 was named Camp Starvation.

Wragg was continually asking his father for money which he needed to buy extra food. He explained that they only got a small allowance of molasses to sweeten their coffee which they received once a day or not at all. If they had a little change, they could buy brown sugar or milk. Their rations included a piece of salt meat, some flour and water mixed (and made) into bread. The three days they were in Martinsburg they had nothing to eat but a piece of meat and bread in the morning at 4 a.m. and nothing until the next day. Many a night he said he went to bed with nothing to eat.

By the end of July, he told his sister that the money she sent was of no use as there was nothing to buy. It was only rarely possible to send to Richmond for food. Instead he started asking his family to send him a trunk with food: ham, smoked beef, sardines, sugar and coffee. He saw one soldier with a watermelon and he couldn't get it out of his mind for several months, repeatedly asking his family to send him one. In October Wragg told his sister that "the Confederate States gives us in place of coffee one gill of Whiskey a day," but as he didn't drink he exchanged it for molasses. In October, the trunk Wragg asked for finally arrived. Based on what he asked for, it contained food, a pair of boots, pants, and other clothes--all carefully provided and made at much effort and sacrifice by his grandmother and sisters. Sadly, however, the Eighth Georgia was forced to send all their surplus clothing to the Station, including his trunk, clothes, and two blankets, a box of "eatables" from his grandmother, where it was later burned along with quantities of provisions and baggage of all sorts that could not be brought with them when the army evacuated Manassas Junction and moved back to Winchester.

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