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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports

The Document

[156]

No. 7.

Report of Brig. Gen. Stewart Van Vliet, U. S. Army, Chief Quartermaster,
of operations from July 27,
1861, to July 10, 1862.

QUARTERMASTER’S OFFICE,
Washington, August 2, 1862.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit a brief report, for the information of the general commanding, of the operations of the quartermaster’s department in connection with the Army of the Potomac from the commencement of its organization until its arrival on the banks of the James River at the termination of the sanguinary battles in front of Richmond:

The general commanding arrived in Washington and assumed command of the troops around that city toward the end of July, 1861, and I was detailed by him as chief quartermaster on the 27th of the same month. But a few weeks previous to this these troops had been defeated at Bull Run, where much of the material of the army had been [157] lost, and almost everything required in the organization of a large army had to be provided. As soon as I entered upon the discharge of my duties I commenced making preparations to collect together the vast and various supplies required by a large army. The depot for quartermaster’s supplies in this city, under the able administration of Col. D. H. Rucker, of the Quartermaster’s Department, had to be much extended to enable me to collect the requisite material, and notwithstanding the prompt approval of my requisitions by the Chief of the Quartermaster’s Department, General Meigs, there were many obstacles to the successful discharge of these duties. Probably the greatest difficulties I had to encounter arose from the inexperience of the newly-appointed officers who were placed under me and of the new regiments.

The first thing to be done was to provide transportation. As the difficulties of subsisting the large number of animals required by the army in Washington were very great, owing to the want of sufficient channels of communication with it, it was decided to establish a depot of transportation at some point in the rear. In consultation with the general commanding, Perryville, on the left bank of the Susquehanna, at the point where the railroad connecting Baltimore and Philadelphia crosses that stream, was selected as the most suitable place, as it could be reached both by railroad and water, and was removed from all chance of interruption by the enemy. In accordance with this decision Capt. C. G. Sawtelle, assistant quartermaster, was ordered on the 8th of August to take post there and organize a train of 1,500 wagons.

New regiments from the loyal States were now arriving in great numbers, and were immediately furnished with supplies and put in camp around Washington. Transportation, &c., were issued to them as far as possible on the war allowance. Four wagons, drawn either by four horses or mules, were allowed each full regiment, one for the medical supplies of the regiment and one for the regimental headquarters, making in all six wagons to a regiment, and this was substantially the regimental allowance during the campaign, varied occasionally, however, by the exigencies of the service. Besides these wagons there were large trains organized for the transportation of subsistence, ammunition, pontoons, &c. An immense depot for clothing, camp and. garrison equipage was likewise established in Washington, and vast amounts of’ these articles were hurried forward from New York and Philadelphia.

On the 19th of October the Potomac River, by which channel we had received most of our supplies, was closed by the enemy’s batteries. From this time until the latter part of February, 1862, all the supplies, forage, subsistence, clothing, &c., required for the army, and all the supplies required for the city of Washington, were brought across the single-track railroad connecting Baltimore with Washington. The capacity of the road was taxed to its utmost, but the work was satisfactorily done. Some conception of the amount of work done may be formed when it is known that of forage alone about 400 tons were required daily.

In the latter part of February it was decided that the Army of the Potomac should move on Richmond by the way of the Peninsula. This made it necessary to procure a large number of vessels to transfer the army to its new base, Fortress Monroe, and the procuring of these vessels was intrusted to the Hon. John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ingalls, who had reported to me for duty soon after my arrival in Washington, and had been by me assigned as chief [158] quartermaster to the troops on the south bank of the Potomac, was ordered to report to Mr. Tucker, for the purpose of taking the immediate charge of the transports chartered, and to superintend the embarkation of the troops. As the Potomac was still closed by the guns of the enemy, arrangements were made for embarking the troops at Annapolis and Baltimore. I had the wharves at the former place enlarged, and the transports had commenced to arrive when the movements of the army opened the Potomac. Orders were immediately issued for the transports to rendezvous at Alexandria, and arrangements were pushed forward rapidly to embark the troops at that point. Everything was ready for a movement as regards the troops, but the transports, many of which were sailing vessels, could not reach Alexandria in sufficient numbers to move a division until the middle of March. On the 9th of March there had rendezvoused at Annapolis ten side-wheel steamers and five propellers.

On the evening of March 16th or morning of the 17th the troops commenced embarking at Alexandria, and in about twelve days the bulk of the Army of the Potomac, with its vast material, was transferred to the Peninsula. I had previously ordered Captain Sawtelle to break up his depot at Perryville, and to transfer the wagons, ambulances. animals, &c., to Fortress Monroe. Some two or three months previous to this I had ordered a large amount of forage to be purchased and stored in the city of New York. This had been put afloat just before the embarkation of the troops, and the vessels directed to repair to Fortress Monroe and keep their cargoes on board until further orders. In the mean time I had ordered Capt. C. W. Thomas, assistant quartermaster, to Fortress Monroe to take charge of the depot to be established there for the army.

As soon as everything was embarked at Alexandria I proceeded to Fortress Monroe and rejoined the general commanding, who had preceded me to that place. The magnitude of the movement can scarcely be understood except by those who participated in it. Each division took with it its own transportation as far as it was practicable, and the remainder, together with the supply trains, were pushed forward as rapidly as possible.

When the campaign of the Peninsula commenced the Army of the Potomac had with it 3,600 wagons and 700 ambulances and spring wagons, and this transportation remained complete until the army arrived on the banks of the James River, with the exception of ordinary losses and the loss of a few wagons by the raids of the enemy and on the march to the James River. In transferring the army and its material, and furnishing it with supplies during the campaign, the following number of vessels were employed, viz: 71 side-wheel steamers, 29,071 tons; 57 propellers, 9,824 tons; 187 schooners, brigs, and barks, 36,634 tons, and 90 barges, 10,749 tons, making in all 405vessels, of a tonnage of 86,278 tons. Many of these vessels were discharged after the army was transferred to the Peninsula, but it was necessary to retain the greater number of them, as our supplies were obliged to be kept afloat to follow the advance of the army. Though Fortress Monroe was our main depot, the nature of the country and the condition of the roads rendered it impossible to haul our supplies by wagons from that point. As soon as the leading divisions of the army landed at Fortress Monroe they were pushed forward, and the enemy retiring behind their lines, stretching from the James River to Yorktown, opened to us the York River and its tributaries as far as Yorktown, enabling us thereby to establish our depot at the mouth of Cheeseman’s Creek and at Ship [159] Point, near the mouth of the Poquosin River, which was done on the 6th of April.

I beg here to submit a copy of a letter to the Quartermster-General (marked A), which will show the positions of these points and the difficulties which had to be overcome in supplying the army.

These depots remained unchanged during the siege of Yorktown, but when the enemy evacuated that place they were immediately broken up and everything transferred by water at once to Yorktown. As the army advanced up the Peninsula our depots were successively changed from Yorktown to the south bank of York River, opposite West Point, thence to Cumberland, on the Pamunkey, and finally, on the 20th May, they were established at White house, the point where the railroad from West Point to Richmond crosses the Pamunkey River, 3miles from Richmond

Extensive wharves were at once constructed by throwing our barges and canal-boats ashore at high water and bringing them over. The railroad bridge across the Pamunkey had been burned by the enemy, and the rolling stock of the road removed. From a reconnaissance in front the railroad was found to be uninjured, with the exception of two or three small bridges, which had been burned. In anticipation of moving along this road toward Richmond rolling stock for the road had been purchased, and a competent force employed to work it. Working parties were immediately put on the road and the engines and cars landed, and in a few days the road was again in running order, and cars loaded with supplies were constantly running to the front. The real troubles in supplying the army commenced at this point, owing to the condition of the roads, rendered almost impassable by frequent and long-continued storms. In reference to this I beg to submit copies of three reports, marked B, C, and D, made to the Quartermaster- General. At this point our large depots remained until the battle of Gaines’ Mill, the 27th of June. During this time the army was in front of Richmond, from 15 to 20 miles in advance, and all of its immense supplies were thrown forward by the railroad and the large supply trains of the army The frequent and heavy rains, by injuring the railroad and impairing the wagon roads, rendered it a matter of great difficulty at times to transport the large amount of necessary material and supplies, but in no instance, I believe, did our department fail in discharging the duty devolving upon it. Of forage and subsistence alone over 500 tons were daily required by the army. Adding to this the other necessary supplies swelled this amount to over 600 tons, which, rain or shine, hand to be handled at the depots each day and forwarded to our lines. The difficulties of supplying an army of 100,000 men are not generally comprehended. Each man consumes 3 pounds of provisions per day, and every horse 26 pounds of forage. One hundred thousand men would therefore eat up 150 wagon loads of subsistence daily, and it can therefore be readily seen that an army of this size could leave its depots but a short distance in the rear in marching through a country destitute of supplies and depending on carrying everything with it.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.154-156

web page Rickard, J (25 October 2006), http://www.historyofwar.org/source/acw/officialrecords/vol011chap023part1/00007_01.html


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