“Command and Control: The Relationship between Civilian Status and Military Rank” Master Degree Paper Presented at the University of Cincinnati – 1993

Posted on Friday, November 19th, 2010

The 19th Indiana Infantry was mustered into the Federal Army in Indianapolis, Indiana.

On July 29, 1861, 2nd Lt. William Orr stood in his assigned position behind his company and listened as his formation mustered in as an Indiana Volunteer Infantry regiment. Though the 22-year old lawyer was excited about joining the war effort, he fumed at his inability to procure a rank higher than what he presently held. Orr glanced over at 1st Lt. Benjamin Harter and gritted his teeth in frustration. Harter was older than Orr, owned a successful store in town, and was a close friend of Samuel Williams, the man the company had elected as captain.

Nor far from where the young lieutenant stood, another volunteer raged silently in anger. Thirty-five year-old David Holloway clenched his fists, steaming at the indignation at not being able to acquire any rank at all, and ending up enlisting into his company as but a lowly private. Holloway slowly shook his head in exasperation, chafing at his inability to obtain a commission. Why should he, a man of considerable means and status among the members of his community, be denied an officer’s posting, while their company commander was an ex-tombstone salesman who now owned a saloon?

A third Hoosier, Lt. Col. Robert Cameron, also seethed at the position in which he had been placed. The 39-year-old publisher glanced over at Colonel Solomon Meredith and frowned. Cameron was the only man in the regiment’s entire officer corps who had any military experience at all. But yet he was not awarded the colonelcy because he had not donated as much money to Governor Oliver Morton’s election campaign. Cameron had learned that military experience was not necessary for command; all that was really important was money and who you knew.

While William Orr, David Holloway, and Robert Cameron were very unhappy with their newly appointed military ranks, most of the rest of the volunteers who made up the officer corps of the 19th Indiana Infantry Regiment were pleased with their positions. They were all men of stature in their communities, had been part of raising a company of volunteers, and had won elections, and thus secured their postings. The officers making up the 19th Indiana, like those of most of the other newly forming regiments all across the country, had held positions of power as civilians, and were now bringing that status with them as they volunteers to do their part in the nation’s conflict.

When the Civil War began and hundreds of thousands of Americans signed their names onto enlistment papers, the nation’s military had no way of distributing the small number of experienced veterans among the multitude of untrained civilians. Thus, as hundreds of regiments were formed all across the country, America’s patriots placed individuals into positions of power who possess no knowledge of military matters. These newly commissioned officers had obtained their rank simply because they were wealthy, held jobs of community stature, or knew someone who did. This principle of promoting someone because of who he was, rather than his military experience, would prove to be a horribly costly mistake which would needlessly kill thousands of Americans.

The process by which America converted its civilian manpower into military formations worked fairly easily all across the nation. In both the North and the South, the Presidents informed their states’ governors that they were required to furnish volunteers. The governors then turned to their close friends and supporters, offering them colonelcies, and these men then contacted friends from their local areas and awarded them captaincies for gathering together volunteers and forming companies. This procedure quickly transformed merchants and lawyers into officers, while changing farm boys and factory workers into riflemen. These inexperienced adventurers would then face each other in battle, and die by the thousands.

In the North, this system was perpetuated throughout most of the conflict, even after experience dictated that veterans should be placed in command of newly formed units. The governors continued to give appointments of high military rank to civilian friends and place them in charge of untrained regiments while experienced and trained veterans watched their seasoned formations wither away. This disaster resulted in countless tragedies that possibly could have been avoided had America employed a different system.

For the 19th Indiana, this process began in June 1861, when Governor Morton authorized his political supporter, Solomon Meredith to raise an infantry regiment. The 50-year-old politician contacted the Indianapolis Journal on June 14, 1861, and advertised, “I desire captains who wish to form part of my regiment to report to me within the next ten days.” Meredith was swamped by applications, receiving 54 petitioners in less than a week, each prospective candidate promising to raise a company of 100 volunteers. The new colonel selected eight businessmen, a lawyer, and a physician as his ten captains on June 21, 1861 and immediately notified them to begin recruiting.

One of the chosen ten was 37-year old Valentine Jacobs, a saloon keeper in Indianapolis. Jacobs, the father of seven children, was an enterprising Virginian who had migrated west to Indiana, and worked as a tombstone salesman before saving enough money to take over operations of the Catawba Saloon. One June 27, 1861 he posted an advertisement in the city’s papers, announcing, “…If any of our country readers want to get a finger into the ‘muss’ they can’t find a better chance…” than with him. One of the volunteers signing into Jacobs’ unit was David Holloway, a very wealthy farmer and mill owner who lived east of Indianapolis. Holloway entered Jacobs’ company, bringing his own contingent of volunteers with him, some who even worked for him on his property. Holloway came to Jacobs with his collection of farm hands, expecting to obtain a position of rank within the new company.

Another of Meredith’s selection, Samuel Williams, managed a large estate northeast of Muncie, Indiana. The 30-year-old also owned warehouses, and bought and sold fine quality livestock, thus making him one of the more prosperous businessmen in his township. Williams, the father of five children, turned to a close friend to help him raise a company. Thirty-two year-old Benjamin Harter, another prominent local businessman assisted Williams, and the two, as one volunteer wrote, “…went hither and yon drumming up volunteers…” One of their recruits, William Orr, came from the northern part of their county, bringing with him an assemblage of friends and relatives. The young lawyer, the son of moneyed parents, quickly challenged Williams for the company’s commander’s position.

What happened next, and this procedure occurred in nearly all of Meredith’s companies, were public elections held by the volunteers to legitimate the right of the unit’s officers to lead. This was usually done publically. These elections were held in the manner that militia formations had done for as long as the Americans could remember. As a volunteer who had been recruited by Samuel Williams wrote, “…we me one day at our school house to organize by electing officers…” The young Hoosier continued, “…following the procedure used during the Black Hawk War, we were told that all that were in favor of Samuel J. Williams being the captain of the company to step three paces forward out of our ranks, and I quickly stepped out, as did a large majority of others…” The victors, of course were joyous, while some of the losers took their defeats severely. The recruit in Williams’ company noted that Orr, “…always felt disgruntled about losing…”

The elections solidified one fact; all 33 officers in the 19th Indiana were men of money and power. Solomon Meredith’s company leaders were merchants, lawyers, physicians, carpenters, supervisors, and wealthy farm owners. Meredith may have only had one individual who had worn a military uniform (Robert Cameron), but everyone else had civilian leadership experience. They knew nothing about tactics and warfare but they all possessed people skills.

The company commanders appointed their own noncommissioned officers, promoting relatives, supporters, and acquaintances. Each company was allotted five sergeants and eight corporals, and in company after company, the same pattern emerged—the sergeants were individuals of stature and responsibility, and the corporals were the sons of influential parents. In a regiment that was composed of nearly 70% farm boys and unskilled laborers, only 16% of the sergeants were farm boys. Over 70% of the regiment’s sergeants came with business and management experience. Of the corporals, almost 50% came from men with business experience, while the other half were sons of successful farmers.

In early August 1861, Colonel Solomon Meredith’s 19th Indiana Regiment traveled to Washington D.C. and joined the war effort. The Hoosier regiment, packed with adventuresome farm boys and unskilled workers, and led by untrained officers quickly suffered because of its lack of military experience. Poor sanitation measure, terrible eating habits, and unhealthy living conditions resulted in 60 deaths even before the regiment had a chance to fire a shot at the Confederates. This tragedy could have been avoided, as a reporter from the Indianapolis Journal noted, in September 1861, “…the entire regiment has been poisoned…from the spring out of which they were accustomed to drink…”

The 19th Indiana remained on the outskirts of Washington D.C. all during the winter of 1861-1862, guarding against a rebel attack, building fortifications, and learning to be soldiers. Hundreds of men were found to be unfit for military life and were discharged and sent back to Indiana. Others injured themselves, caught various diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, and venereal disease, and were weakened to the point that they had to be removed from the ranks and sent home. By spring 1862, Solomon Meredith’s regiment had shrunk dramatically in size, losing nearly 500 men, even though Confederate bullets had downed only three. These losses horrified the regiment’s surgeon, Doctor Calvin Woods, and he wrote unhappily, “…I thought I would only have to cut off a few legs and arms…” Woods resigned, writing, “…I have to mix constantly with terrors of the worst kind. I long since got tired of doctoring in common sickness…”

Many of Colonel Meredith’s officers learned they were unsuited for military life and resigned, returning to businesses back in Indiana. Some, such as 41-year-old Theodore Hunt, a lieutenant in Company ‘H’, grew tired of his acquired ailments, tendered his resignation and returned to his hominy mills in western Indiana. Others, such as the 24-year-old lieutenant, Samuel Young, resigned because the war interfered with his occupation back in Indiana. Lieutenant Young handed over his commission, explaining, “…the pressing state of my affairs at home…in business are such as demand me immediate attention…” The end result was that by late spring 1862, Colonel Meredith had lost half of his original officers.

One of Meredith’s missing officers was Lt. Col. Robert Cameron. The two had clashed immediately upon being assigned to the same regiment, and began maneuvers to see that the other was removed. They both wrote Governor Morton, complaining about the other. Cameron instructed Governor Morton, “…it is the desire of all the officers of the Regt that I should command…” Meredith countered, writing the governor, “…I want true friends as my advisors…” Governor Morton, aware of the animosity between the two senior officers, reacted when Cameron pleaded, “…Give me a regiment…”, and in February 1862 dispatched the lieutenant colonel to the 34th Indiana Infantry. Colonel Meredith quickly elevated Major Alios Bachman to Cameron’s old position, and promoted the regiment’s senior captain, Isaac May (Company ‘A’) to major. Meredith bumped up the two remaining officers in Company ‘A’, and then commissioned his 23-year-old son, Samuel Meredith to fill the empty lieutenant’s slot.

Colonel Meredith had other advancements to deal with. Company ‘I’ led the regiment in problems. The original captain, 39-year-old John Johnson, had grown tired of military activities, written his own termination papers, and returned to his store in Spencer, Indiana. Company ‘I’s first lieutenant, John Baird, soured on martial life and returned to his business, also in Spencer. The company’s remaining officer, 2nd Lt. 38-year-old Benjamin Hancock was also absent, as he was captured by the Confederates in the regiment’s first battle, a skirmish near Lewinsville, Virginia, in September 1861. Meredith promoted 1st Sgt. Charles Doxie (Company ‘A’) to second lieutenant, and brought in 1st Lt. William Campbell (Company ‘C’) as captain. However, the captured Lieutenant Hancock was exchanged and returned, creating a problem of two second lieutenants in the same unit. Since the boys in the company seemed to dislike Lieutenant Doxie, he was transferred to the 16th Indiana, Hancock promoted to first lieutenant, and Company ‘I’s first sergeant, 35-year-old Ebenezer Patrick upgraded to second lieutenant.

In Captain Valentine Jacob’s Company ‘D’, comparable difficulties erupted, forcing Colonel Meredith to deal with more personnel problems. The company’s initial first lieutenant, Jacobs’ close friend, Henry Vandergrift, grew tired of wearing the uniform and quit in October 1861. Captain Jacobs, not liking being shot at by Confederates, and missing his family and business in Indianapolis sought his own way out. However, he did not want to give up his military pay so he finagled a posting back in Indianapolis as the regiment’s recruiter. This left Company ‘D’ in the hands of 24-year-old 2nd Lt. Frederick Hale, who quickly resigned. Meredith commissioned another friend, the 19th Indiana’s sergeant major, Samuel Young as first lieutenant and placed him in charge of the company. But Young turned in his commission two months later. Therefore, Company ‘D’ was without any officers.

When Colonel Meredith looked within the company ‘D’s sergeant ranks he found more trouble. The company’s first sergeant, Omer Tousey had been discharged in order to receive a commission in the 7th Indiana Infantry, meaning the company was effectively being led by the 29-year-old, Sergeant George Huntsman. However, by now Meredith was aware of the influential David Holloway. In fact, one of Holloway’s friends, the president of the Bank of the State of Indiana had written Governor Morton, suggesting that Holloway receive an officer’s posting. David Holloway was then promoted to first lieutenant by, “Governor’s orders,” and took command of the company. Holloway then elevated one of his farm supervisors, 23-year-old John Jack to second in command.

Thus, by late spring 1862, Colonel Meredith’s officer corps consisted of 32 officers, of which 14 were new faces, all brought up from the ranks. These additional officers were all men of civilian prominence, used to telling others what to do, and having moneyed backgrounds. There had been no advancement based upon military prowess or knowledge, but rather, all the upgrading’s did was further the command and control of the regiment to those who had been in power during civilian life.

The shrinkage of the regiment’s manpower also affected the NCO ranks. As spring gave way to summer in 1862, the 19th Indiana totaled just over 500 volunteers, of which 90 were sergeants and corporals. Again though, the men who occupied these NCO postings came with backgrounds of supervisory status. Of the sergeants, almost 60% were tradesmen of some sort, and among the corporals, nearly 45% had worked at some job other than farm hand. Therefore, as the men of the 19th Indiana closed in on the regiment’s first anniversary, there had had been little change in the composition of the unit’s command, those individuals who had positions of power before the war, continued to retain that control while wearing military wool. In effect, the command structure of the 19th Indiana was but an extension of the social/political framework of the communities of Indiana.

Captain Samuel Williams’ Company ‘K’ reflected this arrangement. As the regiment continued to train during the first weeks of summer 1862, Williams’ company leaders remained; 1st Lt. Benjamin Harter (a merchant), and 2nd Lt. William Orr (a lawyer). Williams had four sergeants; two teachers, a farm owner, and a store clerk. His corporals had been; a clerk, a blacksmith, a tenant farmer, and four sons of prosperous farmers. Of the company’s 50 privates, only two had accumulated any savings before the war. Nearly all the rest either resided at home with their parents, or lived on the residences of their employers.

The 19th Indiana would go into its first major battle on August 28, 1862, when their brigade accidently bumped into Stonewall Jackson’s men a few miles west of Gainesville. In approximately 90 minutes of fierce fighting, the Hoosiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, without movement, fighting just as their civilian leaders had taught them. When darkness finally silenced the gunfire, over 200 Hoosiers had been shot down, including Colonel Meredith’s son, and Major Isaac May, and six other officers. The regiment had gone into battle knowing nothing about warfare, nothing about tactics, and nothing about the effects of weaponry and had been slaughtered.

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““Command and Control: The Relationship between Civilian Status and Military Rank” Master Degree Paper Presented at the University of Cincinnati – 1993”

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